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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview With Rob Portman; Interview With Ralph Nader; Interview With Amine Gemayel

Aired February 04, 2007 - 11:00   ET


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

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I put out a plan that has caused a lot of debate on Iraq.


BLITZER: Can Congress make President Bush pay attention? Will lawmakers, public opinion, and the bloody road in Iraq force him to change? We'll talk to two influential senators, Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Lugar of Indiana.


BUSH: Together we can restrain the expanding appetite of the federal government, and we can balance the federal budget.


BLITZER: But this week, restraint turned back to requests for an additional $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

White House budget director Rob Portman talks about the costs of war.


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: Evidence of Iranian involvement is in providing these EFPs, these very powerful IEDs.


BLITZER: Are Iranian weapons killing Americans in Iraq? And is Iranian influence unstoppable across that whole region? We'll talk to former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, former CIA officer Robert Baer, and New York Times Pentagon reporter and author Michael Gordon.

Is Lebanon slipping towards chaos? I'll ask its former president, Amine Gemayel, about what's next at the crossroads of the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM VILSACK, FORMER GOVERNOR OF IOWA: Someone who can start out life in an orphanage is standing here talking to reporters about running for president. I mean, it doesn't get any better than this.


BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidate Tom Vilsack tells us what he's all about, and why a former governor from Iowa wants the White House.

A new movie calls him an unreasonable man. Will he stir the political pot this time around? A talk with former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. "Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

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

BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll talk about the war in Iraq and a lot more with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Lugar in just a moment.

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


BLITZER: Thanks, Fred.

In Iraq, the chilling spiral of attack and reprisal in the aftermath of the deadliest single suicide bombing in the Iraqi capital, and now new concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. military helicopters.

CNN's Arwa Damon is joining us live from Baghdad with the latest -- Arwa.


The announcement came out in a press conference given by Major General William Caldwell that those four helicopters that were shot down in the last few weeks were shot down due to some sort of ground attack. The U.S. military is still investigating, but this incident raising grave concerns that U.S. military aircraft might be becoming even more vulnerable. There you see the smoke rising from the aircraft that was shot down in Najaf about last weekend, actually.

And then earlier today in the capital Baghdad, in just a span of hours, over a dozen Iraqis lost their lives in attacks ranging from small-arms fire, to mortal attacks, to those ever increasingly deadly roadside bombs.

This the day after Baghdad, the capital, saw the most deadly bombing that took place this year. At least 120 Iraqis were killed after a suicide truck bomb plowed into a central Baghdad marketplace at the time when it would have been at its busiest.

Today, we saw the chilling images of the aftermath of that attack, entire buildings with the facades completely gone, survivors still digging through the rubble, bodies still being pulled out from underneath those buildings that were collapsed.

And Iraq's Ministry of Interior announcing that this week some 1,000 Iraqis were killed. Those numbers, though, do include civilians, Iraq security forces and insurgents, Wolf.

BLITZER: A thousand Iraqis dead in one week. These numbers seem to be getting out of control. Is it my imagination, Arwa, or is the situation going from bad to worse?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, when you speak with Iraqis here, especially in the capital, Baghdad, they will tell you that their lives are constantly and regularly getting worse. And that fact is just reinforced when we see these devastating bombings like the one that we saw yesterday.

And it really does very little to regenerate hope amongst the Iraqi people that this new security plan put forward by the Iraqi government and by the U.S. administration is actually going to work.

That, of course, does remain to be seen, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us in Baghdad, a courageous, young journalist. Thank you, Arwa, very much.

Here in Washington, high political drama on the eve of direct confrontation between the Congress and the White House, the U.S. Senate poised this week to directly challenge President Bush's new Iraq strategy, calling for the deployment of thousands of additional troops.

Joining us now, two key members of the United States Senate. Dianne Feinstein is a Democrat of California, and Richard Lugar is a Republican of Indiana, both widely respected on national security issues.

Senators, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me ask you this question. It looks, Senator Lugar -- and you've been on top of it for a long time. This situation in Iraq right now is spiraling out of control.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Well, it may be, but that's, of course, the issue. And the president has decided to send General Petraeus there, a man who knows more about counter-insurgency, perhaps, than any other American, to try to make a difference.

And it's a long shot, in the estimate of most people of who are favorable, but the president in a humanitarian way sees the violence that has been on television today, understands that although now we have a situation in which elections have been held, people have come into office, there is at least 200,000 troop Iraqi army, all poorly trained and poorly equipped, that still something more might try to ensure that situation.

BLITZER: He knows a lot, General Petraeus, about insurgency. He co-wrote the manual for the U.S. Army, but by all accounts, including the latest National Intelligence Estimates, the sectarian violence, not the insurgency, per se, is the source of so many people killed.

LUGAR: Well, that seems to be the case. And the National Intelligence Estimate says, in fact, if things don't change, that Iraq will either by partitioned, it will have a strong Shiite superman to govern this thing in Saddam-type ways...

BLITZER: A strong man, as they call it.

LUGAR: ... or really disintegration with all sorts of militias throughout the country.

BLITZER: It paints a horrible picture either way, this National Intelligence Estimate.

Senator Feinstein, you're on the Intelligence Committee. I assume you probably looked at the whole document, not just the declassified version, but it also suggests that as bad as the situation is right now, and as awful as it's likely to be over the next year to 18 months, it might be even worse if the U.S. were simply to pull out.

It concludes this: "If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge the Iraqi security forces would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian institution. Neighboring countries, invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally, might intervene openly in the conflict, and massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable."

That's a horrendous scenario, a nightmare scenario, that they outline if there's simply a U.S. withdrawal.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, let me respond to that. I spent a couple hours reading the classified version of the NIE yesterday.

BLITZER: Which is about 90 pages.

FEINSTEIN: And I can tell you this: There's something in it for every point of view. I can also tell you that the NIE is not a policy document. It is the best judgments of the intelligence community, and as we all know, the intelligence community was wrong before, and it can be wrong again. It is not meant to be a policy document.

What I think and what I ask the American people to think about is, can a nation be built by the United States military? In my view, the answer is no. The military can't build a nation. Saddam is gone, a democracy is in place, a government is in place, but that government refuses to do what's necessary to stem the tide of this civil war.

Therefore, the American presence becomes a buffer in the middle of Shia against Shia, Shia against Sunni, Al Qaida, foreign fighters, and a huge conflagration that's building.


BLITZER: So despite this nightmare scenario of what might happen if there were a rapid U.S. withdrawal, you're still in favor of a U.S. withdrawal?

FEINSTEIN: I'm not talking about turning, pulling everybody out tomorrow. What I am talking about is holding the Iraqi government's feet to the fire publicly, to make certain achievements very rapidly, and those achievements involve oil, it involves the policy of de- Baathification, which Mr. Chalabi reinforces and keeps in place.

That must change if there's going to be any possibility of a solution. And then, I think we should end at a certain point the authorization for use of military force.

BLITZER: Because so much of this plan that Senator Feinstein, Senator Lugar, makes clear relies on Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq. Lee Hamilton, a man you know quite well, a former U.S. congressman for a long time, was co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, he concluded this week he basically has no confidence in Nouri al-Maliki. Listen to what he said.


LEE HAMILTON, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN: I've lost my patience with Maliki. He has known what he needs to do for a long time. I would give preference to an approach that deals with it privately, but we've used that approach for better than a half a year now, and it hasn't worked. And I think we've got to put the screws on this fella.


BLITZER: Well, those are -- for a guy like Lee Hamilton, that's a pretty blunt statement.

LUGAR: Well, it was reiterated by people on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, obviously.

BLITZER: You agree with him?

LUGAR: Yeah. But I would say Maliki's predicament is such that he may or may not be able to produce. I think we're in a situation in which the realities are that the Shiites are going to be dominant. The Sunnis understand that, haven't come quite to grips, either side, with this. The Kurds are so hopeful for the oil deal.

In other words, the elements are there, but these horrific terrorist attacks, whether they are sectarian or al-Qaida or what have you, keep intervening to make life difficult.

BLITZER: Is it a situation, Senator, that Nouri al-Maliki can't or won't do what the United States would like him to do, namely get equally tough on the Sunni bad guys and the Shiite bad guys. LUGAR: He's very unlikely to do that, because he's very fearful as a Shiite that they're going to come out second-best again, and he's not going to have that. So, we're dealing with a Shiite leader. We ought to understand that.

BLITZER: But so much of this deal, the strategy that the president has, relies on him. Let me also read to you from this National Intelligence Estimate: "The Iraqi security forces, particularly the Iraqi police, will be hard pressed in the next 12 to 18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success."

So, in other words, it looks, at least based on this consensus from the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that put this summary together, that over the next year, year and a half, there's not going to be much progress.

LUGAR: That could very well be the case. And this is why, although I would be interested in how General Petraeus comes out, I and a lot of others believe that we probably ought to be thinking about our continued presence in the area, that is, with some troops in Iraq, because it's a dangerous area. And without getting into all the particulars of the diplomacy involved, that is of the essence right now.

BLITZER: You were going to add a point, Senator.

FEINSTEIN: I want to. Look, the ministries aren't functioning, the parliamentary leaders have left the country, very often they can't get a quorum to conduct business. You have the prime minister, who basically can't carry out any effective action at this time. You have all of the elements growing of a failed state. To put the American military as the only remedy in this situation is a huge mistake.

And this is where I think you need you need robust, sustained, ongoing diplomacy, which we have never really practiced publicly in the area. I think you need to sit down with Iran, with Syria. I think you need to sit down...

BLITZER: You agree?

FEINSTEIN: ... with the Sunni nations. But the only way this can be solved is politically, and people have said this and said this and said this, but the apparent situation is, the only recourse is to a military presence. We've had three surges. They haven't worked. Why would we think in a continuing deteriorating situation that this surge would work?

BLITZER: We're going to take a break, but I want you to respond, Senator Lugar.

LUGAR: Dianne is right. The diplomacy is the essence. But that really doesn't get back to the surge problem. And that is whether we can make one final stab at helping Maliki or anybody else establish a government. Otherwise it's likely to drag on, this development, for some time.

BLITZER: But you still think it's a long shot?


BLITZER: Stand by, senators. I want to continue the discussion, move on to the neighboring situation as well, including Iran. A lot more to discuss with both of these senators. Iran, for example. Is Iran meddling in the affairs of Iraq, causing more violence in Baghdad?

Then, who pays? I'll ask the White House budget director, Rob Portman, about the Friday request for another hundred billion dollars for Iraq and Afghanistan.

And with all eyes on the prize, how to break out of the presidential pack. The former Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack. He'll join us live. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're continuing our conversation with senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Lugar. Here's what the Warner-Levin Senate resolution says, among other things. It says, "The Senate disagrees with the 'plan' to augment our forces for 21,500, and urges the president instead to consider all options and alternatives for achieving the strategic goals."

Senator Warner, Republican, former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Levin, a Democrat, the current chairman, they got together on this language. It sounds like a reasonable piece of language that someone like Senator Richard Lugar would support.

LUGAR: Well, I don't support it. I think this is an inconsequential situation. Although I agree, people who want to debate Iraq without doing anything about it may very well want to vote for or against this to show their constituents where their hearts (inaudible) are. We've had an election. Surely, Iraq was a big issue. Many, many Democrats who have prevailed in congressional races on this basis may feel a to say, I've done something about this. But the fact is, it's just tries to...

BLITZER: So you disagree with Senator Warner on this.

LUGAR: Yes, I don't think it's a good move on the part of...

BLITZER: Will there be a vote at all on the Senate floor? Because as you know, Republicans are threatening to filibuster, which means you would need 60 votes to overcome that procedural hurdle.

LUGAR: Probably the votes will be procedural. In the event that 60 votes cannot be obtained, there will not be an ultimate resolution. But even if there is, it's non-binding, and has in my judgment no consequence.

BLITZER: But you think there will be a filibuster? LUGAR: I think there will be.

BLITZER: You don't have the 60 votes to break that filibuster, do you, if all the Republicans vote one way?

FEINSTEIN: Well, you know, this really raises my dander, and I'll tell you why. What Republicans are going to do is essentially filibuster a motion to proceed to the bills, which means we can never get to the resolutions to debate them and vote on them.

Look, debate is going on in every schoolyard, in every state, in every city of this nation. It should go on in the Senate of the United States as well. This resolution, the Warner-Levin resolution, is a consensus resolution that's meant to be a first step for the Senate of the United States to take a position that differs with where the president is going.

It's an important first step, but if you can't get past a procedural motion to debate it, it's obstructionism, and I would really urge the Republicans to reconsider. I think it's a terrible mistake to prevent this debate.

BLITZER: Are you willing to reconsider, Senator Lugar? You have a lot of influence in the Senate.

LUGAR: Well, we've had 50 hours of debate in the Foreign Relations Committee in the month of January. The Armed Services Committee has had similar debates. Senators have had an opportunity to express themselves extensively on these issues.

All I'm saying is action on the Senate floor on a non-binding resolution means that you are simply having a debate for the sake of it. Now, some may find that edifying, but it seems to me that we probably ought to proceed on to the budget.

BLITZER: On this issue of it being non-binding, I want you to listen to your colleague, Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN.: We're being asked to send 21,000 young Americans into a cauldron. And we ought to be able to do better than a resolution here that merely brings 70 people together, that doesn't have any effect on whether or not they're going to be put in that situation.


BLITZER: Because the resolution itself, since it's only symbolic, it's non-binding, it sends a political message. But it won't stop the president. He's going forward with that deployment irrespective of that resolution.

FEINSTEIN: Well, the president has said he's the ultimate decider. He's going to go ahead regardless. The Senate and the House have certain constitutional responsibilities. This is meant to be a first step. This would show there's a majority of opposition in the Senate, and I hope in the House, in the Senate to where the president is taking this nation. It's as simple as that.

Now, if we can't get this done, you can be sure a month or so down the pike, there's going to be much stronger legislation. This is not tolerable in a situation where it's the number one topic in the nation, and the Republican party prevents the Senate of the United States from debating.

BLITZER: You can stop the deployment by passing legislation that would cut the funding for such a deployment.

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think the funding is going to be looked at. I think it is going to be scrutinized. I happen to sit on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The budget that's coming in is a 10 percent hike, and it will include $745 billion additional for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. That includes the supplementals coming down.

That's a big problem, and we will take a very, very close look at it. But when it comes to cutting off, nobody wants to cut off somebody's body armor or someone's humvee, or somebody's ability to sustain themselves in Baghdad. So it's a real problem to cut that budget in a way that it doesn't do that.

And then many people believe that the administration will turn around and say, see? They cut money from our troops that are there already. So we don't want to do that. I think a better policy way of doing it is, at some point ahead of us, with time for redeployment, to remove the authority to authorize force. And I think that's a definitive policy document.

BLITZER: How much time before you do that?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I certainly think by the end of the year, if not before the end of the fiscal year. I think those are the two reasonable points. It gives an opportunity for the surge, which the secretary of defense says we should know in four to six weeks, it gives an opportunity for that to take place, and then for an orderly redeployment of our people out of Iraq.

And then let the Iraqis take care of Iraq. That will put the pressure on al-Maliki to make the decisions that he refuses to make. If he can't make them, then we know something.

BLITZER: I want to read to you what the Los Angeles Times wrote about you in this current debate on Iraq in an editorial entitled "Role Reversal" on January 28th: "When it comes to Iraq, Senator Richard Lugar seems to have lost his voice, and Senator John Warner has found his. Lugar's erstwhile fans could not understand why the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman allowed himself to be rolled over by the Bush administration."

"Even after losing his chairmanship to Senator Joe Biden, Lugar hasn't challenged the White House on Iraq, offering only some mildly expressed concern about the surge strategy."

Those are tough words from the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

LUGAR: Well, I appreciate their criticism. I went to the White House, and the president gave John Warner and me 50 minutes of time. This was prior to his announcement. Now, he may have made up his mind, but we presented some ideas, and we'll continue do that. I appreciate what Senator Feinstein is saying. There are going to be votes, and they'll be critical on money. That would be consequential. Or on taking away authority.

My hope is that prior to that time, the president will establish a bipartisan leadership in the Senate that will work together with him in behalf of our country. I think if we finally come to votes that are consequential, unlike the thing we're talking about right now, that will be very, very substantial in terms of our foreign policy and prestige.

But long before that, I hope the president has brought together some people on the Democratic side. Now, the Hamilton-Baker Commission offered that opportunity, and it's not been grasped, and that is too bad. There clearly need to be other opportunities very soon.

BLITZER: Richard Lugar, Dianne Feinstein, both of you, senators, thanks very much for coming in.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. And just ahead, totalling up the cost of war as the administration raises the ante. My next guest, the White House budget director, Rob Portman.

But up next, a quick check of the news right now. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.



BUSH: I'm going to submit to Congress a budget that will eliminate the deficit by 2012. In order to do so, we need to set priorities in Washington.


BLITZER: President Bush in New York on Wednesday previewing the budget he'll send to Congress tomorrow morning. He's already asking for a $100 billion increase in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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

Joining us now, the man who is putting it all together, the White House budget director, Rob Portman. He's a former U.S. congressman, a Republican from Ohio. He's got a tough job right now.

Director Portman, thank you for coming in.

ROB PORTMAN, OMB DIRECTOR: Happy to be with you again.

BLITZER: All right. Let me just get the numbers straight. In the fiscal year, 2007, the fiscal year that's already underway, you've already put up $70 billion. You now want another $100 billion that would include the costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to $170 billion for the current fiscal year. Is that right?

PORTMAN: Yes. That's correct.

BLITZER: That's correct, right?


BLITZER: How does that divide up between Iraq and Afghanistan? What percentage goes to the war in Iraq? What percentage goes to the war in Afghanistan?

PORTMAN: Most is for Iraq.

BLITZER: Ninety percent?

PORTMAN: About 90 percent. About $12 billion is for Afghanistan and then there are some other global war on terror funding priorities there, but most of it for Iraq.

BLITZER: That's a huge number. Let me put some other numbers up on the screen to show our viewers: $170 billion for the current fiscal year. You're also asking for $145 billion for the next fiscal year -- that would be the 2008 fiscal year which starts October 1st of this year -- and then another $50 billion for the 2009 fiscal year.

And you're not asking for anything, zero, you're projecting you won't need any money in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2010, which seems unrealistic.

PORTMAN: Well, we're not projecting we won't need anything. We're saying it's extremely hard to predict. As you and I talked about before on the show, it's hard to predict even for 2008. It's tough to know what the military commanders are going to need on the ground.

And yet, for the first time, the administration is showing not only full war costs through this administration and beyond, but a lot of detail. We're going to show it at the account-level detail. We're going to show it with the budget for the first time. And we're also going to do it in a way where Congress has the opportunity to have its oversight responsibilities discharged.

BLITZER: Explain the assumptions on how you got to $145 billion next year as opposed to $170 this year, and then down to "only" $50 billion -- I said only in quotes -- for the fiscal year 2009?

PORTMAN: The difference between this year and next year -- next year being 145 -- is really the fact that we have prefunded some of the important priorities, including what's called reconstitution of equipment. In other words, when equipment is going through the wear and tear of war, replacing that equipment. So we have front-loaded some of those costs.

But our '08 projection, frankly, is just sort of a straight-line projection. We're assuming that the Iraq military operations will continue pretty much as they are. We, of course, hope that that's not the case.

We hope that the president's plan, and we believe that the president's plan, will be successful, working with General Petraeus and others, we will begin to see some reductions in these costs.

But we're being very prudent here. We're giving Congress exactly what Congress asked for on a bipartisan basis, more transparency as to our costs and more information. And I'm getting a lot of appreciation across both sides of the aisle for that, Wolf.

BLITZER: They like the fact -- the Democrats and Republicans -- that you're now doing this in almost a normal budget process, although I take it it's still not part of the formal budget. You're using the emergency supplemental formula to go through these appropriations.

PORTMAN: For the first time it will be as part of the budget, and it's very important to note that these costs are included in our deficit calculations, so as the president has called for a balanced budget, he's also said that we need to increase our expenditures for the military and be sure we show full war costs, so all of these costs are included in our calculations.

BLITZER: And this is a shift because the first $400 billion of so was not included in that budget calculus.

PORTMAN: It was included in the calculations, actually, Wolf, and we've reduced the deficit by $165 billion in the last two years despite all of these war costs. So they have been included.

Where they have not been included, as you note, is in the budget itself. And now we are doing that, and doing so, again, at the account level, so there will be a lot more detail available to Congress and to the American people.

BLITZER: And the appropriations process in Washington. That's significant although it might go over the heads of a lot of our viewers.

Let me talk about the cost of war. You're asking, in the new budget that you'll submit tomorrow, basically for another $365 billion over the next few fiscal years. This comes on the $433 billion that's already been spent, a total of nearly $800 billion.

And what a lot of people are asking, is this good money going after bad given the current situation in Iraq?

PORTMAN: Well, it's extremely important that we support our troops, and I listened to Dianne Feinstein very carefully and Senator Lugar on this point, and what it does is it provides the appropriate resources in the budget to be sure our troops have the equipment they need, that they are taken care of well.

It's also important to note that General Petraeus and the president have now laid out a new plan. And that plan is fully funded in these budget numbers as well, and of course, by increasing our military presence in Iraq through the so-called surge, putting additional brigades in place, we are hoping that we will begin to quell some of this sectarian violence.

BLITZER: Because $800 billion is an enormous -- it's almost a trillion dollars. And what a lot of people are saying is just imagine what the United States could do with those funds if it had been used for health care or other domestic priorities.

PORTMAN: Well, it's being used on the global war in terror, including Iraq. And even with these expenditures, which are very important, and including expenditures to protect the homeland, we've still seen a reduction in our deficit the last couple of years by a substantial amount.

And going forward, the president has laid out not only declining deficits every year, but a balanced budget within five years. He talked about this yesterday at the retreat with Democrat House members, and he got a good response from Democrats when he said let's balance the budget and let's do it together.

BLITZER: How worried are you of waste, hundreds of billions of dollars going to fund these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? There have been horrendous reports coming out of really obscene waste, billions of dollars literally. I know you have looked at this carefully. How worried are you?

PORTMAN: Well, we have looked at it carefully, and I think some corrections have been made to avoid this going into the future. There was a report recently by the special inspector general in Iraq about some of that waste over the last several years. But we believe we have the controls in place now to do a better job going forward.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the other day. Listen to this.


SEN. PATRICK J. LEAHY, D-VT.: It's doubly shameful because we're trying to restore places like New Orleans and the Gulf Coast here in this country. That's been held up, and this money's being wasted in Iraq.


BLITZER: Do you want to respond to Senator Leahy?

PORTMAN: Well, the American taxpayers have provided over $110 billion now for the response to the worst natural disaster in our nation's history, so we certainly have not shortchanged the area. BLITZER: In the Gulf Coast?

PORTMAN: In the Gulf Coast. That would be the response to Katrina and Rita. Those hurricanes today in Florida, the federal taxpayers again...

BLITZER: Tornadoes.

PORTMAN: ... are stepping up to help with regard to the terrible storms in Florida, and the damage and the loss of life there. So we can do both, and we can continue to make progress and reduce the deficit at the same time. We're shown that in the past two years.

And, again, what the president has laid out is how we continue to do that, reducing the deficit next year and over the next five years to the point where we will actually have a surplus in our annual spending, and therefore a balanced budget.

BLITZER: I assume you saw the GAO's report that came out this week, the Government Accountability Office. Fiscal stewardship, a critical challenge facing our nation. It came out on Wednesday. It said this: "Despite an increase in revenues in fiscal year 2006 of about $255 billion, the federal government that its costs exceeded its revenues by $450 billion. The federal government's current fiscal policy is unsustainable." Do you agree with that?

PORTMAN: Well, the president has pointed this out repeatedly, that our long-term problem is really the unsustainable growth in so- called entitlement programs, important programs like Medicare...

BLITZER: Social Security, and those things.

PORTMAN: ... Social Security and Medicaid. And that's what that's referring to. In the short term, actually, our fiscal house is coming together. We are being able again to balance the budget. I think we can do it on a bipartisan basis.

We're seeing increased revenues. We're seeing a little better restraint on the non-security spending side. And as a result, we're making progress, and have for the last two years, and expect to going forward.

BLITZER: Because I was...

PORTMAN: But that report is exactly right as to the long-term problem. One reason it's important to balance the budget today is to better position ourselves for this growth in those programs as the Baby Boom generation retires and as health-care costs continue to go up.

BLITZER: Would it be smart, as a lot of Democrats and some Republicans suggest, let those tax cuts that were implemented during the first term of the Bush administration simply lapse so that they aren't extended when they expire?

PORTMAN: Well, we think it's absolutely critical that they be extended in 2010, when they otherwise would expire. Why? Because they have contributed to this growing economy.

When you look at what happened in 2003 when they were implemented, we saw productivity increase, we saw production and investment increase, we saw jobs increase -- 7.4 million new jobs have been added since then. So we think it would be a mistake and a risk to our strong economy for us to have these tax cuts not continue. On the other hand, again, we can show good progress toward a balance over the next five and even ten years to position ourselves better for the entitlement problems that are right around the corner.

And the president does have in his budget some changes to the so- called mandatory spending programs. We hope the Congress at a minimum would take up these proposals and be able to start reducing that unsustainable rate of growth over time.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what you can do. Good luck tomorrow. You're releasing the budget.

PORTMAN: Thank you, Wolf. I'll need it.

BLITZER: Rob Portman, the budget director, coming in. Appreciate it.

PORTMAN: Great. Good to see you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And straight ahead, "Late Edition" talks presidential politics with Tom Vilsack. What's driving the former Iowa governor to step up to the challenge of campaign 2008. He's standing by live.

And later, former presidential candidate Ralph Nader on his political past and maybe his political future. His new book, and a movie calling him an unreasonable man.

And stay right here with CNN for the best political team on television. Don't go away. "Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now here in Washington, Democratic presidential candidate Tom Vilsack. He's the former governor of Iowa, where they like their presidential politics very early and up close. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

VILSACK: You bet.

BLITZER: A lot of Democrats remember that the two most recent Democrats who became president of the United States were governors of relatively small states, Arkansas and Georgia. You want to be president. Right now, let's talk about Iraq, first of all. How quickly do you want troops, U.S. troops out of Iraq?

VILSACK: Immediately.

BLITZER: And when you say immediately, what does that mean? VILSACK: It means as soon as possible. I think Congress has a responsibility, a moral and constitutional responsibility to say to this president, enough. We've had four years of effort in Iraq. It's pretty clear the surge is not going to work.

It's pretty clear that the status quo is not going to work. It's time for our troops to come home. It is a civil war. We need to take our troops out of the middle of this war.

BLITZER: Are you talking six months, a year? What does that mean?

VILSACK: Take it out as quickly as possible. I think it's necessary for Congress to send a message to this administration that they're not going to fund this war effort. It's time to say no.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina said this week would happen if your advice were implemented. Listen to this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: If we withdraw from Baghdad, Lee Hamilton said it would be chaos. Petraeus said it would be a bloodletting. It is not in our national interest to see a Sunni-Shia bloodbath spill over the Mideast. So I am urging my colleagues to understand let's fight now, let's fight united for the greater good.


BLITZER: All right.

VILSACK: Four years, 3,000 lives, 5,000 injuries a year, another thousand soldiers will die. It's pretty clear that there's a conflict now, and it's going to be up to the Iraqis themselves to decide when to end this conflict. It's not up to the United States.

Our military is not going to be able to get this thing resolved. Only the Iraqis can resolve it. And it is important and necessary, I think, for somebody from the outside, the people of this country, to say very clearly to Congress, it is time for you to accept the responsibility you have to step up and say to the president, Mr. President, you've made a serious mistake. Wolf, if the president doesn't listen and act, then it's on his watch, and it's his responsibility.

BLITZER: Because the National Intelligence Estimate that came out on Friday, representing a consensus among 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, also concluded this: "If coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly, we just this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi government and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation."

Their conclusion, basically, is as horrendous as the situation is right now, it could get a whole lot worse, with regional powers like Iran and other countries intervening and the chaos in Iraq escalating beyond its borders.

VILSACK: Wolf, we got into this war because we were afraid, and now we can't get out of it because we're afraid? I think it's important and necessary to send a message to the Iraqis, it is their responsibility. Four years, longer than we were in western Europe during World War II.

Four years, thousands of lives impacted and affected. Not to mention hundreds of billions spent. The Congress is now going to decide whether to expand access to health care, provide additional resources for education, deal with entitlements, because we don't have sufficient resources. But we spent almost $700 -- or are projected to spend $780 billion on this war. It is time for Congress to take a step in the right direction.

BLITZER: So you want Congress to use the power of the purse. If you were a member of Congress, you would vote to cut off funding right away?

VILSACK: That's exactly what they need to do. And they need to send a strong and unmistakable message to this president that it's indeed a balance of power situation. They have a responsibility, a constitutional and a moral responsibility.

BLITZER: But you heard Senator Dianne Feinstein on this program just a little while ago say that's a lot easier said than done, given the concern that Democrats and Republicans understandably have for the safety of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. If you go with that step of cutting off the funding, you could endanger potentially, if not done correctly, you could endanger U.S. troops.

VILSACK: If not done correctly. It will be done correctly. We're not going to necessarily put troops in harm's way. But we clearly need to send a message. We're going to absolutely, absolutely see more of our soldiers die, more of our soldiers injured if we continue on this course. And it is up to Congress, since this administration has clearly indicated its desire to escalate the situation in Iraq, and not de-escalate.

BLITZER: What's the single biggest issue that you want to bring to the table to make your case for the Democratic presidential nomination?

VILSACK: I'm the outsider, the true outsider in this race. I've governed effectively, and I've governed in areas that are important to the country: energy security, health-care security, education, balancing budgets, making sure that we are in a position to have an economy that grows for the middle class.

I have been able to do that. I've been able, as a Democrat, to turn a red state to blue. You can't govern unless you win. And it's important and necessary for us to remember the lessons of history. Americans want outsiders.

BLITZER: So that distinguishes you from Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner right now, or Barack Obama who, in the polls, comes up second?

VILSACK: It distinguishes me from everyone.

BLITZER: Not Bill Richardson, necessarily. He's a governor.

VILSACK: Well, he's spent quite a bit of time here in Washington, D.C. I am the true outsider, and I've governed for eight years. No one has had that much executive experience.

BLITZER: Here's the latest CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll. I know you've seen it. Among registered Democrats, it has Hillary Clinton with 36 percent, Barack Obama 18 percent, John Edwards at 16 percent, Al Gore is not running -- at least not yet -- 12 percent. You're way down with 1 percent. You've got a huge, huge hurdle to overcome.

VILSACK: You know, Bill Clinton at this point in time in his race in 1991, was in 11th place. This is really about making sure that the people of this country understand what I have to offer.

I have governed effectively, I have created an energy-secure Iowa, and I want to create an energy-secure America. If we really want peace in the world, the best thing we could do is to become an energy-secure nation.

BLITZER: Here was this poll, the Iowa poll in the Des Moines Register that came out the other day. Is Tom Vilsack's run for the president -- 40 percent thought it was a good idea, 47 percent thought it was a bad idea, 13 percent said they were not sure. That's among Iowans.

VILSACK: Well, the reality is, it's always more difficult to convince folks at home the fact that you're running for president. We are sort of a humble lot in Iowa. But I've actually improved those numbers substantially and I'm going to continue to do it through the course of this campaign.

BLITZER: Because, as I mentioned to you earlier, you should, by all accounts, be the favorite son. And that would discourage the other Democratic candidates from even challenging you in Iowa, which has been the case in the past.

VILSACK: We want everyone to come to Iowa, and we want it to be a vigorous and rigorous debate, and it's clear that everyone is coming to Iowa. That means, whoever wins Iowa, it's going to be important and significant. And I intend to win Iowa. I've got a better organization and more committed individuals to the caucuses.

BLITZER: Here's a piece that was written -- an opinion piece -- in the Des Moines Register on Thursday by Marc Hansen. "Money is Vilsack's worry. At the moment, he's raised more than $1 million. Not bad, but not even a drop in Hillary's campaign bucket. He'll probably need $15 or so by the time of the caucuses, but will people continue to give when it looks as if Vilsack doesn't have a chance?"

The money is important. VILSACK: The money is important, Wolf, but this is about organization and structure, and nobody has got a better one in Iowa than I have. And that's really what wins caucuses. The money is going to come as this campaign continues, as people see the positions I take. I have no question about that. It has always come. It isn't always money, especially in Iowa. It's about organization.

BLITZER: We're going to be speaking next with Ralph Nader, who was a presidential candidate back in 2000. Some thought he was a spoiler. Do you have any recommendation what he should do this time around? What would you like him to do?

VILSACK: I think he should encourage this nation to become energy-secure. I expect that that's an issue that he and I agree on. I think it's absolutely important for us in terms of building our economic, providing for national security, reclaiming moral leadership on the issue of climate control and climate change for us to have a comprehensive, massive effort to become energy-secure in this country.

BLITZER: But you want to discourage him from running. Is that what you're also saying?

VILSACK: If he wants to run, he's certainly free to do that, but I intend to be the next president.

BLITZER: Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, thanks for coming in.

VILSACK: Thank you.

BLITZER: And still ahead here on "Late Edition," new warnings that Iran is boosting the violence next door in Iraq. Analysis from a panel of intelligence experts.

And later, for our North American viewers, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts talks to Christiane Amanpour in the Iranian capital on "This Week At War."

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Let's take a look and see what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States. "Time" magazine shows the secretary of state with the headline "Back to Reality: Why Iraq and Iran Are Forcing Condoleezza Rice To Rethink U.S. Foreign Policy."

"Newsweek" magazine has Paris Hilton and Britney Spears on the cover. The "Girls Gone Wild" effect. That's what they're calling it.

And "U.S. News & World Report" trumpets "Overselling Ethanol: Is It Really The Answer?"

There's much more ahead here on "Late Edition." Could Ralph Nader tip the balance of power? I'll ask him whether he's ready to jump back into presidential politics.

And is Lebanon losing ground? Could the country slide into civil war? I'll talk about it with the former president of Lebanon, Amine Gemayel. He'll join us live right here on "Late Edition."


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


BUSH: I listened to many members here. I listened to members of my own party. I listened to the military and came up with a plan that I generally believe has the best chance of succeeding.


BLITZER: President Bush stands by his decision to send more troops into Iraq even as the voices against the war get louder.


JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: We cannot stand by quietly and silently and allow him to escalate this war.



DODD: I think it's time to get our troops out of that country.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: A war that should have never been waged, led by leaders who have no plan to end it.


BLITZER: But how can these critics get the White House to listen? We'll talk to one of the most outspoken opponents of the war, former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader.


GATES: We are not planning for a war with Iran.


BLITZER: Iran is trying to increase its influence in the Middle East. How should the U.S. respond? Insight from our expert panel, former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, former CIA officer Robert Bear, and New York Times chief military correspondent Michael Gordon.

And will the violence in Iraq lead to a wider war in the region? Former Lebanese President Amine Gemayel on the threat from Hezbollah, the chance of civil war in Lebanon, and the tragic loss of his son.

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

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get former presidential candidate Ralph Nader's take on the war in Iraq in just a moment.

First, though, let's check in with CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick look at what's in the news right now -- Fred.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

The U.S. military announced today it's changing tactics to try to protect its helicopters flying over Iraq. Let's bring in CNN's Arwa Damon.

She's in Baghdad with the latest -- Arwa.

DAMON: Wolf, that's right, and that announcement coming out after the spokesman for multinational forces here in Iraq, Major General William Caldwell, in a press conference confirmed that it was some sort of ground fire that brought down the four American helicopters that crashed over the last few weeks. This is something that we have seen evolving though. As the U.S. military modifies its tactics, the insurgency tends to respond.

Violence in the capital, Baghdad, today, in just a span of a few hours claimed over a dozen Iraqi lives and wounded many others. The attacks ranging from small-arms fire to mortars to those ever-deadly roadside bombs.

This coming the day after the devastating bombing that took place in the central Baghdad marketplace when a suicide truck farmer plowed into that marketplace at the time when it would be at its busiest, killing over 120 Iraqis, the single deadliest bombing this year.

Today we saw pictures of the aftermath and the utter devastation, entire facades of buildings blown off, residents there still digging through the rubble, still finding more bodies buried underneath the destruction.

And Iraq's Ministry of Interior announcing that this week alone, 1,000 Iraqis died in Iraq. That number, though, does also include not just civilians and Iraqi security forces but insurgents as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa, these numbers seem to be growing and growing and growing. What's the government there, the Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki, saying about these attacks?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, the Iraqi prime minister has put forward this new Baghdad security plan that the U.S. administration, of course, has signed on to as well. In terms of specific method of operation, he hasn't gone into much detail. And that's one of the main sources of frustration and anger amongst the Iraqi people. From their perspective, really all that they're hearing from the government are the same words, the same promises, that the insurgents and militias are going to be disarmed or going to be tackled.

Even following yesterday's devastating attack, the Iraqi prime minister merely came out, condemned it and promised that he would go after those that had carried out the attack. But, again, these are all words that the Iraqis have heard before. And until that actually turns into action, not much is going to change, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa, thank you. Arwa Damon in Baghdad for us.

He's a pioneer for consumer protection. He's run for president and his name, still a red flag for many Democrats, guaranteed to start an argument about the 2000 presidential campaign.

Joining us here in Washington, Ralph Nader. He's the author of a new book entitled "The 17 Traditions," about his childhood and his life.

Mr. Nader, welcome back to "Late Edition." It's a beautiful book with a lot of emotion for so many of us who will go through this book, and I want to get to it shortly. But let's get through some politics, some other issues first if that's OK.


BLITZER: Let's talk first of all about the presidency. Do you have any plans to run for president in 2008?

NADER: It's really too early to say. I don't like long campaigns. But I'm committed to trying to give more voices and choices to the American people on the ballot. That means more third parties, independent candidates and to break up this two-party elected dictatorship that is becoming more and more like a dial for the same corporate dollars.

BLITZER: As you know, by leaving the door open as you just did, a lot of Democrats are going to get very, very nervous, given what happened in 2000. But you are potentially open to running for president again?

NADER: As I say, I'll consider it later in the year. But I think they ought to look at the agenda of some of these third parties like the Green Party, like our independent run in '04. Maybe if they take some of these issues, as they should have, in '00 and '04, they might win in a bigger way over the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Here's what you wrote about Hillary Clinton on If Hillary Clinton is nominated in 2008 by the Democrats to run for president, they will support her. They will support her even though she is a corporate Democrat who opposes us on the war in Iraq, on real universal health insurance, on the swollen, wasteful military and corporate welfare budget, on a national living wage -- on many of the issues we care about."

I take it you're not going to vote for Hillary Clinton.

NADER: No. I don't think she has the fortitude. Actually, she's really a panderer and a flatterer as she goes around the country. You'll see more of that. I think her main problem may well be right in New York City, Michael Bloomberg. They're talking in the Bloomberg camp of a possible run.

BLITZER: You like Bloomberg?

NADER: I'm saying he'll give more diversity for sure, and he'll focus on urban problems. And I might say, he has got the money to do it, doesn't he?

BLITZER: He's a rich guy. He's a very rich guy. But, in other words, if Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, would that encourage you to go forward and put your name on the ballot?

NADER: It would make it more important that that be the case.

BLITZER: Are there any Democrats out there that you like right now? Any Republicans out there that you like that would discourage you from running?

NADER: Well, there are, but they don't have a lot of money. Mike Gravel made a great speech before the Democratic National Convention, former senator from Alaska, on the war, on the corporate domination of our economy, on the need for a national referendum to give more power to the people.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say he's a long shot.

NADER: Yes, well, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, from Ohio, of course, a great...


BLITZER: You like Congressman Kucinich, too.

NADER: But also his record. These people have records, not just rhetoric, going back in their own elected careers. I might add that we have got a money horse race now. I mean, the press and the polls are gravitating on cash register politics as if there's a bar graph, you know, to see who's going to raise the $100 million or $200 million, McCain or Obama or Hillary. That's very unhealthy. That's rancid politics.

BLITZER: Here's what you wrote back in October on Bill Moyers, the PBS commentator: "Moyers brings impressive credentials beyond his knowledge of the White House, congressional complexes. As millions of viewers and readers over the decades know, Bill Moyers is unusually articulate and authentic in evaluating the unmet necessities and framing the ignored solutions in our country."

You'd like him to run for president? NADER: Very much. I got a great response to that column.

BLITZER: What about response did you get from Bill Moyers?

NADER: We haven't heard from Bill Moyers, but people ought to Google Bill Moyers and let him know that they would like him to run. I think he could raise clean money and substantial money. He's well- known, he's very articulate. He's been in the White House with Lyndon Johnson. He knows the media and his speeches are just wonderful renditions of American history, the progressive moment and the way forward for our country.

BLITZER: Let me talk briefly -- and then I want to move on to your book -- about this new documentary that's come out called "An Unreasonable Man." It's about you. It deals with your life, but it also has some criticism of what happened back in 2000 when the suggestion is the votes, 20,000 or whatever you got, 90,000 -- how many votes did you get in Florida?

NADER: Ninety-six thousand.

BLITZER: Ninety-six thousand.

NADER: But a lot of them would have stayed home.

BLITZER: That could you have tipped the ballots in favor of Al Gore who lost by less than 600 votes. Let me run a little clip from this film entitled "An Unreasonable Man."


TODD GITLIN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: He should have campaigned in safe states like New York and California where he had many, many potential votes to pick up.

JOAN CLAYBROOK, PRESIDENT, PUBLIC CITIZEN: He told a lot of his contributors that he wasn't going to go into the swing state in 2000. But then he changed his mind and then he couldn't resist the competitive part of it. And so he went into the swing states.

CLAYBROOK: So then he changed his mind, and then he couldn't resist the competitive part of it. And so he went into the swing states.


BLITZER: All right, those are two supporters, people who are sympathetic to you.

NADER: Unfortunately, it's false. The film has a professor at Harvard who looked over our schedule. I spent 28 days in California, two and a half days in Florida, for example. So those statements are factually false.

But if we all have equal right to run for public office, Wolf, then we're either all spoilers of one another, or none of us are spoilers. I mean, why should third-party candidates, which historically have given the new ideas, such as in the 19th century, anti-slavery, women's right to vote, labor, farmer, why should they be second-class citizens?

By the way, I've spoken to Al Gore. You ask Al Gore what cost him the election. He thinks he won the election. I agree. I think he won it in Florida, but he lost it because it was taken from him from Tallahassee with all those shenanigans all the way to the 5-4 political decision in the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: All right, we're not going to rehash what happened in 2000.


BLITZER: I want to talk a little bit about "The Seventeen Traditions" by Ralph Nader. This is a lovely new book, a little one, but it's got some really deep significance for you and I assume a lot of people who read it. Tell us what you mean by these 17 traditions.

NADER: Well, there are 17 ways my mother and father raised four children, two girls and two boys, in a little factory town in northwest Connecticut. And their traditions, I think they'll resonate with a lot of people, especially young parents who think everything's out of control for them, including their children.

So the first tradition is learning how to listen. My mother would say, learn how to listen so you'll listen to learn, something I wish George W. Bush grew up learning. There's a tradition of history, a tradition of the family food table, where a lot of discussion was conducted. The tradition of history, it was very important for us. Tradition of work.

Father had a restaurant where they said for a nickel, you got a cup of coffee and ten minutes of politics. So it was a lot of town meeting activity, with the factory workers and others.

BLITZER: You had a wonderful childhood growing up. You had parents who were intimately, directly involved in raising you and your siblings. But you fear that a lot of these responsibilities, parental responsibilities that you had, that I had are now being outsourced in a new generation.

NADER: Tremendous pressure on families. More commuting, more than one job, sometimes single moms. Not enough time for the children. So, more and more family functions. Day care, entertainment, food, fast food restaurants, all being outsourced. That's not very good for raising the next generation of Americans.

I think this book will help a lot of other families establish their own family traditions. Their own grandparents and great grandparents' wisdom, insight, experience. Why have the children keep reinventing the wheel?

We have a civic tradition in our family. And I think the greatest source of civic advocates in our country doesn't come from the schools. It will come from the parents and the family upbringing.

BLITZER: Let me read to you from the book and get your response: "Today, more and more families are farming out their responsibilities. The family industry is swiftly becoming a real factor in our economy. And this comes with a price, as more parents lose confidence in their own judgments, in their ability to make decisions without the help of the, quote, 'experts.'

"As corporations deliberately encroach on the parenting of our children, and children spend less personal time with their parents, those all-important traditions are falling by the wayside."

Now, that's a depressing thought.

NADER: But it's realistic. And I wouldn't blame the parents. The economy is designed to separate more and more, during the day, the parents, from the children, number one. The companies are marketing direct now to two-, three-, five-, eight-year-olds in a massive advertising campaign, junk food, military toys, overmedication, cosmetics for girls age 7.

I mean, it's just unbelievable what's going on that we're not thinking enough about because of these distractions that we're seeing in our country. And that's one of the prices of the Iraq war.

BLITZER: Of the 17 traditions, and they're all one chapter each, which is your favorite?

NADER: The civic tradition. My parents, by example, were active in the community, helped expand the hospital, for example, helped to get from Senator Prescott Bush, the grandfather of the president, a dry dam so that the Mad River wouldn't overflow and destroy the main street, as it did three times in 50 years. We saw all that. And it sunk in.

BLITZER: Anybody who reads this will know that the Ralph Nader that all of us have come to know over these past decades, the roots were strong here, and they are documented in this book, "The Seventeen Traditions." Thanks for writing it.

NADER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ralph Nader, thanks for coming in.

And up next on "Late Edition," new warnings this week that Iraq is close to chaos. We'll get analysis from our panel of intelligence and military experts.

Plus, is Iran playing a dangerous game in arming and encouraging sectarian violence in Iraq? We'll ask the panel about Iran, the war, the U.S. response.

And what of Iran's role in Lebanon, including money and arms for Hezbollah? The former president of Lebanon, Amin Gemayel, he's standing by to join us, live, right here on "Late Edition." We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ROBERT GATES, U.S SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I've made clear nobody is planning no -- we are not planning for a war with Iran.


BLITZER: Welcome back. The defense secretary, Robert Gates, on Friday trying to squelch speculation that the Bush administration is headed for war with Iran. This on the same day that the National Intelligence Estimate painted a very dire picture of the situation in Iraq over the next 18 months.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." Here to help sort through all of this, a panel of intelligence and military experts.

Robert Baer is joining us from New York. He's a former CIA officer and a new intelligence columnist for And with us here in Washington, John McLaughlin, our CNN national security analyst, former deputy director of the CIA. And Michael Gordon, the chief military correspondent for The New York Times. He's also the co-author of the best-seller, "Cobra II, the Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq." A must-read for anyone interested in the Iraq war.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in. And let me start off with John McLaughlin. I want to read from what this National Intelligence Estimate, three and a half pages out of a much longer classified version that was released on Friday to the public: "Even if violence is diminished, given the current winner- take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation."

This is a very gloomy National Intelligence Estimate put together by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies irrespective of what the United States does in the short term.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER CIA DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Well, it is a very clear-eyed assessment, Wolf, very sober assessment by the intelligence community. In a sense, though, it gives little comfort to the administration in its strategy. But it also doesn't give a lot of comfort to critics of that strategy.

So it does in a way, what intelligence classically is asked to do. It calls the situation exactly as it sees it.

BLITZER: Because we heard Dianne Feinstein, who's a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She was on "Late Edition" in the last hour, and she made the point that she's now read the classified -- 90 pages or whatever -- as well and she says, you know what? There's something in there for all sides of this debate. Is this classic bureaucratic sort of covering your back? MCLAUGHLIN: Not at all. I don't see it that way. I think what they're saying here is, there are a number of reasons to think that Iraq -- I think there are four key points in this estimate. First, the situation is about as good as you're going to see it unless steps are taken to improve it over the next 12 to 18 months, which is the period of this estimate.

Second, of all of the things that are in the way, security is the pivotal thing, the key thing.

Third, if you take U.S. troops out rapidly during the period of this estimate, 12 to 18 months, you'll see a further deterioration because the Iraqi security forces aren't ready to take over.

And finally, the center of gravity for this insurgency is inside Iraq. That is, Iran and Syria are important accelerators of the problem, but you could eliminate their input here and still have a very serious insurgency.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Robert Baer. Here's another excerpt from this NIE, this National Intelligence Estimate: "The term civil war accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements."

I assume you've read the declassified version, Bob. What's your bottom-line assessment right now on the clearly horrendous situation in Iraq?

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: By the way, the NIE is very good. It describes the situation. You have Iraq disintegrating not only into Shia and Sunni, but those two sects themselves are disintegrated, they're fighting each other. It is completely chaotic.

What concerns me is Iran. There's a tendency in Iran to get involved in this conflict. There's a push, especially by the radicals. Even if the presidency and Khomeini doesn't want it, there's this tendency, especially among radical clerics, to get involved and fight the Sunni. That's a worst case scenario but still a very real one.

I just got back from the Gulf. And the governments there that I talked to are putting war in Iraq between the Iranians and the Americans at 60 percent or 70 percent. Now, they may be wrong. I hope they're wrong. But that's the kind of fear in the region.

BLITZER: Well, let me bring Michael Gordon in on that Iranian point. Do you have that same fear that Bob Baer has, that elements in Iran are itching to get directly involved and work with Shiites to foment the struggle there?

MICHAEL GORDON, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Wolf, according to American intelligence, Iran has been involved for a number of years already. I think this hasn't been remarked on enough, but it's not a new development. But there's increasing involvement. So Iran is not responsible for the turmoil in Iraq in a direct sense. That's a Shiite/Sunni conflict essentially. But they're exacerbating the problem by supplying lethal assistance to some of the Shiite militias.

BLITZER: And you have no doubt, based on the information you've reported on, information you've gathered that Iranian weapons, whether sophisticated improvised explosive devices, tactics, training, that they are directly involved in going after U.S. military personnel in Iraq?

GORDON: I'm not an intelligence operative and I don't interact with the Iranians, but it is the case that for a number of years, this has been reported by the American intelligence community with really high confidence.


BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

MCLAUGHLIN: I think the Iranian part of this is complicated. First, you would expect Iran to be present and influential. The largest Shia party, the SCIRI, was, after all, organized inside Iran in 1982. The Badr Corps, their militia, was trained by Iran. Many of these leaders of Iraq were exiled in Iran, so you would expect Iran to have some influence. And Iranian operatives have been there for a long time in various capacities.

That said, Iran has competing objectives here. I doubt that Iran seriously wants the breakup of this country because in Iran, you will find four million Kurds.

BLITZER: They may not want the breakup but they may want to just dominate the country.

MCLAUGHLIN: I think what they want is managed chaos. The breakup of the country would confront Iran with a Kurdish problem because there are four million of them in Iran. At the same time, what they really want, I think, is an Iran that is dominated by the Shia, the Americans are weakened, eventually we leave and they pick up the pieces and are influential.

BLITZER: Let me ask Bob Baer to weigh in on that.

What do you think, Bob?

BAER: I think John's absolutely right. I think that we have to look at it in this sense, is that Iran is a competitor for the United States in the Gulf. And they don't mind seeing us in a quagmire in Iraq carrying on a war of attrition that's going to wear us down. Two, three years from now, we're going to leave and not come back. And who's the Gulf going to be left with? The Iranians.

That's the kind of thinking that goes on in Tehran. Now, whether they can manage the chaos or not is something else. You always risk unintended consequences and escalation that they can't control and we can't control.

BLITZER: I want to pick your brain, Michael, on the deployment of another 21,000 or so U.S. troops to Iraq. The Congressional Budget Office report that came out on Thursday said it's going to be actually a lot more when you add the support personnel who are needed.

"DoD's practice has been to deploy a total of about 9,500 personnel per combat brigade to the Iraq theater, including about 4,000 combat troops and about 5,500 supporting troops. That approach would require about 28,000 support troops in addition to the 20,000 combat troops, a total of 48,000 troops" going in.

Because we've heard a lot about 21,500, they're suggesting the real number is closer to 50,000 troops who would have to go in when you add combat and support personnel. Is that accurate?

GORDON: No. Secretary Gates addressed this on Friday. What he said is, perhaps 15 percent of the support troops indicated in that congressional study are necessary under the plan.

BLITZER: So how many total would be in addition to the 21,000?

GORDON: Well, he's talking about several thousand additional on top of the, let's say, 21,000, 22,000. So nothing on the order of that magnitude, I guess could you extrapolate and say on the order of 25,000.

But I'd like to issue a caveat. When the Pentagon talks about the surge and when Secretary Gates talks about it, they talk about it as an operation that they've costed out essentially through the summer.

And given the trends in violence there in Iraq, and the difficulties since sustaining stability in Iraq pointed to in the new intelligence report, it's not clear to me that the surge would necessarily terminate at the end of the summer. It could be extended well beyond that.

BLITZER: There are so many uncertainties.

GORDON: In which case, the costs go up.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue this. I want all of you to stand by. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll ask the panel about how the U.S. works to detect some of those military dangers ahead.

But also coming up, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now. "Late Edition" will be right back.



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're continuing our conversation with two men who have a CIA past, Robert Baer in New York, John McLaughlin here in Washington, as well as Michael Gordon of The New York Times.

Bob Baer, you mentioned earlier you're most concerned right now about Iran and its intentions in the region. What do you believe the U.S. should be doing about that?

BAER: What we cannot afford to do is go to war with Iran. That's clear. I think we need to talk to Iran. We need to make them understand that we're willing to come to an accommodation to put a lid on Iraq. Otherwise, they're going to get hit. Either by Iraqis or the Kurds or us or something. This is a situation that we need to talk right now.

BLITZER: John McLaughlin, what do you think?

MCLAUGHLIN: I'm of the same view generally. I take my guidance from John Kennedy, who said we should never negotiate -- we should never fear to negotiate, but we should never negotiate out of fear. A superpower should be able to talk to its enemies confidently.

One of the dangers here is that Ahmadinejad, that radical president, is coming under internal pressure. We have to be careful not to drive the Iranians together in a nationalistic way with putting too much pressure on them at this moment.

BLITZER: I've heard from top U.S. officials, very senior U.S. officials, that they don't believe U.S. intelligence on what is actually happening inside Iran right now, any dissent that may be developing, is all that reliable.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think intelligence is being very careful in its characterization of Iran. And much of what we know about Iran in terms of the internal dynamics doesn't have to come from intelligence.

You see student demonstrations against Ahmadinejad on the street in December. There's a lot of overt evidence that his radical policies are not universally supported in Iran. And one of the benefits of finding a way, difficult as it might be, to talk to the Iranians, is that when you put a proposal on the table from the American side, it will drive a wedge inside of Iran, because they will have to debate internally what to do about it.

BLITZER: Michael Gordon, the new Centcom commander, the man President Bush has nominated to replace John Abizaid as the commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, William Fallon, Admiral William Fallon, he testified this week, and he made this point. I want you to listen to what he said.


ADMIRAL WILLIAM FALLON, U.S. NAVY: Equipment that was, we thought pretty effective in protecting our troops just a matter of months ago, is now being, in fact, challenged by some of the techniques and devices over there.


BLITZER: All right. What is he referring to? Because it's a very worrisome development if the U.S. now is protecting, for example, humvees with a certain kind of armor, and it's no longer useful.

GORDON: Well, there's been an arms race in Iraq in a sense for the last several years where the insurgents, the Shiite militias, other groups, have deployed ever more powerful roadside bombs, what they call IEDs in military jargon. And the U.S. has tried to up-armor its humvees and deploy more effective armored vehicles. It's kind of a measure/countermeasure game, and...

BLITZER: But is the state-of-the-art armor now on the vehicles no longer good enough?

GORDON: The state of the IED threat has increased, and more effective IEDs are being deployed, ones that can punch through the armor.

BLITZER: The bottom line is that American troops now are more vulnerable than they were, let's say, a year ago?

GORDON: They're more vulnerable to the most powerful IEDs. They're just as vulnerable as they were a year ago, but they're vulnerable to the powerful end IEDs that are being deployed. These are a small fraction of the total number of IEDs, but they're causing a lot of the casualties.

BLITZER: And the suspicion is they're coming in from Iran, is that right?

GORDON: That's the assertion that the Pentagon made.

BLITZER: What do you think, Bob Baer?

BAER: I was going to add something. A lot of this technology, I've heard indirectly, is coming out of Lebanon, that Hezbollah used against the Israeli army. That they perfected shape charges, IEDs, timers, remote-controlled detonators.

That technology that was so successful in Lebanon is coming into Iraq. And even technology that was in Lebanon this last summer, used against the Israelis, is coming into Iraq as well. So they are getting better at countering our troops.

BLITZER: Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the U.S. deputy military commander in Iraq, he was quoted in USA Today as saying on Wednesday, "We have weapons that we know through serial numbers that trace back to Iran."

That's basically bolsters the case, at least according to his intelligence, that the Iranians are doing this.

MCLAUGHLIN: I think that's probably best established with the explosive devices, the projectiles that are found in IEDs. I'm pretty sure one of the things that intelligence struggles with is, beyond that, when you look at all of this weaponry is, is it coming from the black market or is it coming with the official authorization of the Iranian government? And I suspect there are divided views on that.

BLITZER: The helicopters, four U.S. helicopters have gone down to hostile fire over the past two weeks. And this is a trend that I know, based on my conversations with U.S. military commanders, are very -- they're very worried about the vulnerability of, whether Apaches or Black Hawk or other U.S. military helicopters. What's going on, Michael?

GORDON: Well, I think there's always been an air defense threat in Iraq. And when I was in al-Anbar Province in July, very often, they tend to fly at night to minimize their vulnerability to this sort of threat. But what we're now seeing is in Baghdad proper and in the greater Baghdad area, where helicopters had flown during the day, it's becoming more of an issue.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, unfortunately. A good discussion. I want to thank Michael Gordon of The New York Times, John McLaughlin, our CNN national security adviser, Robert Baer, now writes for He's got a piece on if you want to read it, our sister publication. You can go there.

Thanks to all of you for coming in.

And still to come here on "Late Edition," we'll get a different perspective on what's going on inside Lebanon.

Can Lebanon actually stay afloat in a sea of unrest? My interview with the former Lebanese president, Amine Gemayel. That's coming up when "Late Edition" continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. There are fears that Lebanon right now may, may be on the brink of civil war. Joining us now to discuss that and more, the former president of Lebanon, Amine Gemayel.

He's here in Washington for meetings this week with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others. Mr. President, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: First of all, my deepest condolences to you and your family on the loss of your son, Pierre Gemayel, who was killed last November in a brutal gunfire, a gun battle. He was in a motorcade. Who do you believe was responsible for the killing of your son?

GEMAYEL: Really, we don't know yet. But we are doing our best to discover the truth. But for the time being, we have no new elements on that issue. BLITZER: He has a member of the cabinet, a cabinet minister, up and coming, rising star, like you, obviously, a Lebanese Christian, who had a strong following. Immediately, there was suspicions that Syria may have played a role. Do you believe Syria played a role?

GEMAYEL: You know, they don't have a very clear record in Syria. And we know very well that there were rewards in the killing of my brother Bachir in 1982.

BLITZER: Bachir Gemayel?

GEMAYEL: Bachir Gemayel, the former elected president of the republic in 1982. But for the time being, we can't really say who killed Pierre. We have to wait for the inquiry.

BLITZER: But do you believe the same people who may have killed Pierre were responsible for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon?

GEMAYEL: As the Mr. Brammertz, the head of the investigation committee, said, all those assassinations are related to each other. So most probably there is a link between all those assassinations.

BLITZER: Here's what the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, said about this assassination, this killing of your son. Listen to this.


BASHAR JA'AFRI, SYRIA REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED NATIONS: This kind of accusation is really unfounded and sarcastic in my opinion. Why? Let me explain to you that Syria has been working very hard for the last four decades for the Lebanese stability, for the stability in Lebanon, the unity of Lebanon and for stopping the civil war in Lebanon.


BLITZER: All right, I want you to respond to what Ambassador Ja'afari said.

GEMAYEL: The only way to take those words seriously is for Syria, for Damascus to really help the investigation committee to discover the truth. And not to obstruct the inquiry in the meantime, to help the building of the international tribunal to also judge the assassins of all those killings. The only way for Syria to prove its innocence is to help within the international inquiry committee and to form the international tribunal, which is a -- actually an important issue for the Lebanese.

BLITZER: Because we've seen the pictures in recent weeks of the fighting, the demonstrations going on in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon. And the numbers have been huge, the people who have come outside to protest either in favor of Hezbollah, against Hezbollah, for the Lebanese government, against the Lebanese government.

Syria's role right now in this internal struggle that's going on in Lebanon, what is it? Is it positive or negative?

GEMAYEL: In my opinion, what's going on in Lebanon is really a coup d'etat. It's a coup d'etat, because you have, as you know, Lebanon is one of the very real democratic country in the Middle East. And we have tradition of a rotation...

BLITZER: A coup d'etat against the prime minister, Fouad Siniora?


BLITZER: By whom? Who's in charge of...

GEMAYEL: Not only against Mr. Siniora, against the government. It's a coup d'etat against the Lebanese constitution. It's a coup d'etat...

BLITZER: Who's doing this coup d'etat?

GEMAYEL: Also, there are some -- I suppose that it's -- this coup d'etat is to block the constitution process to adopt the -- to endorse the international tribunal. Because Syria is really afraid, because it's the first suspect in the endorsed crimes.

That's why they want to avoid the constitution, the building of this international tribunal. They're doing what they can through the coup d'etat or some other maneuvers. And the diplomatic maneuvers in the meantime to block the constitution of the international tribunal, which is actually the concern of the security council in New York.

BLITZER: Let me read to you what Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, said on January 24. He said, "The opposition has the political, popular and organizational strength to bring down the unconstitutional government today or tomorrow. What has so far prevented the fall of the government that is clinging to power is not international support, but the patriotic feelings of the opposition and its desire to preserve civil peace."

Do you believe Hassan Nasrallah?

GEMAYEL: Hassan Nasrallah is the head of the Lebanese party. And our wish is that the Hezbollah join the political establishment and to abide by the democratic system in Lebanon, to respect the rule of the constitution.

As I said, there are traditions in Lebanon, democratic traditions for a constitutional and democratic rotation in the government and the presidency and the parliament. They have to respect those rules, those traditions, the constitutional process, and to abide by it.

BLITZER: Does Hezbollah respect those traditions right now?

GEMAYEL: In fact, no. What the Hezbollah is, actually, is a state within a state. They have their own army, their own financial system, with the huge and generous financial support from outside. And in the meantime, Hezbollah is actually and what is very, very dangerous for us, is, they're confiscating the right of the government to take some sovereign decisions like the declared war.

BLITZER: Who from, who...

GEMAYEL; And Hezbollah, like last summer, he, by kidnapping the Israeli soldiers in Israel, he declared kind of force to Israel, and you have to support the consequences of this behavior.

BLITZER: Who, from the outside is funding, supporting Hezbollah?

GEMAYEL: It's not a secret. Hezbollah enjoyed the full support of Syria and Iran. It's not a secret.

BLITZER: How worried are you that Lebanon -- we all remember the civil war in the '70s and '80s -- how worried are you that Lebanon, which in recent years had become peaceful and democratic and flourishing, could collapse into civil war?

GEMAYEL: There is one positive element, is that neither the opposition nor the allies of the government want really civil war in Lebanon. We are trying to do our utmost to prevent, to avoid such kind of a disaster in Lebanon.

We can't afford at all having a new civil war in Lebanon. We're trying now to find a political solution to this crisis. I am, myself, also in touch with the Hezbollah and many other parties, trying to avoid the civil war and to find a political solution to the prevailing crisis.

BLITZER: We have to leave it there. Mr. President, I'll end this interview the way I started it. My deepest condolences to you on the loss of your son, Pierre Gemayel. I see the little pin...

GEMAYEL: That button, yes.

BLITZER: ... the button that you have on your lapel with a picture of him. Once again, we're so sorry for that.

GEMAYEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Pierre Gemayel was a good man. Amine Gemayel, his father, the former president of Lebanon.

Coming up next, "In Case You Missed It," "Late Edition's Sunday morning talk show roundup. "Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: And coming up next, "In Case You Missed It," "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup.

Also coming up at the top of the hour for our North American viewers, "This Week At War" goes to Baghdad, Tehran and the Pentagon.


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. All of the shows looked ahead to a U.S. Senate vote on a resolution opposing President Bush's Iraq war strategy and the addition of more U.S. troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) EDWARDS: I actually believe that what the president and Cheney are counting on is that what we'll do is we'll talk about it, we'll complain about it, we'll talk about how bad the escalation is but, at the end of the day, we'll go along. We cannot go along.



SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VA.: What has been irresponsible has been the administration coming forward with solutions, or so-called solutions, that simply go back to the well again and again to the military without addressing the elephant in the bedroom. And the elephant in the bedroom is dealing with Iran and Syria.



SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: This idea that our key to success in Iraq is through Syria and Iran is naive. The things that unite Syria and Iran, the one thing that unites Syria and Iran is that they don't want a democracy in Iraq.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: There has been a failed policy and we have paid a very heavy price for it in American blood and treasure. And that's one of the great tragedies of this war. I also believe the consequences are failure are such that you will a level of violence that far exceeds anything that we have seen.



SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: That resolution states very clearly we disagree with adding more troops into Iraq. Very simply put, we disagree with escalating our military involvement in Iraq. That is totally different, George, than saying let's get out, let's cut the funds. This notion that somehow we're not supporting our troops, that's not true.


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, February 4th. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. We're in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. See you tomorrow. Until then, thanks very much for joining us. For our North American viewers, "This Week In War" with John Roberts is next -- John.