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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview With Sumir Sumaidaie; Interviews With Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale

Aired January 21, 2007 - 11:00   ET


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 senators Patrick Leahy and Lindsey Graham in just a few minutes. First, though, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hi, Fred.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. One of the bloodiest days of the Iraq war for U.S. forces this weekend. Our correspondent Arwa Damon is joining us now from Baghdad with the latest. Arwa, what's going on?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right, it has been one of the deadliest days for U.S. forces here. At least 23 servicemen have been killed over the weekend. In fact, all incidents happening on Saturday.

Twelve servicemen were killed. That incident, a helicopter crash that happened northeast of the capital, Baghdad. All individuals onboard were killed, eight passengers and four crew members. The U.S. military is still investigating the cause of that crash.

And in the southern city of Karbala, five U.S. soldiers were killed during a firefight. They were there at the provincial joint coordination center holding a security meeting when they came under fire by armed gunmen who were using grenades, indirect fire as well as small-arms fire.

And in the volatile western region of al-Anbar province, the U.S. military just announced that four soldiers and one Marine were killed due to wounds sustained from enemy action.

All of this, Wolf, is coming as there have been some developments on the political front. Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc say it's ending its two-month boycott and will be rejoining the Iraqi government, this coming as the Iraqi government is trying to deal politically with Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi militia that many here are blaming for much of the sectarian violence. Wolf?

BLITZER: Arwa, this development that Muqtada al-Sadr, this anti- American radical Shiite cleric is now going to use his influence to support the government, how is that seen by U.S. officials in Baghdad, primarily because of the concern that the government of Nouri al- Maliki, the prime minister, has not yet been tough enough on these Shiite death squads?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, you pretty much hit on it right there. The U.S. officials here are very wary of this relationship that has been evolving between Muqtada al-Sadr, his political bloc, his Mehdi militia, and the Iraqi government.

Remember, the prime minister largely owes his job to the support of Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc. But at the same time, his Mehdi militia has been out on the streets and is believed to be responsible for much of the sectarian violence. Now his bloc is saying that they are going to be rejoining the Iraqi government.

So this puts the prime minister in a tricky position, because he needs their political support. He wants to keep his government together. But at the same time, he still has to deal with the Mehdi militia that is out on the streets. Wolf?

BLITZER: A very, very complex situation unfolding in Iraq. Arwa, we're going to get back to you. Thanks for that.

Also, it's been a very busy week in politics right here in the United States. The 2008 presidential race kicked into higher gear in recent days, with several high-profile candidates announcing their intention to run.

And the Iraq war debate also heating up, as President Bush prepares to go back before the U.S. Congress and the cameras Tuesday night to deliver his State of the Union address.

Joining us now to discuss all the latest developments, two key senators. Lindsey Graham is a Republican senator from South Carolina. He's joining us from Greenville. Patrick Leahy is a Democratic senator from Vermont. He just became the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He's joining us here in Washington.

Senators, thanks very much for coming in. And Mr. Chairman, let me start with you. We'll get to a lot of issues. I want to start with Iraq. Listen to what the president said, appealing, appealing to you, Democrats, Republicans, for support in going forward with his new strategy.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a new strategy, new plan with a strong commitment from the Iraqis. And it's worth it for the security of the country to help this government survive, to help this democracy thrive, because if we fail in Iraq, the enemy will follow us here.


BLITZER: Are you ready, Senator Leahy, to give the president's plan a chance to succeed? SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: No, and the reason I'm not is because all his other plans have failed. There no reason why this one is suddenly going to succeed. We've heard everything from the shock and awe, Vice President Cheney saying we'd be welcomed as liberators.

That was years ago, and we've yet to be so welcomed. We saw the president fly onto the aircraft carrier, which they had to hold out to sea for an extra day so they could do a great photo op with the -- you remember the sign, "Mission Accomplished."

We keep hearing more. There's tens of thousands Iraqis died last year alone. We've had over 3,000 brave American men and women who have died, thousands more who have been crippled for life, many blinded, many lost limbs or paralyzed, and...

BLITZER: So you're basically saying you don't trust the president anymore.

LEAHY: No, I don't. I mean, they have all failed. Every one of these things have failed. We're in the middle of a civil war in Iraq, and we're kind of sitting there getting potshots at us from both sides. I don't know what more does.

BLITZER: All right. Let me bring Senator Graham in, because he's got a very different perspective. It's not just Senator Leahy and a lot of Democrats who have lost confidence in the president. It's some Republicans, some high-profile Republicans, Senator Graham. Listen to your colleague Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: Wolf, we've been there almost four years. Thousands of American casualties, tens of thousands wounded, almost half a trillion dollars spent. This is a tribal, sectarian civil war that has now embroiled Iraq.


BLITZER: All right. What do you say, Senator Graham, about the criticism of this new strategy from the president?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, SOUTH CAROLINA: The criticism and frustration is understandable, because we have made mistakes, and the progress we were hoping for hasn't developed, and in many ways we've gotten backwards over the last three years in terms of trying to get a stable, functioning government.

But here's some historical benchmarks. We declared or independence in 1776. We fought the British, and it wasn't until 1789 we wrote our own Constitution. After the fall of Hitler and the fall of the Japanese government in World War II, it took five years before there was any meaningful elections.

What I am trying to say is that Iraq is part of an overall global struggle. We've made mistakes. The worst mistake would be to leave this country as a failed state. It would spread throughout the region.

Throwing in the towel in Iraq doesn't stop the fight. It guarantees the fight will go broader. The president has listened to advice from all corners of the military and the public, and political advisers.

He's come up with a strategy that was recommended by General Petraeus, who will testify Tuesday. This strategy makes economic and political sense to me.

We can't afford to fail. And let's not throw in the towel on a war we can't afford to lose.

BLITZER: Senator Leahy, you're shaking your head, listening to Senator Graham.

LEAHY: Well, you know, we've been there longer than we were in World War II, if you want to use that as an example. And it still has not worked.

BLITZER: Well, what do you say to the basic point that he makes and others make that it takes time for a democracy to develop out of the chaos?

LEAHY: I heard the same type of arguments on Vietnam, that, boy, if we pulled out, the whole thing is going to collapse and we're going to have the Chinese Communists storming ashore in America.

Well, of course, none of that happened. And now the president has finally made it to Vietnam. He's gone over there to talk about trade.

This is -- the biggest mistake made here was when the Congress overwhelmingly voted to send our troops into Afghanistan to get Osama bin Laden, the man who hit us on 9/11, and then they decided, when we had them cornered, to go into Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, but that's looking back. We're trying to look ahead now. What do you do now?

LEAHY: The reason I point this out...

BLITZER: Let me press you on this point, Senator.

What do you think will happen if the U.S., as I assume you want it to do, quickly withdraws its forces from Iraq?

What would happen in Iraq and in the region?

LEAHY: I'll tell you what won't happen. If we continue to just pile on mistake after mistake, it gets no better and we lose the respect of the other countries, any chance to do anything.

We should be bringing international attention to this, begin a phased withdrawal so that the government of Iraq has to take over for themselves, actually talk to the Iranians, and the Syrians and the others in the area, bring the Europeans and others in, put pressure for them to make the government work.

It is not going to work as long as the Americans are there being targets for both sides in a civil war.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: I think anybody that uses the Vietnam analogy is dangerously wrong. What's going on in Iraq is part of an overall world struggle, moderates against extremists.

The dictator Saddam Hussein oppressed these people for 30 years. The Maliki government is months old, not years old. We can clear -- we've got enough troops, right now, to clear. We can't hold.

We're going to send 21,500 to do what we couldn't do before, to hold territory cleared so the Maliki government can have political reconciliation, share the oil with the Sunnis, bring the government together to live in peace.

This whole idea that Sadr is coming back into the government, to me, shows that he's responding to the pressure to go after his militia.

BLITZER: Senator Graham...

GRAHAM: I know it's hard. I know it's tough.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt and read to you what Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, said this week.

He said, "I think that within three to six months our need for the American troops will dramatically go down. That's on the condition that there are real strong efforts to support our military forces and equipping them and arming them."

Do you trust this prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, that he's going to live up to his side of the bargain, that he's going to crack down, not only on Sunni insurgents, but also on Shiite insurgents, Shiite death squads?

GRAHAM: Well, we see some evidence of that, but it's not lost upon me, Wolf, of Maliki's past failures. But I will say this in his defense. If you stand up for the concept of democracy in Iraq or anywhere else in the Mideast, the terrorists come after you in droves.

Al Qaida went into Iraq understanding that, if we were successful in Iraq, it would spread beyond Iraq. Al Qaida understands this is not Vietnam, from their point of view. So I would like to stand by Maliki and give him the resources he needs.

The good news is he's asking to do more. That's what we've been pushing him to do. He's openly saying, if you had given me more, I could have gone further faster.

So let's stand by him. Let's hold him to account but not abandon this young democracy. It's months old. in a worldwide struggle. If we leave these people now, we're really going to pay a heavy price later.

BLITZER: Senator Leahy, go ahead.

LEAHY: The irony is Al Qaida wasn't in Iraq before we went in there. Ironically enough, Saddam Hussein kept him out of there.

The thing is, we were not threatened in Iraq. We were threatened by Osama bin Laden, and the administration failed miserably.

They had a chance to catch him. They pulled our troops out because they were so hell-bent on getting into Iraq. And Osama bin Laden got away.

Just think how much better off we would have been, had they kept their eye on the ball and gotten Osama bin Laden. I think that would have been a devastating blow to Al Qaida, not allowing Al Qaida, now, to go into Iraq and be a training ground for them.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, we're going to take a quick break, but we have a lot more to talk about. I want to look ahead and see what's going on. We want to get the thoughts of these two senators on what's driving their colleagues as well, several of them, into a very crowded presidential campaign trail.

Also, there will be a crowd when I moderate the first two presidential debates in New Hampshire in early April. Mark it down on your calendars, April 4 and April 5. We'll have Democratic and Republican presidential debates, right here on CNN.

And later: Can this marriage last? President Bush tying his future to the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki. We'll ask the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie.

And for our North American viewers, coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, right after "Late Edition," on "This Week at War," you'll hear what Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has to say about the Iraqi leader and the war. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: It's a chilly Washington Sunday, and we're not just talking about the weather. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

We're continuing our conversation with two skilled Washington insiders, Senators Lindsey Graham and Patrick Leahy.

Senator Leahy, there seems to be three options on the table for you to express your opposition to the president's new initiative.

You can go with what's called the Biden-Hagel symbolic Sense of the Senate Resolution opposing this troop increase.

You can go with a cut in funding for the additional troops that are going in. That's what Senator Kennedy is recommending.

Or you can put a limit, a cap on how many troops should be allowed to serve in Iraq right now, as Senator Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, Senator Dodd are recommending, a cap, or a ceiling on troops.

Where do you stand?

LEAHY: I think you're going to see attempts at all three. The symbolic part is somewhat more than symbolic because, at one time, I thought it was going to just Democrats against Republicans.

Now, we find some of the key Republicans are supporting this, to say enough is enough; we can't continue mistake after mistake.

Now, I realize -- and Lindsey Graham's a dear friend of mine. I don't want to offend him. But you have, on the one side, Lindsey and John McCain, saying put more troops...

BLITZER: But what do you think is the best strategy?

Do you support using your power of the purse, your constitutional power of the purse...

LEAHY: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: ... to try to stop this war?

LEAHY: Ultimately, I do. I mean, this is the only way we stopped Vietnam. We had a lot of people who said they were opposed to it, but when we finally had a vote in April 1975, a key vote on the power of the purse, that's what stopped it. I know because I'm the only Vermonter who ever voted against the war in Vietnam.

BLITZER: All right. Let me let Senator Graham weigh in. What do you think, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Well, I think this has been a good show. I really do respect Senator Leahy, because he is acting on his convictions. He believes this is another Vietnam. You need to cut funding, get out, cut your losses.

I believe it's a central battlefront in World War III, and that the basic difference is that the people who are trying to destabilize Iraq and end this infant democracy will come after us. So I'm going to be very consistent here.

The biggest mistake we've made is not having enough resources to win this war, not having enough troops, so I'm going to stand with General Petraeus. All of these resolutions basically reject General Petraeus, declare him a failure before he has the chance to do anything.

If you really do believe it's a Vietnam, cut off funding, a resolution to declare defeat hurts the troops, empowers the terrorists, hurts the moderates, doesn't do any good. So I admire Senator Leahy for the courage of his convictions. I've come to a different conclusion.

BLITZER: Senator... LEAHY: Well, you know, there's another aspect to all this, though. In the last six years -- and actually, the president has not been helped by having a rubber-stamped Congress. He had a rubber- stamp House, rubber-stamp Senate.

You never really had any real oversight in either body, because the White House would say, don't do it, and for some reason, with a few notable exceptions, the Congress went along with it. Now you're having real oversight. We're going to be getting it in Judiciary on the illegal spying on Americans...

BLITZER: We're going to get to that in a moment.

LEAHY: (inaudible) the others. That's going to make a difference.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let me just let Senator Graham weigh in. There was this interesting exchange earlier today on "Meet the Press," Senator Graham. Your friend John McCain was pressed on General Casey, George Casey. He's leaving Iraq. He's been recommended to become the Army chief of staff.

General Petraeus going into Iraq to replace General Casey, and Senator McCain suggesting he may not vote to confirm him as a four- star general as the Army chief of staff. Listen to this exchange he had with Tim Russert.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I'm concerned about failed leadership, the message that sends to the rest of the military. I have hard questions to ask him, and I'm very skeptical about it.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": As of today, you're leaning no?

MCCAIN: Yes. Yes.


BLITZER: All right. What about that, Senator Graham? Have you come to a conclusion on whether General Casey should be the next Army chief of staff?

GRAHAM: I think Senator McCain is right that there will be hard questions asked. General Casey and General Abizaid are two fine, wonderful Americans and who have served with honor, but the strategy they've been telling us about for the last 2 1/2 years has not produced the outcomes we all desire in Iraq.

And General Casey will be held to account for the advice he's given in the past, for the strategy he proposed in the past. And we'll have to make a decision as a Congress what's the best thing for General Petraeus and this new strategy.

Putting ceiling caps on troops undercuts the war effort. Cutting off funding would be devastating. A resolution declaring the war lost before the new strategy's commenced, I'm all against.

So we'll have to see, does General Casey being chief of staff of the Army help or hurt the effort to re-engage and find victory through General Petraeus's strategy? The jury's still out, but there will be hard questions asked.

BLITZER: All right. What do you think, Senator Leahy. It was a surprise to me to hear Senator McCain and now Senator Graham suggest they may not vote to confirm General Casey as the new Army chief of staff.

LEAHY: I'm not on the Armed Services Committee. Let's hear the... BLITZER: But you are a United States senator. It might have to come to you.

LEAHY: Oh, yeah, and I'd want to see what Senator Levin, Carl Levin, who's chairman, what they bring out in the confirmation hearings. I'll make up my mind. My guess today is that General Casey would be confirmed. But let's see what the hearings -- let's see if there's something different in there.

BLITZER: All right. I want to bring out a clip of what Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism adviser to this president and earlier presidents, Senator Graham. He was in the "Situation Room" with me earlier this week, and listen to what he said. Listen to this.


RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: If you're worried about terrorism, the thing to do is get out of Iraq and go after bin Laden, go after al-Qaida, reduce our vulnerabilities here at home, not to stir up the hornet's nest by being in Iraq. They're not related.


BLITZER: All right. I just want you to respond quickly to that, because then I want to move on to the Judiciary Committee hearings this week on warrantless wiretaps.

GRAHAM: I fundamentally disagree with his concept. I do think replacing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, with a functioning, stable democracy would be a huge win in the war on terror. Iraq is part of the war on terror.

And finally, I would say al-Qaida came to Iraq after we came to Iraq to create a democracy. Al-Qaida's biggest fear is that a functioning stable government will emerge in Iraq that will spread through the Mideast. I fundamentally disagree with Mr. Clarke.

BLITZER: You had lengthy hearings this week with the attorney general, Mr. Chairman, Alberto Gonzales. You gave him hell on a few points there on the warrantless wiretaps, on several other issues.

But now the administration has come around and said, yes, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and these FISA courts do apply. They will be used before these wiretaps are authorized. Are you satisfied now?

LEAHY: No. I'm a strong supporter of what Ronald Reagan used to say: Trust but verify. They have come a long way. You know, you wonder why they suddenly did an about-face. All this time we were saying, you can't do this warrantless wiretapping. You have to go to FISA.

The president and everybody else saying, oh, we can't do that. All of a sudden, the control of the Congress shifts and they say, oh, I guess you're right, we have to go to them. I want to know what the order was that the court gave them, and our committee will get that order.

If they are following the law, if they are doing what they're supposed to, I applaud that. But I don't want to take their word for it. I want to hear from the court.

BLITZER: We've got to unfortunately, senators, leave it right there. A good discussion on several of the issues.

GRAHAM: He's right.

LEAHY: Thanks, Lindsey.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, you agree with him on that?

GRAHAM: You're right. Yes, he and Senator Specter have done a very good job of pushing this issue. I like what I'm hearing, but let's verify.

BLITZER: All right. On that upbeat note, agreement between the two senators, we'll leave it. Senator Graham, Senator Leahy, thanks very much, and we'll hope to have you back here on "Late Edition."

And still to come, my exclusive joint interview with former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale. That's coming up.

But coming up next, can more U.S. troops choke off the violence in Iraq? I'll ask the current Iraqi ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie.

Also coming up, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest defiant statements coming from the leader of Iran on its nuclear program. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: A very disturbing development just coming into our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's joining us on the phone. Update our viewers on what you've learned, Barbara. BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a senior U.S. military official now tells CNN that initial reports are leaning toward the fact that it was hostile fire that brought down a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq yesterday.

This official tells CNN, again, that initial reports are leaning in the direction of hostile fire -- of course, 12 U.S. soldiers losing their lives when that Black Hawk helicopter went down yesterday outside of Baghdad.

The official is emphasizing that an investigation is continuing, not saying why the indications are leaning toward hostile fire.

But often, in these tragic cases, it is found that another helicopter flying close by may have noticed something, may have noticed some indications of enemy fire from the ground. Because, of course, in Iraq, helicopters typically do travel in pairs for safety and so that they in fact can keep an eye on each other.

Twelve service members losing their lives when that Black Hawk went down yesterday. No official announcement from the Pentagon yet about the unit that was involved or the home towns of the soldiers who lost their lives.

Of course, this weekend, the Pentagon moving as quickly as possible to notify all of the families in several home towns, as we understand it, across the country.

BLITZER: A very bloody weekend for U.S. military personnel in Iraq. Barbara, thanks for that information.

Let's get immediate reaction from Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie. He's joining us here in Washington.

It looks like these insurgents, the terrorists, those who hate the United States right now -- they're improving their military capability on a nearly daily basis.

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: They are. First, Wolf, let me say that my heart goes out to the families of those who were lost. This is a tragic event for both Americans and Iraqis.

This highlights, also, the importance of not allowing safe havens for the insurgents and terrorists, areas that they control. We've got to make sure that all territory is denied to them.

BLITZER: But is it your sense -- because I've been hearing from a lot of U.S. military personnel in recent days and weeks that the enemies of the United States and of the Iraqi government, for that matter, are getting better and better at what they're doing: more sophisticated improvised explosive devices, more sophisticated ability to, as we just see this weekend, knocking out a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter.

Is that the information that you're getting as well? SUMAIDAIE: Well, that's what simple observation leads us to believe, yes. That is because they've had time to consolidate. They've had space to consolidate. And there is a strong suspicion that they're getting considerable technical and material assistance from beyond the border.

BLITZER: Well, specifically, the suggestion that U.S. officials say is Iran. Iran is providing a lot of technical military assistance to these insurgents, to these death squads, to these terrorists.

SUMAIDAIE: Well, I cannot name countries, but we have made it very clear to all our neighbors, including Iran, Syria, and everybody else that destabilizing the Iraqi government is not going to be in their interests. They are playing with fire, and they must cease from doing it.

BLITZER: As you know, the U.S. military picked up several Iranians, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Quds division, suggesting that they were directly responsible for bringing in some of these weapons to be used against the U.S.

SUMAIDAIE: Well, as you know, the Iraqi government is not party to the investigation and is not in possession of any specific data or information.

BLITZER: This has caused quite a strain in the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

SUMAIDAIE: Yes, it has, because we were not involved in the planning of this operation and in the execution. So we are waiting, really, to have clarification from the American side on this issue.

BLITZER: All right. Listen to Richard Clarke. I want to play another clip of what he told me. He's the former counterterrorism adviser. He's now out of the government. But has some strong views on what's going on in Iraq right now. Listen to this.


RICHARD CLARKE, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: The president's plan just delays the inevitable. At some point, whether it's next year or two years from now or five years from now, all U.S. major combat units will leave Iraq. And when they do, there's going to be chaos.


BLITZER: Is he right?

SUMAIDAIE: He's wrong. I don't believe he's right at all. I think he underestimates the resolve in Iraq to fight terrorists, to normalize the country.

The Iraqi government, and Prime Minister Maliki, specifically, is absolutely determined to establish law and order in Baghdad and beyond Baghdad. And now we have a chance, with the support of the -- with more significant support from the American side. But the Iraqis -- and this is very important to underline -- the Iraqis want to take the lead, want to move forward. They just need more support.

BLITZER: But you know, a lot of people are losing confidence in your prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, based on his track record.

Lee Hamilton, former U.S. congressman -- he co-chaired this Iraq Study Group -- I want you to listen to what he told the Congress this week.


LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIR, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: The prime minister's rhetoric is good. His performance, so far, has been disappointing. He has not been effective. He has not proved reliable, nor have many of Iraq's other leaders.


BLITZER: That's from Lee Hamilton, who's a very, very astute observer. He's not a firebrand on either side.

SUMAIDAIE: That's true. And I can understand how he got to that conclusion. The Iraqi prime minister was not dealt a very good hand. The Iraqi army and the Iraqi security forces were not equipped to the level, even, of even the terrorists.

And it was very hard for him to make good on his promises. His promises stand. When he's got the tools, I'm sure he's going to use them and use them in the right way.

BLITZER; Including against the Shiite militias, the Mahdi army of Muqtada al-Sadr, given the fact that Muqtada al-Sadr controls a bloc in the parliament, which basically got him elected to begin with?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, that's true. Muqtada al-Sadr has a very diverse base of support. Some of them are rather wayward and even out of his control. There are a lot of common criminals operating under the umbrella of the al-Mehdi army.

And it's even in the interest of Muqtada al-Sadr to weed these out. And I think there's been a lot of dialogue with Muqtada, with a carrot-and-stick approach, and the government is determined to make sure that no arms stay in the hands of people outside the security forces.

BLITZER: The United Nations this week said last year in 2006, nearly 35,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, and just a little bit more were wounded in various sectarian violence insurgent attacks. At the same time, a U.N. report, a human rights report concluded that "Iraqi law enforcement institutions are marred by corruption and increasing internal and sectarian divisions. Iraqi police are seen as having being infiltrated by or colluding with militias, insurgency and political parties." Is that a fair assessment from the United Nations?

SUMAIDAIE: Yes. It's broadly fair, I would say. I cannot vouch for the numbers, because I don't have other sources at my disposal right now. But it is very clear that life has been unbearable for the average Iraqi citizen.

However, there is an effort going on right now to reform the security forces, to bring them back in shape and make them more reliable. And this effort goes in parallel with the efforts to try and restore law and order.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Mr. Ambassador, but what would happen in your opinion, and you know this subject well, if the U.S. were to withdraw over the next few months most, if not all, of their combat forces?

SUMAIDAIE: I think that would create a vacuum, and the only people who would benefit from the vacuum is the terrorists, the criminals and those of our regional powers next to Iraq who want to make use of this opportunity.

BLITZER: How long will it take for your government to be ready to deal with the security without the United States involved?

SUMAIDAIE: I think as soon as we have a better arming and equipping of our security forces, within a few months I hope that reform of the security forces would make enough progress. And with the addition of American forces, I believe it would be a few months before we see some positive results. And from then on, I think we would be going upwards rather than downwards.

BLITZER: We hope for the best. Samir Sumaidaie is the ambassador of Iraq to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for coming in.

SUMAIDAIE: Thank you. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still to come on "Late Edition," remembering the Iranian hostage crisis. My exclusive joint interview with former President Jimmy Carter and his vice president, Walter Mondale, and what criticism the two formers have for the two incumbents.

Stay with us. "Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. It almost never happens, a former president of the United States and a former vice president sitting down together taking questions about the past and present. This is now the 30th anniversary of their taking office. Here's part one of my exclusive joint interview with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And joining us now, the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, and the former vice president of the United States, Walter Mondale. Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us on this, the 30th anniversary of both of you stepping into office.

Mr. President, first to you. Looking back, what was the high point of those four years?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think the high point was keeping our country at peace, or obviously bringing peace to others, like Israel and Egypt, and promoting human rights around the world. I would say those are the ones that stick in my mind, mostly.

BLITZER: What was the high point, Mr. Vice President, for you?

WALTER MONDALE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I agree with the president. I thought the single most thrilling moment of the four years was the day that Sadat and Begin, under the president's leadership, agreed to the Camp David accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

That really changed the Middle East, and it showed the potential, the extraordinary potential for diplomacy to bring about peace where there had been none in maybe the most dangerous area of the world.

BLITZER: And despite the turmoil of the past three decades, that peace between Israel and Egypt remains in force today.


BLITZER: Mr. President, what was the low point for you?

CARTER: Well, I think the morning that the hostage rescue failed in April of 1980, Wolf. We had a good prospect of getting all the hostages out, and eventually they came safe and free, but I wanted them out that morning. And when we heard that the hostage-rescue mission had failed and I had to go on television and tell the American people about the failure, that was a low point.

BLITZER: And for you, Mr. Vice President?

MONDALE: Well, it's on the same topic. The low point for me was that early morning, say 3 in the morning, when we had to abort the rescue mission in Iran, and we were told that 15 or some of our military servicemen were killed...

CARTER: Eight.

MONDALE: ... and -- eight, pardon me, eight were killed, and I got the job of calling the leadership in the House and Senate and telling them of that tragedy.

BLITZER: A low point, indeed. This is related, Mr. President. The best decision you made? CARTER: The best decision and most difficult decision, Wolf, was not to launch a military attack against Iran. Most of my strong advisers said it would be a good political thing to do, and it would punish Iran for taking our hostages.

But I thought then and still believe now, of course, that if I had attacked Iran -- and we could have destroyed Iran with our powerful military -- that it would have resulted in the loss of life of more than 10,000 innocent Iranians, and there's no doubt they would have killed our hostages as well. So I think that was the most important single and most difficult decision I made.

BLITZER: Was there anything you could have done, should have done to keep the shah in power?

CARTER: Oh, no. I think that was something completely out of our hands. We had nothing to do with that. Although the shah had been an intimate friend, as you know, with seven different presidents, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt and down through me. There was nothing we could have done to shape the revolution that took place in Iran.

After the shah left, as a matter of fact, people don't remember we had a fairly good diplomatic relationship with the new revolutionary government until a few students backed by the nation and the ayatollah took our hostages.

BLITZER: What was your worst decision, Mr. President?

CARTER: Well, I guess my worst decision was to send seven rescue helicopters instead of eight. If we had sent one more helicopter, Wolf, we would have been successful.

I would say the most painful decision and not the most important diplomatically was having to withdraw from the 1980 Olympics. That was painful for me. The Congress voted 95 percent to do so, and the U.S. Olympic Committee voted 2 to 1 to do so, but I was the president and I took responsibility for it. But that was a painful decision.

BLITZER: Was that a political decision, giving the fact that you wanted to be re-elected?

CARTER: No, I think it was an unpopular decision as a matter of fact, but I don't think that that early -- I don't think that was, affected the outcome of the election. What affected the outcome of the election most importantly was the hostages were still being held. And also the Democratic Party was split down the middle, with Ted Kennedy wanting to run against me, and the party was not united, and the hostages still being held.

BLITZER: Mr. Vice President, what was your worst decision?

MONDALE: Oh, I think I'd just put it in terms of my worst moment. I think it was surrounding the rescue mission. I think it was the, you know, the heartache of having to try to put pressure on the Soviet Union in the invasion of Afghanistan, with all those tough measures that hurt politically, but more than that, were very, very difficult to effectuate.

BLITZER: In February of '77, Mr. President, when you and Walter Mondale took office, year job approval number was at 66 percent. Sixty-six percent of the American people approved of how you were handling your job.

In 1979, just after your so-called famous malaise speech, it was down at 28 percent. You only had 28 percent thinking you were doing a good job. I want to play a little clip from that famous speech on July 15th, 1979.


CARTER: I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives, and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.


BLITZER: You were hammered pretty hard as a result of that speech, Mr. President. A lot of Democrats, especially a lot of Republicans, including Ronald Reagan. With hindsight, was that a mistake?

CARTER: Wolf, I think that was one of the best speeches I ever made. And the immediate aftermath of that speech among public opinion polls was very high. However, later, both Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy, who were my major political opponents, made a major issue of that speech.

They labeled it the malaise speech -- I never used the word -- and my major thrust of that speech was to resurrect a faltering effort to have a comprehensive energy policy. Because I felt then and feel now that the failure of our country to address the energy issue effectively is one of the major handicaps in foreign policy and also domestic policy now and in the future. We had a comprehensive energy policy that finally passed, partially because of the effectiveness of that speech.


BLITZER: Coming up, more of my exclusive conversation with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in the next hour, right here on "Late Edition." Does Walter Mondale agree with Jimmy Carter's controversial new best-seller, "Palestine, Peace not Apartheid"? We'll ask him.

Also ahead, can Congress support the troops and oppose the war? We'll talk to two outspoken members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat Maxine Waters and Republican Mike Pence.

And for our North American viewers, John Roberts interviews Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on "This Week at War." That's following "Late Edition" at 1 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including some sharp words for Vice President Dick Cheney from someone who knows the job. More of my exclusive interview with Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter.

And I'll also speak with two members of Congress with different perspectives, Maxine Waters and Mike Pence. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: The American people have spoken loudly and clearly. In the recent election, they basically said "bring our troops home."



REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: I want to take a moment to commend the president, our commander in chief for deciding not to fail in Iraq.


BLITZER (voice over): The new Congress fights over the president's plan for Iraq.


REP. STENY H. HOYER, D-MD.: In the last two weeks, we've seen what a do-something, do-good Congress can do.


BLITZER: And the House passes major legislation.

But will Democrats use their majority to stop more troops from going to Iraq?

And what can Republicans do to stop the revolt in their own party?

We'll ask two key members of the house, Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Maxine Waters.

And 30 years after they took office, former president Jimmy Carter and former vice president Walter Mondale look back at their time in power and take aim at the current president.


BLITZER: What advice do you have for the president, right now, as he goes into his final two years in office?

CARTER: Well, obviously I can't change the character of the president.



BLITZER (voice over): And Dick Cheney.

MONDALE: The current vice president seems to have stepped across a line that we thought was important in our time.


BLITZER: Carter and Mondale speak out on the administration, Congress, Iraq, and Carter's controversial new book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to more of my interview with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, as well as with Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters and Republican Congressman Mike Pence. That's all coming up.

First, though, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a check of what's in the news right now.


BLITZER: All right, Fred. Thanks very much. As debate intensifies here at home over sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, there are grim reminders of that dangerous duty over there. Let's go to our Baghdad correspondent, Arwa Damon. She's standing by with more on what's happening today. Arwa?

DAMON: Wolf, a grim reminder: on Saturday, 24 U.S. servicemen were killed in Iraq on that day alone, the deadliest incident, a helicopter crash Northeast of the capital of Baghdad.

All personnel on board that helicopter died in the incident, 12 of them. Eight of them were passengers. Four of them were crew members.

Now, this happened in Diyala province, just south of the provincial capitol of Baqubah. It is known to be a very volatile area, that specific area, known to be predominantly Sunni, as well as a Sunni insurgent stronghold.

In fact, a senior U.S. military official saying that initial indications are that hostile gun fire was the cause of the crash. However, the investigation is still ongoing, trying to confirm that. And in the southern city of Karbala, a fire fight happening at the provincial joint coordination center there left five U.S. soldiers dead.

The center was attacked by gunmen using indirect fire and small arms fire, the attack coming while the U.S. military was meeting with Iraqi security forces and local Iraqi officials to try to come up with a security plan for the upcoming religious holiday.

And in the volatile al-Anbar province, four U.S. soldiers and one Marine were killed, according to the U.S. military, due to wounds sustained from enemy action.

All of this coming as we have seen some political developments here in Baghdad with radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc deciding to end its two-month long boycott and rejoin the Iraqi government.

This coming at a time when Iraqi government is not only trying to deal with Muqtada al-Sadr politically but also trying to figure out the best way to get his Mahdi militia, believed to be responsible for much of the sectarian violence here, to disarm. Wolf?

BLITZER: Arwa, Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent reporting, quoting military investigators now as suggesting that downing of a U.S. army Black Hawk helicopter this weekend was -- at least in initial indications -- the result of hostile enemy fire, as opposed to some sort of malfunction or accident.

A lot of military experts have told me in recent days that the insurgents, the terrorists, that they seem to be getting better and better in their own military capabilities there.

What are you hearing from your end?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, that is one of the main concerns here, especially -- and not when you speak to senior military officers but also when you speak to the soldiers and the Marines that are out on the streets every day.

We have this incident with the helicopter possibly being shot down. At least, initial indications are that it was brought down by enemy gunfire.

But we also have clear indications of the IEDs, those deadly roadside bombs, becoming increasingly sophisticated, increasingly able to pierce through the armor that protects U.S. personnel as they move around this country.

We have indications that the snipers are becoming better trained. We have also seen an increase in complex ambushes and in fighting techniques.

For example, if we look at the gun battle that took place on Haifa street just two weeks ago, there we saw the insurgents standing up and fighting U.S. forces in a gun battle that lasted ten hours. So that is a great concern here, that as the U.S. military is developing its tactics on the ground, trying to deal with the insurgency, the insurgents are also developing their tactics when it comes to attacking the American forces here. Wolf?

BLITZER: And we heard the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie, tell us, in the last hour, that he suspects that these insurgents are getting some technical assistance from outside of Iraq, perhaps Iran or Syria or some other countries.

All right. Thanks very much, Arwa, for that.

Presidents and their vice presidents almost never sit down and take questions together. But earlier this week, I had a chance to interview Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale on this, the 30th anniversary of their taking office.

The former vice president was eager to talk about his administration and had some very harsh criticism of the current administration.

MONDALE: Look, one of the things that I am proudest of about our four years together was that we told the truth, and we obeyed the law, and we kept the peace.

It doesn't sound like much, maybe just what is expected. But I think we're seeing evidence of what happens when you stray from these fundamental principles.

BLITZER: It sounds, Mr. Vice President...

MONDALE: I was never...


BLITZER: It sounds, Mr. Vice President -- excuse me...


BLITZER: ... for interrupting -- that that's an implied criticism, if not a direct criticism, of the current president...

MONDALE: Well...

BLITZER: ... and vice president.

MONDALE: That's -- well, that's acceptable to me, if you want to draw that conclusion.


MONDALE: But the fact of it is that ours was an honest administration. You could believe what you were told. We never played games with the law.

We were true to that oath of office. And we did everything we could to enhance American power, based on our principles, and try to avoid war. And we accomplished that. And I feel good about it.

BLITZER: Is this a dishonest administration?

MONDALE: You know, let me just say this. A lot of the things -- I never use that word. A lot of the things we were told proved not to be true.

BLITZER: But it -- was that a deliberate -- was the president and the vice president -- here is the question, Mr. Vice President. Was the president and the vice president -- did they mislead the American people, or were they misled themselves?

MONDALE: I have been very careful about avoiding words like "deceit" or "lying" and so on.

What I'm talking about is our four years, during which I'm absolutely positive we told the truth, we obeyed the law, and we kept the peace. That's what I'm talking about.

We now have an administration that stumbled over these values, and is having its own great difficulties trying to sustain public leadership, in part because of things they said that got us into this war.

They surely have been contemptuous of enforcing the law. And they have been -- they have dumped, basically, the whole foreign intelligence surveillance system. They may be bringing it back.

And it seemed, for a while, they just recklessly wanted to get involved in international military conflicts. And I think it's been at great cost to our country.

BLITZER: Mr. Mondale, about Dick Cheney, you have been critical of him, the relationship he's had with the president. Contrast that to the relationship you had when you were vice president with President Carter.

MONDALE: Carter is credited by all historians, I think, for having established a unique, new relationship with his vice president.

I was brought into the White House. I was privy to the same information. We met repeatedly. I was involved as an adviser and worked for the president in many, many different ways. And I think future vice presidents have all followed that example, including the Cheney example.

But I think one of the problems now is that this vice president, the current vice president, seems to have stepped across the line that we thought was important in our time.

In other words, I tried to work as a representative of the president. I didn't go around volunteering my own policies. I considered myself that kind of officeholder, and not a prime minister, not a deputy president or something like that.

This vice presidency is troubling to me, because, time and time again, we've seen the establishment, for example, of almost a parallel National Security Council, the involvement of the vice president in trying to pressure, influence the kind of information that flows to the top and up to the presidency.

And I think that political scientists ought to study about whether there should be a recognized line that a vice president must obey to prevent that kind of problem that we're seeing today. Many of the things we have been told that has helped get us in trouble here, I think, is a reflection of that problem.

BLITZER: Mr. President, how far should the Congress go in trying to stop this war in Iraq? Specifically, should it use the so-called power of the purse?

CARTER: I think that's perfectly legitimate, Wolf, not dealing with our military already over there. We don't want to cut them off, because they haven't been adequately supplied, as you know, with body armor or with armor of their vehicles and other facilities.

But I think the Congress should use its maximum authority. My own recommendation to the Congress, particularly to the Democrats in the Congress, is to adopt, with minor modifications only, the Hamilton-Baker task force recommendations.

I think that's a solid bunch of recommendations on what we ought to do. And it's something that all Democrats could adopt, but with individual candidates for president, and so forth, modifying themselves somewhat slightly. But I have been very proud so far of this first 100 days and the things that the House has done. And my hope is that the Senate, despite the restrictions of -- and a need for getting 60 votes, will follow in the footsteps of the House and have very strong moves toward the future...


CARTER: ... to correct some of the mistakes that have been made during the last six years.

BLITZER: You meant the first 100 hours, not the first 100 days.

CARTER: First 100 hours. Excuse me.

BLITZER: First 100 legislative hours.

The president's going through a period right now where he's very unpopular. His policies are unpopular. You went through a similar period during the 444 days of the Iranian hostage crisis.

What advice do you have for the president right now, as he goes into his final two years in office?

CARTER: Well, obviously, I can't change the character of the president. I don't want to comment on that.

Obviously, what needs to be done is to reassess some of the mistakes that have been made that are patently obvious to everyone, the violation of basic laws, some of which Fritz Mondale and I passed, that is the -- getting judicial approval before you start spying on American people.

There seems to be some acknowledgment in the last few hours, as a matter of fact, that they violated a law there and the basic elements of the Constitution -- to reassert America's status in the entire world as a champion of human rights, instead of a foremost violator of human rights, both domestically and in our prison camps, for sometimes innocent people.

Also to pursue the effort to have an energy policy that will correct the mistakes that we have made in recent years, letting the oil companies establish the energy policy. And I would say that, in many other ways, the tax program that has benefited, almost unanimously, the wealthiest people in the United States, those need to be revised.

So, health programs -- I think the best advice is to reassess the mistakes that have been made, cooperate as much as possible with the Democrats in the Congress. And I think there's a -- not a unanimous, but there is a bipartisan inclination to make some of the corrections that I have described.


BLITZER: And coming up, we'll have more of my interview with former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Walter Mondale. We'll talk about the Middle East and Jimmy Carter's controversial new book. That's coming up.

Also, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congressman Mike Pence on the war in Iraq. Will a troop increase stop the violence? And for our North American viewers, one newly declared candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton, a special guest in the next hour here on CNN, on "This Week at War," hosted by John Roberts. You'll want to see that. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Let's get some more now of my exclusive joint interview with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. Among other things, we talked about the uproar around President Carter's new book about the Middle East.


BLITZER: Mr. President, you've written a best-seller entitled "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." It's generated a lot of controversy, as you well know.

Fourteen members of the Jimmy Carter Center, the board of counselors, wrote a letter to you on January 11th. Among other things, they said this in their resignation: "It seems that you have turned to a world of advocacy, including even malicious advocacy. We can no longer endorse your strident and uncompromising position. This is not the Carter Center or the Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support."

Was it a mistake to include that word "apartheid" in the title of this book?

CARTER: No. No, it was not a mistake. You know, there are two basic thrusts in this book, and they are very important ones.

One is to rejuvenate the dormant or dead peace process in the Middle East after six years of absolutely no effort, not one single day of substantive discussions to bring peace to Israel. And the second one is to end the abominable and relatively unknown horrible prosecution -- or persecution of the Palestinian people.

And that's the thrust of the book.

And not a single critic of the book, so far as I have seen, addresses either one of those issues in a negative way. Most of the criticisms of the book have been the one word in the title, "apartheid," and the other one is personal attacks on me.

Anybody that goes to Palestine and looks over the plight of the Palestinians will agree that there's mandatory separation inside Palestinian territory between the Israelis and the Palestinians and terrible persecution and oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis. And that's a basic issue that's got to be corrected before Israel can have peace.

BLITZER: Here's what your former adviser, Professor Ken Stein, of Emory University, who worked with you many years at the Carter Center, told us on CNN. Listen to this.


PROFESSOR KEN STEIN, EMORY UNIVERSITY: There's too much emotion in the Arab-Israel conflict already, and I think this adds heat rather than light. When you use the word "apartheid," what you are doing is you're saying that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the territories is equivalent to what happened to the blacks in South Africa.


BLITZER: Is that what you are saying, Mr. President?

CARTER: Well, yes, but I make it very clear in the book, as Ken Stein well knows, that this oppression or apartheid separation mandatorily in the West Bank and Gaza is not because of racism, which was the primary motivation in South Africa, but is based on a small minority of Israeli leaders who have agreed for Palestinian territory.

So there's quite a bit of difference there. And I've never alleged that the framework of apartheid existed within Israel at all, and that what does exist in the West Bank is based on trying to take Palestinian land and not on racism. So it was a very clear distinction. BLITZER: Mr. Vice President, I've known you for many years. You've always been a very, very strong supporter of Israel. Are you comfortable with President Carter's use of the word "apartheid" in this new book?

MONDALE: The president and I haven't talked about this. I have read the book. I think there's a lot of good materials in there. I do have a few problems with it, but if I might, I'd like to talk to the president about it first.

This conference is not about the book. It's about what we did when we were in office. And one of the things we did for four years -- and I was involved working with the president almost daily -- was to pursue policies that strengthened the security of the state of Israel in ways that almost have not occurred under any other administration. And I saw the president daily working to achieve those results. And I admire that.

CARTER: And that's still a major goal of my life, Wolf, is to bring peace to Israel.

BLITZER: Is that possible when you have the Hamas leader of the Palestinians, the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who said this on December 8th, 2006. He said, "We will never recognize the usurper Zionist government and will continue our jihad-like movement until the liberation of Jerusalem."

CARTER: Well, he's said all kinds of things, Wolf, in addition to that. He's also said that he would welcome peace talks between the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the prime minister of Israel. And that if they evolved a satisfactory peace agreement and submitted it to the Palestinian people in a referendum and it was approved, that they would accept that as a basis for the future.

So, you can selectively quote anything you want to. The fact is that a major factor in bringing peace to Israel, as it was when I was president, is for the United States to play the leading role. And this, as Condoleezza Rice has said yesterday, can be done with the full support now of the other members of the quartet, the international quartet. That is, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia.

So I don't think it's at all hopeless. And I believe there is a clear avenue that has been carved out under my administration and since then that will lead to peace for Israel.

BLITZER: Well, we've gone through a lot over the course of 30 years, including what's happening today.

I want to thank both of you for coming in to "The Situation Room" here today to join us. The former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, the former vice president, Walter Mondale, on this, the 30th anniversary, hard to believe, three decades, since both of you took office.

Thanks very much. We'll see you again in another 30 years. CARTER: Thank a lot, Wolf.

MONDALE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you. Thank you very much.


BLITZER: And coming up, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congressman Mike Pence. They'll discuss the war in Iraq, the president and politics. But up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest reports of a U.S. military helicopter crash in Iraq. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Joining us now, two U.S. lawmakers at the center of the debate over the war in Iraq and the president's plan to put more U.S. troops in Iraq.

Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters is in Los Angeles. She's part of what's called the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus.

And Republican Congressman Mike Pence is a member of the House International Relations Committee. Congressmen, thanks very much for coming in.

PENCE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Waters, let me start with you and play for you a clip of the president of the United States, this week, appealing to you and other members of Congress to give his new strategy in Iraq a chance for success.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: People who are condemning the plan, a new plan that hasn't had a chance to work, have a responsibility to present ideas that they think will work. And I'm still listening for those ideas.

Success is really important in this. And I put a plan that I think will succeed.


BLITZER: All right, why not give him a chance to see if this increased, 21,500 or so U.S. troops might get the job done?

WATERS: Well, we have given the president chance after chance after chance. We've had surge after surge after surge.

The president has failed miserably. He has not convinced the Congress of the United States or the American people that this so- called new plan, this so-called new surge, which we see as an expansion, is anything that's going to work.

We are sick and tired of watching our American soldiers die in a war and we don't where it's going to end.

We were led into this war with misinformation. Nothing has changed. The president has not convinced us. We want our troops home. We want the money that we're spending, over $400 billion, directed toward domestic needs.

The president of the United States has not done his job. He does not deserve another chance.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Pence, what do you say?

PENCE: Well, I think Maxine expresses the skepticism of a great number of Americans. I was in Muncie, Indiana earlier this week at a town hall meeting, Wolf, and I heard a great deal of anxiety about the lack of progress and stability in Iraq.

And frankly, when I met with the president to talk about this new way forward, I was skeptical. I had heard from our military commanders, during all of my trips to Iraq, that a larger American footprint in that country was not consistent with our long-term goals.

But what I heard from the president, what the American people just heard from the president last week, was not just more troops for more troops' sake, but the president laid out a new strategy, new tactics, new rules of engagement where we would put Iraqi forces in the lead.

And I believe what sold me, and I believe, ultimately will win the day in this cause is that new approach, that new way forward. But we've all got a challenge. And the commander in chief has a challenge selling the American people.

BLITZER: Because he's not only finding a lot of skepticism among Democrats but, increasingly, Republicans as well. You say you were skeptical, although you have come around. Listen to Chuck Hagel, Republican senator from Nebraska.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: It is devastating our military. It's devastating our standing in the Middle East. It's hurting our budget. It's destroying our military. So we need a new course of action.


BLITZER: He thinks this increase in U.S. troops is a disaster.

PENCE: Well, I respectfully disagree with Senator Hagel. But I will tell you -- I believe what Maxine just said, what Senator Hagel said, is a sentiment that's shared, a skepticism that's shared by a great number of Americans. But at the end of the day, I really believe that, in Indiana or around the country, Wolf, that the American people want our soldiers to come home but they want us to win and come home. And our commander in chief has now laid out a strategy, a new way forward, putting Iraqis in the lead with a new strategy, new rules of engagement. And I think it deserves a chance.

BLITZER: All right. Maxine Waters, you have one option that's part of the Constitution: cut off funding for U.S. troops involved in the war in Iraq. It's called the power of the purse. It was used during the Vietnam War.

Is that something you're ready to go forward with right now?

WATERS: Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee and I introduced legislation that would wind us out of Iraq in six months. It would do several other things.

It would help to stabilize the Iraqi security forces. It would also lend support to an international force, with the request of the Iraqi government, to stay there and help, continue to maintain security while the soldiers are being trained.

We would bring our troops out of there, provide health services for them, particularly mental health services for them. And we think this is the way to go.

When we talk about bringing our troops home, there are those who would like to describe this as some kind of irresponsible action; we're just going to pull them out overnight.

No. We're not saying that at all. We're saying that you can creditably wind out of Iraq over a six-month period of time. And certainly, there is enough money in the pipeline to do that.

The way to make sure that our soldiers are not at risk, that we wind down this war, is to bring them home. And I am absolutely prepared not to support more funding to escalate this war.


BLITZER: Well, hold on one second, Congresswoman, because Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House -- she said on ABC on Friday, "Democrats will never cut off funding for our troops when they are in harm's way."

I want you to -- I want to pinpoint you precisely on what you're saying. You're saying you're not ready to appropriate or authorize additional funding for U.S. military involvement in Iraq?

Is that what you're saying?

WATERS: Nancy Pelosi must manage all of the Democratic caucus, all of the members of Congress. And of course, there are varying views. I come from a progressive agenda and we know that you can't have it both ways. You must have the courage of your convictions. We believe that the way to stop this war is to stop funding this war. We can bring our soldiers home and they won't be in harm's way. And we can do it reasonably, over a six-month period of time.

And I am prepared not to vote money to keep them there because I fear that I'm going to be accused of putting the soldiers in harm's way. Because that is absolutely not the truth.

BLITZER: All right. General Joseph Hoar is a former U.S. commander of the Central Command, Congressman Pence, which is in charge of the Middle East.

He testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, and this is his bottom-line conclusion of the current situation in Iraq.


GEN. JOSEPH HOAR, RET.: The proposed solution is to send more troops, and it won't work. The addition of 21,000 troops is too little and too late.


BLITZER: All right. He's a respected military figure.

PENCE: Well, and so are all of the members of the Iraq Study Group. What's largely lost, in the public debate today, Wolf, as Co- chairman Lee Hamilton said before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill Friday.

BLITZER: Your committee?

PENCE: A committee on which I serve.

The Iraq Study Group called for a temporary surge, said we would be willing to support a temporary surge in American forces to stabilize Baghdad.

In many respects, while the president has not yet embraced every aspect of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, that aspect which is referred to as a surge of American forces is very much encompassed in that report.

BLITZER: He's rejected another recommendation, a key recommendation that they made to enter into a direct dialogue with Iran and Syria to try to bring them into some sort of negotiated settlement.

PENCE: Well, the secretary of state has made it clear and the president has made it clear that sitting down with Iran and Syria has to begin with us having leverage in that equation.

So long as we have an unstable environment, so long as we -- Iran and other countries in the region may be able to create that instability and lack of success in Iraq, we have very little leverage to sit down with them and talk about larger issues like nuclear proliferation...

BLITZER: So that's why...

PENCE: ... and the balance of...

BLITZER: ... that's why the president right now is trying to use U.S. financial resources, get western Europe, others to squeeze Iran to try to isolate Iran. And if that works, at that point, they might be willing to negotiate from less of a position of strength. Is that what you're saying?

PENCE: There's no question that continuing work in the United Nations, putting diplomatic pressure on Iran to walk away from its current path of nuclear proliferation, combined with a success for freedom and stability in Iraq, will give us the leverage we need to really sit down and make progress in that relationship.

BLITZER: All right. I'm going to ask both of these members of Congress to stand by. We have a lot more to talk about. Congresswoman Waters, Congressman Pence, we're going to talk about a little domestic politics. Who is taking the plunge into the campaign. The race to '08 is getting very crowded.

And don't forget, turn to CNN for all of your presidential coverage as the best political team on television brings you the president's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. The White House, the prize sought by so many already coming forward for 2008. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're continuing our conversation with two members of the U.S. Congress, Democrat Maxine Waters and Republican Mike Pence. They seem to be coming out of all corners, Congresswoman Waters, on the Republican side, we'll put a list of all of those who have either already created exploratory committees or announced they are running for president.

There's another long list on the Democratic side. We'll put that up on the screen as well. First of all, is there someone that you right now Congressman Waters, is supporting for president on the Democratic side?

WATERS: Oh, no. But I think this is democracy at work. I'm so excited about the possibility of having all of these choices. We get an opportunity to put our agenda out there before them, and query them as to who can respond to it in ways that makes good sense to us.

As a matter of fact, Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey and I, we're going to Iowa and we're going to New Hampshire. We're going with our anti-Iraq agenda, and we're going to help people in town hall meetings understand who is nuancing and tiptoeing, and who's really talking about getting out of Iraq.

BLITZER: Let me ask you, Congresswoman Waters, a question I asked Charlie Rangel the other day. Who would you prefer, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

WATERS: I don't have a choice. They've both got to prove themselves. They have not said enough yet. Let them get out on the campaign trail and talk to the American people and answer the questions. I don't have a choice for president at this point.

BLITZER: When we last month asked the American people, Congresswoman Waters, is America ready for a woman president, 60 percent said yes, 37 percent said no. We asked, is America ready for a black president, 62 percent said yes, 34 percent say no. What do you think, Congresswoman Waters?

WATERS: Oh, I think America is ready for a competent, clear- speaking person who is prepared to take this country in a different direction, who will talk clearly and plainly to the people, and to the question, not be slick, not nuance everything, not try to have it both ways. If we get someone with a clear voice and a clear philosophy on all of these issues, I don't care who it is, black, white, green, a woman, the American people will know the difference.

BLITZER: All right, let me bring Congressman Pence into this political conversation. Here are some Newsweek polls that are just out. How is President Bush handling the situation in Iraq? Twenty- four percent approve of what he's doing. Seventy percent disapprove. How is President Bush handling his overall job as president? Thirty- one percent approve, 62 percent disapprove.

And here's a key question right now. How are things going in the country right now? Thirty percent of the American people are satisfied, 62 percent are not satisfied. They're dissatisfied. These are horrible numbers for a sitting president going into his final two years in office.

PENCE: Well, they are, and they're reflective, I think, of our previous topic, the difficult war in Iraq. This president's still getting up every morning and doing what he thinks is right to defend this country.

But from a political perspective, it's obviously an advantage that this will be the first election in I think about three quarters of a century where neither a sitting president nor vice president of either party will be seeking their party's nomination. In many respects, both parties will have a clean break from the last eight years and an opportunity to recast the war on terror, domestic policy in a manner reflective of the values of the American people.

BLITZER: It's a crowded field, but it's a wide-open field right now. Just a year or so before Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, some of the early contests.

Here's another number in this current Newsweek poll. Would you prefer a Democrat or Republican president in 2008? Forty-nine percent right now say Democrat, 28 percent say Republican. Which Republican candidate, Congressman Pence, do you think is best positioned right now to win the presidency?

PENCE: I don't know the answer to that. We have an abundance of riches on the Republican side of the aisle. I'm going to startle your viewers and agree a little bit with my friend Maxine and say that I actually think the American people are looking for leadership that will speak plainly and boldly to the heart of American values.

I really think this election on both sides of the aisle, I expect will produce nominees that will be able to speak to the war on terror, speak to the challenges of a sea of red ink in Washington, D.C., speak to an erosion of values in this country in the laws of the land as we remember Roe vs. Wade tomorrow here in Washington. And I think it will be those kind of candidates on both sides of the aisle the American people are drawn to.

BLITZER: In the first 100 hours, basically the first 40-some hours, Congresswoman Waters, the Democrats managed to get six major pieces of legislation through the House of Representatives, including such things as an increase in the minimum wage. There was no item involving Iraq per se in the first to-do agenda. What's next on your agenda?

WATERS: Well, I am focused both on Iraq and Katrina. I'm going to continue to lead the out-of-Iraq caucus and to speak about what is going on there and trying to unveil the truth to the American people as much as I possibly can, work with my colleagues.

Just the other day on the floor, I took out a special order where I got 15 members who had voted for the war to sign up to come to the floor and say, if I had known then what I know now, I would not have voted for it. We got around to speaking, eight of them speaking on the floor.

We will continue to do that kind of thing. I'm going to join with the big anti-Iraqi war rally that's going to be in Washington on January the 27th.

We're going to have a big rally there. We're going to march. And then we're going to lobby all of the members of Congress. And then I'm going to work on Katrina to bring justice to the people there who have been denied justice.

BLITZER: You've got a full agenda. We started on Iraq. We end on Iraq. We've got to leave it right there. Congresswoman Waters, Congressman Pence, a good discussion. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

And coming up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. "Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: 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," including John Roberts's interview with Senator Hillary Clinton. Stay with us.


BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. A mix of presidential politics and the Iraq war debate. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced his run for the White House, and Senator Sam Brownback, who announced yesterday, talked about his plans as well.


GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, D-N.M.: I wouldn't run as a Hispanic candidate. I would run as an American proud to be Hispanic, proud of my heritage. It's a growing, dynamic community in this country. But I wouldn't just be focusing on Hispanic issues or trying to get the Hispanic vote.



SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-KAN.: And I put forward a series of ideas on how we can grow the economy, things we can create more opportunities, how we rebuild families, renew the culture. It's on a competition of ideas is how I'll compete, and that's how I'll win.


BLITZER: The main topic of debate today on some of the other shows, the war in Iraq with three prominent U.S. senators, all potential presidential candidates, lining up for and against President Bush and his new strategy of sending in more U.S. troops.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: It was a failed policy. It was pursued too long. We now have a new strategy headed by one of the finest military people we have, and I believe we can succeed.



HAGEL: It is morally wrong to continue to put American troops in the middle of a clearly defined sectarian civil war -- Iraqis killing Iraqis. Shias killing Sunnis. Shias killing Shias -- and think that somehow we're going to stop that, or somehow we're going to have some sense of resolution because of that. I think that's morally wrong.



SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: I'm not for capping for a simple reason: It maintains a status quo. I don't want to cap. I want to reduce. Capping goes out there and says the status quo is just fine.


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 21st. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm also in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7 p.m. Eastern. And CNN's best political team in television will have the most comprehensive coverage of President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night. Paula Zahn will be joining me. A special two-hour "Situation Room" starting 7 p.m. Eastern.

I want to leave you with one word. I want to thank everyone who was involved in last night's auction of our Warrior One Hummer. It was a great, great event. I want to thank Dave Liniger of Denver, Colorado, for coming up with $1 million for Fisher House, a truly, truly excellent cause. It helps U.S. military personnel and their families. Thanks to Dave Liniger, and thanks to everyone for making that happen.

For our North American viewers, "This Week at War" with John Roberts is next -- John.