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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Collision Course: Setting Iraq Limits?; What foreign Policy?; Fury Over Walter Reed Failures

Aired February 23, 2007 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Tonight, the Bush administration surrendering to corporate America and the government of Mexico on the issue of cross-border trucking. Mexican trucking companies will be given access to the entire United States for the first time in a quarter century.
We'll have that special report.

Also, the illegal alien lobby and its supporters using every conceivable tactic to stop the federal government from arresting or detaining illegal aliens.

We'll have that story for you.

And Defense Secretary Robert Gates is furious over the neglect of our wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Gates demanding answers. He wants them now.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is unacceptable and it will not continue.


ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Friday, February 23rd.

Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

Senate Democrats tonight are preparing a new strategy to challenge President Bush's powers to wage war in Iraq. Democrats are planning to revoke the congressional resolution that originally authorized the president to go to war.

Meanwhile, the White House is struggling to develop an effective policy to deal with communist China's aggressive military buildup. Vice President Dick Cheney today warning about the dangers of that buildup, but other administration officials inconceivably are doing everything possible to play down the rising Chinese challenge.

Andrea Koppel reports from Washington tonight on the political showdown over Iraq.

Kitty Pilgrim here tonight with a report on the total confusion in U.S. policy towards China and the Middle East.

And Jamie McIntyre reports on Defense Secretary Robert Gates' fury about the appalling conditions for some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

We turn first to Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, two senior Democrats, Delaware's Joe Biden and Michigan's Carl Levin, have drafted legislation to repeal the 2002 congressional resolution which authorized the war in Iraq, and they plan to argue the conditions that prevailed when Mr. Bush was given that authority over four years ago are no longer relevant.

According to senior Democratic aides, the resolution will also seek to replace that authority with a much more narrowly-defined mission -- to deny al Qaeda a sanctuary in Iraq to continue to train Iraqi forces and to help defend Iraq's borders. And finally, the resolution will set a goal to remove all U.S. combat forces in Iraq who are not necessarily tied to that mission, and make it a much more limited mission by March 2008. That is a date suggested by the Iraq Study Group.

Now, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell today told reporters, "You can't unring a bell. That was the vote we had in 2002, and it didn't have an expiration date on it." -- Lou.

DOBBS: And in practical political terms, if this is politics, primarily, rather than policy, can -- can the Democrats in the Senate succeed with this measure?

KOPPEL: They don't necessarily think they have the votes, Lou, and we saw that last week with that non-binding resolution that they tried to get. Republicans are saying that they will continue to block, or filibuster, whatever word you want to use, until they can offer a resolution that would cut funding for -- that would say that you cannot cut funds for U.S. troops in Iraq -- Lou.

DOBBS: So, without hope of success, this can be easily classified as nothing but political posturing?

KOPPEL: Well, that's certainly what Republicans would call it.

DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Andrea Koppel.

The White House immediately said it who oppose any Democratic attempt to restrict the president's power to wage war in Iraq. The White House said, "There's a lot of shifting sands in the Democrats' position right now."

White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto also said, "It's hard to say exactly what their position is." Fratto repeated the White House view that any quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would lead to chaos. Vice President Dick Cheney today refused to apologize to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for saying her views on Iraq "encourage terrorists." Congresswoman Pelosi said the vice president's remarks were outrageous, but Vice President Cheney stood by those comments, saying the House speaker's policies, would, if adopted, validate the strategy of al Qaeda, as he put it.

Vice President Cheney today said the United States has not taken any options off the table to stop Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons. But other administration officials insist the United States has no intention of attacking Iran. Iran has refused to meet another United Nations deadline to suspend its nuclear program, and Iranian president Ahmadinejad today declared, Iran will not retreat from its enemies.

There is also considerable confusion and ambiguity in U.S. policy toward communist China. The Bush administration and its allies in corporate America appear determined to forge even closer ties with the communist nation. But as Kitty Pilgrim now reports, Vice President Cheney today criticized China's rapid military buildup.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): When China showed the world it could destroy a satellite last month, it was clearly an aggressive act, but it took until today for Vice President Dick Cheney to react.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last month's anti-satellite test and China's fast-paced military buildup are less constructive and are not consistent with China's stated goal of a peaceful rise.

PILGRIM: While Cheney's words were clearly a warning, the bulk of U.S.-China relations of late are more of the make-nice variety -- handshaking and back-slapping. U.S. Secretary Henry Paulson has twice visited Beijing and hopes of cajoling the Chinese into better trade policies and currency devaluation. He'll return to Beijing for a third trip on March 7th.

GRANT ALDONAS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, there is a bit of a mixed message. It's something where it reflects a philosophical difference and approach within the administration to China. What you are seeing, I think, as between the Paulson side and the Treasury Department and the vice president's remarks is exactly that philosophical gap.

PILGRIM: Some say that confused approach to China is risky. Military buildup has entered a new phase. The United States is too preoccupied with other conflicts. And the incoherent policy to China is dangerous.

JOHN TKACIK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It seems that we are distracted from, I think, the major historical development in Asia, which is the rise of China. And the fact is, we have not done enough to come to terms with that. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Besides China, U.S. policy to North Korea, Russia, Iran has also been disjointed and uncoordinated. For example, in the case of Iran, saying all options are on the table, and then suddenly favoring diplomacy. It seems to reward dangerous behavior -- Lou.

DOBBS: And then saying all options are back on the table to keep it current.


DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Kitty Pilgrim.

A top adviser to the U.S. commanding general in Iraq today acknowledged that Iraqi forces cannot -- cannot fight insurgents without American support. Retired Army general Jack Keene said Iraqi troops and police are not fully combat-ready. General Keene said U.S. strategy is to cut the level of violence so Iraqi forces can deal with the enemy on their own.

DOBBS: Insurgents have killed three more of our troops in Iraq. The soldiers were killed in Al Anbar Province, west of Baghdad.

Seventy-one of our troops have been killed in Iraq so far this month, 3,154 of our troops have been killed since this war began. 23,677 of our troops wounded, 10,509 of them so seriously they could not return to duty within three days.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today expressed outright fury and frustration with the appalling treatment of some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. After a visit to Walter Reed, Gates said conditions were unacceptable. The defense secretary said military commanders must be held accountable.

Jamie McIntyre reports now on Gates' determination to fix those problems at Walter Reed.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): CNN has learned that the company commander and two first sergeants who were in charge of the now notorious Walter Reed outpatient barracks known as building 18 have been relieved of duty for failing to report unacceptable living conditions. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates says other heads may roll, too.

GATES: After the facts are established, those responsible for having allowed this unacceptable situation to develop will, indeed, be held accountable.

I accept full responsibility for that, Jamie.

MCINTYRE: Among the senior officers who could face repercussions, Major General George Weightman, the Walter Reed commander who blames himself. Also under scrutiny, the Army's surgeon general, Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, who this week seemed to downplay the seriousness of the problem first revealed by "The Washington Post."

LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, ARMY SURGEON GENERAL: I do not consider building 18 to be substandard. I know the articles characterize it in such a manner.

MCINTYRE: That drew a rebuke from Secretary Gates, who sided with the newspaper, saying its description of bleak living conditions and a messy catch-22 bureaucratic battlefield was right on target.

GATES: This is unacceptable. And it will not continue. The men and women recovering at Walter Reed and at other military hospitals have put their lives on the line and paid a considerable price for defending our country. They battled our foreign enemies, they should not have to battle an American bureaucracy.


MCINTYRE: Gates has appointed an independent review panel headed by former Army secretaries Togo West and Jack Walsh, and given them free reign to investigate Walter Reed, Bethesda Naval Hospital, and any other medical -- military medical facility. He's given them 45 days to bring back their report, but Gates says he expects the problems at Walter Reed to be fixed well before that -- Lou.

DOBBS: That -- that is a refreshing approach, to hear Secretary Gates say he wants it fixed straight away. Who are the two -- two leaders who are being held responsible at this point?

MCINTYRE: Well, at this point, nobody's being held accountable except low-level people who were in charge of this particular barracks. But Gates says he wants all the facts.

The commander who's in charge of Walter Reed, General Weightman, said he takes responsibility. He said that they can fire him if he wants. He's going to try to fix all the problems. He acknowledges he should have done a better job.

We'll just have to see if he's held accountable.

DOBBS: Jamie McIntyre from the Pentagon.

Thank you, Jamie.

Still ahead, corporate elites. Government leaders meeting in Canada to advance the agenda for a North American union. That North American union, of course, going ahead with stealth, with silence, and without congressional or certainly the support or approval of the American people.

We'll have that report.

The illegal alien movement blasting the federal government for having the audacity to enforce U.S. immigration laws for putting illegal aliens at a detention facility with computers, toys, and video games, and more. Distressing, don't you think?

We'll have that story and a great deal more, coming right up.

We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Mexican truckers apparently will soon be hitting American highways. The U.S. Department of Transportation announcing a plan that allows Mexican trucking companies to begin making deliveries in the United States. That is, if the Bush administration has its way and follows through on an announcement made not in the United States but in Monterrey, Mexico.

Bill Tucker's here to tell us it may be one more example of trade-trumping security and national interests.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Load up in Mexico and just keep trucking, past the border crossing, into the heart of America. It will be the first time Mexican trucks and truckers will be allowed on our roads since 1982. And for the first time ever, U.S. truckers will also be allowed the same access to Mexico's highways.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters making the announcement today, saying the authority to launch the program is granted to the DOT under the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is not a program that sits well with the leader of the Teamsters Union.

JAMES HOFFA, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS: What's happening here is that the Bush administration is buckling to the pressure of Mexican business and the Mexican government, and U.S. business, to have cheaper trucks and cheaper truck drivers on the highway at the sacrifice of American safety on the highway, so that corporations can make more money.

TUCKER: The pilot program is scheduled to be a year long and to begin in roughly 60 days. Democrats in Congress have no intention of letting the program proceed unchecked.

Representatives Peter DeFazio and James Oberstar, who lead the House Transportation Committee, put out a statement saying, "Under NAFTA, the U.S. has consistently compromised its environmental and labor standards. Now we're being asked to risk the safety of citizens on highways and in communities where these trucks will travel.

DOT officials respond saying, Mexican drivers will be required to meet the same regulations as American truckers and truck companies. Both congressmen are promising hearings.

On the Senate side, Senator Patty Murray sits on the Senate Transportation Subcommittee, and she's promising hearings on the DOT's actions as well. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: Now, the announcement does have one significant concession from the Mexican government. For the first time ever, U.S. inspectors will be allowed into Mexico to conduct inspections of trucks there. And under the terms of the pilot program, DOT officials, Lou, are promising that 100 percent of the trucks involved in this program will be inspected to see if they meet safety requirements.

DOBBS: You know, I can't say that I -- as I think about this, this government, this administration, and what it is doing to American working men and women in this country and their families, the way they are proceeding with the North American union, this integration, so- called, Security and Prosperity Partnership, what this administration is doing, I wouldn't believe a word anyone in this administration said about anything.

TUCKER: And there are significant questions about whether they can, in fact, the United States, we, can expect all of those trucks, because there are roughly 17,500 truck crossings every year -- Lou.

DOBBS: This is -- it's unconscionable. And the way this administration is behaving, its conduct is rising to a level of recklessness and disregard for the American people that I think is bordering on the unacceptable.

Bill Tucker, thank you very much.

Top-level meetings in Ottawa today to hammer out changes in border security, the energy grid, and regulations, among the United States, Canada and Mexico. That, too, part of an effort to integrate the economies of the three nations by 2010.

The plan is moving quickly at the highest levels of our government, and, of course, at the highest level of corporate America. Without congressional oversight and certainly without, in most cases, public knowledge, and certainly without public approval.

Christine Romans now examines the agenda of today's meeting and the implications for the United States as a nation.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's called the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a broad agenda that is going to make life better for people. It is the only way that we can achieve security and prosperity for our people, is through this cooperation.

PATRICIA ESPINOSA, MEXICAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We recognize today that the issue of security is intrinsically linked with economic and trade flows.

PETER MACKAY, CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: It's all about cooperation amongst our neighbors.

ROMANS: Three governments working closely with 30 big corporations called the North American Competitiveness Council. This diverse group of companies presented a wish list to its governments -- "improving the secure flow of goods and people within North America." From breakfast cereal to food safety inspections, cutting red tape "...minimizing minor differences between standards and regulations between three countries."

Another priority, integrating the energy grid. Business, a driving force in the SPP. The Canadian public safety minister was asked, where was the input from the citizens of the three countries?

STOCKWELL DAY, CANADIAN PUBLIC AFFAIRS MINISTER: That type of thing happens in different venues on a host of other occasions.

ROMANS: Similar concerns in the U.S. It's a process designed to move forward without congressional approval. SPP architects maintain it's not necessary. Some members of Congress disagree.

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: They may well be doing something decent and good. Who knows? Maybe there are some benefits of these things they are suggesting. But to me, it's sort of a collusion between secret government and big business, and I don't like what I see coming.

ROMANS: He and other border security advocates see a move toward open borders. They point to business community statements like today's "... any tightening of the borders between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, threatens to erode the North American advantage created by NAFTA."


ROMANS: The criticism of the SPP and its mission spans the political spectrum. Here, conservative groups like Judicial Watch fear an attack on the sovereignty of these countries and they'd like more transparency into the process. On the left, in Canada, are those that fear a move to undermine their healthcare and their food safety rules in favor of lower common standards between all three of these countries -- Lou.

DOBBS: There is, of course, a wide range of choices to make here when one talks about examples of the arrogance of this administration and the abuse of power by this government in a -- in a nation that is, after all, a representative democracy, or at least it once was. But for that minister, the Canadian minister, to respond that that happens in other venues and in -- on other occasions, the fact is, there is no role for the consent of the governed in this process.

ROMANS: And that's exactly what the critics are saying. They would like to know where their role is in this, especially since it's designed to transcend politics. No matter who is in government, no matter who we vote in, this is something that's meant to move on its own, and that is something that concerns people. DOBBS: It should more than concern. It should infuriate, it should mobilize anyone who cares about something as archaic as a nation state called the United States of America.

This is absolutely reprehensible conduct, and to what level it rises will depend upon, I suppose, to the exsent they can get away with it, what happens next.

Christine, thank you.

Christine Romans.

That brings us to the subject of our poll tonight.

Do you believe the American people should demand an end to any further expansion of the so-called North American union until the American people are allowed to approve it or disapprove it? Just a thought. Yes or no?

Cast your vote at We'll have the results here shortly.

Up next, the illegal alien lobby protesting a newly renovated detention center for illegal alien families. The Department of Homeland Security says the facility is humane and clean. They will, they say, not shut it down.

We'll have the latest on this new controversy about enforcing U.S. immigration laws.

Senator Barack Obama calling for an end to his feud with Senator Hillary Clinton. We'll have the story. It's been such a short-lived feud. And we'll discuss the issue with some of the best minds in politics who have only the noblest of apparitions to bring to bear.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: An attempt at a thaw in the feud between Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton.

Senator Obama today called for an end to what he termed "divisive politics" and "tit for tat." The spat between the two leading Democratic contenders has to do with the support of Hollywood producer David Geffen. Now, there's something worth fighting over.

We'll have more on the controversy later in this broadcast. We'll be talking with some of the best political minds in the country.

Time now for some of your thoughts, speaking of very good minds.

Martin in Virginia said, "In regards to the conditions our veterans face at Walter Reed Hospital, it would be nice if just a little bit of the trillions of dollars being spent would go toward caring for the troops who have lost lives, limbs, mental stability, and in many cases, any hope of bright futures."

Tom in Alabama, "As the Congress tries to debate supporting the troops in Iraq, I suggest they all make a visit to the Walter Reed Hospital and make sure that those that have served and given minds and limbs be given all the support needed. We seem to want to support those fighting but discard those who have already served and can no longer do so. Shame on us."

Judith in Illinois, "George W. and Dick Cheney keep saying 'we will complete our mission in Iraq.' I'm sorry, but which mission are they talking about this week? When we attacked Iraq, we said the mission was to take out Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction. Since we declared 'mission accomplished,' the definition of our mission has changed so many times that I've lost track. So what mission are we going to complete this week?"

Send us your thoughts at More of your thoughts coming up here later.

Each of you whose e-mail is read here receives a copy of my book, "War on the Middle Class."

Up next, three of the nation's smartest political analysts join me. We'll be trying to figure out the political feud between Senator Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. The one between the vice president, the speaker of the House, and this administration, and seemingly every other government on the planet.

And the illegal alien lobby says the federal government is using what it calls inhumane facilities to detain illegal aliens, even though those facilities are equipped with computers, video games and toys.

We'll try to separate the rhetoric from the reality. Deal with something called an independent, nonpartisan truth.

And new support tonight for imprisoned former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean.

We'll have the latest for you and more.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Our top stories tonight.


DOBBS: Protests today about conditions at a Texas detention center for illegal aliens. That facility holds families of illegal aliens who are caught entering the United States. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says the facility is humane and safe, but as Lisa Sylvester tells us, illegal alien advocates want to shut down the facility.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The detention center is clean. There are toys, videogames and computers. But critics say the Hutto family detention center in Texas is not appropriate for children, because of its prison-like environment.

EMILY BUTERA, LUTHERAN IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE SERVICE: Hutto is a 512-bed former criminal facility, and it looks and feels like a prison. There's razor wire, prison cells, uniformed guards and restricted movement.

SYLVESTER: The Department of Homeland Security opened Hutto last year. Prior to that, most illegal alien families were simply released into the U.S. population. Human smugglers would take advantage of that policy by often borrowing children to bring in adult illegal aliens.

JULIE MYERS, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, ICE: We detain people in a way that is safe and humane. The goal of the family detention centers was to make sure that we're keeping families intact and to prevent a loophole that had previously existed by individuals who are smuggling children into the country with the thought that they would then be released. There were rent-a-kid schemes and other things.

SYLVESTER: The average stay for illegal aliens before deportation is 18 to 30 days. Those seeking asylum stay an average of two months.

Still, refugee service groups are demanding Hutto be shut down. Instead of detention, they recommend electronic monitoring and supervision programs.

The Center for Immigration Study doubts this would be effective. Illegal aliens that have been released in the past and told to show up for a court date rarely do.

STEVE CAMAROTA, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: We always want to treat children, I think, with special care. Nonetheless, it is their parents, not the United States' government, not the American people, who have created this situation by knowingly and willfully violating U.S. immigration law and dragging their child with them.

SYLVESTER: The Department of Homeland Security says it's working with private groups to establish new standards at the Hutto Detention Center, but DHS has no plans to shut the facility down.


SYLVESTER: Representative John Carter toured the facility today and released this statement this afternoon, saying he's happy to report the facility is providing a humane and safe alternative to catch-and-release, referring to the previous policy where illegal aliens were not detained -- Lou.

DOBBS: And the group's raising a protest. Who are they? SYLVESTER: Primarily you're seeing refugee groups, for instance, the Lutheran refugee groups. These are clearly on the side of pro- immigrant groups, Lou.

DOBBS: Right. With agendas. Are they in any circumstance protesting the living conditions of these people in Mexico, the abject poverty in which they live, conditions that are horrible by any comparison to that detention center?

SYLVESTER: They did not address that at all, Lou.

DOBBS: They typically do not.

Lisa, I understand Senator Ted Kennedy took issue with your report last night, talking about working with the Chamber of Commerce and business groups. Actually, the Chamber of Commerce being given the opportunity to write that legislation in secret. What's his complaint?

SYLVESTER: Well, the Senator's office, they are insisting that they are not negotiating their immigration proposal in secret, but when I asked them to release even draft details of the plan, they would not make it public.

And the Senator actually put out a statement today saying, "We expect to have broad support from Democrats and Republicans, labor and business leaders, the religious community, immigration advocates. Everyone has had and will have an opportunity to be heard in the process."

Obviously, these are the open-border folks. Except who's not having a say, Lou, are the key Senators. There are members even of the judiciary committee, including the ranking Republican, Arlen Specter, is not reached out to by those -- those lawmakers that are drafting this legislation.

DOBBS: So the complaint was with our saying that -- basically allowing the Chamber of Commerce to help the good Senator write this legislation in secret. It wasn't a complaint about the fact e chamber's right writing part of this legislation, at least part of it, but, rather, the idea that we said it was secret, but they won't give us any details.

SYLVESTER: They won't to give us any details, and as for the chamber writing this, they say the chamber is not actually writing it. But at the same time that they're having a lot of input. So we're splitting hairs here.

DOBBS: This is the new Democratic Congress, right?

SYLVESTER: Yes, it is, Lou.

DOBBS: Why does it sound so much like the old Republican Congress? Isn't it amazing?

It shows you the clout of big business on Capitol Hill. DOBBS: It does. And it also shows you the -- unfortunately, the abject lack of character on the part of our Senators and congressmen. Too many of them seem to be concerned about representing the American citizens who put them in office and who keep them there, with or without bad judgment, in doing so.

Thank you very much, Lisa. Lisa Sylvester. We appreciate it.

The outrage over the case of two former Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Campean has now reached the music community. Musician and songwriter Michael Britton learned of their long prison sentences for shooting and wounding an illegal alien drug smuggler given immunity by the Justice Department, so Michael Britton decided to try to help them. And here is part of his new song.


MICHAEL BRITTON, MUSICIAN (singing): Ramos and Campean facing danger in the hard times, never knowing if the ones you caught tonight will cut you down or kill you with a gun.

So all they give you is a control a living hell for your family. We Americans promise you and swear by God to put an end to this insanity, this travesty.

Vigilance for which we pay. Dominique (UNINTELLIGIBLE) We fight until the end, then we all stand strong with Ramos and Campean, Ramos and Campean.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ramos was beaten severely in prison over the weekend and then yelled insults in Spanish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If these men, especially after this assault, are murdered in prison, one of them lose their lives, there's going to be some kind of impeachment talk in Capitol Hill.

BRITTON: Ramos and Campean, Ramos and Campean.


DOBBS: If you'd like to hear the entire song, you can go to Michael Britton's web site. We connect you there at Britton is offering that song, by the way, as a free download in the hope that everyone who does go to his site and listen to the song will donate to a fund set up especially for agents Campean and Ramos. The link for that fund is on his web site.

Tonight, the war within, our special report, looking at this country's battle against both drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. America's illegal drug habit, the largest in the world, is making Mexican dope dealers richer and richer.

According to a new report in "U.S. News and World Report" the Drug Enforcement Administration announced drug proceeds flowing back to Mexico to be more than $10 billion in 2004. The government's drug threat assessment estimates that Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers are now thought to be taking in up to $25 billion a year.

Coming up here next, the three smartest political analysts in the country, on the biggest stories of the week and the biggest issues.

Also ahead, some thoughts on the Demo-spat between Clinton and Obama. A feud with roots that go way back. And they're not pretty.

And "Heroes", our weekly tribute on this broadcast to the men and women who serve this nation in uniform around the world. Tonight, we introduce you to Jesse Acosta, a soldier whose service was matched by his sacrifice. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Joining me now, the best political analysts in America. Former White House political director, Republican strategist, Ed Rollins. Columnist, "New York Daily News," Pulitzer Prize winner, Michael Goodwin. Democratic National Committee member, Democratic strategist, Robert Zimmerman.

Good to have you all here.


DOBBS: Now, what is going on? David Geffen says some unkind things. Senator Obama and Senator Clinton are now in a feud, which -- from which, apparently, Senator Obama, you can either say he's trying to extricate himself from it or is showing the class to try to -- to mend fences.

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I would hope and I believe he's trying to extricate himself from this, but more important than David Geffen is the fact that his comments shot Democrats into reality, that we're not going to succeed by engaging in the rhetoric used against us by the Republican right wing.

That kind of vicious characterizations that were used by David Geffen really, I think, have forced Democrats to recognize, we've got to keep focused on the issues and we can't allow this kind of rhetoric to...

DOBBS: Robert -- Robert, I've got to say la-di-da. You're in the middle of a mudslinging fight.

ZIMMERMAN: Not if the people -- not if the candidates aren't slinging mud.

DOBBS: Senator Clinton say give Senator Obama a big hug and a kiss and say everything is OK?

ZIMMERMAN: They're both campaigning for president, and they're not feuding with each other here, and there's a big difference here, Lou. And I think it's important to appreciate that.

DOBBS: OK. What do you think, Michael? MICHAEL GOODWIN, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": I think Hillary panicked. I think the team panicked. I think they overreacted. And I think that, as a result Obama looks good by comparison. I think in many ways for Obama it was his first big test. I give him an "A." I give him an "A." I think that Hillary made...

DOBBS: What about everybody listening to you gives him? Let's get to this to David. Here's what David Geffen said.

GOODWIN: All right.

DOBBS: "Not since the Vietnam War" -- and I better put my glasses on here. "Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don't think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matters how smart she is, no matter how ambitious she is -- and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton -- to bring the country together." Whoa.

GOODWIN: And I mean, I think those are dead on. That is her weakness. Everybody knows that.

DOBBS: Is that on?

GOODWIN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

ZIMMERMAN: First of all, let's have the reality.

GOODWIN: Wait, wait, wait.

ZIMMERMAN: Let's have a reality check.

GOODWIN: She may win. She may win despite that, but everything he said is absolutely true.

ZIMMERMAN: First of all, let's...

GOODWIN: What's wrong? What's untrue about what he said?

ZIMMERMAN: What's untrue? First of all, that kind of characterization as...

GOODWIN: Is it true or not true?

ZIMMERMAN: Of course, it's false. But more important than being...

GOODWIN: What's false?

ZIMMERMAN: More important than being false, it also reflects the kind of rhetoric that is the defensive thinking that destroys -- that will destroy us if we don't get your act together.

DOBBS: Let's get a Republican view of this.

GOODWIN: You're enjoying this too much. ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The old thing of never get in the way of the enemies when they try to destroy themselves.

The bottom line is that the Democratic Party and the Clintons in particularly, made their bed in Hollywood, and I mean that literally and figuratively. And they raised a lot of money. And these people are very fickle. And I think to a certain extent they have a place at the table.

And any time you let a movie star or movie star maker basically trying to call your shots, I think -- I think you hurt yourself and your candidacy. I think both -- I think both of them got hurt, and from our perspective, it is the best thing to happen to us.

ZIMMERMAN: Ed, if you think Barack Obama or any Democrat is going to help themselves by attacking the two most popular Democrats in America, Bill and Hillary Clinton, you are very much mistaken. What really was so incredible about...

ROLLINS: First, let me say, what I basically said is when you basically let someone like the Hollywood players have the say that they've had in your party for a long, long time, then you basically...

ZIMMERMAN: Trust me, Ed, they have a place at the table, but bring...

GOODWIN: But Obama -- Obama didn't do the attacking. David Geffen did, who happens to be supporting Obama. Obama didn't put him up to it or anything like that.

ZIMMERMAN: But Barack Obama did respond quickly by disavowing it and disassociating himself.


DOBBS: Does it raise the question, with Geffen now so enthusiastic about Senator Obama, that he'll provide a pardon to a man who shot two FBI agents which -- murdered them outright, which wasn't...

GOODWIN: That's obviously, I think, one of the...

DOBBS: Hasn't that question been asked here? That's the basis of the dispute.

GOODWIN: Well, perhaps it is his dispute against the Clintons.

DOBBS: We need to give Maureen Dowd -- we need to give Maureen Dowd of "The New York Times" credit for that.

GOODWIN: Right. But I don't think we can make the leap that therefore Obama has signed on to Geffen's lobbying efforts.

DOBBS: I didn't make the leap. I'm just asking if it's an appropriate question to ask. ZIMMERMAN: I think there's something else to be considered here, too, and that is, I am really fed up with seeing individuals, in particular women candidates, targeted for being polarized or ambitious versus men. Anyone who seeks public office...

DOBBS: How many women are running for president?

ZIMMERMAN: We've seen many women step up for the Senate, for governor.

DOBBS: Don't play the gender card here.

ROLLINS: Picture the other day in Las Vegas, of all of your candidates, where is the one woman? She's way out on the end. She's way out on the end.

ZIMMERMAN: Actually, she's right in the center.

DOBBS: Are you talking about politically or in terms of the picture?

ZIMMERMAN: Political but in terms of reality. Women candidates are attacked for being ambitious or being polarizing.

DOBBS: I do have to answer that, because as Robert says, and I wanted to ask it of you earlier, when you agreed with Geffen's remarks, which I think are as poignantly poisonous as you can positively ask any Republican to utter...

ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely.

DOBBS: You can say she's ambitious. But let me ask you a question.


DOBBS: What the heck is Senator Barack Obama, who's been in office less than two years, who's judged himself capable of running for president? Is that not ambition?

GOODWIN: I don't think -- I don't think ambition's the key word here.

DOBBS: What do you think?

GOODWIN: I think the world polarizing.

DOBBS: Polarizing?


ZIMMERMAN: Running for president is not polarizing.

GOODWIN: Hillary Clinton is a polarizing figure, absolutely. Barack Obama -- Barack Obama is the one that has the potential not to be. ZIMMERMAN: If you look at the polls, you'll see how well she's doing, and not only is she not polarizing, she's unifying the Democratic Party.

DOBBS: Let's move to something for which there is no unification. There is great polarization, and that is nonbinding resolutions passing the House, failing in the Senate and now an effort to strike the authorization of 2002 for this war. Is this just politics or is there -- is there a sincere drive?

ROLLINS: My attitude, Democrats have at it. At least that's a legitimate issue. If they want to do that, it's not a game. They're not going to have the votes. And even if they had the votes the president would veto it.

But you know, the whole idea that Hillary has not apologized for her vote, every single Democrat who's running for president, with the exception of Obama, who was in the Senate in Illinois, has voted for this resolution.

And the reality, if they want to stand up now and say, listen, we made a big mistake or the game's changed and go after the al Qaeda but nobody else, one question I make is how do you know which is the al Qaeda?

ZIMMERMAN: You go to Afghanistan.

GOODWIN: We are in Afghanistan.

ROLLINS: Well, we are in Afghanistan. But you want to put in the resolution we're only going to go after al Qaeda. We got to wear football jerseys: I'm al Qaeda, I'm a Sunni, I'm a Shiite.

ZIMMERMAN: Our own military intelligence tells us, in fact, General Maples testified in November, the smallest faction in Iraq is al Qaeda.

ROLLINS: The Democrats historically always want to cut off and adopt the Nixon doctrine, and the Nixon doctrine to end Vietnam because of the Democrats forcing the money was put money, put materials, but never put troops. Now, if that's what Democrats want to run on...

ZIMMERMAN: That's not the issue and you know that.

DOBBS: Let me ask you -- let me ask one question here, and I think I better ask it of you, if you're to be heard at all here. Tom Vilsack withdrew from -- the first presidential candidate to do so.

GOODWIN: Well, Bayh -- Bayh almost ran and dropped out, so they're dropping pretty quickly. Look, I think it is at this early stag...

DOBBS: He said it's all about the money.

GOODWIN: Yes, it is. It's a huge barrier to entry this year. DOBBS: By the way, he wasn't polarizing.

GOODWIN: That's right. That's why he had to drop out. Only polarizers can stay in. Of course, I don't think ambition...

ZIMMERMAN: What about ambition? Will you call him ambitious, too?

GOODWIN: I don't think ambition is a slur. I think it's a fact that as a polarizing figure...

DOBBS: Right.

GOODWIN: It's also a fact that Bill Clinton gave a pardon to Mark Rich, a fugitive from justice, and Denise Rich gave Bill Clinton's presidential library $1 million gift. Those are the facts that David Geffen talks about and that's why...


DOBBS: He murdered two FBI agents and then pardoned.

GOODWIN: Nobody said he should be pardoned other than Geffen.

DOBBS: But you're putting a nice comfortable nest under his position here. I think you have to look at the reality.

GOODWIN: No, Geffen's not running for office. I think that...

DOBBS: I don't think you can convince him of that.

ZIMMERMAN: Geffen's ego may feel he's running for president, but the whole bottom line is, the whole result of the Geffen incident is the Democrats are not going to tolerate this kind of ugly hate rhetoric. It's not going to be acceptable.

ROLLINS: By us or by themselves?

ZIMMERMAN: By us. We're not going to fall for your tactics.

GOODWIN: Hate rhetoric?

ZIMMERMAN: Not yours, but your party's.

GOODWIN: Hate rhetoric, I think it's an extraordinary characterization.

DOBBS: Let's get rid of rhetoric, ambition, OK, and polarization.

GOODWIN: And al Qaeda, that resolution (ph).

DOBBS: And that would wrap up the 2008 presidential campaign season.

Gentlemen, thank you very much. Ed Rollins, Michael Goodwin, Robert Zimmerman.

Coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM" and Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.

The former Green Party presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, answers critics who say he cost Democrats the White House in 2000. Will he run again in '08? I'll ask him.

Also, Senate Democrats try a new tactic to force President Bush to change course in Iraq. We'll tell you how they're trying to do that.

Plus, one is a luxurious mansion, the other a fortified compound. We'll show you the embassies of the United States and Iraq and how they reflect the complex relationship between the two countries.

All that, Lou, coming up, right here in the "SITUATION ROOM".

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

Coming up next, "Heroes," our tribute to our men and women serving the nation in uniform around the world. Tonight, our hero, Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta, who served in Iraq. He earned a Bronze Star with valor. Stay with us.


DOBBS: And now, "Heroes," our tribute to the men and women who serve the nation in uniform. The story tonight of Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta, who first joined the Army in 1975. He served for seven years, then joined the Reserves. Twenty years later, Acosta volunteered for duty in Iraq.

Casey Wian has the story of triumph over tragedy.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After nearly 30 years in the Army and Army Reserves, Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta receives his Purple Heart during an emotional ceremony at the V.A. hospital in Long Beach, California.

MAJ. GEN. PAUL MOCK, U.S. ARMY RESERVES: There's not a bit of complaining, whining. It's "I wish I could be back with my comrades. I have soldiers back in Iraq." And that is the spirit of the American warrior.

WIAN: This American warrior arrived in Iraq in October 2005 to supervise a battalion of 450 soldiers in Ballad. Officially called Camp Anaconda, the base had another nickname.

SGT. MAJ. JESSE ACOSTA, U.S. ARMY RESERVES: They said, "You guys are going to base Camp Anaconda, which is known as Mortarville." When we arrived, they were just lobbing those mortars at us. It was day in, day out.

WIAN: Though Anaconda was heavily fortified, insurgent mortar fire was a constant threat. Acosta says every member of his battalion escaped serious injury, except one.

ACOSTA: I was the lucky one who won the lotto that day.

WIAN: January 16, 2006, leading troops on a training run, Acosta heard incoming mortars.

ACOSTA: At that instant, when I turned around to yell out to the rest of the troops in the rear to take cover, they got me. I suffered a nucleated right eye, a damaged left eye, severely damaged. I suffered from TBI, traumatic brain injury. I had a cracked mandible. My teeth were blown out.

WIAN: When doctors told him his sight was gone, Acosta feared he could lose even more.

ACOSTA: What happens to my life now? What about my family? That was the first thing. Are they going to accept me this way?

WIAN: Naturally, they have. The father of three and grandfather also found an extended family at the V.A. hospital.

Acosta still faces more surgery, a difficult recovery, and an uncertain career future. But he knows he wants to help other wounded veterans.

ACOSTA: That's going to be one of my main focuses in life, to assist those who need the proper assistance and guidance to guide them, and help them recover in the sense with their injuries when they come home.

WIAN: Casey Wian, CNN, Long Beach, California.


DOBBS: We'll continue in one moment. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Results of tonight's poll: 98 percent of you say the American people should demand an end to any further expansion of the so-called North American Union until the American people can be allowed to approve or disapprove it.

Time now for your thoughts.

George in Pennsylvania said, "Who sets foreign policy for this country, the president or Dick Cheney? Bush says we will not go to war or invade Iran. Cheney says (from Down Under)" -- Australia -- "that all options are on the table. So what's what?"

Good question. And Alfred in Alabama: "Lou, when Cheney criticized China's military buildup, he failed to mention it was with American dollars acquired from our stupid trade policy. In short, we're financing our own defense."

Ann in California said, "America has become nothing but an elitist country that is being run by big business and greedy politicians who have their hands in our cookie jars. To say that the middle class have it better than ever is laughable, disgusting and just plain arrogant."

There's no shortage of that in Washington.

And Jan in Maryland said, "Lou, I was recently behind a car that I thought might be yours. I sported a bumper that read, 'At least the war on the middle class is going well'. Thanks for shining light on the good fight."

Thank you.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Join us here tomorrow. Have a great weekend. Good night from New York.

"THE SITUATION ROOM" begins now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou.