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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Democratic Presidential Candidates Face Charges of Pandering to Hispanic Voters; Is Commerce With Mexico More Important Than Border Security?

Aired September 10, 2007 - 18:00   ET


Tonight, new evidence the Bush administration apparently believes commerce with Mexico is more important than border security.

Also Democratic presidential candidates face charges they pandering to Hispanic voters at the expense of national interests.

And, the federal government finally calls for action to deal with dangerous imports from communist China, but is it a case of too little, too late?

And among our guests, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Ike Skelton with reaction from today's testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.

All that, and much more, straight ahead tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Monday, September 10. Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody. The U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, today declared he is recommending U.S. troop cuts in Iraq. In testimony to congress, General Petraeus says he believes the number of troops in Iraq can return to pre surge levels by next July. General Petraeus insisted most of the military objectives of the surge are, quote, "being met." He said the level of security incidents has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks.

Now we begin our coverage with Jessica Yellin on Capitol Hill. Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, General David Petraeus sat down before the hearing at 12:30 this afternoon. Five hours later, he is still testifying.


YELLIN (voice-over): In measured testimony rich in detail, the top U.S. commander in Iraq told members of Congress the surge has seen success.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: The military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met. In recent months, in the face of tough enemies and the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena.

YELLIN: As a result, he's recommended the U.S. draw down 30,000 combat troops by next July.

PETRAEUS: I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer, without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.

YELLIN: He says some troops will start to come home this month. With charts and graphs, General Petraeus ticked off evidence of progress in Iraq.

PETRAEUS: The number of car bombings and suicide attacks has also declined in each of the past five months.

We have found a substantially increased number of arms, ammunition and explosive caches.

The number of overall civilian deaths has also declined during this period.

Al Qaeda is certainly not defeated. However, it is off balance.

YELLIN: And he said prematurely pulling troops out of Iraq ...

PETRAEUS: Would likely have devastating consequences.

YELLIN: The day had unscripted moments when General Petraeus' mike went down, and protesters interrupted the hearing, prompting an annoyed committee chair to curse on mike.

REP. IKE SKELTON, (D) COMMITTEE CHAIR: That really pisses me off. It just does. (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

YELLIN: Even before Petraeus began his testimony, tensions were high. Outraged Republicans called on Democrats to denounce a new ad that calls the star witness "General Betray Us."

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, (R) RANKING MEMBER: It's an outrage that we spent the last week prepping the ground, bashing the credibility of a general officer whose trademark is integrity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This cannot be tolerated.


YELLIN (on camera): Now, the uproar offer that ad put Democrats on the defensive much of the day, as they spent much of the day beating back questions about their association with As for the general's testimony, one Democratic House leadership aide said they expected the general to paint as rosy a picture as possible, and his proposal to draw down to simply pre surge levels is not good enough. Kitty?

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Jessica Yellin.

Well, as Jessica reported General Petraeus announced proposals for what he called a substantial troop withdrawal from Iraq, but that withdrawal would still leave about 130,000 of our troops in Iraq. Now opponents of the surge say those troop cuts do not go far enough. Barbara Starr reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please remove them.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Heckling on Capitol Hill even before General David Petraeus began his historic testimony, telling the world when U.S. troops can start coming home from Iraq.

PETRAEUS: First of all, what I recommended was a very substantial withdrawal. Five Army brigade combat teams, a Marine expeditionary unit, and two Marine battalions represent a very significant force.

STARR: It's the news exhausted troops and their families were waiting for. Some 2,000 Marines will be home within weeks. Another 4,000 Army soldiers may be home by Christmas. And 18,000 soldiers and marines will be home by July 2008. Petraeus raising the prospect those reductions could begin earlier than planned.

REP. TOM LANTOS, (D) FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHAIR: The facts remains, gentlemen, that the administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees, and the Congress, that victory is at hand. With all due respect to you, I must say, I don't buy it.

STARR: But it all still depends on what has come to be called conditions on the ground. Car bombs, IEDs and attacks, still very much are part of daily life. Petraeus is making a calculated risk that security can be maintained with fewer U.S. boots on the ground.

PETRAEUS: I believe that this is a the approach to take to sustain the gains that we have achieved, to build on them, to transition to Iraqi security forces as quickly as we possibly can, but without, as I mentioned, rushing to failure.

STARR: This was not a hearing for undue optimism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, you are frustrated, the American people are frustrated. I am frustrated every day I spend in Iraq.


STARR (on camera): So, Kitty, the question at the end of all these hours of testimony may well be -- did any of this change anybody's mind about the war in Iraq? And the answer is -- probably not. Kitty? PILGRIM: And, Barbara, did the general go into any troop cuts beyond the pre surge levels? Could he project out?

STARR: Well, he was asked about that and, of course, that's really the fundamental question, after you get done with the surge, what about the 130,000 other U.S. troops that will remain behind? By all accounts, it will be some years before they all come home. But General Petraeus really couldn't put a number on it, Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Barbara Starr.

Well, in Iraq, 10 of our troops were killed in the past two days. Seven of them were killed in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad. Thirty-one of our troops have been killed so far this month, 3,773 of our troops have been killed since the war began, 27,767 of our troops have been wounded, 12,476 seriously wounded.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki today said U.S. troops must not leave Iraq yet. The prime minister said Iraqi troops are not ready to replace coalition forces. Meanwhile, al Maliki insisted the Iraqi government is making progress towards political reconciliation. Aneesh Raman reports from Baghdad. Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, good evening. Preempting the testimony from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker was Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who this morning addressed the country's parliament. His main message? He needs more time to build up the numbers and effectiveness of Iraq's security forces. He also applauded Iraq's government for preventing the country from descending into all out civil war.

But what he did not mention was the need for him to put his own political house in order. The prime minister has seen support for him vanish among the various political blocs. He has at best, according to officials I'm speaking to, a tenuous relationship with other party leaders and Iraq's parliament still has not taken any action on key outstanding issues. De-Baathfication, oil-revenue sharing, provincial elections just to name a few.

That despite a meeting that Ambassador Crocker touted on August 26 where leaders of the five main parties met and recommitted to find political compromise. Ambassador Crocker put a lot of hope on that for political consensus in Iraq. But one of the signatories, the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi dismissed any long-lasting effect of that deal, saying it's a marriage without a bride, because the Maliki government has yet shown it's committed to bringing the Sunnis into the fold and secular Shia as well.

So a lot is there for the Maliki government to try and solve. Decreasing support for a prime minister that has no real alternative. It leads to the big question right now, can the Iraqi government function as it stands? Kitty?

PILGRIM: Aneesh Raman reporting from Baghdad.

The Bush administration tonight faces new criticism of its conduct of the global war against radical Islamist terrorists. The White House today insisted al Qaeda remains a key threat, one day after a top administration official played down the importance of Osama bin Laden. Ed Henry reports from the White House. Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, confronted with the fact that Osama bin Laden is still at large, six years after President Bush vowed to get him dead or alive, the White House is now sending a mixed message about all that. Last week Mr. Bush himself suggested that bin Laden was a threat, but as you noted yesterday on CNN's LATE EDITION, the White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend insisted that bin Laden is impotent.


FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: We ought to remember, six years since the tragedy of September the 11th, we haven't seen another attack. This is a man on the run, in a cave, who is virtually impotent other than his ability to get the messages out. It's propaganda.


HENRY: Now, that does not seem to square with what President Bush himself declared last week when he suggested that bin Laden was a force to be reckoned with on the occasion of this latest bin Laden videotape making its way across the world. Mr. Bush says this shows that al Qaeda is determined to try to drive the U.S. out of Iraq. That's why today Tony Snow was pressed by reporters to try and explain this appearing dichotomy.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's a complex picture. What you have in the case of Osama bin Laden is somebody that does not have the ability to strut around the training camp the way he was able to do before September 11th, 2001. He is a man in hiding. Nevertheless, al Qaeda is a serious organization. It is a key threat to American security.


HENRY: Reporter: now, the Bush administration's own national intelligence estimate recently declared that, in fact, al Qaeda has gained safe harbor at least in Pakistan. And that may explain why the White House is a bit on the offensive one day before the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.


PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Ed Henry.

Well, still to come, charges that the Bush administration is putting business interests before our national security. And Bill Tucker will have the report. Bill?

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, don't believe that commerce and convenience don't trump security at the border. We've got proof coming right up.

PILGRIM: Thanks, Bill. Also ahead, Democratic presidential candidates are accused of pandering to the illegal alien lobby in their latest election debate.

And the Bush administration faces a barrage of new criticism over its slow response to the progress of dangerous imports. We'll have a special report.


PILGRIM: Mexican trucks crossed the border and deliver cargo deep into the United States this weekend, under a new program that grants Mexican truckers unrestricted access to U.S. highways. Now, the trucks delivered cargo to New York and South Carolina. The new NAFTA-related plan lifts restrictions that previously limit Mexican trucks to border areas. Now, there have been concerns that the plan would create safety hazards on our highways and also threaten national security.

In Mexico, a deadly accident early this morning raising more concerns about the safety of Mexican trucks. A truck carrying 25 tons of dynamite exploded after a collision with another vehicle. The blast killed at least 34 people and injured more than 140 others. Some reports put the death toll close to 40 people.

And a series of explosions rippled through natural gas pipelines through Vera Cruz State early this morning. Police said incidents were acts of sabotage. More than 12,000 residents were evacuated from the area, but there were no reports of casualties from the blast.

And time now for some of your thoughts. And Burt in California wrote to us and he writes, "I saw the headline. Mexico dynamite truck explosion kills 34. We want these trucks on our highways?"

Clyde in Arkansas wrote, "Lou, allowing Mexican truckers unlimited access to our highways is senseless. The American taxpayer first built these roadways and the American taxpayers are now paying to maintain them."

And Connie in Nevada wrote to us. "Hi, Lou. Now that we have trucks coming in to the United States from Mexico, the next thing will be all our road signs and signals will be in English and Spanish. You can count on it. Is this the United States of America or the United States of Mexico?"

And we will have more of your e-mails later in the broadcast.

An alleged Colombian drug lord on the FBI's 10-most wanted list was arrested in western Colombia. Diego Montoya was the only drug trafficker on the most wanted list. Now the FBI had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Montoya was allegedly the head of a major drug cartel that is believed to export over 150 tons of cocaine a year into the United States.

A border security activist group sponsored a rally in Phoenix this weekend in support of imprisoned former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. The American Freedom Riders also raised funds at the rally to help the Ramos family. The two former agents are serving lengthy prison sentences for shooting and wounding a Mexican drug dealer. The drug dealer was given immunity by prosecutors to testify against the two men.

U.S. border officials tonight may be putting business interests before national security interests. Lou Dobbs has learned that customs and border protection agents at one of the nation's busiest border crossings have been instructed to limit border checks. Now, as Bill Tucker reports, that could undermine efforts to keep smugglers and other criminals from entering the United States.


TUCKER (voice-over): No one likes waiting in lines. This line is at the U.S./Mexico border crossing in El Paso, Texas, where wait times can be anywhere from under a half hour to longer than two hours. That's where this memo comes into the picture. It's Customs and Border Protection directive number 3340-040. It directs Border Patrol officers how to deal with delays in crossing. If someone crosses and wait times are short, chances are they will get a fairly thorough check.

But if the wait times are longer than two hours, officers are to ensure the license plate is correct, query the driver only, accept their baggage declaration and send them through. No density meter readings on trucks or trucks, just roll it on in. Even the directive stipulates the officer should establish the admissibility of the vehicle's occupants, only the driver is to be questioned. Critics are outraged. They say it amounts to a how-to manual for drug and human smuggler.

REP. BRIAN BILBRAY, (R) CA: I think the only thing worse than sending this memo to our agents is the fact that you know that the cartels, the drug cartels and the smuggling cartels, have a copy of this, because all they have to do is sit with a stopwatch at the border, time the crossings and know exactly when procedure's going to change so they can then smuggle into us.

TUCKER: We asked Customs and Border Protection for a comment or an explanation of the memo. But the agency didn't respond. Seasoned hands along the border, however, contend that the memo is just an expression of what's been standard operating procedure at the crossing for a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been told that they fully expect that one of every 10 vehicles will be checked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the odds trying to come in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then the legal port of entry should be bringing in something coming in.

TUCKER: There's no doubt that the El Paso border crossing is very busy. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER (on camera): According to the Department of Homeland Security, 43,000 cars and more than 2,100 commercial trucks pass through El Paso headed north every day. So, it is a difficult job, in terms of trying to strike the balance of moving that commerce through. And at the same time securing the border, Kitty.

PILGRIM: We certainly understand the pressures of getting the job done. But one point really stuck out. When it's busy, they only question the driver of the truck? They could have a truck full of people and they don't question.

TUCKER: Or car full of people. They're going to only ask the driver. Because the goal here is not to run a thorough check. The goal here is to move traffic through.

PILGRIM: Unbelievable, thanks very much, Bill Tucker.

Well, this is also the subject of tonight's poll. What should be the top priority at the U.S. border with Mexico? Speed or security? Cast your vote at We'll bring you the results later in the broadcast.

And coming up -- the Democratic candidates hold a debate for Hispanic voters, but with an unusual ground rule. We'll have a report on that.

Also General David Petraeus recommends troop cuts in Iraq. The chairman of today's hearing, Congressman Ike Skelton, will join us. Stay with us.


PILGRIM: The Democratic presidential candidates debated so- called Hispanic issues Sunday in Miami. Now, the candidates' answers were translated into Spanish, the TV network Univision says the event was the first of its kind for a Spanish-speaking audience. As Casey Wian reports, as expected immigration was one of the biggest issues of the night.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As a fluent Spanish speaker New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson appeared to have an advantage, going into Univision's presidential debate.

JORGE RAMOS, UNIVISION (through translator): Do you promote Spanish as a second national language, not a first language, but a second national language?

WIAN: Moderator Jorge Ramos reminded Richardson that candidates agreed to answer in English and would be translated into Spanish.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I'm disappointed today that 43 million Latinos in this country, for them not to hear one of their own speak Spanish is -- is unfortunate. In other words, Univision has promoted English only in this debate.

WIAN: Univision says 73 percent of the more than 2,000 questions submitted by its audience related to, quote, "immigration." In fact, most of the debate centered on illegal immigration, and U.S. Border security efforts.

MARIA ELENA SALENAS, UNIVISION (through translator): Why build a wall there in the name of national security on the Mexican border and not on the border with Canada?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I have been a consistent champion of comprehensive immigration reform. Keep in mind, that my father came to this country from a small village in Africa because he was looking for opportunity, and so when I see people who are coming across these borders, whether legally or illegally, I know that the motivation is trying to create a better life for their children and their grandchildren.

WIAN: The seven Democrats were short on specifics, when explaining how they would deal with the U.S. illegal immigration crisis. Some, though, advocated an end to raids, targeting criminal or fugitive illegal aliens. Senator Hillary Clinton is arguably the Democrats' strongest border security advocate. Yet she agreed with a question linking the immigration debate with racism.

SALENAS: Senator Clinton, the negative tone of the immigration debate has left the country polarized and has created certain racists and discriminatory attitudes towards Hispanics.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this is a very serious problem. A as I said earlier, there are many in the political and frankly in the broadcast world today that take a particular aim at our Latino population and I think it's very destructive.


WIAN (on camera): A Clinton spokesman later told "The New York Times," she was referring to CNN's Lou Dobbs and others. Univision has scheduled a republican debate in Spanish for next week, but it has been postponed because of alleged scheduling conflicts that prevented all but one of the candidates, John McCain, from accepting. Kitty?

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, very interesting, thanks, Casey Wian.

Well, coming up, General David Petraeus recommends troop cuts in Iraq. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Congressman Ike Skelton will tell us whether he believes those reductions are sufficient.

Also -- shocking new evidence of the federal government's failure to protect our border from heavily armed Mexican drug traffickers. Congressman Ted Poe and Sheriff Arvin West of Hudspeth County, Texas, will join me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PILGRIM: Republican Senator Chuck Hagel announced today he will not seek a third term. The senator also said he will not run for president in 2008. Hagel, an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, was expected to enter the presidential race earlier this year. And the senator made the announcement this morning in Omaha.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, (R) NE: I will leave the Senate with the same enthusiasm, sense of purpose -- it's not a good sign. It's a -- it's a ...


PILGRIM: Hagel says he's not ruling out the possibility of running for another office sometime in the future. Hagel is one of three GOP senators retiring when their term expires.

Now, attorneys for the embattled Senator Larry Craig filed papers today to withdraw his guilty plea to charges stemming from a sex scandal in an airport restroom. On September 1, the Idaho Republican announced that he would resign at the end of the month. And Craig has said he may remain in office if he can have his plea overturned. Craig's attorney says Craig was not of sound mind at the time of his guilty plea.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll finds 67 percent of Americans believe Senator Craig should resign. Only 26 percent say he should remain in office.

Well, another CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll says nearly two-thirds of Americans continue to oppose the war in Iraq. The poll highlights the public's deep skepticism over the progress of the war before today's testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.

Bill Schneider has our report.



WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): Do Americans trust the top U.S. commander to report what's really going on in Iraq without making the situation sound better than it is?

CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation asked them last month. Fifty-three percent said no.

The "USA Today"/Gallup poll just asked the public again whether they thought General Petraeus' report would be independent and objective. Again, 53 percent said no.

The public is skeptical.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In a short period of time, we have seen significant success. SCHNEIDER: The public is skeptical about that, too. Asked whether the troop increase is succeeding in improving conditions and ending violence in Iraq, most Americans say it's not.

General Petraeus reports some military progress.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: To summarize, the security situation in Iraq is improving.

SCHNEIDER: But few see much political progress by the Iraqi government.

GEN. JAMES JONES (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: To us, it just hinges on the government doing what the government is supposed to do. And that is finding a way to get a -- a sense of -- of an agreement that they will stop the killing and stop the ethnic violence.

SCHNEIDER: Last month, Americans were divided over whether the U.S. military is making progress in improving conditions and ending violence in Iraq. But their judgment of the Iraqi government was much harsher.

The current "USA Today"/Gallup poll finds the same thing. People feel the U.S. is not putting enough emphasis on finding a political solution in Iraq.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: The reason for the surge was promoted by the president and by General Petraeus as creating the space for political settlements in Iraq, which have not only not happened, but we have even seen steps backwards.


SCHNEIDER: Americans see the failure in Iraq as a political failure much more than a military failure. The U.S. military is doing its job, they feel. The Iraqi government is not -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Bill Schneider.

Well, joining me now from Washington is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Ike Skelton.

And Congressman Skelton delivered the opening statement before today's testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.

And thank you for joining us at the end of a very tough day, I'm sure.

REP. IKE SKELTON (D-MO), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, we're still going. And, as a matter of fact, we have a few more minutes. As soon as our discussion here is over with, we will have a few more questions there and close it out.

PILGRIM: All right, well thank you for taking the time.

You know, I was very much struck by your opening statement. And you said you wanted to hear why we should continue to send our young men and women to fight and die if the Iraqis won't make tough sacrifices.

Did you hear enough today to get that question answered?

SKELTON: No. No. I'm still very, very concerned over the fact -- you know, the American military is very good. General Petraeus is a good leader. They've opened up the line for the Iraqis to run through and make a touchdown, and they haven't even picked up the ball.

I'm very concerned that the political end of the Iraqi effort, the Iraqis themselves, the Iraqi leaders, are not living up to what they set out themselves, their own benchmarks. I'm terribly disappointed in what the Iraqis have failed to do.

PILGRIM: You know, I'd like to excerpt a bit from the hearings for the benefit of our viewers. And during his testimony, General Petraeus really touted the success of the military surge in Iraq.

Let's listen to what he had to say.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: The bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge, are, in large measure, being met. In recent months, in the face of tough enemies in the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena.


PILGRIM: A fairly upbeat assessment. I expect you agree with that. But he did say we would be able to draw down by next summer to pre-surge levels.

Does that satisfy you?

SKELTON: No. Coming back to where we were to begin with, really, is no attempt to redeploy, as we really should be doing. We should be turning this effort over to the Iraqi military. And if you just go back to the pre-surge level, I'm not sure what we've gained militarily.

PILGRIM: Congressman Skelton, we had a fairly contentious session today. Foreign Affair Committee Chairman Representative Tom Lantos came out very strongly against the administration and the war in Iraq.

Let's let our viewers hear what he had to say.


REP. TOM LANTOS (D), CALIFORNIA: The situation in Iraq cries out for a dramatic change of course. We need to get out of Iraq for that country's sake and for our own. It is time to go and to go now.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PILGRIM: Now, you've just said you're somewhat dissatisfied with the assessment so far.

But would you go that far?

SKELTON: Well, the Iraqis are going to have to solve this problem themselves. The change, of course, should be what they themselves do. I hope today's hearing is a message to the Iraqi leadership that, you know, this just can't continue. You just can't kick the football down the field and expect America to stay there forever. We're expending lives. We're expending treasure.

And what has it gotten us politically, insofar as the Iraqis are concerned?

And, frankly, I'm very disappointed.

PILGRIM: You know, one of the largest issues for the American people is, is victory obtainable at all in this situation?

It's one of the biggest issues on the table here. And despite this assessment, that's sort of the bottom line.

Now, Ambassador Crocker was charged with laying out the political situation with the Iraqis.

Let's listen to whether he thinks we can have success in Iraq ultimately.


RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. I do believe, as I have described, that it is attainable. I am certain that abandoning or drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure. And the consequences of such a failure must be clearly understood by us all.


PILGRIM: But nevertheless, for the American people, this evening, we're more than four years into this war, what are they to think?

What do you think from the testimony we have heard today?

What conclusions can you draw?

SKELTON: Well, it seems that the ambassador really is expressing a great hope. He says it can turn out positively. But we've heard this now for quite some time.

Where do we go from here?

I think we have to send the message to the Iraqi leadership, number one, they have to get their political act in order. And, number two, they can't rely on our security forces, our Army, our Marines, forever. And the baton has to be passed to them. That's why we're training them, and they have to step up to the fight do it.

It's their country. Our American military, as magnificent as it is, can't solve this problem that the Iraqis have to solve themselves.

PILGRIM: This hearing has been charged politically. There have been many comments about the quality of the testimony. The ranking Republican of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Duncan Hunter, today talked about the politics surrounding the actual messengers in the room today.

Let me bring up his comments.


REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: The idea that we have spent the last week prepping the battlefield by attacking the credibility of the messenger is something that I think is goes against the tradition of this great house.


PILGRIM: Now, General Petraeus has said that he prepared his testimony himself, he did not run it by the White House or the Pentagon.

Do you believe that all of those charges were sufficiently addressed in the hearing today?

SKELTON: In my opening statement, I stated that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are some of the finest that we have. They're men of integrity. They work hard. They have told us as they see the facts. And we must take their statements -- and, you know, some of the testimony is very difficult. These are difficult days and they've answered difficult questions. But they're some of the finest that America has.

PILGRIM: Well, thank you for taking the time to join us this evening to talk to us directly.

SKELTON: Thank you.

PILGRIM: Congressman Ike Skelton.

Thank you, sir.

SKELTON: Thank you.

PILGRIM: Coming up, Americans demand action to protect them from tainted food and dangerous products.

What does the government do?

It issues a report. We'll have that story.

Also, who bears the burden of enforcing the law at our southern border with Mexico? We'll discuss that issue when we return.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: And Border Patrol agents in Texas last week were involved in the pursuit of a drug suspect along our border with Mexico. They called local sheriffs for assistance. Now, during the pursuit, automatic gunfire was heard coming from the Mexican side of the border. And, according to Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West, his men conducted a search of the area alone because he said the agents, "were ordered not to engage on the border."

Joining me to discuss this issue and security along the border is Congressman Ted Poe, Republican from Texas, and sheriff of Hudspeth County, Texas, Arvin West.

And thank you for being here with us.

This does sound like a disturbing incident.

Let's start with you, Sheriff West.

What do you think should have been done at this juncture?

SHERIFF ARVIN WEST, HUDSPETH COUNTY, TEXAS: At that point, we should have all -- everybody should have engaged and went down there and -- to see if we could have got a hold of it or got -- apprehended this man or subjects that were down there shooting.

PILGRIM: So you feel that your men were left exposed in the situation?

WEST: Well, this ain't the first time. This has happened several times. We're kind of getting used to it now, I guess you might say.

PILGRIM: Representative Poe, do you believe that there is a real problem with the way the sheriff's office functions with the Border Patrol in this area?

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: Well, the sheriff's department wants to patrol the border to keep the crime out of the United States. Sometimes they don't have cooperation from the Border Patrol, who are supposed to do that for the United States. And apparently the Border Patrol sometimes doesn't engage the problem, but leaves and flees from the problem. That's very disturbing.

PILGRIM: You know, you recently returned -- you went to El Paso with one of our reporters, Casey Wian. You assessed the situation down there and then you shared your impressions on the floor of the House of Representatives last week.

So let me inform our viewers what you said: "The Border Patrol agents that work on our border do as good a job as our government will let them do. They are fine people, but they have to follow policies of somebody else. They do what they are told to do and it would seem to me that we ought to have our Border Patrol working more hand in hand with the locals, like the sheriff's department, and patrolling closer to the border."

So do you believe that the basic definitions of the job ought to be reconfigured?

POE: No question about it. The Border Patrol, mainly in that area, patrols Interstate 10, which is five to six miles from the border. That's too far away from the border. They need to be down on the border. And I think those decisions are being made by somebody else, not the good personnel that are working in the area. But it's probably made by somebody in Washington, D.C.

We need to work together. The sheriff's department are willing to help. They understand the people in that area. They grew up -- they were born in that area. They want to work with the Border Patrol. The Border Patrol needs to be closer to the border, not five miles away.

PILGRIM: You know, let me -- we did speak to the Border Patrol. So let's get their viewpoint into this discussion. Sheriff West, if you'll bear with me for a second, I would like to read this statement: "We, as law enforcement professionals, considered all factors during the incident. We considered the suspected smuggler, the narcotics and the vehicle were all secured and the roots of egress from the border area were also secured. The smart thing to do was not to place our personnel in further danger."

What do you think of that statement?

WEST: Well, here's the issue of it. Not 200 yards from where the shooting was taking place, there was two farm workers working on tractors out there oblivious as to what was going on around them, as bullets was going by their heads, I guess you might say. Prior to us getting there, they were never warned about the situation or pulled out of the hot zone, so to speak.

PILGRIM: You know, I'd like to move beyond this incident to just the general assessment of the border area, given the vast expertise of both of you gentlemen. And the White House says that security along the border is getting better.

Congressman Poe, do you believe that's true?

POE: No, I don't believe it's true. I've been up and down the 1,250 miles of the Texas/Mexico border several times. And when I go down there, I see very disturbing facts about how the violence is continuing. Drugs are coming in. Criminals are crossing the border and then going back into Mexico. So I think it's imperative that we deal with the situation the way it is. It is a troubled spot. It is a hot spot and when we have gunfire from the Mexican side coming to the American side, we need to be taking notice of that and not flee the scene.

PILGRIM: All right. Sheriff West, I need to ask you about another fact. There are footbridges spanning the Rio Grande River connecting the United States to Mexico. And we're showing pictures of them right now for our viewers. Now, these footbridges have been in place for a long time. But I understand you're quite concerned about this, as is Congressman Poe.

What do you think should be done?

Are they patrolled properly?

Do you think that they are -- they're giving open access to the U.S. border?

WEST: Well, first of all, I'll even furnish the torch. Just give me the OK to go down there and cut them down and we'll eliminate them. That's real simple to take care of. They've been there for a long time. Most of them crossings down there have names now that have been called -- that have been named for years. They need to go away and the Border Patrol needs to be allowed to move down on the levees and work the levees.

PILGRIM: Congressman Poe, the duration of their existence doesn't seem to be a recommendation for keeping them in place.

What would you suggest?

POE: I think those bridges -- there's 10 of them that I'm aware of in the area. They all need to be taken down. The way -- when I went down there and saw them, of course, those are footbridges for pedestrians to come across. They're out in the middle of no place. They serve, the only purpose, for allowing people to come into the United States illegally. Many of those people could bring drugs in their backpacks as they cross into the United States. They need to be removed.

PILGRIM: It seems fairly ill-advised.

Let me get your thoughts on another issue. The Mexican trucking deal allows Mexican trucks to -- unfettered access to the American highways.

What do you think about this policy, Congressman Poe?

POE: I think it's certainly unwise. It doesn't help the United States. The system is not reciprocal. American trucks are not yet allowed to go into Mexico. But having trucks that are overweight, with people who may not be able to read a street sign is not going to be advantageous to the United States. We need to study this longer and make sure that each truck is secure. We've got word from homeland security they're going to inspect all these trucks. They're not even inspecting the people that come into the United States now adequately. They're not going to be able to inspect these vehicles for safety and pollution and for who is on those vehicles, must less what cargo they're carrying.

PILGRIM: Sheriff West, does this complicate your job a bit?

WEST: Oh, absolutely. I've been in the trucking business myself. These people are real low paid. They drive several hours. Some of these people come as far as from Mexico City trying to meet their deadlines. And when road fatigue hits them, we're going to see several problems with them, yes.

PILGRIM: All right, thank you very much for your assessment of the situation, candid and frank. Representative Ted Poe, Sheriff Arvin West.

Thank you.

POE: Thank you.

WEST: Thank you, now.

PILGRIM: A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll.

What should be the top priority at the U.S. border with Mexico, speed or security?

Cast your vote at

We'll bring you the results in just a few minutes.

Coming up next, fear over dangerous toy imports -- we'll tell you what two companies are doing to keep these toys off the store shelves.

And the Bush administration issues recommendations on import safety.

But is it too little, too late?

We'll have a special report.


PILGRIM: The Walt Disney Company is reacting to growing fears over the wave of recalls of contaminated toys from Communist China. The company says it will test Disney character toys for lead content. Disney is testing 65,000 toys and other products made by 2,000 companies. Last month, Mattel recalled more than 400,000 toy cars based on a Disney movie character because of lead paint.

And the nation's largest toy retailer, Toys"R"Us, also said it will inspect toys for lead. Starting this week, Toys"R"Us will randomly pull toys off the shelves and test them at independent labs.

Now, months after the first recalls of dangerous toys and other products, a presidential advisory panel is only just now issuing its first report on import safety. The panel is supposed to make recommendations for keeping unsafe imports out of the country and protecting Americans.

But as Lisa Sylvester now reports, critics wonder if this is all too little, too late.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The problem -- hundreds of thousands of products recalled, from spinach to dog food to toys.

The response from the government?

A host of concepts -- from risk-based approach to interoperability and collaboration.

But what about more government inspections?

The president's advisory import panel calls for a partnering between the private and public sector. Manufacturers are encouraged to build in quality.

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, COMMERCE SECRETARY: You can't inspect safety into a product, it has to be built in. So the focus is ensuring that countries have the right mechanism and processes in place.

SYLVESTER: Critics say this first report is long on rhetoric, short on results -- no specifics on how consumer safety will be improved or how much it will cost. The report makes clear not all products will be inspected: "Doing so would not only bring international trade to a standstill, it would distract the limited resources from those imported goods that pose the greatest risk."

Critics pounced on the group's findings.

SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D), NORTH DAKOTA: Listen, commerce always trumps safety with this administration. They say we can't inspect everything. I agree with that. But you'd think they can inspect more than 1 percent. They only inspect 1 percent of the products that come into this country.

SYLVESTER: The import panel says foreign companies will be put on notice that if they want to do business in the United States, U.S. standards have to be met. But without added federal oversight, watchdog groups say it becomes a broken honor system.

LORI WALLACH, PUBLIC CITIZEN: We've got a domestic inspection and safety system that acts as if we're not in a globalized economy. So when we shipped all those jobs overseas and the products started to come in, we need a whole new system of import testing and we didn't get it.

SYLVESTER: Last year, according to the import panel, $2 trillion in products entered the United States. That number is expected to triple by the year 2015.


SYLVESTER: The president's import panel is promising more concrete recommendations in the next 60 days. They've opened up a comment period. It's your chance to tell the government what you think of their preliminary report by October 1st. That Web site, -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: I think the public comment will be scathing.

Thanks very much.

Lisa Sylvester.

Coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER"-- Wolf.


Donald Rumsfeld now launching a new defense of his handling in the war of Iraq.

Months after quitting as defense secretary, does he have any regrets?

Also, Osama bin Laden is back. One new video is out and another is on the way, timed for the 9/11 anniversary.

Do his messages signal a new threat?

And what none of us knew about Jack Cafferty. Jack has a new book out that's shedding light on some very painful details from his early years. Jack is going to be joining us with that.

All coming up right here on "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks, Wolf.

Still ahead, more of your thoughts and also the results of tonight's poll.

So stay with us.


PILGRIM: Now the results of our poll -- 97 percent of you think security should be the top priority at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Well, we have some time for some more of your thoughts.

Harry in Alaska wrote to us: "All of our children play with toys. When they begin to learn how to read, the first three words they will recognize will be made in China.

Rich in Maryland wrote: "How can we seriously believe that the Bush administration can and will build a competent government in Iraq when they are failing so miserably at home?"

Each of you whose e-mail is read here will receive a copy of Joseph Califano's book, "High Society".

We love hearing from you.

Send us your thoughts at

And thanks for being with us tonight.

Please join us tomorrow.

For all of us here, thanks for watching.

Good night from New York.

"THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.