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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Deadly Days in Afghanistan; Cockpit Mystery; Fighting the Swine Flu; Keeping Food Safe; Obama vs. the Chamber; Dr. Anthony Fauci Interview

Aired October 26, 2009 - 19:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Thank you very much, Wolf.

Two wars, two very deadly days, suicide bomb blasts, mastering over 160 people in Iraq and Afghanistan helicopter crashes kill 14 of our troops. President Obama said today his decision on a troop surge will not be rushed but how much more time does he really have? Are both wars now in trouble?

And questions tonight about those Northwest pilots who missed their airport by, if you can believe it, 150 miles -- radio calls were ignored for more than an hour. They now claim they were just distracted by laptop computers, but are investigators buying that story?

President Obama finally declaring a swine flu emergency, every state is reporting outbreaks. Panicked parents are frustrated by shortages of vaccine, lines stretching for blocks in many places. What is the government doing? Also tonight we'll ask one of the country's foremost medical experts on the swine flu about just how safe is this vaccine, who should have it, is it already too late?

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT; news, debate and analysis for Monday, October 26th. Live from New York, Mr. Independent Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. Wars gone bad, death and destruction in Iraq after two suicide bombs rock Baghdad killing more than 160 people including at least 30 children -- officials now blame incompetence or even corrupt security forces -- we'll have more on that war in just a moment.

But we begin tonight with the other war. Fourteen Americans were killed in separate helicopter crashes in Afghanistan. One of that war's deadliest days ever for U.S. forces. The deaths come as the already fragile government is preparing for a new presidential election now just weeks away. President Obama today promised not to, quote, "rush the solemn decision", end quote, to send in more of our troops. But it seems clear that a new strategy, any strategy, is now needed more than ever. Chris Lawrence has our report from Kabul, Afghanistan.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In one incident two U.S. helicopters collided in southern Afghanistan, bringing both of them to the ground and killing four American service members. In a completely separate incident on the western part of Afghanistan, a helicopter lifted off and went down, killing seven American troops and three DEA agents that were working with them.

They had just raided a suspected compound where insurgents were trafficking drugs. There's also concern that with 14 Americans seriously injured that death toll could rise. American commanders here say they do not believe insurgents were responsible for either of those crashes.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Kabul.


DOBBS: Turning now to the war in Iraq, more than 160 people were killed, including at least 30 children, when two suicide bombs went off in the center of Baghdad. Officials are trying to explain how security check points at those government buildings were so easily breached. The attacks are the worst on Iraq in two years, and they raise serious questions about Iraq's ability to protect itself and its citizens once the U.S. military leaves -- Mohammed Jamjoom reports now from Baghdad.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yesterday, shock and dread becomes today's sorrow and fury. At the scene of Iraq's worst violence in two years, people vent their anger at the government.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The government? What is it doing for us? Nothing. What have they done? We have been widowed. We have orphaned, car bombs, theft. What have they done for us?

JAMJOOM: What people here can't understand is how another massive truck bomb attack in the heart of Baghdad could not be prevented. It's been just over two months since over 100 people were killed during attacks at the ministries of finance and foreign affairs. Many feel Iraqi security forces just aren't up to the task of protecting them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I want to ask people a question. For two months they knew that this building was under a threat. If they can't protect a 100-meter long street, how can they protect Iraq?

JAMJOOM: The government's response -- a state of seeming denial.

SALAH ABDUL RAZZAQ, BAGHDAD GOVERNOR: All Baghdad now the movement is already OK, there is no problem in any part of Baghdad, but only the problem here it is because of this explosion and terrorist accident.

JAMJOOM (on camera): The search and recovery effort that's still going on here at the sight of the twin suicide truck bombs that happened yesterday, behind me is the Ministry of Justice. Just today they've already pulled out six bodies from the wreckage inside.

(voice-over): At Baghdad's hospitals, the injured are still shell shocked. Roya (ph) worked at the Ministry of Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): After the explosions and when I was inside a car to bring me to the hospital, I kept thinking about all the important files and documents that we lost.

JAMJOOM: Indeed, the loss of so many records is likely to severely impact Iraq's already struggling justice system. But for now, it's the human cost that's causing the nation's anger toward a government many say is failing to protect them.

Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Baghdad.


DOBBS: Despite accusations that he is dithering over a new war strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama today said he will not be rushed into a decision. Speaking in Jacksonville, Florida, President Obama told Naval personnel that a plan will come only after his careful deliberation.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way. I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hill. That's a promise that I will always make to you.


DOBBS: President Obama's visit today followed a White House meeting with his national security team -- the sixth time that the group has met on the war in Afghanistan. We'll have a lot more on the debate over the direction of Afghanistan with three leading experts on this war, coming up here shortly.

Questions persist tonight about the Northwest flight carrying 144 passengers that flew past its destination, missing the airport by 150 miles. The pilots insist they were simply distracted in the cockpit and that they just simply lost track of their location, and they claim they did not fall asleep. Air traffic controllers, however, lost radio contact with those pilots for more than an hour. Jeanne Meserve has our report.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Northwest pilots tell NTSB investigators they did not fall asleep or dose; they just had a 19-hour layover. But they say they used their personal laptop computers during the flight, a violation of company policy. The pilots tell the NTSB they looked at the computers during what they called a concentrated period of discussion of scheduling issues arising from the merger of Northwest and Delta.

The pilots also told investigators that during this discussion, they did not monitor the airplane. They were aware of conversations on the radio, but did not listen to transmissions from Air Traffic Control or notice messages from company dispatchers. They say they lost track of time, and only when a flight attendant asked about their arrival time did they realize they had flown past their destination.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: These pilots were simply not paying attention for a period of time. And is that a serious offense? It is. But it's not one that I think put the lives of those people in jeopardy.

MESERVE: Delta, the parent company of Northwest, says the pilots will remain on suspension until the investigation is over. But said in a statement, "using laptops is strictly against the airline's flight deck policies, and violations of that policy will result in termination."

MARK WEISS, RETIRED AMERICAN AIRLINES CAPTAIN: You are always supposed to maintain situational awareness, and somebody's always supposed to be watching the airplane and flying the airplane. That's your first order of duty. That's your first priority. So there really is no excuse, no reason to allow it to go to this point. It should not have happened.

MESERVE (on camera): The investigation continues, Monday the NTSB talked to the three flight attendants on the plane to get their version of events and parent company Delta has sent $500 travel vouchers to the passengers on board the errant flight.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


DOBBS: The two pilots in question are experienced veterans, they have combined more than 30,000 flight hours. They are 53 and 54 years old. Neither have any safety violations on their records until now.

Possible new life tonight for a government health care plan, the public option, the consumer option, the competitive option, the opt- out option, we'll have the latest on all of those, which may be the same thing.

Also, tainted food and unsafe drugs, critics say the FDA hasn't done its job keeping us safe. How bad is it?

And a state of emergency, President Obama declaring the swine flu outbreak now to be a national priority, a national emergency -- is it too late? Can the virus be stopped? What, if anything, can be done as a result of declaring an emergency? We'll be right back with the answers.


DOBBS: President Obama this weekend declared the swine flu to be a national emergency, seven months after the start of the outbreak, four months after the swine flu was declared a pandemic. The new presidential orders are to help hospitals cope with a surge of patients; the virus is now widespread in 46 states. It's present of course in all 50 states, and it's killed more than 1,000 Americans. But the new presidential order does very little to address the very real shortages of vaccine and medical supplies necessary to fight the pandemic. Kitty Pilgrim has our report.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president explained in a written statement "the potential exists for the pandemic to overburden health care resources in some localities." Something communities have been aware of for weeks, vaccines have been in such short supply communities have been swamped with lines of people when the vaccine becomes available at local health departments or clinics.

Now under new orders, hospitals can more easily set up disaster relief-type operations for swine flu treatments if they are overwhelmed with sick patients, such as erecting tents in parking lots, setting up clinics in school gyms and community centers. Disaster-type relief measures that are often done during hurricanes and flooding.

The new presidential order also cuts down on the procedural restrictions and paperwork associated with treating patients on Medicare and Medicaid. But government officials admit they do not know the scope of the pandemic which broke out last spring and is now in a second wave this fall.

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, CDC: We might see another wave after the first of the year. So I think it's going to be important for people to take steps to protect themselves. Unfortunately I can't predict exactly what's going to happen.

PILGRIM: The new order will do nothing to address the severe shortage of vaccines and medical supplies needed to treat the disease. Private doctors, such as Max Van Gilder, a pediatrician in New York calls the swine flu pandemic chaos.

DR. MAX VAN GILDER, PEDIATRICIAN: Today I got 200 doses of the H1N1 flu. I then have to notify people -- I do that on a blog -- and I then have 4,500 people competing for 200 doses. It just makes for a lot of stress on everyone.

PILGRIM: Other medical supplies such as N95 masks have also been in such short supply, medical workers have been asked to conserve them by not changing them as frequently as they usually do.


PILGRIM: The American Hospital Association applauds the new rules because it helps hospitals that are inundated with patients. But some hospitals have been dealing with the overflow of patients already long before this presidential order. Montefiore Hospital in New York and the Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin, Texas have already had to set up emergency care centers -- they had to set them up on their own grounds. These new rules would allow them to set them up at other locations. Lou?

DOBBS: So, is this in anticipation of a much more vigorous pandemic than what we're experiencing right now?

PILGRIM: This would basically take care of a huge influx of patients if it really started to, you know, take off.

DOBBS: Well, when you say a huge influx of patients, we've already got a shortage...


DOBBS: ... of masks, shortage of medical equipment, shortages of respirators, all the things necessary. We better not get a very big huge -- what do we do -- hold up a thing says presidential emergency order?


DOBBS: I mean what's the real impact?

PILGRIM: No, no, I mean basically we don't have the equipment we need to deal with something like this, and this paper does -- is a nice attempt, but we don't have critical supplies, as we've been pointing out.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much, Kitty -- Kitty Pilgrim.

Well Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the world's leading experts on infectious diseases will join me here shortly for more on the swine flu, what we can do to protect ourselves and what we should be expecting.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today saying the Senate Democrats' health care legislation will include a government-run insurance plan -- he wants to call that a public option. Nancy Pelosi wants to call it a consumer option or a competitive option. Senator Reid also says states will have the right to opt out of the government-run program by the year 2014. Democratic sources telling CNN that Senator Reid does not have the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor -- Senator Olympia Snowe, the only Republican to support the legislation, says she will not support a bill that includes a government-run plan, no matter what it's called.

We've been reporting here for years on the ineffectiveness, the disarray at the Food and Drug Administration -- the agency staff and budget cut during the Bush administration at a time when the nation was threatened severely by tainted food and unsafe drugs. Now the Obama administration is trying to rebuild the FDA so that it can do its job of protecting the American people. Bill Tucker has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tainted spinach, salmonella-laced jalapeno peppers, poisonous peanut butter have finally combined to bring us to the verge of big changes in assuring our food safety. Congress, after years of limited action, appears ready to completely overhaul the way the Food and Drug Administration oversees food safety. The new head of the FDA urges Congress to act quickly.

DR. MARGARET HAMBURG, FDA COMMISSIONER: Will expand our ability to be proactive, it will expand our ability to work with farmers, producers, manufacturers, to prevent problems from occurring in the first place by identifying where are the hazards and how they can best be addressed.

TUCKER: While differences exist between the House and Senate bills, both versions would increase funding to pay for an increase in hiring and inspections and for upgrading technology to facilitate the tracing of food-borne outbreaks. The legislation would also create rules for cooperation, between the United States and foreign food suppliers, and allow the FDA to institute mandatory food recalls.

SARAH KLEIN, CTR. FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: It seems that finally we have an administration that is willing to take some steps in the right direction. So we're looking forward to seeing how far they're going to go to improve the safety of our food supply.

TUCKER: Funding for the agency was not a priority during the Bush administration, a report last year from the GAO on the FDA noted demands on the agency increased, even as staffing decreased. The report stated that food imports had tripled over the previous 10 years, severely taxing the agency's oversight capacity.

JEAN HALLORAN, CONSUMERS UNION: The agency was seriously understaffed and under-funded. I mean they really only had the staff to go out once every 10 years. So they did what they could.

TUCKER: The price tag for all of this hasn't been agreed to yet.


TUCKER: Now, President Obama's choice to head the FDA is another change which stands out. Dr. Hamburg comes to the job with a reputation for being a person who speaks up and gets thins done. As health commissioner in New York, Lou, in the early 1990's and late '90's, she's credited with cutting in half the rate of tuberculosis in the city.

DOBBS: Now that is a real accomplishment.


DOBBS: All right. Let's hope that she takes all of that and more to the FDA. We need it. Thank you very much.

Coming up next the bitter feud between the Obama administration and the country's biggest lobbying group -- can the Obama administration solve this one over a beer with the Chamber of Commerce? The White House seems to think so.

And a new chance for the American people to speak out on the problems with big government, just minor problems, little, tiny problems. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: President Obama is in Miami tonight for a Democratic Party fund-raiser. A group of protesters outside Miami's Fontainebleau hotel awaited his arrival. Demonstrators holding signs protesting big spending by the Obama administration.

More demonstrations today against big government and out of control spending in Bakersfield, California. That protest, part of a new series of cross country rallies held by the Tea Party Express, the Tea Party Express will hold rallies in 38 cities over the next three weeks, ending with a rally in Orlando, Florida.

The Obama administration tonight involved in a very public feud with the Chamber of Commerce. The Obama administration claims the U.S. Chamber is aggressively opposing issues that the White House deems essential to economic recovery -- Lisa Sylvester with our report.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a fight the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says it didn't start, but it's not walking away from it, either. Firing back over the weekend, the U.S. Chamber says it won't budge on issues, including health care and climate change.

BRUCE JOSTEN, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: The president, when he was a candidate, said people should vigorously and passionately defend their positions. And we should undertake those debates in a civil manner. I don't know where the name-calling suddenly came from.

SYLVESTER: The nation's largest business lobby has been in a very public fight with the White House recently. The White House has cast the Chamber as a lobbying Goliath, going against the little guy, fighting against the health care public option, and capping greenhouse gas emissions.

OBAMA: They're very good at this, because that's how business has been done in Washington for a very long time. In fact over the last 10 years the Chamber alone spent nearly half a billion dollars on lobbying -- half a billion dollars.

SYLVESTER: President Obama has been bypassing the Chamber, meeting face-to-face with company leaders, including the CEOs of Amazon, Florida Power & Light, Eastman Kodak, Wal-Mart, Verizon and Kraft. At least four companies have dropped their U.S. Chamber memberships over the business group's position on climate change, the largest of them, Apple Computers.

But the White House may be ready to end the feud with the Chamber. In a statement, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said quote, "it is no secret that we have had some disagreements on issues like regulatory reform and climate change, but we look forward to continuing to work with the Chamber on issues we agree on, including job creation for large and small businesses."


SYLVESTER: And on that note the president has invited the U.S Chamber to the White House this week for an event on small businesses and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at a Chamber Board of Director's dinner next month. Lou?

DOBBS: Well that sounds like things are really moving along. But how concerned should the nation be that this administration and the Chamber of Commerce agree on job creation policy since neither has a distinguished record?

SYLVESTER: You know, that's one of the things that both sides say that they agree on. It's job creation. It's the stimulus package, but these are things that a lot of people look at, particularly the stimulus and all the money that they spent as not necessarily a good thing for our country.

DOBBS: All right, Lisa, thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester.

Coming up next, the president says he won't rush his decision on Afghanistan. How much time does he have? Should he be considering withdrawing all of our troops?

And an official swine flu emergency, President Obama now declaring it a national priority. Is it too late? Can the virus be stopped? What more should we know? Those answers coming up here next.


ANNOUNCER: Here again, Mr. Independent Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Joining me now for more on the swine flu virus and the national emergency declared by President Obama over the weekend is one of the nation's leading experts on infectious diseases. Dr. Anthony Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health -- Doctor, great to see you again. Thanks for being here.


DOBBS: Forty-six states now talking about a widespread outbreak of the flu. We've got 1,000 confirmed deaths so far. The president has just declared a national emergency. Does this help the public in real terms?

FAUCI: Well, yes, it does, because what the -- the president's declaration of a national emergency allows is a lot of flexibility to get rid of some of the bureaucratic constraints for hospitals and facilities that take care of patients to really surge up. For example, they waive a lot of the paperwork that has to go in with people coming into the hospital. They can branch out into auxiliary type facilities without having to go through a lot of paperwork. So it really facilitates taking care of people when you have a big surge of sick people coming into hospitals and coming to emergency room.

DOBBS: Is this an acknowledgment by the public health system and the president that we can expect a lot bigger pandemic, a lot more cases of swine flu?

FAUCI: I don't think there's any question, Lou, that there are going to be a lot of more cases. If you look at curve of going up, we don't know when it's going to peak. We hope it peaks and then comes back down. But that's an assumption that I think is dangerous to make. Really need to assume that as we get into the late fall and winter, when people spend more time in close spaces, that we'll continue to have a lot of flu activity for the next few months. We hope that's not the case, but we have to assume that's going to happen.

DOBBS: Now, we're seeing record numbers of swine flu cases, confirmed flu cases, most of them swine flu we're told right now. Is that correct?

FAUCI: That is correct. There's very little seasonal flu activity, if anything, out there. Most of it, if it's an influenza, it's highly likely to be H1N1. There's a lot of other respiratory diseases out there that's not influenza. But if it is influenza, it's very likely it's H1N1.

DOBBS: As you know, because you're working on the vaccine, you've been working on it for months, personally. But people have been standing in lines waiting for this vaccine. We're told previous week we'd been told by the CDC there were 9.2 million doses of swine flu vaccine at the beginning of this week, yesterday, about 12 million doses. Where are we with this vaccine? Will that vaccine be available when it's need?

FAUCI: Well, there's certainly right now, Lou, is a gap between a bigger demand than there is supply. That's for sure. There's no doubt about that. The virus does not grow well and it hasn't been growing well so, the projected amounts are not as high -- the projected amounts are higher than what we actually have. Over the next week or two or three, we anticipate we'll see a rollout of larger numbers of vaccine doses, about 10 million per week for the next couple of weeks as we go into mid and late November. So hopefully that gap between supply and demand is going to start to narrow. Obviously there's a lot of frustration now, because that gap is substantial. But hopefully we'll see it narrow as we get more doses in the next couple of weeks.

DOBBS: We have seen this disease in this country for about six months. Is there any sign that it's mutating? Is there any chance we'll see it mutating as we get into the peak flu season? FAUCI: The facts are it has not. Lucky for us it has not. It really is essentially the same virus that we first noticed in April, has come and been through our summer into our fall now, in the southern hemisphere, who just finished up their flu season, had the same virus with virtually no mutations. You never can predict whether it will or will not. Thankfully it has not and hopefully it will stay the way it is. Because the vaccine, although the supply is low, it's a perfect match for this virus. So once we get the pack vaccine into people, it should be quite effective.

DOBBS: Dr. Anthony Fauci, as always, very helpful and enlightening. Good to have with you us.

Up next, Independents moving away from the Democratic Party, we'll find out why. And why are so many people, Republicans, Democrats and independents calling themselves conservatives?

And the Obama administration weighing our military direction in Afghanistan and is it time to withdraw our troops? Three leading strategic experts join me here next. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


DOBBS: President Obama today meeting with his national security team, a sixth time. They discussed the course of action for American policy in Afghanistan and more to come. Joining me now for more on the choices that face the president in Afghanistan, Jed Babbin, who is former under secretary of defense, editor of Human Events, good to have you with us. Herb London, president of the Hudson Institute, good to have you here. And also Alex Thier, good to have you here. Afghanistan and Pakistan director at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Let's begin with John Kerry, just returned from both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and if you will, this is what he had to say.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: Deploying additional troops won't result in sustainable gains if the Afghan security civilian and governance capacity isn't there. And right now, as our generals will tell you, in many places, too many places, it isn't.


DOBBS: Well, there obviously is a difference between Senator Kerry and we'll just limit this to Senator Kerry, and General McChrystal. Alex, what is the implication of what he's saying?

J. ALEXANDER THIER, U.S. INSTITUTE FOR PEACE: Well, I think that the critical point that he's making is that without a real Afghan partner, we can't succeed. We can have as many troops, we can have as much money as we want in Afghanistan, but ultimately at the end of the day, and this is in counter insurgency doctrine and in common sense, that unless it's Afghans who are leading, then we're not going to succeed.

DOBBS: Herb?

HERB LONDON, HUDSON INSTITUTE: There's an awful lot that the United States can do. My feeling is that the president will deploy forces, probably something on the order of 30 or 35, not the 40,000 that General McChrystal has asked for. But my feeling is that there's something can you do in restoring some sort of security in the urban areas. But a lot depends not merely on Karzai, a lot depends on President Obama. Does he have the will to really engage in this war, is it sustainable, does very the desire to make this a success. That I think is really what's critical.

DOBBS: Do you have an answer to those questions?

JED BABBIN, EDITOR, HUMAN EVENTS: I don't think anybody does, Lou, let me respectfully disagree with Alex. The counter insurgency doctrine does not require a stable government to be a partner, even a legitimate government to be a partner. The real issue is can you establish security in enough places to give the people the ability to create the government that they want, if they don't already have it. So you have a situation here where the question is, are you going to fight or not? Is Afghanistan something that we have to fight for or not? And on that determination will rest the consideration of further troops and whether we have an election or not in Afghanistan.

DOBBS: What do you think? Will -- should the president send more troops?

BABBIN: I think he has to. I think there's no one that has better information than General McChrystal and his boss, General Petraeus. They are decided that they have to do a counterinsurgency strategy with or without the election and I don't think anybody else can say that unless the president wants to change the objective, we have to do anything else.

DOBBS: Would Jed's view be more persuasive if we had not gone through more than eight years of generals with a lot of information incapable of leading their troops to victory and success in Afghanistan, Alex?

THIER: The point we have spent eight years in Afghanistan is critical to this debate because what worked in 2001 or what might have worked in 2001 is very hard to accomplish in 2009. What we need to do that we have not done up until this point is to place proper emphasis, not only on the military aspect of this conflict but on the ability to deliver goods and services to the Afghan people, which also includes a government they can depend on and includes a sense of justice.

I lived in Afghanistan for four years during the civil year in the 1990s. I watched the Taliban take over the country the first time. They didn't take over the country because people loved their ideology, they took over because people were sick of the warlords and the privation that they faced and the intimidation they faced under those people. So unless we can replace that with something better, then we might as well get out. LONDON: But the counterinsurgency strategy is very much dependent on creating some sort of security in the urban areas, precisely the point Alex is making f you're going to have security it's going to be necessary for American troops to suggest to people in urban areas that you have the American people, the American people, the American president, and the American military standing behind you. If you have a president that dithers, a president who's not sure, a president suffering from a hamlet-like pose, it's not going to be success. But if you want to win this war, we'll win it. You may remember the conversations that took place prior to the surge in Iraq, not unlike the conversations taking place now. If the president is keen on making a success out of this, I think it can be successful.

BABBIN: And we have a situation that's vastly different. The mission in 2001 was to topple the Taliban regime, that was done rather handily. The mission now is something else. The president has to make a decision. General McChrystal said we could lose this war within 12 months, be it a situation where the insurgency was no longer -- we are no longer capable of defeating it. That 12 months is already gone, one sixth of it.

DOBBS: General McChrystal also said he could not guarantee military victory with 40,000 more troops, simply stave off failure. That is not the kind of ringing rhetoric one wants to hear from one of our leaders who's responsible for the lives of, right now, 40,000 of our troops, possibly as many as 80,000, 100,000 later.

THIER: Look, the challenge in Afghanistan is enormously complicated. A lot of the country is insecure right now. You have the biggest drug trafficking in the world coming out of Afghanistan.

DOBBS: Still.

THIER: It's gotten far worse in the last eight years. So in order tore make a difference, it's not just about the numbers. We've been pushing up the numbers in Afghanistan steadily over the last couple of years. It's really about what you do with them. Are you using the forces properly and do you have an Afghan partner that's going to stand next to you and convince the Afghan people that the future lies with you, instead of with the insurgents.

DOBBS: Let me ask you this. If you can put this into one sentence, I'll just ask you and you can tell me. What is the point of the United States military in Afghanistan?

LONDON: In my judgment, the point is not only to provide for security in Afghanistan but to make sure that the Afghan government is sufficiently stable so we do not have any kind of disruption in Pakistan and nuclear weapons in the hands of al Qaeda.

DOBBS: That was almost ten words. Thanks, Herb, for trying.

BABBIN: To hold Afghanistan in a holding action to protect Pakistan until we decide on what our ultimate goal is in this war, which we have not yet done. THIER: I believe it's a clear goal, it's to prevent the collapse of Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, which would endanger American national security dramatically.


THIER: Because Afghanistan was home to al Qaeda and could become home to al Qaeda. Pakistan is currently home to al Qaeda. If weapons fall into their hands we're in more trouble than we are today.

DOBBS: This isn't a 21st century domino theory is it?

THIER: The reality is clear.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, appreciate you all being here.

Coming up next, a new poll shows for the first time in years, conservatives outnumber both moderates and liberals.

And Harry Reid's gamble, he says there will be a public option, an opt-out option, one Nancy Pelosi says should be called a competitive option or consumer option. Will all of that pass muster on Capitol Hill? We'll find out next.


DOBBS: Joining me now, Ed Rollins, Republican strategist, former white house political director, CNN contributor. Great to have you here, Ed. Errol Louis, columnist "New York Daily News," CNN contributor, Errol great to see you, Mark Halperin, editor at large, senior political analyst "Time Magazine," Mark thanks for being here. And Mortimer Zuckerman, editor in chief of US News World Report, publisher with the "New York Daily News" and lots of other stuff, nice to have you here.

Harry Reid put his weight behind health care legislation that includes a public option with an opt-out while Nancy Pelosi was talking about a consumer option and competitive option. The language is getting a little complicated.

MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, TIME MAGAZINE: By the end of this week or beginning of next there will be more clarify for the next phase. All they need to do is get things to the floor of the house, to the floor of the senate, and at that point I think they're on a glide path. They now have Democrats across the spectrum, unhappiness on both ends, but committed to their success politically and in terms of what they want to accomplish, getting this done.

DOBBS: Does this look like a glide path to you?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think there's a lot of rocks on the glide and to a certain extent part of the extent on 60 votes, whether you make an amendment to take out or an amendment to move it forward is that it's not a solid 60 votes. There's still some Democrat in the senate that aren't 100% there. I think the bottom line is we've devoted so much attention to this public option over the last several week that's we're forgetting some of the other crap in the bill and the cost.

DOBBS: Is that a euphemism?

ROLLINS: That's a euphemism. Another congressional budget office has to do another run at these two bills, and my sense is they've been pretty honest so far, and I think to a certain extent they'll do the best they can.

DOBBS: They've been honest to the point that they've acknowledged that their estimate may mean nothing at all because --

ROLLINS: That in itself is honesty but I still think the price tag is going to be astronomical. As I've said, people are far more concerned about the deficit.

DOBBS: Your thoughts Errol?

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: My sense is Harry Reid is playing Nevada politics. He's in serious, serious trouble for not one, but two Republican challengers. If you look at polls, he's been down five to 11 points in recent polls. He's trying to consolidate his base back home as well as across the Democratic spectrum in the senate and this is a way for him to do it. Some independents suggested in Nevada want something he can to satisfy that base. He's got to rally them both nationally and at home.

DOBBS: Can this country afford the public option by your best judgment?

MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN, US NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, they may be able to afford a piece of the public option. I don't think they can afford this health care bill. They did not change the incentives that really provide nothing but bad news in terms of excessive medical costs, excessive medical treatments. There's no real way of getting people to share in what the burden is other than the public. That sooner or later, it already has, led to gigantic increases in this cause. I think it will be a fiscal disaster for this country.

DOBBS: Is it anyone's sense here that Harry Reid is comporting himself commensurately to public support for health care legislation? You talk about the Nevada background. I mean, this is --

HALPERIN: This is a bill that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are finding a bill that's in the middle of the Democratic Party, not in the middle of the United States. That's a decision they made a long time ago. That's what we're going to get, a bill that's in the middle of the Democratic Party.

DOBBS: Robert Gibbs said the president is pleased with the public option. I love that, pleased.

ROLLINS: I challenge both Gibbs and the president to tell us what's in the bill. I don't think they can do that. I think there are about five staff guys in the senate and the house that's in this bill. I think we're going to find out in the next several weeks and basically be astonished at some of the costs. ZUCKERMAN: It's best guesses. It's just a guess. It's like somebody said, trying to figure out what your lunch is going to cost in ten years. Some of the big costs that are coming into that bill don't come in until 2014 and 2015.

DOBBS: Then you can opt out.

ROLLINS: What does come in right away is the taxes and the additional cost.

ZUCKERMAN: If they're focused on getting costs under control first so they'd know what was in store for the country and move to expand it, I think they would have been in much better political shape.

ROLLINS: At least the country would know what they're getting.

DOBBS: In order to get the cost we'd have to know what the plan is, the program. There's nothing in this that suggests what the program is. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said, one doesn't know if it's a Freudian slip or not, it can be a health care plan. That's probably on the cheap side of what is on the way.

We're going to be back with our panel here in just a second. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Well, we're back with our panel and Olympia Snowe, the only Republican to vote for the -- it seems sort of quaint now, the senate finance committee legislation which was a concept. Today she expressed her disappointment in senator Harry Reid's declaration the public option will be in the health care legislation at least as it emerges from the senate. Here's her reaction.


SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: It's regrettable. I certainly have worked in good faith all of these months on a bipartisan basis and as you know, have been standing alone as a Republican in order to do so, because I believe in good public policy.


DOBBS: Mort Zuckerman, she believes in good policy. She obviously believes public option ain't it.

ZUCKERMAN: She was always opposed to a public option. To her credit, she says I don't think this is a perfect bill but this is a historic chance, as we were talking about before, to get a bill. She voted with it. She's always been one of the few Republicans whom the Democrats had a chance to get. Given the state she comes from and given her inclinations. Now I think this is probably going to alienate here and take away any bipartisan sheen from this legislation. ROLLINS: I don't have any inside information but I know her very well. She's a woman of principle. I don't think she'll vote with the Democrats.

DOBBS: It looks like over the last weeks, a lot of the Democrats, somewhere around 13 or fewer, will not vote along party lines on this possibly. Let's turn to Afghanistan. Senator Kerry returns, Errol, says I don't think I like anything here in the way of options for this president. What's your reaction?

LOUIS: It sounded like gobbledygook. It made me wonder what would have happened had we been dealing with this through a President Kerry.

DOBBS: Or secretary of state Kerry.

LOUIS: Also a bracing thought. The indecision that radiated from him in this statement is just incredible to me. You either have to scrap and rewrite the entire counterinsurgency doctrine, there's an argument for that. He didn't make that argument. Not quite enough troops and maybe not -- it's too far, we're going too far and too fast. I can only imagine what the troops who must be thinking who are watching this around the world. That he's saying that their reinforcements can't come too far and can't come too fast.

HALPERIN: It's a reminder to the white house that when the president does reach a decision, it will be vital for him to tell the country and the world in a very decisive and clear way why he's decided what he's doing and what he plans to do. The model of Kerry, saying bad options all around, not explaining things clearly is one the white house would be smart to look at and then reject.

ROLLINS: It's dangerous when you have a chairman of a major committee in the senate conducting foreign policy. The president conducts foreign policy, the secretary of state does it on his behalf. Obviously his role as chairman of the committee has authorization hearings, appropriation hearings, conduct investigations. But basically to effect decisions the president has to make is bad policy, I think.

DOBBS: And that is not apparently a concern for Vice President Biden who's come up with another and separate approach.

ROLLINS: I think to a certain extent both -- you know, Biden would have had that job had he stayed in the senate. Both of them may have stayed in the senate too long. At the end of the day, I think to a certain extent the conflicts of that this president has to deal with on a daily basis, he needs to have quiet advisers, not public advisers.

DOBBS: And a public and not quiet way, what's your best counsel to the president on Afghanistan?

ZUCKERMAN: I personally am opposed to going forward with this additional troop deployment because I just don't see any kind of scenario where we'll have victory, but some kind of modest progress over a long period of time. That's a sad commentary on it. Because we have all of our NATO allies --

DOBBS: Particularly when Americans are dying.

ZUCKERMAN: We have NATO allies who are pushing us very strongly for this additional troop deployment, not that they are willing to support us by deploying their own troops. You have the military would be up in arms if he doesn't go forward with it. The senior military are totally committed to McChrystal's plan and feels he was hung out.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Mort. Errol, thank you very much. Mark, thank you, Ed.

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