Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer
Interview with Mowaffak al-Rubaie; Interview With Dennis Kucinich; Interview With Roy Blunt
Aired January 07, 2007 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll get to my interview with Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, in just a moment.
First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now from CNN's Fredricka Whitfield. She's joining us from Atlanta. Fred?
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.
Senior policy advisers, from the now-outgoing director of national intelligence, John Negroponte to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, were at the White House this weekend as President Bush worked on his new Iraq strategy. He'll announce his plans later in the week.
To get the Iraqi perspective, I spoke to Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, in Baghdad just a short while ago.
BLITZER: Mowaffak al-Rubaie, thanks very much for joining us from Baghdad. As you know, the president of the United States this week is expected to announce a major shift in U.S. strategy toward Iraq, including thousands of additional troops, a lot more U.S. reconstruction assistance aid for Iraq, as well as linking that to so- called benchmarks, conditions that your government will have to accept.
Are you ready to accept this package that the president will put forward?
MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQ'S NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, this package has been discussed with us in depth over the last few weeks. And we are quite happy to see what the details of it. But we have been involved in the discussion with the United States government and with the coalition in Baghdad about the way forward. And we think that we have the plan ready now. We are more than happy to ask for more troops if the military commanders need it, and if they command that, we will have more troops on the ground. BLITZER: How many more U.S. troops do you think you need right now to try to secure the situation in Baghdad and the area around the Iraqi capital?
AL-RUBAIE: I wouldn't like to go into the details of this, but I believe we have been involved in detailed discussion over the last few weeks with our military commanders and with the military commanders of the coalition on the ground in Baghdad. And we come up with something -- some sort of troops to come immediately to Baghdad, and others to wait outside Iraq and so on and so forth.
I think I would leave it to the military commanders to discuss. And whatever they require, we will provide them and we will support them.
BLITZER: Will the Iraqi government itself be willing to contribute the forces necessary to try to get the job done? There's one suggestion that you are going to be sending additional brigades, two-thirds of whom will be from the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, will be brought down to Baghdad. Is that right?
AL-RUBAIE: No. That's not right, Wolf. These are not Peshmergas. These are proper Iraqi brigades. They reside in the north of the country. And we are basically redeploying them into Baghdad, and we are bringing some other troops from other places as well inside Iraq, Iraqi troops.
The central core of this plan is that the Iraqi security forces should be in the lead. And they should take the lead in this operation. And the multinational forces, the coalition forces, and mainly the American forces are in embedded within the ministry of interior forces, ministry of defense forces, and other, basically to logistically support the Iraqi security forces, and support them with air power, support them with intelligence and other type of logistical support.
BLITZER: When will the Iraqi military crack down on the various militias, especially the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr?
AL-RUBAIE: Well, the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police and the Iraqi government have a very, very clear plan to go after anyone, anyone, regardless of the organization they belong to, and to go after those who show with their arms in the street.
There is no doubt about it. And we have a full comprehensive plan for all militias, not only Mehdi militias, but all other militias we have a full comprehensive plan, and we have already started implementing this plan. But we are going to speed up this process in the year 2007.
BLITZER: So you will go after the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia?
AL-RUBAIE: We will go after any armed group, any armed group, they raise the -- or declare their -- or any illegal armed group where they show themselves with their arms in the street... BLITZER: The New York Times wrote...
AL-RUBAIE: ... whether they are Shia or Sunnis. And I can assure you, Wolf, that no -- whether these radical elements, armed groups are Shia or Sunnis, we are color blind on the sects when it comes to the sectarian and when it comes to the violence in this country.
BLITZER: Because there is skepticism, as you know. The New York Times wrote this on Tuesday. I'll read it to you: "The Iraqis never delivered four of the six Iraqi army battalions that they had committed to the effort. Some of the Iraqi police units proved to be so infiltrated by Shiite militias that they had to be pulled off duty for retraining."
This was a reference to Operation Together Forward, the last time there was a so-called surge in the effort to deal with the security situation in Baghdad. That operation, as you remember and as you know, failed.
AL-RUBAIE: Well, Wolf, I can comment in two ways. Number one, basically we are doing our shoelaces -- doing up our shoelaces under fire over the last three years. Where we are training, equipping, and recruiting under fire, and at the same time, we are fighting terrorism and insurgency and the illegal armed groups.
And the other thing is these Iraqi security forces were recruited and employed and trained and armed by the coalition forces. So I don't think it is -- it is very unfair to blame whatever infiltration happened in these Iraqi security forces on the Iraqi government.
What we are doing now is a reform committee, which formed off of very high-level officials, to reform the ministry of interior and ministry of defense and other intelligence agencies.
And we are very, very serious with it. We have already sent 4,000 personnel and employees of the ministry of interior in the last few weeks -- we just fired them.
BLITZER: Those would be police forces.
Here is what your prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying at the end of December: "I didn't want to take this position. I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest. And I will not accept it again."
He went on to say: "I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term." It sounds like he's really becoming a reluctant prime minister.
AL-RUBAIE: No. He is far from it, I can tell you. We have one of the best prime ministers. And he is doing his job excellently. He is very firm. He is decisive. He is determined. And he is doing the best job possible in these circumstances we are having.
This is a national unity government. This is not a government of the winning party that formed the government and they make a decision.
He has to make a consensus. There are so many problems in the country, security problems, economic problems, consensus he has to get from all sectors, political, sectarian or religious communities.
It is an extremely difficult job. It is really literally impossible to do the job, but he's doing a brilliant job in this field.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the fall-out from the execution of Saddam Hussein.
The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, said this on Friday: "What happened in Baghdad on the first day of Eid al-Adha, was unthinkable. Why did they have to hurry? Why hang him when people are reciting their holiday prayers? Then the pictures of the execution were revolting and barbaric."
You are being condemned by a lot of people in the Arab world and outside the Arab world for the way you conducted this execution. With hindsight, was it a blunder?
AL-RUBAIE: What is more important than all of this is that Saddam has gone now and we are finished with him. Now we are talking about post-Saddam Iraq. And post-Saddam Iraq is completely different. The three communities have to come together. The three communities, the Kurds, Shia, and Sunnis, have to work together to rebuild this country.
And this government has every intention and a plan to reach out to the Sunni community and to the oldest -- well, disenfranchised, if you like, those who feel that they are marginalized. They are going to reach out aggressively to these, and then we are going to review the de-Baathification law.
We are going ahead with the energy law, with the oil and gas law. We are also sending delegations to our Arab neighbors to explain exactly what happened and to reach out to the Arab neighbors as well as to reach out to the community which they felt that they were mistreated or ill-treated over the last couple of years.
So we -- this is the new era in Iraq, post-Saddam Iraq.
BLITZER: Does that mean you are going to stay the execution of these other two Saddam associates who were also sentenced to death?
I'm referring Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half-brother, the former intelligence chief; and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former head of the Iraqi Revolutionary Court. Will these two men be hanged?
AL-RUBAIE: The Iraqi government is the executive arm. We do whatever the legal arm, the judicial system has passed sentence on these people. Whatever the courts tell us, we will do it. And whatever they would like us to do, we will do it. And we will execute exactly what the courts want us to do. BLITZER: Well, they both were sentenced to death, and they were supposed to be hanged the same day Saddam Hussein was hanged. But they still have not yet been executed.
What's the latest on their status?
AL-RUBAIE: Well, as we have said before, that for logistical reasons they were postponed because the coalition could not provide the logistics for the same day Saddam was executed.
Now, we would -- this is up to the Iraqi government to, one, to choose the date for execution. And I don't want to discuss this issue further in public, Wolf.
BLITZER: But you do expect that they eventually will be executed?
AL-RUBAIE: Well, this is the order of the court. And we don't have any say in this. The Iraqi government has not sentenced these people to death.
This is the court, which is a specialist court and we have seen them over the last year or so and on television defending themselves and with all of the defense counsels and even a foreign defense counsel. So this is the court order.
BLITZER: Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser of Iraq, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition.
AL-RUBAIE: Thank you very much for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: And just ahead: out of power after 12 years, how will the Republicans handle their new role?
We'll ask the number two Republican in the House, the minority whip, Roy Blunt. He's standing by live.
Also, another hat in the presidential ring. Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich is outspoken and anti-war. We'll talk to him about his long-shot campaign and why he thinks Congress should stop the funding for the war.
And violence rages in Baghdad as President Bush works on a new strategy. John Burns of the New York Times and Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post take a closer look at the next steps in Iraq.
All of this coming up, right here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: My colleagues elected me to be speaker of the House, the entire House. We have an obligation to reach beyond partisanship to work for all Americans. (APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Democratic speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, promising bipartisanship as she took up the gave up the gavel this week. But even before her speech, Republicans were complaining that the Democrats had already broken some promises.
Joining us now is the number two Republican in the House, the minority whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MINORITY WHIP: Wolf, it's good to be here. I do still wince just a little bit when I hear that "minority whip," but that's where we are and...
BLITZER: That's your new life, at least two years. We'll see what happens after that.
Let's talk a little bit about this letter that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate, wrote to the president on Friday.
"Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake."
Are you fully on board with the president on this expected announcement that he's going to send thousands of additional troops into battle in Iraq?
BLUNT: Yeah, I think the key there is the expected announcement. Let's see what the president has to say.
BLITZER: Do you have any reason to believe he won't do that?
BLUNT: You know, I think that it's a mistake for members of Congress to think that they can fight about whether the right number of troops is 20,000 more or 40,000 more or 20,000 less. I've been to Iraq a couple of times. I've never come back thinking I knew the exact right number of troops.
I think the president and military leaders -- and I know we hear that the military leaders may not be on board. I have a feeling they're much more on board than we know. General Petraeus I have confidence in, as the president does. I think he'll make the kinds of recommendations that will be significant.
BLITZER: He's going to be the new commander of the forces in Iraq.
BLUNT: He'll be the new commander there. I think it's a huge mistake, you know, to begin to jump to the commander in chief's job as a member of Congress. And I think my friends Nancy and Harry are making that mistake by thinking they can strategize what's the best thing to happen. What's more important is the mission. And that's what I'm interested in hearing the president talk about is the mission.
BLITZER: On this issue of the mission, as you know, a lot of Democrats are critical of the president, but increasingly we're hearing from Republicans in the Senate and the House who are very critical of what the president's strategy has been and looks like it still is. Listen to Gordon Smith of Oregon and Heather Wilson, a Congresswoman from New Mexico, both Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR GORDON SMITH, R-OREGON: I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs, day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. REP. HEATHER WILSON, R-NEW MEXICO: I am not a supporter of a surge to do for the Iraqis what the Iraqis will not do for themselves. I also have not seen a clarity of mission, and I think that's the greatest weakness that we have right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: She's a member of the Intelligence committee. As you know, she's just back from a visit to Iraq. You have a serious problem with your own Republicans.
BLUNT: Well, she's a good friend of mine. I have particular confidence in her judgment. I talked to her about this speech before I gave it, and the two points that you just focused on that she made, I believe there's a general agreement on, including agreement at the White House.
The Iraqis have to do a better job. They have to accept more responsibility for their own future. And the goals have to be clarified. We've got to look now in the context of the last months and years and decide what the goals for the future need to be and how we achieve those goals.
BLITZER: But if the U.S. does it for the Iraqis almost four years into this war, where is the incentive for the Iraqis to finally step up and get the job done themselves?
BLUNT: My guess is there will be no suggestion the U.S. should do this for the Iraqis. Whenever General Casey wanted to secure Baghdad, he wanted to do it with one of our battalions and six of theirs.
BLITZER: Yeah, but most of their guys didn't -- never showed up.
BLUNT: They only came up with two of theirs. That's exactly the point I want to make. And hopefully the president's very frank discussion this week with Maliki, hopefully the other discussions that going on indicate that the partnership will be appropriate and fundamentally a partnership where the Iraqis are the principal source of strength and manpower for whatever has to happen there.
If that doesn't work at the end of the day, Wolf, this is not going to work. And so it has to happen. I hope the president is able to move forward with the kind of support from the Iraqi people that he needs. Ultimately, our foreign policy has to be about us. And at some point, you can't secure the future for a people who don't want to secure their own future. I see this as one of the last chances for the Iraqi people to secure their future with us as a principal partner.
BLITZER: Because if they don't want it, the United States can't simply keep on doing it, try to do it for them.
BLUNT: We just simply cannot achieve that without them.
BLITZER: As you know, the American public, based on all the polls, not happy about introducing more U.S. troops into Iraq. In our most recent poll, mid-December, only 11 percent supported the notion of sending more troops into Iraq. Fifty-four percent, a majority, either want them out immediately or within a year. Only 32 percent, a third or so, say keep them there as long as necessary.
The president has an uphill struggle, and you as a Republican leader in the House, to convince the American public that sending more troops into Iraq is a good idea.
BLUNT: Well, I think the one -- in my mind, I'm giving the president some credit here because he's not doing the popular thing. He's not doing the easy thing. There's really only one thing left he must be doing, which in his mind is the right thing.
So I'm going to listen carefully as he and I had a chance to talk this week. I'm going to listen carefully to the final plans next week and do everything I can do give our troops in Iraq a chance to get the job done and get home.
BLITZER: The Democrats saying the first 100 hours that the new House is in session, the working hours, if you will, that's about the first two weeks, two and a half weeks or so, they want to pass a whole bunch of legislation, including implementing all the 9-11 Commission recommendations, raising the federal minimum wage, expanding embryonic and other stem-cell research, lowering drug costs, prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients, and eliminating some of the oil subsidies for big oil and using that money for renewable energy sources. Are you on board with that agenda for the first 100 hours of the new House?
BLUNT: You know, some of that agenda we've already accomplished. I'm going to be on board with that. Some of it I think they're no longer for.
BLITZER: What don't you like? BLUNT: The 9-11 Commission, for instance. Of the 41 recommendations, essentially, we'd already implemented 39 of them. I believe they suggested last week they were not going to make the intelligence budget public. That would have been a bad idea even though they said they were going to do it.
They were not going to turn the covert operations over to the Defense Department instead of the CIA. Those were about the last two things left. In terms of energy independence, I think that needs to be one of the critical things for the future of the country, but as Jeff Bingaman said, a Democrat who's the lead Democrat on energy in the Senate, if you do things that only encourage American companies to look for energy other places because you've taken the incentives to look for it here away, how's that to our advantage?
We need to focus on energy independence, not just rhetoric. And on minimum wage, we need to do things that ensure that people get to work. That's what minimum wage really provides, a path for people to get to work. And if you raise the minimum wage without doing some things to offset the impact of that to the principal minimum-wage job creators, the person who was going to hire four people winds up hiring three.
BLITZER: But -- we're out of time, but they have the votes to get it done even though you might not like it.
BLUNT: We'll offer some alternatives. We wish we had more of an opportunity to offer alternatives. My guess is the final bill on the president's desk will look more like what House Republicans would like to see happen on these issues than what House Democrats want to see happen.
BLITZER: Assuming the Senate goes ahead and revises it.
BLUNT: If there is a final bill, I think it will be revised in a way that meets the concerns that we're going to have next week.
BLITZER: Roy Blunt, thanks very much for coming in.
BLUNT: It's good to be with you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
And coming up next, should Congress simply stop funding the war in Iraq? That's the view of Democratic presidential candidate, Congressman Dennis Kucinich. We'll speak with him live.
Also coming up, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including protests in Somalia against foreign troops. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. He's run for president before, and he's now running for president again. And he's staking out a rather unique position among the Democratic candidates.
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is joining us now, live from Cleveland. Congressman, welcome back to "Late Edition."
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: Hi, Wolf. Great to be on your show. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: The unique aspect of your presidential ambition is that you want to stop funding this war in Iraq. You don't want additional funds to be appropriated. Is that right?
KUCINICH: Well, the money's there right now to bring the troops home. And I think that, given a choice between using the money to bring the troops home or using the money to continue the war, I think the American people want a process to begin that will bring our troops home.
And then we need to announce we're going to close those bases. And at that point, we can begin a political process.
Wolf, I also know the American people want to see the security for the Iraqi civilians. So what we need to do is, as we announce that we're going to withdraw, we also enable a political process to be started that begins the transition to an international security force.
BLITZER: I interviewed Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker, shortly after the Democrats won the majority back in November. She made it clear she doesn't support cutting the funding for the troops for the war effort. Listen to this exchange we had.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Not really. We would never cut...
BLITZER: Why isn't it on the table?
PELOSI: Well, because our troops are in harm's way. They have been sent there, whether you agree with the policy or not, and I certainly did not agree with the resolution to go to war, we would not withhold our funding for the troops there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Today on CBS, she was suggesting, though, that for additional troops, there would have to be a supplemental budget request and she's not exactly sure that she would go ahead with that.
Where do you stand on this notion, though, that if you cut the funds for the war you're going to, in the end, hurt the U.S. troops?
KUCINICH: Well, first of all, we all support our troops. And I believe the best way to support the troops is to bring them home. Wolf, there's money there, right now, we can use to start the process of bringing our troops home, and money that can be used to start the process of bringing in an international security force.
But we have to make a determination that we're not going to let this war continue.
If the Congress were to go ahead and approve the supplemental that's due in the spring, this war would continue through the end of Bush's term. I don't think the American people want that.
I think the American people, in November, put in a Democratic Congress so that we as Democrats would take a new direction.
And while I certainly strongly support Nancy Pelosi for speaker and I voted for her, I know that what we're looking for as Americans is a new direction. That's what I'm offering.
I'm letting the American people know that it's inconsistent to say that you want to -- that you oppose the war and you continue to fund it. So I've taken a very strong position on this. Money's there to bring the troops home.
BLITZER: So if there's an addition $100 billion or so request, you'll definitely vote against it?
KUCINICH: Well, that's true. But what I'm saying is, let's determine that we're going to end the occupation, that we're going to withdraw our troops, that we're going to close the bases.
That establishes the preconditions for a political settlement. That's when we can go to the international community and rally the Muslim nations to help provide for a security force so we can protect the Iraqi people and transition them to a program of reconciliation, reconstruction, reparations, securing their oil assets.
These are all things that are part and parcel of the Kucinich plan, which I'll be announcing tomorrow in New York City as part of my effort to help the Democrats craft a united position that can enable us to respond to the will of the American people.
BLITZER: Here's what the president says would happen if the policy was as you want it to be. Listen to this. He wrote this in The Wall Street Journal.
"If democracy fails and the extremists prevail in Iraq, America's enemies will be stronger, more lethal, and emboldened by our defeat. Leaders in both parties understand the stakes in this struggle. We now have the opportunity to build a bipartisan consensus to fight and win the war."
Basically, he's suggesting, and his supporters are suggesting, you want to just cut and run and admit failure.
KUCINICH: Well, the president's trapped by his policy, and we need to help the president. There are Democrats and Republicans alike who are uniting around an alternative. And that's why I'm bringing an alternative forward.
I'm saying what many generals are saying. There's no military solution. Now, if there's no military solution, why in the world would we want to leave our troops there?
We need to begin a political solution. That political solution starts when we determine that we're going to withdraw, that we're going to end the occupation, that we're going to close the bases, that we're going to let the Iraqis handle their own oil assets, not try to privatize oil.
And the Kucinich plan that I'm introducing tomorrow is going to provide for that movement. And if you're going to eventually have some kind of democracy in Iraq, you can't do it under the hand of a U.S. occupation because it's antithetical.
So the president has had four years for his policies to work. They haven't. They've shown to be a failure. Unfortunately, they're predicated on lies.
So let's rescue not only this president but our nation and the world from these failed policies. Let's end this chapter of Iraq and the instability that our policies have brought not only to Iraq but to the region and the world.
BLITZER: When you announced that you want to be president of the United States on December 12, you said this, among other things. I'll play a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KUCINICH: I fully expect to win because...
I fully expect to win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You've got some formidable Democratic potential rivals, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, John Kerry, maybe even Al Gore, down the road. What do you bring that they don't bring?
KUCINICH: What I bring is a record of having been right about what happened in Iraq. You know, I'm the only one who not only has voted against authorization, but voted against each and every appropriation that has kept us there. I think that every member of Congress knows that if you oppose the war, you don't vote for the appropriations.
But it's not only that. I'm not only opposed to what's happening in Iraq, Wolf. I'm opposed to the use of war as an instrument of policy. We're in a whole new world where the world is interconnected and interdependent. We need to explore our capacity for diplomacy, for what Franklin Roosevelt called the science of human relations. People are looking for leadership with foresight. I've demonstrated that with courage. I've demonstrated that with an ability to be able to take a stand and to be right. And I've shown that.
But I also have shown a capacity to work with people on both sides of the aisle. And that's what we did in putting together a coalition with Neil Abercrombie, Walter Jones and Ron Paul for a bipartisan coalition to take a new direction in Iraq.
We need to unite this nation. The American people want a steady hand. They want someone who isn't on a war path. I think that my candidacy offers that. And it's going to be distinguished -- and it's distinguished from many of the other fine Democrats who are offering their candidacies.
BLITZER: Dennis Kucinich, Democratic candidate from Ohio. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
KUCINICH: Wolf, thank you very much. I look forward to speaking with you again. Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. Appreciate it.
And coming up next, we'll get a reality check on the situation in Iraq from two prize-winning journalists: John Burns of The New York Times and Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post.
And for our North American viewers, coming up at 1 p.m. Eastern, an entire hour of top reporting and analysis on the world's conflicts. "This Week at War" with John Roberts. That follows "Late Edition" at 1 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." It was another bloody weekend in Baghdad, with dozens of bodies found. Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, announced Iraqi forces would wage what he called a new fight to control the militias that are turning Baghdad streets into a free fire zone, if you will.
But will new Iraqi strategy, or a new U.S. strategy, for that matter, actually work? To help us get a clear view of the situation, we're joined by two guests: the Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent, John Burns. He's joining us from Baghdad, where he's The New York Times bureau chief. And from New York, the former Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran. He's also the author of "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone," a fabulous book as well.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in. John, let me start in Baghdad with you. You wrote a very strong piece, a lengthy piece on the Saddam execution, in today's New York Times. The headline was, "In Days Before the Hanging, a Push for Revenge and a Push Back from the U.S." Was this simply a matter of revenge on the part of the Iraqi government? JOHN BURNS, NEW YORK TIMES: I think there was a kind of expiation here. The people who sent Saddam to the gallows, Mr. Maliki, the prime minister, and his associates, were all directly victims of this, and their families.
And there's a very senior American military officer said, I thought it was quite a telling point, in the course of our reporting out that piece, he said, we, the American military, knows what happens when you allow rage take over if your leadership systems fail. He was referring to events like the massacre at Haditha, the purported massacre at Haditha, and so on.
And he said, you've got to have leadership systems to control it. The implication, of course, was that in this case, the Iraqis failed to control their rage and allowed that to spill over into the execution chamber with all the disastrous consequences for their worldwide reputation that we now see.
BLITZER: And Rajiv, the fallout from the execution, especially in the Sunni Arab world, has been very intense.
RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, WASHINGTON POST: Indeed, it has. Obviously, great outrage in neighboring Sunni nations and great outrage among Iraq's Sunni community. And I think the key point here that connects this execution to what we're going to see coming up this week, Wolf, is that the way this execution was handled and the haste at which Maliki's government moved toward it, its unwillingness to listen to calls from American officials, as John Burns has so well reported in this morning's Times, to hold back, to at least allow the processes, the judicial due processes, to take place, to wait until after the Eid holiday.
I think it raises some real questions about Prime Minister al- Maliki's government's commitment to working with Sunnis and to really establish that sort of big-tent government that Iraq needs going forward that will be necessary if the Bush administration's troop surge is to work. It's not just a military plan here. For the military operations to succeed, it has to be done in conjunction with some real political changes on the ground.
You know, the way the Saddam execution was handled, I think it raises some very real questions about Maliki's ability and willingness to go forward on that front, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, we heard, John Burns, we heard from the prime minister yesterday. He was saying, from the U.S. perspective, all the right things. We heard on this program just a little while ago, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, his national security advisor, insisting they're going to get tough with the militias, including the Shiite militias.
Adnan al-Dulaimi, he's an Iraqi Sunni parliamentary member, he said this last week on Tuesday. He said, "Maliki knows that the Mehdi army" of Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, "can destroy Sunnis, that's why he doesn't disarm them."
Is it just lip service we're hearing from the Iraqi government, or are they seriously getting tough with Muqtada al-Sadr.
BURNS: No, they're not, no, no. Maliki talks the talk, as they say, but he doesn't walk the walk. We've heard this kind of talk from him from the get-go, when he was sworn in to office back in May, now eight months ago. And American military commanders and diplomats are becoming extremely exhausted with this.
And it's interesting to see that the president, as he builds his new plan, his new surge plan for Baghdad, with what, probably 20,000 more troops, is building into that plan mechanisms, in effect, to encourage or, in effect, oblige Maliki to begin to actually do what he's been saying for months he will do, that the five more brigades, the combat troops that will be sent here primarily, so we read, to stiffen the American presence in Baghdad, to get control of Baghdad again, will come in one brigade a month at a time.
And they will watch and see if Maliki actually produces the Iraqi troops that he's promising to produce. Complicated, because Maliki doesn't really want more American troops here. Why? Because he wants to have control of this war. Why does he want control of this war when in a sense we can see that the Iraqi troops are far, far from being able to handle the threat?
It's because he, I think, is looking beyond the present situation to the all-out civil war that he and other Shiite leaders believe is coming.
And he wants that army, that predominantly Shiite army that the United States has built for him here, under his control. He doesn't want American generals looking over his shoulder.
Now, that's a very harsh judgment. We'll have to see whether, in fact, this time, at the last, if you will, assuming President Bush really cannot go back to the Congress another time after this and ask for yet another surge, I think Maliki knows that this is the last time.
Does he understand how serious the situation is?
Is he, this time, going to perform?
Is he, this ,time going to step up to the plate?
We'll see in the next few weeks and months.
BLITZER: Rajiv, it seemed that the outgoing U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, in Iraq, really got on the nerves of a lot of the Shiite leadership, including the prime minister, by trying to convince them to reach out and work with the Sunnis to try to bring them into the government more regularly, with a more authoritative stance.
And apparently, they were not happy with the American envoy, who's now going to become, if he's confirmed by the Senate, the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Give us your thoughts on this.
CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, indeed. I mean, Khalilzad, who is a Sunni, really, was trying to push Prime Minister Maliki's Shiite-led government to make the necessary compromises to bring more Sunnis into the tent, to create that sort of big-tent government that most analysts here in the United States, and I suppose around the world, feel Iraq needs to really survive.
And the tensions that erupted there have resulted with Khalilzad's now imminent departure. Not a whole lot of tears being shed among the Shiite community. And among the Sunnis, I think there's a degree of real wistfulness.
I think that they thought Khalilzad was perhaps one of their best hopes in trying to pressure the Maliki government into making some real compromises.
BLITZER: Is it your sense, John Burns -- and you've been there from the beginning, more than four years in Iraq right now -- is it your sense that the introduction of another 20,000 or so U.S. troops really would make much of a difference?
BURNS: A group of us went out to the American military headquarters today to speak to Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the new operational commander of U.S. troops here -- tough guy; in fact, the guy whose forces captured Saddam back in December '03.
He believes, and I think a lot of people do, that those additional American troops on the street will make a difference in the neighborhoods of Baghdad, and they may very well be able to inhibit, certainly not stop, but seriously inhibit the cycle of Sunni bombing attacks and sectarian death squad revenge.
We're talking about a very large increase in U.S. troop presence here, and everybody agrees this war is lost if you cannot regain control of Baghdad.
I have to say that General Odierno, on his second tour here, seems confident, but at the same time, we've heard that, of course, from previous American commanders.
We know that Lieutenant General Petraeus -- shortly, we believe, to be General Petraeus -- coming back for his third tour to take over from General Casey, strongly believes from his own experience in Mosul as the 101st Airborne commander in the first year after the American invasion, that having American troops in the neighborhoods makes an enormous difference.
And we've seen -- I've seen with my own eyes -- that when American humvees pull into a neighborhood, it quiets down. The bad guys don't want to stand and fight. They want the other guy to die for his country. They don't intend to do that for themselves.
So I think we can't dismiss the possibility that, over the time frame that they are talking about, and General Odierno, today, talked about three or four months after those troops are available to him in the spring, running through until the late summer -- that's the critical period, he thinks, whether they can control Baghdad and then bring the American troops, put them out on the periphery of Baghdad and go from there.
Certainly, one thing is true, and that is, if they don't do that, the war is lost. If they do it and they fail, the war is lost. The hopes may be 50-50 or less, but, you know, I think they feel that they don't have any other alternative than to do that or, as Dennis Kucinich was saying a few minutes ago, get out.
BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there. John Burns, thanks very much for joining us from Baghdad. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, thanks very much for joining us as well. We'll continue with both of you in the days and weeks to come.
President Bush spent part of this weekend meeting with his top advisers, trying to finalize a new strategy for U.S. troops in Iraq, a strategy that's expected to lead to many more thousands of U.S. troops being sent into battle.
How will this play out on Capitol Hill?
We'll ask two U.S. senators, Trent Lott and Barbara Boxer. That's coming up. This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIFORNIA, SPEAKER OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The American people rejected an open-ended obligation to a war without end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR HARRY REID, D-NEVADA, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The surge is a bad idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Even before President Bush announces his new Iraq strategy, opposition is growing on Capitol Hill. We'll work through all the angles with two veteran senators, Democrat Barbara Boxer of California, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the number two Republican in the Senate, Trent Lott of Mississippi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll be ready to outline a strategy that will help the Iraqis achieve the objective of a country that can govern, sustain and defend itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush is said to be leaning toward sending more troops into Iraq. Can the military stand the strain of increased deployment? We'll get the inside story from former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General George Joulwan, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb and Danielle Pletka, a defense policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.
Welcome back. In just a moment, we'll discuss new strategies in Iraq. Much more with Republican Senator Trent Lott and Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now from Fredricka Whitfield. She's joining us from the CNN Center. Fred?
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.
For more now on the U.S. and Iraqi plans to try to secure the Baghdad area, let's go to CNN"s Ryan Chilcote. He's joining us from our Baghdad bureau. What's happening today, Ryan?
RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're learning details of what is called the Baghdad security plan. Both U.S. and Iraqi military commanders believe that Baghdad is really the center of gravity, if you will, in the war right know.
And I have gotten some of the details of the Baghdad security plan from a senior Iraqi military official. Here's what he says will happen according to the Baghdad security plan. First, the idea would be that all of the Iraqi capital would be encircled or cordoned off by troops. Second, troops would cordon off each of Baghdad's respective nine districts. Then Iraqi troops and U.S. troops at a ratio of about six to one, six Iraqi soldiers, members of Iraqi security forces, to one American soldier, would move into each of these nine districts and would clear it and then develop it.
And what they mean by that is that they would offer economic assistance and jobs to the residents of each of those neighborhoods. Now, we have seen crackdowns in the Iraqi capital before and by and large, they have not been effective in the long term in quelling the violence that we've seen here. This Iraqi general is hopeful that this plan will work for the following reasons: He thinks it is qualitatively different than what they've done before.
First off, he says that in the past, what they did was they went in and out of these neighborhoods targeting specific groups. This time, the plan is to move in and stay in and really clear out the neighborhood. That is different from what they have done in the past. Second, he says, they will not just be targeting members of the mostly Sunni Arab insurgency this time. He says they're going to go after those sectarian militias, the mostly Shiite sectarian militias.
And in particular, this Iraqi general says that they're going to go after the Mehdi army, which the U.S. military and many Sunni Arabs here, as you know, blame for being behind a lot of the sectarian killings. And finally, he thinks that this plan could be effective because the idea would be that in each of these nine districts, U.S. troops, together with Iraqi army soldiers and members of the Iraqi police, will be moving together jointly.
So he believes they would be much more effective that way and he also believes that that would help them police the police, if you will, keep an eye on the Iraqi police, who many in the U.S. Military are concerned have been infiltrated by those sectarian militias and are at a minimum responsible for facilitating a lot of the sectarian violence. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Ryan, thank you very much for that comprehensive update. Whatever President Bush does decide to do in Iraq, it's certain to get some intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill. Joining us now to discuss that and more, two guests: California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer -- She's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- and Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the number two Republican in the U.S. Senate.
Senators, thanks very much for coming in. Senator Lott, let me start with you. Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate, the new one, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, they wrote to the president on Friday, among other things saying this: Rather than deploy additional forces to Iraq, we believe the way forward is to begin the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months, while shifting the principal mission of our forces there from combat to training, logistics, force protection and counter-terror."
I know that you're not yet 100 percent on board with this notion of a so-called surge, sending thousands of additional troops into Iraq.
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY WHIP: I think it makes sense to wait and see what the president actually proposes, what he says. I want a plan. I want to know how this surge will occur, what will be the numbers, what will they do? What do they hope to achieve? And how does that fit with the continued training of Iraqi forces to do the job? What does that do to change the politics and the economic situation there?
See, I think we should begin by saying, what do we agree on? We all agree that status quo won't do. We've got to change the dynamics here. Then the question is, how do you do that? A lot of people say, we want a different political situation, the economic situation, infrastructure's not what it should be.
All right, the question is, how do you achieve that? I think you've got to have people secure or feeling more secure in order to make the political and the economic progress that you seek.
BLITZER: So you're going in with an open mind on both sides.
LOTT: I want to see what the plan is. I think it makes sense to wait. I think a lot of people are anticipating everything the president may propose. They may be surprised.
BLITZER: Do you have an open mind on what the president may say?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't know what he'll say. But what I know from the reports, looks like this has been done before. And also, it totally contradicts what our generals on the ground said to us in Senate testimony to the Armed Services Committee in November, when General Abizaid said he checked with every single commander on the ground, and to a person, they didn't think it was right to escalate the presence of American troops.
But I do agree with Trent, and maybe I'm reading too much into it. But he says he wants to look at this. And that's what John Warner said. John Warner is now the ranking member of Armed Services. He says, look, it's taken the president weeks and weeks to come up with this. The Congress ought to have a chance to look at this. And frankly, I'd like to have a vote on this, you know, whether we want to escalate the number of troops in there. My own view is, that's the wrong way to go. But we ought to have a vote. I hope the president comes to us.
BLITZER: But when you say have a vote, he's the commander in chief. He makes these decisions. You can decide whether to fund -- whether you can appropriate the money to pay for it, but as far as I know, you can't make that kind of a decision in the Congress. You can have a sense in the Senate resolution.
BOXER: That's not my understanding.
BLITZER: It's non-binding.
BOXER: My belief is, the president's coming to us. He's going to ask for billions and billions of dollars. He's going to send more of our people into harm's way. I think it would be best for the country if we got to vote on that surge or escalation. And there's nothing against that in the constitution. We do have the power of the purse.
BLITZER: So you want to use that power of the purse?
BOXER: I want to use it in terms of whether or not we should fund this escalation if, in fact, that's what the president does. I think it's an appropriate time -- and I believe John Warner has basically said this -- to come back to the Congress. Let us take a look at this, as Trent says, and I think let us vote. Let us vote.
BLITZER: It's going to cost another hundred billion dollars or so over the next year to continue this operation, about $2 billion a week. That's been the cost of this war. Does Senator Boxer have a good point, vote on this and use that as a referendum on whether the president should go forward?
LOTT: Obviously, Congress has the power of the purse, but I think we should be very careful about how we do that. We need to support our troops. We need to make sure they have the equipment they need to perform their duties, to protect them. If we say we want progress politically and economically, we want their infrastructure to be improved so that they can do a better job of governing themselves, then we have to come to terms with how that's going to be paid for.
I don't think we should give just a blank check. I think we should, for instance, stop the practice of supplemental appropriations for Iraq being used to fund things that are not really emergencies.
BLITZER: And put it as part of the overall budget...
LOTT: Yeah. Part of the overall budget. But here's the thing. You know, I do think we need to continue to look at our goal. If redeployment is another word for just let's get out of there, I'd have to question about how you do that. We do want to still have a success as we leave Iraq.
And we, in my opinion, should leave Iraq in a responsible period of time.
But how you change the dynamics, how you set it up where you don't leave total chaos, and that all of our effort is for naught, that is a critical question.
BOXER: Wolf, can I just say...
BOXER: There isn't one Democratic or Republican senator that I know -- maybe Trent knows somebody; I don't know -- who won't vote to support the troops who are there.
What I'm saying is, if, in fact, the president decides to surge or escalate America's involvement over there, rather than have the Iraqis stand up, finally, and defend their own country, then there ought to be a pause, as John Warner says. There ought to be a look at what this proposal is.
And I think we ought to decide if we want to spend additional funds on additional troops while giving the troops there every single thing that they need.
BLITZER: Can you envisage a case the president that would convince you it would be appropriate to send thousands of additional forces into Iraq?
BOXER: At this point, I cannot. Because I look back to what General Abizaid said. Not one person on the ground said it was a good idea.
I look at the Iraq Study Group, a very amazing group of people. Democrats, Republicans, all quite moderate, and I would say right of center, if I might just categorize them.
And they said we ought to be changing, now, from a combat role to a support role. What the president is envisioning, unless he changes his plan at this point, is the opposite, more combat troops.
And you know, in California, we've lost 10 percent of the dead. And we also, if you count those who were actually sent from California bases, it's more than 20 percent. And our people just say, redeployment is the thing to do.
BLITZER: Redeployment meaning withdrawal? BOXER: Redeployment out of Iraq in the next four to six months. Even the Iraq study group said, '08, that ought to happen. And let the Iraqis stand up. And we should train them.
And one of the great things about General Petraeus, who I met with when I was in Iraq, is he's an expert on training the Iraqis. He said, when I was there, they are a good force. Well, let them prove it. And we can be support rather than combat.
BLITZER: Senator John McCain, your Republican colleague from Arizona -- he wants thousands of additional troops to be deployed. He says that's what's required to win in Iraq.
But he says, if it's half-hearted, if it's only a relatively small additional number, it's not going to work and better off not even sending them. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ: The worst of all worlds would be a small, short surge of U.S. forces. We tried small surges in the past, and they've been ineffective because our commanders lack the forces necessary to hold territory after it was cleared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You tend to agree with him?
LOTT: I tend to agree with him. But that's why we need to look at the specifics. Exactly how quickly is this so-called surge going to occur?
How many numbers are we talking about?
And here's a critical point that Barbara was just referring to: What are the Iraqis going to do?
Now, in your lead-up into this, they were talking about -- what was it -- six to one Iraqi over U.S.?
I didn't realize that they had the capability to do that.
BLITZER: Well, a lot of those guys never show up.
BLITZER: And then they're AWOL.
LOTT: They're talking about bringing in Kurdish forces to do that.
But I do think that's part of it, too. What will be the Iraqi role?
And you know, what difference are they going to make? Al- Maliki, their leader, has got to come to terms with the Shiites and the insurgents, all the insurgents. They have got to do a better job in getting troops in there.
If we send in whatever the number is, one brigade, three brigades -- if it's 20,000 plus others in other areas of Iraq, what are are the Iraqis going to do?
And I think it is time, now, where we say to the Iraqis: This is what we expect you to do and, quite frankly, you must do it this time.
They've not performed their role in many instances. I think the president's patience is beginning to wear a little thin on that, too.
The Iraqis, at some point, are going to have to say, OK, this is our country. We have a constitution. Saddam is gone. Do we want freedom and democracy or do we want continued chaos and death and destruction of people on all sides for reasons I don't even quite understand?
BLITZER: Hold on a second because I want to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about with our senators when we come back.
What will it be, real bipartisanship or a return to the bitter political confrontations of recent years? We'll ask both senators.
And later, it looks like more troops will be going over to Iraq. What will that mean for morale? We'll ask a panel of military experts.
And in case you missed it, Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke out on the question of funding any additional U.S. troops to Iraq this morning. We'll give you the highlights of that and the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.
Don't go away. "Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and the number two Republican in the Senate, Senator Trent Lott.
Senator Boxer, I interviewed the national security adviser to Iraq in the first hour of "Late Edition," Mowaffak al-Rubaie."
And when I pressed him to explain why Iraqi troops weren't capable of getting the job done in earlier so-called surge operations, he offered this explanation. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL-RUBAIE: These Iraqi security forces were recruited and employed and trained and armed by the coalition forces. So I don't think it's -- it's very unfair to blame whatever infiltration happened in these Iraqi security forces on the Iraqi government.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: So he's basically suggesting it's the U.S. and the coalition's fault that the earlier efforts to secure the Baghdad area didn't work because they were responsible for training the Iraqi military and police force.
BOXER: Wolf, I'm so tired of these excuses. When I was in Iraq, I went with General Petraeus. He showed me what they were doing to train...
BLITZER: And he's going to be the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq?
BOXER: Yes. And by the way, he was very high at that time -- this was about 18 months ago -- on how the troops were doing.
BLITZER: The Iraqi troops?
BOXER: Yes. And they have gotten the training. The fact is -- and this is where I may disagree with my good friend Trent Lott here a little bit -- you send in more troops, you're sending the wrong message yet again.
Now, remember, for years the president said, they stand up, we stand down. Now they stand up, we stand up?
You know, this is just going backwards, and I'm tired of hearing the excuses. The fact is, as Trent did say, I thought quite eloquently, this is their country. The Iraqis have to take control of it just like we did over our own country and every other country takes control of their own country.
BLITZER: The outgoing U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who's going to become the next Army chief of staff, assuming you confirm him in the U.S. Senate.
He was quoted in The New York Times on Tuesday as saying this, General George Casey: "The longer we in the U.S. forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to take the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias. And the other thing is that they can continue to blame us for all of Iraq's problems, which are at base their problems."
I thought that was a remarkably candid statement from General Casey, basically saying, you know what? The U.S. can't do this for the Iraqis forever.
LOTT: General Casey is a good man, and comments like that have to be weighed very carefully. I do think that this opportunity, this surge, if you will, coupled with the other things, is their last chance to show that they...
BLITZER: Iraq's last chance...
LOTT: Iraq's last chance...
BLITZER: ... but let me ask you this sensitive question.
LOTT: ... to do their part. Yeah.
BLITZER: Is he being replaced now as the U.S. commander in Iraq by General Petraeus because he wasn't on board with this so-called surge option?
LOTT: Well, he's not being removed from military.
BLITZER: He's going to be the Army chief of staff.
LOTT: He's getting a promotion. I think he was due for rotation. There's no question the president wanted to get somebody in there that had a plan, had a commitment to try to change the dynamics. General Petraeus fulfills that role.
BLITZER: General Petraeus certainly does support an increase in the number of U.S. troops.
BOXER: Well, I have to tell you this: I don't see it the way Trent does. Just looking at it from my perspective, it looks like the president went shopping for a general who agreed with him. You know, Abizaid retiring all of a sudden. He said every single commander on the ground there in November disagreed with the idea of a surge or an escalation.
And now Casey, who also said very clearly -- and I never will forget this because he looked right at me and said, Senator, he said, the larger our footprint is in Iraq, the worse off we'll be. And what is the president probably going to suggest? A bigger footprint when 60 percent of the Iraqi people, who we're supposed to be liberating, say it's OK to shoot and kill an American. I think we're going about this the wrong way.
BLITZER: Let me talk a little bit domestic issues before I let both of you go. Can you work with this Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate on such sensitive issues as taxes, for example? The president saying in the Wall Street Journal this week saying, "The bottom line is tax relief and spending restraint are good for the American worker, good for the American taxpayer, and good for the federal budget. Now is not the time to raise taxes on the American people."
You think you and the Democrats can get along in trying to come up with a tax policy?
LOTT: Well, I think there are a lot of issues we can work together on. Mitch McConnell, our leader, Republican leader in the Senate today, talked about his relationship with Harry Reid, a number of issues that we can work together on.
And I have a history, a record, of working with Democrats. I was the majority leader in the Senate when Bill Clinton was the president. You go back and look at some of the tough things we dealt with. We got the job done. Welfare reform, a lot of things like safe drinking water, balanced budget. I mean, the list was pretty long, and we did have some military conflicts that were difficult for both sides. We got it done. But I -- in the past, in the '80s and '90s when I was working with the president of a different party and the leadership, we found a way to get the job done. I can work with Harry Reid.
BLITZER: On the issue of taxes, though, are you ready to accept the president's demand not raise taxes? In other words, if you let some of these taxes lapse, that's in effect raising taxes. Do you think you can work this out?
BOXER: Well, I like to cut taxes for the middle class. I'd like to cut taxes for the families who are struggling with the kids with college tuition and the rest. But I certainly don't think we should extend tax cuts to people earning over millions of dollars.
Ridiculous. They don't want it. They don't need it. We have deficits as far as the eye can see, debt that we've never had before. But I do believe we have some common ground here. We can do this.
But there are differences in the parties. We know that. And we respect those differences, and we'll battle it out. But Trent is right. We can work to -- look, we have to work together. Our majority is hanging by the slimmest of threads. BLITZER: You're suggesting they don't want it, the rich people, maybe they do want it.
LOTT: (inaudible) don't want to leave any ambiguity.
BOXER: Well, they would rather have fiscal responsibility.
LOTT: I think to start raising taxes...
LOTT: I don't want to leave any ambiguity. I think the idea of raising taxes...
BLITZER: Even on the wealthy.
LOTT: Look, it's in the eye of the beholder. For instance, let's begin by seeing if we can't give some additional incentives to small businessmen and women who create a lot of these entry-level jobs as a part of the package to raise minimum wage. That's what we did in 1996.
I put the package together. President Clinton signed it. There is a clear example of where we can do something that would be good for the entry-level people and small businessmen and women of America. Let's begin with that and go forward.
BLITZER: It's 51-49, not a great majority you have, but you do have the majority, and it's a lot better than being in the minority, Senator Boxer. Thanks very much for coming on. BOXER: Well, I know. (LAUGHTER)
BLITZER: Senator Lott, thanks to you as well. Appreciate both of you coming in.
BOXER: Thanks, Trent.
BLITZER: Nice to see them shaking hands.
Coming up on "Late Edition," this weekend both the Iraqi prime minister and the U.S. president are working on new strategies to try to deal with the increasing sectarian violence. A panel of military analysts standing by to analyze the chances of success.
Up next, though, we'll get a quick check on what's in the news right now. "Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: We're getting this story in from our correspondent down in Miami, Susan Candiotti. She's now checked with her sources, and they are telling her that security has at least been temporarily increased in the Port of Miami after three people, two of them hidden inside a truck, allegedly tried to enter the Port of Miami illegally.
The U.S. Coast Guard is saying there's increased security now at the port, although they insist the port has not been shut down.
The FBI says people are being held on state charges for trying to enter the Port of Miami illegally, an FBI spokeswoman describing the three individuals of Middle Eastern ancestry, of descent, one, the driver, of Iraqi descent, two others of Iraqi and Lebanese descent.
The FBI spokeswoman is saying that one of them was driving an 18- wheeler, was stopped at the entrance for not having the proper license to drive onto the property.
The FBI says Miami-Dade county police conducted a secondary search after the driver allegedly gave some inconsistent answers. The driver also allegedly said he was alone in the truck, but during the search, the FBI found the two others in the cargo container.
We're going to watch this story for you, get more information as it becomes available. But security has been intensified in the Port of Miami as a result of this incident.
We're checking with the Coast Guard, with the FBI, other sources. We'll get more information, bring it to you as we get it.
Let's move on to the rest of the news. President Bush expected to announce his strategy in a speech to the nation, on Wednesday, when it comes to Iraq.
He's said to be leaning toward an increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, at least temporarily, something the administration is calling a surge.
But will it work and can any plan, right now, still work in Iraq to end the chaotic condition?
Joining us now to discuss the situation on the ground, three guests: Danielle Pletka is the vice president for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; the former assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb. He's now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; and retired U.S. army general George Joulwan, the former NATO supreme allied commander.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
General Joulwan, let me start with you because you know all these players. General Abizaid, who has been, for these past several years, the head of the U.S. military Central Command which overseas the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- he's going to retire.
This was anticipated. He's been working very hard for a long time. He's about to retire. He's going to be replaced by the head of the U.S. military specific command, a Navy admiral, William Fallon, which is raising questions: What does an admiral know about a ground war, largely, in Iraq and Afghanistan?
What do you make of this?
GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, FORMER NATO ALLIED SUPREME COMMANDER: Well, first of all, Fox Fallon will be a unified commander, and that means he will have much more than just Iraq or Afghanistan. It's a much broader scope that he has to deal with.
And remember, in Bosnia, I had a four-star admiral in Sarajevo who did a pretty good job for me.
So I think we're measuring not just what service he is but his competence and what he can do. And Fox Fallon has run the Pacific Command. He knows the role of the unified commander. And I think he can do a good job.
BLITZER: Some are suggesting, Danielle, that this is a signal to Iran, given the Fifth Fleet, the ships that are in the Persian Gulf right now and the firepower they have. You put an admiral in charge of that region, it sends a powerful message to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran.
Do you buy that?
DANIELLE PLETKA, AEI: I'd love to think it was true. I don't buy it. I think it's people thinking a little bit too much and a little too hard.
BLITZER: What do you think, Lawrence Korb?
LAWRENCE KORB, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think it does two things. One, I think it does send a signal, directly or indirectly, to Iran. The other is, I don't think that the president could get any Army or Marine general who would support his present policy, so he had to go and get a Navy person.
BLITZER: You're shaking your head.
PLETKA: I mean, that's ridiculous. These gentlemen are in the business to serve. They're not going to say no to the president of the United States. I defer to General Joulwan to respond more accurately to something like that.
JOULWAN: Well, I would agree. This has been in the works for some time.
BLITZER: Is Admiral Fallon going to CentCom?
JOULWAN: Yes. And finding a CentCom commander -- Abizaid has indicated he wanted to come out. I think it's nonsense to say that somehow this is a firing of Casey and Abizaid.
This is something that has been in the works, and I know folks that have been interviewed for the CentCom job that have turned it down. So this has been a process that has taken place for at least six months.
BLITZER: Do you want to add anything, Larry?
KORB: That's my point. They turned it down because they don't support the president's policy.
KORB: That's the point. I mean, we don't know this for a fact. But, look, this is an unusual appointment. We've never had a Navy admiral in CentCom in the 25 years that it's been in existence.
Now, CentCom has never been busier. They've never had two ground wars going on simultaneously. I have no doubt that Admiral Fallon's a very, very qualified person.
But I can tell you this. If somebody said, let's put an Army person out at CentPac, the Navy would be screaming bloody murder, which, once they did try and do that, and the Navy said, wait a second; this person doesn't -- let me give you an example.
It would be like saying that Bill Belichick is a terrific football coach, but let's put him in charge of the Celtics because they're not doing too well. No, I don't think that this is...
BLITZER: Is the analogy he made to the Pacific Command and putting an Army guy in charge, would that be an appropriate analogy?
JOULWAN: Several years ago, the Joint Chiefs, the president and the secretary of defense, decided to open up all unified commands, combatant commanders, to all services. And I think that there's enough of what happens in Korea, for example, in PacCom to really understand there's an Army role.
BLITZER: You're using all those acronyms. Pacific Command?
JOULWAN: Pacific Command is in Hawaii.
And look, we want good people to go into these jobs. That's the criteria. And this...
BLITZER: Here's the other major military change, and we've been pointing it out. General Casey, George Casey, who has been the U.S. military commander in Iraq, he becomes, assuming he's confirmed by the Senate, the Army Chief of Staff. He's replaced by Lieutenant General, soon to be General, David Petraeus as the overall commander in Iraq.
What do you make of this?
JOULWAN: Well, I think, again, this has been in the works for some time.
BLITZER: That General Petraeus replaces Casey?
JOULWAN: Yes, and Casey coming back to be Army Chief of Staff, which is a promotion for him for what he's done. We'll see what happens in confirmation.
Petraeus has enormous experience in Iraq. He's been involved in the training of Iraqis. He's been involved at Leavenworth, Ft. Leavenworth, in doctrine development for counterinsurgency. He's a good choice. So I think these are positive moves.
BLITZER: Here's the criticism, Danielle -- you've heard it -- that Casey didn't want additional troops in Iraq. Petraeus does. That's why he's got the job.
PLETKA: Well, I think Petraeus has got the job because he's the right man for the job. Casey was there for a long time. It's an appropriate moment to switch him out.
But yes, there's no question. They do have different ideas about Iraq. Casey is a light-footprint guy. A light footprint in Iraq isn't what's working.
I think we all recognize it's not working. We may not agree about where to go. But at the end of the day, Petraeus has some different ideas. He knows counterinsurgency, as General Joulwan said, and he's going to be the right man on the ground.
BLITZER: Larry, what do you think?
KORB: Let me say two things. This is no longer an insurgency. It's a civil war that you're dealing with. Casey was not scheduled to be replaced. Abizaid was.
And the interesting thing, what I'm really concerned about is, I think this administration is going to blame Casey and Abizaid for the mess in Iraq. It's not their fault. They were carrying the president's...
BLITZER: Well, when you say it's not their fault -- weren't they the military commanders who had the day-to-day responsibility of coming up with a strategy and turning things around?
BLITZER: Why isn't it...
KORB: OK, well, wait a second. The problem that you have is that the Iraqis have not done what they're supposed to do. And General Casey was trying to get them to do it. Let me put it as bluntly as I can -- you could put a soldier or a Marine on every street corner in Baghdad. But until they make the tough political decisions that balances the power of the central government and the provinces, distributes the oil revenues, protects minority rights, until you do that, I don't think it will make a difference.
BLITZER: Do you agree?
PLETKA: Of course not. The problem that I think Larry's confused about is that we are somehow in Iraq as a favor to the Iraqis. We're in this to win because we have interest. Yes, there's no question a stable Iraq is a benefit to the Iraqi people as well, but the United States has interests in the region, it has an interest in Iraq, and we need to see ourselves win for us.
JOULWAN: I would hope that what this dialogue or debate would bring would be a long-range plan for Iraq. I mention it often on this program. A ten-year plan, not that you need 140,000 U.S. troops for ten years, but you need a plan, and a plan to allow Iraqis to train their forces, to allow that to take place in an orderly way.
That's going to take time. I'm not sure the surge -- we'll have to look at the details of what the president says, of what those -- the clarity of those objectives are. But I think you need a longer range plan than what we're talking about. And it's not just a year or six months because the question is, then what?
BLITZER: For the last several years you've been on this program, you've been calling for, appealing for what you call a clarity of purpose. I take it you still haven't heard that clarity.
JOULWAN: Not yet.
BLITZER: Let's see if we'll hear it this week from the president. Guys, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about.
We'll take a quick break. When we come back, President Bush announces this week that John Negroponte is leaving his position as the director of national intelligence to become the deputy secretary of state. It was one of several major political and military changes.
We're going to ask our panel about the effects of this high-level game of musical chairs. "Late Edition" continues right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation with our military experts. General Joulwan, I want you to listen to what the new majority leader in the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid, said this week about an increase in the U.S. troop level in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: The surge is a bad idea. The president said he was going to listen to his commanders. If he's listening to his commanders, he can't do this. I know he's shuffling some in and out, obviously because they're not telling him what he wants to hear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think about this whole notion that this kind of military maneuver is being so fiercely debated in the U.S. Congress right now?
JOULWAN: First of all, I think it's a good thing. I think that's what the Congress -- that's their role. I really think you need to put into perspective this clarity. What are the long-term -- what's the end state that we want to get to? I haven't heard...
BLITZER: Well, the president keeps saying a government that can sustain itself and be secure.
JOULWAN: The next question, how long will that take? And is it going to be done in six months, a year, two years, ten years? That's why I think you need a long-range plan. I don't hear that. So a surge may get you a short-term whatever, success, but you need to build a long-term system that will include Iraqis providing for their own security, which includes other agencies other than the military trigger: diplomatic, political, NGOs, international agencies.
BLITZER: A lot of people, you know, Danielle, have already written this off. They think it's over, it's a failure. The United States should cut its losses as it did in Vietnam and get out of there.
PLETKA: Well, two things. First is, Senator McCain speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on Friday said, this isn't Vietnam. In Vietnam, when we left, they didn't follow us. These guys are going to follow us.
We remember what happened when we left Afghanistan. Let's not forget what the consequences are of leaving Iraq prematurely. On Harry Reid, I think it's important that the Senate majority leader get his story straight. Two weeks ago, he said he'd support a surge. This week he says he won't support a surge. I think the better thing for him to do is wait and see what the president suggests, see and judge it on the merits and see if it's a plan that stands up. We're all going to be doing that.
BLITZER: Is it too late, Larry, for the United States to, quote, "win" in Iraq? KORB: Very definitely. If we had listened to General Shinseki in the beginning...
BLITZER: The former Army chief of staff.
KORB: Army chief of staff, who told the Congress how many troops you'd need...
BLITZER: Hundreds of thousands.
KORB: ... to secure Baghdad. I understand the number was 400,000. The Rand study that Ambassador Dobbins did and he gave to Ambassador Bremer said 500,000. Had you done that, you would have had a chance to get things under control. You didn't.
It is no longer an insurgency. It is now primarily a civil war. We're asking young American men and women to referee a civil war. And, you know, if we were to leave -- and we will leave some day -- and when we leave, if the Iraqis haven't made these political compromises, they're still going to have the civil war.
BLITZER: Can this Iraqi government, it's a Shiite-led government, really come to grips and deal with these militias, especially the Muqtada al-Sadr Mehdi army? Because they seem to be dependent on these Shiite militias.
JOULWAN: I think it's going to be very difficult for them to do that. But I think we need to remember on the Sunni side that the vast majority of countries surrounding Iraq are Sunni, the vast majority.
And I think there can be some pressure, some moderation built in by reaching out to some of these other countries in the region. That's why I think what the Baker-Hamilton talked about, a regional approach, can work. But right now, Maliki is linked to Sadr, and I think that's going to be dangerous in the future.
BLITZER: We heard John Burns of The New York Times say he talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk, Nouri al-Maliki. He's not delivering his part of the bargain to step up and deal with these Shiite militias.
PLETKA: No, he hasn't delivered thus far. There's no question. And he needs to deliver, and I think that he has gotten that message. I think he recognizes that he may well be out if he doesn't. But the bottom line is, what's going to cut the support out inside Iraq for these militias and for their support is delivering security.
Because they're looking to the militias to deliver security for them. Something the Iraqis and we, and we, are not doing. That has to change. It can't just be the one thing. It has to happen together. Security, fighting the militias, undercutting them, development, NGOs, a longer-range plan. But it all has to happen together.
BLITZER: Is Iran already the big winner out of this? KORB: Oh, Iran certainly won because we're so bogged down in Iraq, we cannot stand up to them the way that we should. Their influence in the region has spread because of their relationship with Syria, who's a Sunni country, but they both have interests together.
Look, we need a military surge all right, but in Afghanistan. That's not going well. That is really the central front in the war on terror. We need a diplomatic surge that the general was talking about and Baker-Hamilton mentioned. All of the countries bordering Iraq are already involved.
KORB: If we had a diplomatic surge and got a high-level envoy like a Colin Powell or a Madeleine Albright to work with all of those countries after we give a deadline to get out, they I think would be willing, as the Iranians have in Afghanistan, to try and have a stable Iraq.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, General Joulwan, but the U.S. military, specifically the Marine Corps and the Army, are they on the verge of being broken right now, given the enormous challenges, the enormous mission that they have in Iraq and Afghanistan?
JOULWAN: They're close to it. I'm not sure I would call it broken yet. But we haven't even addressed the equipment challenges that they have. And this idea -- remember, we had 900,000 troops in the first Gulf War active-duty Army. We have half of that now, and we're trying to expand in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
This is an enormous stress. I'm afraid what's going to be in trouble here is the volunteer army. I think they're going to have a very difficult time sustaining it.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, guys, for coming in. General Joulwan, always a pleasure. Danielle, Larry, thanks to you as well.
Coming up, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Coming up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War" with John Roberts takes a closer look at the effects of Saddam Hussein's undignified death in Iraq and the dangers of Islamic extremists in Somalia. It's coming up, 1 p.m. Eastern.
BLITZER: Now, a look at the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On CBS, the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats opposed any escalation of the war in Iraq and might use Congress's budget power to prevent it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIFORNIA, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We will always support the troops who are there. If the president wants to expand the mission, that's a conversation he has to have with the Congress of the United States. But that's not a carte blanche, a blank check to him to do whatever he wishes there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On NBC, Democratic Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham disagreed over the president's new Iraq strategy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR JOE BIDEN, D-DELAWARE: My view is, we have one chance to not lose Iraq. And it rests in not repeating the mistakes we've made. It made sense to surge 60, 70, 100,000 troops before there was a civil war. There is now a civil war. You need a political solution before you can get a physical solution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-SOUTH CAROLINA: We are not winning. And if you're not winning, you're losing. Now is the time to come up with a strategy to win. The reason President Bush is going to do this is because he understands that we have to win in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And on ABC, the former national security adviser to the first President Bush, Brent Scowcroft, warned that an increase in troops in Iraq could actually backfire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENT SCOWCROFT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What I worry about, unless there's something we can accomplish that is visible and demonstrable, more troops, after a couple of months, people will say, well, look, the situation hasn't changed. You've got more troops. It demonstrates it's hopeless, and the pressure to get out will increase.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, January 7. Please be sure to joins us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
Remember, I'm also in the "Situation Room" Monday through Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching.
For our North American viewers, "This Week at War" starts right now. John? TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com