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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Douglas Feith; Interview With Duncan Hunter; Interview With Karl Eikenberry
Aired February 11, 2007 - 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, 7 p.m. in Baghdad and 8:30 p.m. in Tehran. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
Did the Bush administration cherry-pick intelligence to make the case for the war in Iraq? The man at the center of this explosive charge, former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith responds to criticism in just a few minutes.
First, though, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hi, Fred.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. Another very violent day in Iraq amidst debate over whether some of the deadliest weapons are now coming in from next door. That would be in Iran. CNN's Michael Ware is joining us from Baghdad with more.
Michael, I understand there has been a briefing in Baghdad. You're getting some new information. Tell our viewers in the United States and around the world what you're learning.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're correct. It's certainly been a briefing, but how much of it is new is to be seen. In many ways, this is old information being dressed up again as new. What happened tonight in Baghdad is the U.S. military rolled out a senior defense official, a senior defense intelligence analyst and an explosives expert to paint a picture of Iranian military activity here in Iraq targeting U.S. troops.
Essentially they paint the picture of an Iranian campaign where the Iranians are using the very tactics that America used against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, essentially using proxies to fight a war in a third country. That's what the military intelligence community is saying today.
They focused on the use of particularly lethal, the most lethal kind of roadside bomb here in Iraq, called an explosively formed penetrator. This is a bomb that's so devastating, it can punch through the toughest American armor on any of its battle tanks. Now, this was introduced through Shia insurgents by the Iranians, according to military intelligence. Indeed, one of the components of the bombs needs such precision machine tooling that they can only be done in Iran. They do not believe it's happened here in Iraq, but again this is an old story. These bombs first started detonating in 2004. The issue was made public in 2005. Secretary Rumsfeld himself has pointed to them.
The other thing that the experts talked about is the Iranian supply of munitions, exactly like these ones. These are the tailfins from mortars that have come from Iran. This one in particular, an 81- millimeter, according to the military a signature of the Iranian armed forces. The fact that the tailfin is in one piece, a single-piece tailfin, another signature that it came from Iran.
But again, Wolf, we have known this. What was a little more interesting was a revelation that in recent arrests in January in Erbil by the U.S. military, the Americans now claim that they captured the operations officer, one of the key commanders of the Iranian special forces unit known as the Quds force.
This is the high-level, very secretive organization that's running the anti-America campaign here in Iraq. The other thing that the briefers said was that this unit is being guided directly by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself.
And finally, the American intelligence officers also said today that an Iraqi political faction admitted that it received weapons from Iranians that the Americans had captured, but claimed the weapons were for protection, a claim rejected by the military, who said sniper rifles and mortars are not for protection.
So that's what was laid out in this briefing today. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Michael, stand by, because I want you to come back later here on "Late Edition," and we're going to continue to get some more information on these new developments coming out of Baghdad. A lot more from Michael Ware coming up on "Late Edition."
It's approaching now four years of war in Iraq, and the political uproar here in Washington over how the war is being waged is certainly escalating. Now there's a new Pentagon report -- it's just been released -- criticizing a senior Bush administration official in this handling of prewar intelligence to make the case for the invasion.
Earlier, I spoke to the man at the middle of this storm, the former undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith.
BLITZER: The inspector general of the Department of Defense says your actions were, quote, "inappropriate," that you and your colleagues had a mindset to prove that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, a connection that the intelligence community simply couldn't confirm, but you still went ahead and tried to do that to build a case for the war.
DOGLAS FEITH, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: What the inspector general is criticizing is the fact that people in the Pentagon criticized the quality of the CIA intelligence. And the inspector general, I think wrongly, says that the criticism of intelligence was intelligence work, and it was inappropriate for non- intelligence people to do that.
BLITZER: But in this case, they were right and you were wrong.
FEITH: No, they were not right.
BLITZER: There was no connection that the 9-11 Commission could come up with to show there was a deliberate prewar operable connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein.
FEITH: Which nobody ever claims. I mean, it shows how much misinformation there is, even somebody as well-informed as you is informed on the point.
BLITZER: Well, what was your bottom line when you wrote that report?
FEITH: The report didn't have a bottom line. What the report said...
BLITZER: But it did if you read, based on all of...
FEITH: No, it didn't.
BLITZER: What did it say about the Saddam Hussein al-Qaida connection?
FEITH: What it said was, the CIA's work was not up to quality, and it specifically said the CIA is filtering its own intelligence to suit a theory that it had, that secular Baathists would not cooperate with religious extremists.
BLITZER: But that theory was right, right?
FEITH: Well, it's absolutely wrong. I mean, you could see it even in Iraq today. Who are we fighting in Iraq? We're fighting a strategist alliance of Baathists and jihadists.
BLITZER: But what they were saying -- correct me if I'm wrong -- was that Saddam Hussein would not be involved in working with al- Qaeda, because al-Qaida didn't want to have anything to do with this secular Iraqi leader.
FEITH: What they were saying is, the CIA had intelligence, its own intelligence that was inconsistent with its theory that there couldn't be any cooperation, and the CIA was not drawing on all of its intelligence. It was filtering its own intelligence to suit its own theory. It was a proper criticism.
BLITZER: Here's what Senator Levin said. I'm going to play a little clip for you and give you a chance to respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: Intelligence relating to the Iraq/al- Qaida relationship was manipulated by high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration's decision to invade Iraq, when the intelligence assessments of the professional analysts of the intelligence community did not provide the desired compelling case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You want to respond?
FEITH: I mean, that's as inaccurate as almost everything that the senator has said on this subject.
BLITZER: What was the purpose of that report you were putting together on this question of a connection between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein?
FEITH: OK, it wasn't a report. It was a criticism of the CIA's work.
BLITZER: Why did they do that?
FEITH: Because the CIA was doing things that people in the Pentagon thought were substandard. And the CIA got angry when they got criticized. Now, as we know, the CIA did not do a flawless job, and we are in trouble in Iraq because of errors that the CIA made. We need more people in the government doing intelligent, professional criticism of intelligence.
BLITZER: Here is the criticism, as you well know. The criticism is that you and your colleagues -- whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, the Vice President Dick Cheney, his staff, Scooter Libby -- all of you came to the conclusion that there should be an effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and as a result, you just needed the weapons of mass destruction evidence, the Al Qaida connection, and as a result, the Congress and the American public would go along with it.
FEITH: That's just wrong. I mean, that wasn't the analysis at all. I know that it's been described that way by critics of the war. It's just inaccurate. When the record shows -- someday the documents will be exposed and that will be exposed as a false...
BLITZER: Did you, and Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, and Cheney, and Scooter Libby, and the president make a mistake?
FEITH: Well, I mean, lots of mistakes were made and lots of right things were done.
BLITZER: In your analysis?
FEITH: The issue here was not that we did an analysis. The issue was we criticized the CIA's analysis. BLITZER: But right now...
FEITH: No, hang on a second.
BLITZER: ... are you ready to acknowledge...
FEITH: No, Wolf, you're not letting me explain the essence of the problem.
BLITZER: ... there were not any WMDs? I will, I'll let you explain, but quickly, are you ready to acknowledge there was no WMD, are you ready to acknowledge that there was connection between Saddam and Al Qaida?
FEITH: We did not find WMD stockpiles. We found WMD programs, and the Delpha report, as I'm sure you know, was very clear on what we found in the WMD area. Although we did not find the stockpiles, we found that he had the facilities, he had the personnel, he had the intention. So there was a WMD threat, but it wasn't the way the CIA described it.
BLITZER: There wasn't the stockpiles. What about on the Al Qaida connection?
FEITH: On the Al Qaida connection, George Tenet, on October 7th, 2002, wrote an unclassified letter to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee laying out the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaida.
BLITZER: So you believed there was a connection going into the war?
FEITH: I believed George Tenet.
BLITZER: But now you know that was false.
FEITH: No, I've never heard that that was false. That's what the...
BLITZER: To this day, you believe Saddam was working with Al Qaida?
FEITH: I believe that what George Tenet published in October of 2002 was the best information on the subject, and as far as I know, that is largely -- look, I've not been in the government for the last year-and-a-half. There may be some more intelligence on that subject.
I'm telling you from the time George Tenet published his findings on the Iraqi/Al Qaida relationship, which is that they had a relationship for 10 years and they talked about various things, bomb- making, and safe haven and other issues, that that was the U.S. government's best understanding of the subject. I never criticized that in public or in private.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about Senator Jay Rockefeller. He's the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he says the I.G., the inspector general, may have concluded you didn't violate the law, you didn't break any law, but your actions...
FEITH: What do you mean may?
BLITZER: He says you didn't break any laws. He says your actions...
FEITH: He did conclude that everything we did was lawful and authorized and we did not mislead Congress.
BLITZER: He says that your actions were inappropriate.
BLITZER: That's the word he uses, even though you didn't break the law, and he's not claiming you did break the law.
FEITH: And I disagree with him.
BLITZER: But Rockefeller is saying you may have and he wants to hold hearings on what's called the 1947 National Security Act.
He says this, Senator Rockefeller: "Section 502 of the National Security Act of 1947 requires the heads of all departments and agencies of the U.S. government involved in intelligence activities to keep the congressional oversight committees informed."
Did you inform, whether the Armed Services Committees or the Intelligence Committees, of your intelligence operation at the Department of Defense?
FEITH: We didn't have an intelligence operation and we didn't do intelligence activities. Here's the heart of the issue.
BLITZER: Because the I.G. says these were intelligence operations.
FEITH: Wolf, let me finish the sentence. Let me finish the sentence.
BLITZER: All right.
FEITH: That's precisely what I disagree with. The inspector general said that the criticism of the CIA was an intelligence activity. That's preposterous. Policy people criticize intelligence every day. Calling that criticism an intelligence activity improper for non-intelligence people to do means that policy people can't criticize intelligence.
By the way, it's an interesting thing. Senator Rockefeller and Senator Levin have severely criticized the CIA. Now, when the policy organization criticized the CIA, that's called by them...
BLITZER: Inappropriate. FEITH: ... an inappropriate activity that only intelligence people should do. When they criticize the CIA, what is that, statesmanship?
BLITZER: When you were confronted by the I.G., the inspector general, who disagrees with you on the nature of whether or not this was intelligence or not intelligence, you made your case, but he didn't buy it.
FEITH: The inspector general, with all due respect, was in an area of opinion for which there are no legal standards, and he made an argument that is self-contradictory, doesn't hang together. The essence of his argument was that criticism of intelligence is intelligence work. Ridiculous.
The other argument that he made was that our work was not the highest quality. How did he do that? He didn't evaluate our work and the work we were criticizing. He didn't look at the underlying intelligence.
What the inspector general did is he said the work that we did was at variance with the consensus of the intelligence community. Well, of course it was. It was a critique of the intelligence community's consensus. That's exactly what it was intended to be.
BLITZER: But I just want to be precise on this. Rockefeller says you never informed Congress of your activities. Is he right on that front, whether or not legally you were required to do so according to the '47 National Security Act?
FEITH: No, in fact, all of these activities were the subject of hearings and document requests. Congress was thoroughly informed. What he's saying is he's calling something that was a perfectly reasonable policy project of criticizing the intelligence, he's calling that an intelligence activity and then saying we should have informed it as an intelligence activity to Congress, and it wasn't an intelligence activity.
BLITZER: My interview with former Pentagon official Doug Feith. That interview took place on Friday.
Just ahead, we'll get reaction. I'll speak about that and more with Senators John Cornyn and Ron Wyden, and we'll ask some other questions about pre-war intelligence, how that is spilling over into the debate over the war right now.
Also, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, he is now running for president. We'll get his views on the crowded campaign field, the Iraq war strategy and lots more.
And later, is the war in Afghanistan the forgotten fight? The former U.S. military commander of forces there in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry is our exclusive guest.
Much more "Late Edition" right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Last week, the U.S. Senate came to the brink of direct confrontation with President Bush on Iraq, but then backed off.
This week, the House of Representatives will try once again. Joining us to discuss the debate over the war in Iraq and more, two key U.S. senators. Joining us from his home state of Texas, Republican Senator Jon Cornyn. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. And with us here in Washington, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. He's a member of the Select Intelligence Committee.
Senators, both of you, welcome back to "Late Edition." Let me start with you, Senator Wyden, since you're on the Intelligence Committee. You heard the interview with Doug Feith, the former Pentagon official. He made the case, what they were trying to do was simply critique the CIA's intelligence assessment before the war. Did he do anything wrong?
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: I don't think that was what was going on. I think the administration was doing everything they possibly could to leave the impression that there was a close connection between al-Qaida and Hussein.
Every member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on a bipartisan basis, found otherwise, and yet repeatedly the administration tried to draw that connection. Also, Mr. Feith -- and this was brought out by the inspector general -- seemed to have said different things to different people, and that was brought out by Senator Reid last week. .
BLITZER: When he was briefing the White House as opposed to the CIA, for example, on his findings.
Senator Cornyn, what do you make of this? Because the accusation is a very serious one, that top Pentagon officials, top officials in the White House were deliberately cherry-picking intelligence to make the case to go to war against Saddam Hussein, when some of the evidence simply wasn't there, specifically the alleged connection between Saddam and al-Qaida.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Well, we know, Wolf, that that allegation is false, because the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Senator Wyden sits on, on a bipartisan basis in 2004, said there wasn't any manipulation of the evidence. We found the WMD commission, a bipartisan commission, came to the same conclusion.
And, you know, I'm a little bit troubled with the idea that we can't ask hard questions of the CIA's intelligence, and people can't engage in something other than group think about some of these important issues. And I think a little diversity of view and opinion and debate is a good thing, not a bad thing. WYDEN: Of course you want to ask hard questions. We also ought to stick to the facts. And clearly, for months and months, there was an effort to draw a connection. It was one of the central issues with respect to going to war.
Of course, one of the arguments was there are weapons of mass destruction. That was proved incorrect. The other was the impression, and it was given repeatedly, that there was this connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. There wasn't, and yet people like Doug Feith always tried to come back to it.
BLITZER: And so, but do you believe that that was a deliberate distortion of the evidence that was at hand, or it was just an effort to try to make sure to properly look into that alleged connection? After 9/11, there was a lot of concern that who was involved in plotting 9/11? Did the Iraqis under Saddam Hussein have any role? That was a legitimate area to investigate.
WYDEN: No question, but I believe the inspector general is correct. What Mr. Feith did was inappropriate, number one. Senator Rockefeller, our chairman, is also correct. There are serious questions about whether Mr. Feith broke the 1947 statute that requires that our committee be informed.
BLITZER: Let's move on, Senator Cornyn, to get your reaction to this briefing that occurred in Baghdad today, suggesting that the Iranians are providing sophisticated munitions to Iraqi Shia forces, and those munitions can penetrate an Abrams battle tank, the most sophisticated armor, and they're killing a lot of Americans. If this is in fact true, what does it mean?
CORNYN: Well, we've known for some time that these explosively formed projectiles can penetrate any kind of armor that we have to protect our troops with. And this is obviously extremely serious evidence that Iran has been involved in supplying these kinds of weapons to Shia militants is very disconcerting. And I will tell you that we have to do everything within our power to stop it, and I'm confident we will.
BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Wyden?
WYDEN: Of course we're going to take the steps we need to protect our troops. That's first and foremost. But also, we've been waiting in the United States Senate for a full-scale briefing from the administration with respect to Iran. They have been putting it off for days and days. We ought to have those facts.
BLITZER: Here's what Senator Biden, Senator Cornyn, said the other today, raising questions about the credibility of U.S. intelligence right now, given the failures leading up to the war in Iraq. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: The rhetoric coming from the administration about Iran is starting to sound a bit like a run-up that we heard to the Iraq war in the fall of 2002.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Cornyn, how much of a credibility problem does the Bush administration have right now?
CORNYN: Well, the problem is, Wolf, we have so many members of the United States Senate who are running for 2008, I think we need to put this in a larger context. But the fact of the matter is that we need to do whatever we can to protect our troops. And the fact is that the Iranians are very much involved in what's happening in Iraq right now.
It would be helpful if, rather than non-binding resolutions criticizing the president's plan to stabilize Iraq, that we would actually work together on a bipartisan basis to figure out how we can accomplish that goal so we can bring our troops home as soon as possible without endangering the national security of our country.
BLITZER: Well, you're a member, Senator Wyden, of the Intelligence Committee. You have access to the latest intelligence. Do you think that the intelligence you've seen, without violating any rules of classification, is credible as far as an Iranian connection to the Shia militants in Iraq going after U.S. forces?
WYDEN: I want the administration to deliver the full briefing that they promised, the one that's been put off time and time again now, so we can really get at the facts. We've had all this talk in the last few weeks, Wolf, about a military surge. I think what's really needed in the region is a diplomatic surge. and I think the country wants to hear that as well.
BLITZER: Well, let me press you on this point, Senator Wyden, and I'll play a clip of what the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, said this week. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: We have no intention of attacking Iran. The president said that. The secretary of state said it. I've said it before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Do you believe him?
WYDEN: That was said repeatedly before the effort was made to go to war with Iraq. I want to make it also clear that I and others in the Senate are going to insist if there is any effort to go to war with Iran, the president would have to come to the United States Congress, and Congress would first have to approve it.
BLITZER: Again, another full-scale resolution authorizing that.
WYDEN: Absolutely. BLITZER: Are you on board as far as that's concerned, Senator Cornyn, that if the U.S. were to launch any military strike again Iran, a formal resolution authorizing it by the U.S. Congress would be necessary?
CORNYN: Well, Wolf, no one is suggesting that we do so. And I think it's a little bit of a straw man that some of our friends on the other side are proposing to worry people that we can't do what we need to do to defend ourselves and our troops. My hope is that we would agree that we would do whatever is necessary to defend our country and our troops against this threat.
And as far as briefings, this is a matter of some common knowledge for a while that these explosively formed penetrator devices are commonly supplied through Iranian sources, and we need to stop it.
BLITZER: When you say no one is suggesting the U.S. might launch some sort of strike against Iran, let me read to you from the British newspaper The Guardian on Saturday, Senator Cornyn: "U.S. preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage. the present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the U.S. to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr. Bush leaves office."
What's your reaction to that?
CORNYN: Well, I can't speculate as to what their source of information is or whether this is just something they've dreamed up, but the fact of the matter is, we have a variety of contingency plans. Matter of fact, any nation like ours has to have a variety of contingency plans for almost any imaginable scenario. And my hope is and my expectation would be that we would have a variety of plans on the shelf to protect ourselves under a variety of different situations.
BLITZER: We're going to take a break, but I want you to just react very quickly, Senator Wyden. That would be prudent for the U.S. military to have contingency plans on almost anything.
WYDEN: Of course, but look, the administration is engaged in a drumbeat with Iran that is much like the drumbeat that they did with Iraq. We're going to insist on accountability. They'll have to come to the Congress, and Congress will have to vote to approve it before their support.
BLITZER: All right, senators, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about with these two senators, including why the United States is under fire now for some world leaders, especially the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on the increasing violence in Baghdad. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
We're continuing our conversation with two key U.S. lawmakers: Republican Senator John Cornyn and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.
A former director of the U.S. National Security Agency, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Odom, has an article in the Washington Post this Sunday, in which he says, among other things, that "Victory is not an option in Iraq. The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre- condition for creating new strategic options. Withdrawal will take away the conditions that allow our enemies in the region to enjoy our pain."
Senator Cornyn, a blast, a very, very serious charge from General Odom, suggesting that the U.S. simply can't win as long as it keeps troops in Iraq.
CORNYN: Well, tragically, Wolf, there are those who have given up on our effort to stabilize Iraq and to leave Iraq in a condition that it can govern and defend itself, which is important to our national security.
And, unfortunately, the critics who counsel defeat have not offered any alternative suggestions about what they would do to deal with the regional conflict that will undoubtedly ensue, or the failed state where terrorists can use to launch future terrorist attacks, or the vast humanitarian crisis that will occur there along with ethnic cleansing.
I think they owe us these alternative suggestions if they're going to counsel us to pull out now without with regard to the circumstances on the ground.
BLITZER: Are you among those, Senator Wyden, who says simply pull out, that's the best option right now?
WYDEN: No Democrat is talking about a precipitous withdrawal, but what General Odom is talking about is that a win in that part of the world now will be having some regional stability.
Look, Wolf, the last four months in Iraq have been the bloodiest we've had. We've lost more than 3,100 courageous soldiers. Every time we figure out how to deal with one set of these explosive devices, you come up with another. What we need to do is focus, as I describe it, not on a military surge, but on a diplomatic surge and work to have regional stability.
BLITZER: Senator Cornyn, a very, very blunt rebuke of the United States, the Bush administration's strategy around the world coming in this weekend from the Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said this, and I want you to listen to this translation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way, in economics, in politics, in humanitarian, all imposed by one state. Who would like that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What does this say about the state of U.S./Russian relations right now when the leader of Russia rebukes, in effect, the president of the United States in these harsh terms?
CORNYN: Well, Wolf, I think the only phrase I can think of is it's the pot calling the kettle black. Putin hasn't exactly been a force for democracy in his own country as he consolidates power to the detriment of the people of his country, as he silenced critics in the press and in the Democratic process.
You know, he, I'm sure, has his own reasons for taking the United States on as directly as he has, but I agree with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that one Cold War is enough. We need to try to find ways to constructively engage and work together to eliminate nuclear threats like Iran, for example.
BLITZER: Senator Wyden, what does it say to you?
WYDEN: I strongly disagree with Mr. Putin's statement as well. Certainly, it's a provocative one and it seems to me he's been trying to set up a oil cartel. He's been helping the Sudanese. Certainly, he has engaged in a variety of provocative acts.
At the same time, when he says something like that, he can take advantage of the fact that, around the world, countries are saying the United States has not done enough on the diplomatic front. And it seems to me what we ought to be doing, we ought to be talking to some people. And some of those people ought to be bad actors when it is in our national security interest.
BLITZER: And another rather blunt comment, perhaps undiplomatic, the Australian prime minister, John Howard, Senator Cornyn, speaking out and really hammering the position laid out yesterday by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Listen to what John Howard said on Australian television.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: I think he's wrong. If I were running Al Qaida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What do you think about that, Senator Cornyn?
CORNYN: Well, I would prefer that Mr. Howard stay out of our domestic politics and we'll stay out of his domestic politics, but I think his point is that we're going to have to deal with terrorist organizations like Al Qaida. They're not giving up and we shouldn't give up in this battle of wills.
And an unstable Iraq, where they can use as a failed state and launching pad to launch future terrorist attacks is exactly what they want, and exactly what we need to deny them.
BLITZER: I don't remember a time when a world leader has directly gotten involved in American politics like that, Senator Wyden, but maybe you do.
WYDEN: The most charitable thing you can say about Mr. Howard's comment is it is bizarre. You know, we'll make our own judgments in this country with respect to elections, and Barack Obama is a terrific public servant.
The bottom line is, what we need to do is work together. Clearly, we're in a world where we have to fight the terrorists. We have to pull out all the stops and relentlessly fight them. We can do it, but we have to have a much stronger focus on diplomacy.
BLITZER: Which Democrat candidate are you supporting for president?
WYDEN: I'm the Senate's designated driver, Wolf. I'm the only person in the United States Senate who has announced he's not running for president. I guess that means I can take a pass and work with all of them.
BLITZER: And what about you, Senator Cornyn?
CORNYN: I thought Senator Wyden's answer was very good, and I'm going to adopt it for myself on the Republican side.
BLITZER: All right, so you're not running either. Is that right?
CORNYN: That's absolutely right.
BLITZER: All right, we've got two United States senators here who are not running for president. I guess that's some news.
Thanks, guys, very much, for coming in.
And coming up next, the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Duncan Hunter, on his plan for Iraq and his presidential campaign. He is running for president, wants the Republican nomination. We'll ask him why. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Joining us now from his home state in California, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. He's announced he's running for the Republican presidential nomination.
Thanks very much, Congressman, for coming in.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Great to be with you, Wolf. How are you doing today?
BLITZER: Good. Let me get your quick reaction to these two international leaders making statements that are raising a lot of eyebrows. John Howard, the prime minister of Australia, criticizing Barack Obama for his statements that he would pull out combat forces by March of next year, and he's saying only Al Qaida should be rejoicing as a result of that.
What do you make of that?
HUNTER: Well, you know, I heard the two senators say keep your nose out of our business, but I think the Aussies have earned a right to comment on the world stage about their partner in this endeavor, because they have been fighting side by side with us in Iraq.
And so I think John Howard, while it wasn't a complimentary statement, he is basically stating the truth, and that is that what we say on the Senate floor or on the House floor goes to a world audience and it has an impact on not only our allies, but also our adversaries.
And I think the idea that we send a fractured message, which we're in the process of sending, even as the Iraq plan, the Baghdad plan is going into effect and the 82nd Airborne has already crossed the line into Iraq, so they're not stopping the plan, but the idea that people for posturing and for political positioning are sending out this fractured message that they don't back the American mission, as the president has stated there, I think that can only have a deleterious effect on both our allies and our adversaries.
And what you saw with the Aussies is that they feel it's got a deleterious effect on their morale, and it may have.
BLITZER: And you want to give me a quick reaction to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, hammering the United States, the Bush administration's international policies.
HUNTER: Yes, I was just thinking of that schoolyard scene where Muslim extremists were killing school children in Russia, and Vladimir Putin was talking about how this is, to a large degree, a common war by civilized people against the forces of evil.
That's what the United States is doing, We're carrying this load in the war against terror around the world, not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but lots of other places. Vladimir Putin ought to be supporting the United States if he really believes that Russia is an important member of this civilized community, not knocking the president. BLITZER: You now support the president's new strategy in increasing the number of troops in Iraq to deal with the current instability, but listen to what you told me, Congressman, less than a year ago. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUNTER: Having more troops in those areas of operation, when we're trying to put an Iraqi face on this operation, having more troops on the street corners and more troops on the roads is not necessarily the way to accomplish that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You were critical of introducing more troops less than a year ago. What happened?
HUNTER: Sure. Well, the number of troops that we've got, Wolf, that we're sending in, which will take us up from about 138,000 to a little less than 160,000, is still less troops than we had last December, a year ago December. So the so-called big surge actually takes us up to fewer folks than we had one year and two months ago in Iraq.
Secondly, you've got an Iraqi operation in which you're going to have two battalions of Iraqi forces in front in each of nine sectors in Baghdad, moving forward. And each of those is going to have an American battalion behind them as a backup, mentoring them and training them. That's a new role for the United States.
And my recommendation to the president is simply this: Let's use that as a blueprint to rotate every one of the 129 Iraqi battalions through combat. Get all of them an operational exercise, stand up the Iraqi forces in that way and hand off this military mission to those people.
BLITZER: Congressman, you know a lot of people are skeptical that this new strategy the president has put forward is going to work. Let me read to you what you said nearly three years ago -- nearly three years ago -- in April of 2004: "At some point, you have got to put some of this burden of running this country on the leadership that we've put in place. If they can't hang on to it now, if they're not capable of doing that, I don't think they're going to be able to do it a year from now, two years from now, three years from now."
You were concerned then about the Iraqi political establishment, and I sense -- correct me if I'm wrong -- you're still very concerned about Nouri al-Maliki and his government right now. What makes you think they're any more inclined to take the tough decisions today than the earlier Iraqi governments would have taken in the past two, three years?
HUNTER: Wolf, that's totally consistent with what I've said in the past. And what I've said in the past is, they're going to have to take this handoff of the security responsibility and carry it out themselves. And, you know, part of this self-determination is taking that security handoff and taking the responsibility.
BLITZER: But do you have confidence in the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, that he's going to get tough with Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army, these anti-American Shiite militias who are killing Americans?
HUNTER: Here's what they've got to do, and we'll see as the Baghdad plan goes into effect and you have dates in which Iraqi forces are supposed to move into their positions on the line, and we'll see if they move into those positions. But here's what we have to do, Wolf. Ever since we've engaged in this post-World War II expansion of freedom, whether you're talking about standing up a government in Japan, standing one up in Europe or standing one up in Central America like El Salvador in our own hemisphere, we did three things.
First, you stand up a free government. We've done that in Iraq. Secondly, you stand up a military capable of protecting that free government, and thirdly, the Americans leave. Now we've stood up this free government, we've stood up now 129 Iraqi battalions trained and equipped.
My recommendation, and I'm sending a formal analysis of this to the president and to the secretary of defense, is this: You have 129 operational battalions in the Iraqi military. Let's move every single one of them through a combat rotation because that matures a force much better than drill and ceremony at some remote tarmac. So let's move them all through the battle, get them all battle-hardened.
And when we've done that, we hand that security burden off to the Iraqis. And at that point they're going to have as much violence as they're willing to politically tolerate. But self-determination is self-determination.
BLITZER: All right, let me get your thoughts on a couple other points. Illegal immigration in this country, here's what the president said back on January 23rd.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border. And that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter or country to work on a temporary basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He says he opposes amnesty, but he does support some path towards citizenship for many of these millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. Is the president right?
HUNTER: The president's wrong on that one, Wolf, and I'll tell you why. You know, I built the border fence in San Diego, and I wrote the law that would extend it across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas for 854 miles. Every time the president sends out a message or Congress sends a message that there's a real or perceived benefit, there's something good to be had in America if you come in illegally, you start a stampede for the border.
And we've seen that in the number of border arrests that happen every time the president makes a speech in which he even hints at amnesty. It doesn't make any sense to have this thin line of border patrolmen and now the 6,000 National Guardsmen that the president has sent to the border protecting our border, and at the same time make political statements or start a political debate that will make people around the world who are watching television -- and they're all watching television.
Last year, we had 155,000 people come across the border from Mexico who weren't from Mexico. They came from every country in the world, including 1,100 from communist China. So they watch TV, they say there's good stuff to be had in America, I saw what they're going to do. Let's get in before they close the door, and you start a rush for the border.
What we have to do is secure this border, and Wolf, I think that there's a difference. I think that after 9/11, border security became primarily a national security issue, not primarily an immigration issue. We have to know two things: Who's coming into America, and what are they bringing with them? And you're going to have to have people knock on the front door and not come in the back door if you're going to know those things.
BLITZER: We've got to, unfortunately, leave it there. Congressman Duncan Hunter, he's running for the Republican presidential nomination. We'll see you on the campaign trail.
HUNTER: Hey, hey, thank you, Wolf. Gohunter08, you can see all about my campaign.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much for that.
HUNTER: Thank you.
BLITZER: And coming up here on "Late Edition," on the other side of the aisle, we'll speak with Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, about what he sees going on right now in the race for the White House. "Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition." I'll be speaking live with the former U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry. I'll ask him what he expects on the ground there this spring.
And is Iran to blame for the deadly weapons that are killing Americans in Iraq? Our panel of experts standing by to join us. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.
BLITZER: This is "Late Edition." The last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Our priorities are to make sure our troops have what it takes to do their jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush requests more money to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But is the right battle plan in place? We'll ask the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We're responding to a number of Iranian policies, both in Iraq and around the world, that are actually quite dangerous for our national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is America headed for war with Iran? We'll get analysis from two experts: former DIA intelligence analyst Colonel Pat Lang, and Ray Takeyh from the Council on Foreign Relations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TERRY MCAULIFFE, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: It's going to be an exciting race. I think it's the best field.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Playing party politics. We'll talk to former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe about the race for the White House, why he supports Senator Hillary Clinton and his new book, "What A Party."
ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.
BLITZER: Welcome back. With the focus on Iraq, is the United States losing ground in Afghanistan? We'll talk with the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry in just a moment.
First though, let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield for a quick look at what's in the news right now -- Fred.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.
New warnings today in Iraq that some of the deadliest weapons targeting Americans may be originating in Iran.
CNN's Michael Ware, joining us live from Baghdad with the latest. Michael, this briefing that you had today made the case that the Iranians are directly providing weapons, sophisticated munitions, to Iraqi Shia militia forces and those weapons are killing Americans. What information, what evidence did they have to back that up?
WARE: Well, Wolf, what we saw was American officials come out today and paint the picture of a program, a campaign, that Iran is using to kill American soldiers here in Iraq through Iraqi proxies or surrogates that they're arming, funding and directing.
Now, foremost amongst the weapons that are being given, says U.S. military intelligence, is the most deadly roadside bomb being used in this war. It's called an explosively formed penetrator. And essentially, it's so powerful, it can punch through the heaviest armor on an American battle tank. U.S. military intelligence says since this weapon's introduction in May 2004, at least 170 American soldiers have died. Now, that's as a result of this Iranian weapon.
They also say today, in this briefing, that the Iranian elite Qods Force unit is supplying weapons to Shia insurgent groups and political factions and among them is mortars, sniper rifles, all sorts of weapons that have been used, not just against other Iraqis, but against Americans.
Here are two mortar tail fins that U.S. military intelligence says have come from Iran. Now, here on CNN, we aired these last year. But they're precisely the same kind we saw in the briefing today. The markings, according to military intelligence, clearly trace them back to Iran, manufactured only last year. So, they've only recently come into the country, 81 millimeter.
American military intelligence has another signature of Iran. Also, the fact that this tail fin is a single piece, intelligence says, is another signature that this came from Iran.
But the newest thing, the most interesting thing, out of this briefing is an American senior defense official said that the Iraqi government confirmed that Iranian armed forces gave weapons to an Iraqi political faction. And these included mortars and sniper rifles, weapons that the government said, well, this political faction needs for protection. But the U.S. said these are not protective weapons; these are weapons for attacking -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Were they specific which faction received these Iranian weapons? Were they the Mehdi army, for example, loyal to the anti- American radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who, as you know, his political forces are aligned with the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki?
WARE: That's right. Muqtada's forces are aligned with Maliki's government. In fact, Muqtada and his militia put Maliki in power. And these defense officials today spoke openly about the provision of weapons to Muqtada's Mehdi militia.
However, in this particular case, what they are talking about is this confirmation, by the government of Iraq, of the supply of weapons not to Muqtada's faction, but to, arguably, the most powerful political faction within this government. That is the SCIRI political party.
BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad. Michael, thank you. We're going to get back to you.
Let's turn the corner now to the war in Afghanistan. It's often overshadowed by the war in Iraq, but it's still an expensive challenge for the U.S. military in lots of ways.
Joining us now here in Washington is the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry.
You were there for awhile in Afghanistan, General.
LT. GEN. KARL EIKENBERRY, FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: Twenty-one months.
BLITZER: Yes, so almost two years you served in Afghanistan. First of all, thanks for your service to our country.
EIKENBERRY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit. First of all, we just heard from Michael Ware, evidence that the U.S. military now says they have that Iranians are providing sophisticated weapons to anti-American forces in Iraq. Did you have any evidence that Iranians were providing that kind of munitions or other munitions, training to the anti-American forces in Afghanistan?
EIKENBERRY: We do not have any indicators, in the provision of equipment from Iran to Taliban extremists. There are indications, however, that different security organizations within Iran do maintain contacts with Taliban.
BLITZER: And what's the nature of that connection?
EIKENBERRY: We're not entirely sure. There could be aspects of financing. There could be aspects of training that are going on. Our sense is that the Iranian government, which is Shia, certainly does not want to return to Taliban extremism, which is Salafist Sunni. However, they may be hedging their bets and maintaining tactical types of alliances with extremists in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: Because the notion that if it's bad for the United States, automatically it's good for Iran, in other words, if the U.S. and its NATO partners in Afghanistan are suffering greater losses and the Taliban is making a comeback, that would be beneficial to Iran, is that the assessment?
EIKENBERRY: Wolf, it could be a hedge strategy in case we should have more tension or conflict with Iran. Longer term, certainly, Iran hopes to hasten the day of the departure of the United States and NATO and the military alliance from Afghanistan. But we have no indications that they're fundamentally opposed to the Karzai administration. BLITZER: Here's what you said to us here on CNN, almost exactly a year ago, the last time we spoke. You made a general statement that "We're winning," you said, "in Afghanistan, but we haven't won yet."
And then, you added this. I want to play this excerpt from our interview last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EIKENBERRY: Things are getting better in Afghanistan, in every dimension. If you look at it from the Al Qaida or the Taliban perspective, four-and-a-half years ago, you ruled in Afghanistan. Now, you've been pushed out of Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, a lot has happened over this past year. And most observers suggest things are getting worse right now in Afghanistan, that there's been a deterioration over the past year. Is that accurate?
EIKENBERRY: Over the last year, in 2006, certainly we saw a higher level of fighting and violence in southern Afghanistan, southeastern Afghanistan, than we had anticipated a year before that.
There's explanations for that. The task of trying to extend the governance of Afghanistan, which was decimated by 30 years of warfare, extraordinarily difficult task.
There has been a problem with reconstitution of Taliban command and control. It does enjoy sanctuary and it does enjoy safe haven. It makes it a tough problem to get after.
And then, thirdly, last year, clearly Taliban was trying to challenge the expansion of the NATO forces into southern Afghanistan.
Wolf, what I would say, though, is against that, I think as we're now moving into 2007, we're very well-postured for success. There's going to be more fighting in southern Afghanistan, in the southeastern Afghanistan. We expect the Taliban will surge. But NATO, military presence, stronger than ever.
There was just a recent decision which was made by the president to extend some of our combat forces in Afghanistan for an additional 120 days. We see a very significant increase in the combat power of the Afghan national army, the police. President Karzai continues to improve governance, so I think we're reasonably well-postured in 2007.
But this is a campaign that, as we say, it's saw- tooth. We go up. We go down. But the trend lines in the main continue to be upward.
BLITZER: Well, here are some numbers -- I'm going to put them up on the screen -- showing what's happened over the past year. As far as Afghanistan, armed attacks against U.S. and NATO forces, in 2005, there were about 1,500. They've gone up last year to 4,500. Among suicide attacks against either U.S. or Afghani troops, NATO troops, 27 in 2005, 139 last year. And among remotely detonated bombings, in 2005, there were 783. There were almost 1,700 last year. These numbers all coming in from the U.S. military. Those trends don't sound very encouraging.
EIKENBERRY: As I said, there's a mixed picture in southern Afghanistan and southeastern Afghanistan. There has been an increase of violence. There is a problem with the enemy's enjoying of sanctuary in certain parts of Afghanistan and inside of Pakistan, a problem that has to be dealt with.
In the main though, as we look at the expansion of NATO forces, the expansion of the government of Afghanistan, as the government expands, it goes into ungoverned space, inside some of those ungoverned spaces Taliban over the last several years has been able to reconstitute.
BLITZER: Do you expect a full-scale Taliban and/or al-Qaida offensive in the spring, which usually happens once the weather improves?
EIKENBERRY: I believe there will be, certainly be an increase in enemy activity. But I know that NATO is already especially utilizing the additional U.S. forces, Wolf, that are going to be left in Afghanistan for the next 120 days. It's going to be a NATO offensive to preempt Taliban.
BLITZER: How many NATO troops, including U.S. troops, part of the NATO alliance right now, are in Afghanistan right now?
EIKENBERRY: You've got about a total of 35,000 NATO forces in Afghanistan, and a total of about 15,000 of those are U.S.
BLITZER: But then there are a whole bunch of other American troops who are not under the NATO umbrella, special operations forces.
EIKENBERRY: There are. We have a total of about 27,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan currently...
BLITZER: Who are both...
EIKENBERRY: ... 27,000 total, and 15,000 of those are under NATO command. About 12,000 under U.S. command. And they're responsible for the missions of counterterrorism. And also very importantly, really the predominant number of those has the task of leading the effort to build Afghan national army and support the building of the police force.
BLITZER: Is it enough, because as you know, some critics say that there should be a lot more U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan right now, given the threat of a Taliban/al-Qaida reemergence.
EIKENBERRY: I believe that the decisions that have been made to leave the combat brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, which I will say with a great sacrifice to the families who had expected their soldiers to come home in February and March, with the provision of those troops, Wolf, I think that we do have sufficiency. In fact, sufficiency, now, to go on the offensive.
I want to emphasize that there's no place in Afghanistan today, six years into this campaign, there is no place where Taliban extremists have been able to enter an area which was already secured by the government of Afghanistan with the provision of regional security, with the provision of social services, and push that back. It's very much a matter of ungoverned space. And this has got to be, I think, understood by all of us.
BLITZER: Have you made any progress -- and you were there for almost two years -- in trying to find out where Osama bin Laden may be hiding? First of all, is he alive?
EIKENBERRY: Our working assumption is that Osama bin Laden is alive.
BLITZER: Do you have any idea where he is?
EIKENBERRY: The intelligence has gone cold on Osama bin Laden. We continue the search for bin Laden, obviously. The more important question, though, with the war against international terror is not about one individual.
Global terrorism is a phenomenon which has many leadership nodes. It has financing nodes. It has training facilities. And it also generates recruits through a very nihilist kind of ideology. So this is a global campaign.
What we can say in Afghanistan, if we look back to 2001, in September of 2001, 90 percent of that country was under the open control of al-Qaida and their militant Taliban allies. Ninety percent of the country. Open sanctuary, in which then was plotted the attacks against the United States of America.
That regime has been toppled. There's been enormous pressure that's been put against the network. But I'll say one other thing about bin Laden, that the search for bin Laden will continue because this man has committed mass crimes and atrocities against the American people. And we will not rest as a government, our military will not rest until that man is found, captured or killed.
BLITZER: What about his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri?
EIKENBERRY: We continue to...
BLITZER: Has the trail gone cold for him, too?
EIKENBERRY: I wouldn't want to comment particulars of intelligence on that, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader. There have been some suggestions he's hiding out in Pakistan, in Quetta. EIKENBERRY: There is a challenge we face with senior Taliban leadership, not only in Afghanistan, but clearly there's a problem of them being very difficult to find in Pakistan. And some of their senior leadership is in Pakistan.
BLITZER: I know you're getting ready for your next assignment, which involves NATO. Tell our viewers what you plan on doing. And if you want to look back and have a final thought on what you've observed, what you've learned as a result of your 22 months commanding U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
EIKENBERRY: Well, two things. First of all, with regard to NATO, the Afghanistan's a great opportunity for NATO. First time in their almost 60-year history that NATO's been in a mission outside of Europe, conducting offensive ground operations. They have a long ways to go to continue to adapt. I hope I can bring my Afghan experience to NATO and help with the military transformation.
Secondly, I'd like to say after 21 months in Afghanistan, with regard to the courage and bravery of our armed forces, just a quick vignette, if I could, to give an illustration of who is serving in Afghanistan right now on point for our nation. Captain Ken Dwyer (ph), special forces captain, three tours of duty in Afghanistan. His most recent tour of duty ended in August of 2006 as a special forces captain fighting in interior Afghanistan.
He was hit with an RPG seven round. He lost his arm from the elbow down. He lost his left eye. I visited Ken about three months ago at Walter Reed Hospital. Ken, from Colombia, South Carolina, married, two sons.
When I saw him at Walter Reed with his arm now gone, with his left eye taken out, I saw Ken working out on a treadmill. I walked up to him. He's trying to get his balance back. I asked if there was anything I could do for him.
He had three questions for me, Wolf. The first was, how's my team doing in special forces? (inaudible) he was worried about them. Second was, how are the Afghan people doing in that area where I was trying to work to extend governance to those people and bring them a better life? And then the third question he had was, could I give him any help in going to be assigned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, the special forces school.
He said, with the loss of my arm, with my eye, I can't return to combat duty. But I've learned a lot and I want to help teach other Army officers and non-commissioned officers and special-forces soldiers about the fight in Afghanistan.
That's the kind of people that we've got in our armed forces, men and women that are serving on point for the United States of America. And that's why, Wolf, that I'm confident that we're going to prevail in Afghanistan, because of people like Ken Dwyer.
BLITZER: A moving story. And I'm sure that's just one story. There are a lot of similar stories, given all the U.S. military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. General Eikenberry, good luck with your new assignment.
EIKENBERRY: Wolf, thank you very much.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. And from Afghanistan back to Iraq and Iran. What's Iran's game? Is it to blame for sending deadly weapons to Iraq? And what's its long-term goal?
And is the Iranian leader just talk, or will he change the Middle East map? We'll ask all these questions to our panel of experts, retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Then, we'll turn back to the political beat with former Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe. He has a new book, he has a new job, he has a new candidate. All that coming up when we return.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
New questions this week about intelligence before the war in Iraq, and now a new round of questions about intelligence concerning Iran. What is Iran doing right now and why?
Helping us sort all of this out, two guests: former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Colonel Pat Lang, retired U.S. Army, has long experience in military intelligence and special forces; and Ray Takeyh, he's with the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the author of a new book, "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic."
Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.
Let me ask you, Pat Lang, first, to comment on this briefing that reporters in Baghdad were given today, suggesting that Iranians -- whether the Iranian Republican Guard, the Quds division, whatever -- are providing the most sophisticated explosives that can take out an Abrams battle tank, all the armor, to Shiite militias in Iraq. And those explosives have already killed well more than 100 American troops.
PAT LANG, FORMER DIA ANALYST: Well, I mean, anybody who has been studying this knows the Iranians is playing a significant role in Iraq, as they're interested in a big way in the political outcome there. And the combat situation, of course, directly effects what the political outcome will be.
And I think there's not much doubt that they probably have been supplying material of one kind of another to the Iraqi Shia. I don't have a problem with believing that.
What I have a difficulty understanding, and maybe Ray does, too -- I don't know -- is the idea that all of a sudden, that things which have probably been going on for months and months and months have taken on a whole new significance. And we're beating the drum over and over again about the degree of Iranian participation and combat casualties amongst our troops when, in fact, the Iranians have been an ever-present factor from the beginning.
BLITZER: So I just want to get this straight. So you think there's a political motive for releasing this information right now?
LANG: I think, you know, there's kind of an eerie resemblance, in my mind right now, of what's going on in the continual iteration of statements concerning the Iranians, about their nuclear program, about their general menace in the world, about their actions in Iraq, all these kinds of things, which bears a kind of resemblance to what went on in '02, as part of the buildup to making people think that the Iraqis were such a menace that something had to be done. I think there's a resemblance.
BLITZER: I want Ray to weigh in, but I want to play a little clip of what the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, said on this subject on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GATES: Iran is very much involved in providing either the technology or the weapons themselves for these explosively formed projectiles. Now, they don't represent a big percentage of the IED attacks, but they're extremely lethal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What's your sense?
RAY TAKEYH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think Colonel Lang is right. Iranians have been providing such munitions with whatever degree of sophistications to the Shia militias. It's part of the Iranian strategy to organize and mobilize the Shia community for a potential civil war that is taking place and combat against the Sunni insurgents.
So in that sense, they are trying to strengthen the Shia community politically, economically, and in this particular case, seemingly militarily.
Now, I don't necessarily think that Iranians were suggesting or pressing the Shia militia groups to use those weapons against the American forces or have such operational control over this issue.
But the notion that Iranians are helping to arm Shia militias makes sense to me because the Iranian policy towards southern Iraq is drawn from the policy toward southern Lebanon, namely getting that Shia community organized, armed in a potential sectarian conflict that is taking place in Iraq.
BLITZER: So, in other words, what you're suggesting is that what the Iranians did in trying to bolster Hezbollah in Lebanon, they're now doing to bolster the various Shiite militias, including the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq?
TAKEYH: I suspect they're primarily support base is with the Badr Brigade of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution, SCIRI, which is part of the Iraqi government. But the idea that they would have a relationship with the Sadrists and the Sadr militia makes some sense to me.
BLITZER: Do you agree?
LANG: Yes, I do. And, actually, the analogy to what they're doing in Lebanon is very close, I think. You're seeing a period of Iranian expansionism, in terms of their sphere of influence. And these Shia armies are, in fact, surrogates for them.
BLITZER: Here is what the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times, which I'm sure both of you saw on Thursday: "Now, the United States administration is unfortunately reaping the expected bitter fruits of its ill-conceived adventurism, taking the region and the world with it to the brink of further hostility. But rather than face the unpleasant facts, the United States administration is trying to sell an escalated version of the same failed policy. It does this by trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq."
Pat Lang, you worked in U.S. military intelligence for decades. That was your career. What is your reaction when the Iranian ambassador to the U.N. says U.S. military intelligence is fabricating this kind of evidence?
LANG: Well, I don't think it's the case that military intelligence is fabricating this kind of evidence. In fact, as we were just saying, this has been an ongoing activity, that they've been arming the Shia militia, as part of their program for the Middle East, the Iranians have.
What's different now is that the policy people in the American government are making use of the available data to make a case against the Iranians. And they're doing it with ever-increasing stridency, so far as I can see.
BLITZER: And you see that as potentially setting the stage for military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran?
LANG: It's setting the stage for whatever action the commander in chief and the executive branch decide they're going to take against the Iranians. That seems very much to me to be the case.
BLITZER: You want to weigh in?
TAKEYH: I think what Ambassador Zarif was saying in the New York Times piece, is there's consensus within the Iranian political system today, mainly that the United States, as it loses the war in Iraq, is trying to find culprits to blame. And Iran is one of the easiest ones to blame. So as the Americans are leaving, defeated, they're trying to justify that by blaming others. BLITZER: You disagree?
LANG: Well, I think the United States has not at all accepted the idea that we've been defeated in Iraq. And I think we're looking around for people who are culprits and involved in our present difficulties and seeking to focus on them to see if we can do something about them.
BLITZER: All right, gentlemen, stand by because we have a lot more to talk about. We're going to continue this conversation, also get into questions about whether what's happening in Iraq will spill over to its neighbors and beyond. In other words, is a regional war possible?
But upcoming next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including more on Iran's alleged involvement in Iraqi violence. We'll be right back.
LANG: And that's symptomatic at what's wrong with a lot of our human intelligence collection. And, in fact, you go around and talk to people like Ray, who are well thought of, well-informed academics, people in good think tanks around the United States, you probably get a better idea, in fact, because of their real contacts in Iran and with what's going on politically, than you do just out of the government.
BLITZER: The Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah, said this on Thursday: "The enemies know well that any aggression will lead to a reaction from all sides in the Iranian nation on the aggressors and their interests around the world."
That was seen as a threat to the United States and U.S. interests around the world, and that the Iranians could do some horrible things if they wanted to.
TAKEYH: Well, it seems to me that what Iranians are doing today is pursuing a policy not that dissimilar from the Bush administration's. Tough rhetoric yet, at the same time, saying, but we're willing to be flexible and negotiate.
So you begin to see two tracks being played out: on one hand, threats that Iran is prepared to retaliate and has capability of doing so; yet, at the same time, Iran's national security adviser is in Munich today talking about the fact that the country is open to negotiations on this nuclear issue and a range of other nuclear issues. It's sort of a two-track policy that we seem to be playing, and they're playing it back to us.
BLITZER: We had our interview in the last hour with Doug Feith, the former top Pentagon official and undersecretary of defense. And he made the case that what he was doing, and his colleagues, in the buildup to the war in Iraq, was critiquing the CIA's intelligence. They weren't happy with the CIA's intelligence, on any alleged link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida and that was appropriate.
You worked in Pentagon intelligence for a long time. Was it appropriate for this office to go ahead and review the intelligence that was provided by the CIA?
LANG: When I first heard that they were doing that, at the time, I thought this is a perfectly normal activity that they should do that. What I didn't realize was the way that they were doing it. Because it is normal to critique the intelligence product, no matter where it comes from.
My problem with what they did is the fact that what they were doing is that the intelligence agency has a huge discard pile of reports that they've been sent from around the world that they've decided are untrue and that they keep around just so they can judge the validity of sources in the future.
Now, what these fellows did was they went through the discard pile looking for things that suited their program, evidently, then would write them into things with which they would go around and show people in the White House, and Congress and other places, and show to the analysts every day, saying "why aren't you writing about this?"
And when they were told, in fact, that "we're not writing about this because it's untrue, our agencies have decided it's untrue," they say, "well we think you should think about this some more."
And when you get this day after day, week after week, eventually, it starts to skew the total picture of the government as to what the truth is, just by repetition.
And that's what happened, and I think that was most inappropriate and the I.G. was right, not just on this issue, but also on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, where the bigger problem was that the senior leadership in the intelligence community didn't back the analysts and standing up to guys in Mr. Feith's office and places like that. It was a massive failure of leadership in the intelligence community.
BLITZER: We've got to leave it there. Colonel Pat Lang, thanks very much for coming in.
LANG: Thank you.
BLITZER: Ray Takeyh, thanks very much for coming in. Thanks for writing "Hidden Iran."
TAKEYH: Thank you.
BLITZER: Excellent book on the situation in Iran.
Coming up, we'll go inside the Hillary Clinton campaign and inside the Democratic Party with Terry McAuliffe. Also, stay with us. We'll give you the highlights of what some of the other Sunday talk shows here in the United States have been saying. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Terry McAuliffe is back in the Clinton campaign, this time with Senator Hillary Clinton. He's joining us here to share some stories from his new book, some other thoughts. The new book a best- seller already, "What a Party! My Life Among Democrats, Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals." Quite a long subtitle there.
Terry McAuliffe, thanks for coming in.
MCAULIFFE: Great, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to talk about the book in a moment. But let's talk about -- you're the chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. She's being dogged by her support for that resolution, authorizing the president to go to war back in 2002. Listen to this exchange she had yesterday in New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: And I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake?
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it.
But I also -- and obviously, you have to weigh everything as you make your decisions. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Here's right where she's being criticized by some of her fellow Democrats and a lot of other people out there. She's refusing to apologize and to say she made a mistake.
MCAULIFFE: Listen, this was George Bush's mistake, not Hillary Clinton's mistake.
BLITZER: But she did vote for the resolution.
MCAULIFFE: Sure. She relied on the president of the United States. No one was tougher in all those different hearings, with the generals, with the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. She was one of the toughest critics from day one. Once the vote went on and she was up in Congress, she laid it out, asked questions...
BLITZER: There were other Democratic senators, like Senator Ted Kennedy, Bob Graham, the former senator from Florida, who had exactly the same intelligence information she had, and they said this war was not authorized. And they voted against that resolution.
MCAULIFFE: They made their own decision. Hillary made her decision based on the information that she had seen. She says there are no redos in life. She has been very tough. She said the other day, if George Bush doesn't get the troops out, it's the first thing she will do as president.
This is George Bush's mistake. And I tell people, let's not all sit around and talk about who's mistake -- this was George Bush's war. It wasn't Hillary Clinton's war, it was George Bush's war.
BLITZER: Here's what Senator John Edwards said the other day in an interview with politico.com, a new Web site: "When we went to war, Senator Clinton and I both voted for it, and Senator Obama was not in the Senate. I have since said I was wrong, and I take responsibility for that. I have not heard Senator Clinton say that."
MCAULIFFE: John is down, you know, 20 points in the polls to Hillary Clinton. People are going to come out and take shots at her all the time. We understand that.
She's said there's no redos in life. She's laid out what she would do as president of the United States. She has consistently said, if she were president with this information, we wouldn't be Iraq today. If Hillary Clinton were president when George Bush was, we wouldn't be in Iraq today. She has said all of that consistently.
BLITZER: But don't you think it would be smart to simply say, all right, I apologize, I made a mistake?
MCAULIFFE: It was George Bush's mistake. I want the focus, and we all want the focus on George Bush. Let us not forget, he got us into this war. You can call it he lied, misled, misinterpreted, fudged around the intelligence data. This is on George Bush. It isn't on Hillary Clinton or any other Democrats running for office.
BLITZER: All right. Barack Obama yesterday announced he's running for president. And he obviously is getting a lot of traction right now. How concerned is the Hillary Clinton campaign that he is emerging now potentially as her major threat?
MCAULIFFE: We're excited. I had a long talk with Patti Solis Doyle yesterday, our campaign manager. We think it's great. First of all, we have to beat someone. I mean, to go through this primary calendar and be out there competitively, laying our ideas out for the general election, I think -- and I've consistently said it.
It is great that Barack Obama is in this race. He will excite, he will energize a lot of people. We're going to win this nomination. But through the process, I believe that Barack Obama will bring a lot more people into the whole process who will stay with us through the general election.
BLITZER: Is he qualified? Does he have enough experience to be president?
MCAULIFFE: I want to talk about Hillary Clinton, and I'm not going to get into the game of talking about the other Democratic candidates. She is tested. She is tough. She is strong. She's experienced. She's got a great sense of humor. She knows all the world leaders. I'm going to spend our time and my time talking about Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: Here's what the Australian prime minister, John Howard, said today on Australian television about Barack Obama. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD: I think he's wrong. If I were running al-Qaida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Undiplomatic, some say. Some suggesting interference in domestic American politics. But he's got a stake. He's got Australian troops in Iraq. He clearly doesn't like Barack Obama's proposal to get all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by March of next year. What do you think of his comments?
MCAULIFFE: First of all, the prime minister has been a great friend of George Bush's. He's been with him lockstep from day one on this war in Iraq. He and George Bush, they can go off and talk to each other. We don't care what he says.
BLITZER: Here's what Ralph Nader told me on this program last Sunday, when I asked him if he was thinking about running for president once again this time around. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: If Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, would that encourage you to put your name on the ballot?
RALPH NADER, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would make it more important that that be the case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How worried are you that he might run again, given what happened back in 2000?
MCAULIFFE: Well, clearly, 2000, you know, he has to take responsibility. We have George Bush in the White House today. Al Gore, if you'd had the votes of Florida and New Hampshire, either one of those two states. But he was a non-factor in 2004. We are not, Wolf, sitting around worried about this person or that person.
Hillary is in. I can tell you, if you've watched her the last two and a half weeks, she has had more fun than she's probably had in her whole life. She's out there getting her message out. She's loving it.
We had a huge kickoff in Iowa. It was supposed to be 500 people. Twenty-eight hundred people showed up. We had to get an adjoining gym and telecast in it. She's taking her vision where she wants to take this country.
And let Ralph Naders and Prime Minister Howard, they can all say whatever they want. We don't care. We're focused on where we want to take the country. And we're having a great time doing it.
BLITZER: Let's go through a couple of quotes from the book, "What a Party!" You write this: "What I could never grasp is why they would want to run away from the Clinton/Gore partnership, which brought us the largest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history." This is a criticism you have of Al Gore back in 2000 he didn't use Bill Clinton enough to try to get himself elected.
MCAULIFFE: Well, I talk about the story, I was actually golfing with President Clinton about nine days before out here in Maryland. And he looked at me. He was teeing up on the 18th hole. It was a beautiful day. The sun was going down.
And he said, Terry, what the heck am I doing golfing with you today? It's the first time in 35 years I haven't been campaigning. Bill Clinton left office with a 66 percent approval rating, higher than any president, second-term president in modern history. He should have been out there campaigning, touting all the economic successes as well as foreign policy.
Peace in Northern Ireland, stopping the genocide in Kosovo and Bosnia, very close to getting peace in the Middle East. You know what? They were a team, and they were a team economically. And they should have gone out and talked about a that and I believe Al Gore would be in the White House. He should have been anyway, as you know. I'm very tough on that.
BLITZER: I know you are, on the recount.
MCAULIFFE: We won't go into that today.
BLITZER: Let's talk about John Kerry. You were very critical of him back in 2004: "The decision of the Kerry campaign to back off of any real criticism of Bush was one of the biggest acts of political malpractice in the history of American politics."
And you also write this: "The geniuses around John didn't even want me or any other high-ranking Democrats to go up to New York for the week of lies and distortions the Republicans were calling a convention. This is how gun shy the Kerry campaign was."
No love lost between you and John Kerry. MCAULIFFE: Well, the point I try to make, look, it's not about John Kerry or Bill Clinton or Al Gore of Terry McAuliffe. Millions of people who don't have health insurance, who don't have quality education, whose disposable income is down, they are counting on us to fight for them. And when John got attacked on the swift boats, he should have responded immediately.
Did you know we were not allowed to use George Bush's name at our own Democratic convention? We're trying to beat a incumbent president at war, but if you can't use his name, how can you get the American public to focus on his mistakes? Gigantic mistakes, I believe, were made.
I sat with John Kerry after the campaign and he's quoted in the book. He agreed with me on my assessments. I don't just make these allegations in the book. I have everybody quoted first-hand.
BLITZER: It's a fascinating read, "What A Party! My Life Among Democrats, Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals." We'll get to the alligators and wild animals on another interview.
MCAULIFFE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Terry McAuliffe, congratulations on the new book.
MCAULIFFE: Thank you. Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.
And we'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Now, "In Case You Missed It." Let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.
Today, the focus was on the looming debate over Iraq in Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STENY H. HOYER, D-MD.: We're going to do a very simple, straightforward, a very clear resolution which says two things. We support the troops, we're going to protect the troops. Secondly, we do not support the president's escalation of troops in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER, R-OHIO: Who doesn't believe that if we withdraw and leave the chaos in the Middle East, that the terrorists won't follow us here to the United States? Victory is the only option.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN.: Most people are afraid of the 30-second sound bite they may face in the next election. But, frankly, kids are dying there. We're in deep trouble there. It's getting worse by the day. We need to stand up and be counted on this issue, and certainly I'll be supporting a resolution that will cut off funding but not put our troops in jeopardy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TRENT LOTT, R-MISS.: All we were asking was that we have an opportunity to have an open debate and offer more than one resolution. But at least have a vote on whether or not we support funds for the troops that are in Iraq. Isn't that an important part of the debate?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.: Without the date, there is nothing to compel Iraqi politicians who today are using our presence as a cover for their own manipulation, for their own power struggle. There's nothing to compel them to say the order here has to change. And we have to respond.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: What we were insisting on, Chris, was that a vote to indicate whether or not the troops should be supported should also be part of the overall Iraq debate. In the Senate, the majority doesn't get to dictate to a robust minority the terms of the debate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
We're going to take a quick break, but coming up at the top of the hour, don't forget "This Week At War" with John Roberts, right after "Late Edition." We'll be right back.
BLITZER: And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, February 11.
Please be sure to join us next Sunday. We're going to be reporting live from Nevada, talking about why winning the West is so important for Republicans and Democrats in 2008.
Among my guests, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He'll be joining us next Sunday from Las Vegas.
And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday. Don't forget, we're here every Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
I'm also in "The Situation Room," Monday through Friday, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for joining us.
For our North American viewers, "This Week At War" with John Roberts is next -- John.
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