Fox News Network
SHOW: THE BIG STORY WITH JOHN GIBSON (17:00)
HEADLINE: Interview with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Dan Ackerman
GUESTS: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gary Ackerman
BYLINE: John Gibson, Dan Springer
GIBSON: Dan Springer in Baghdad. Dan, thanks very much.
President Bush made clear he has a plan to transfer power in Iraq, but recent polls show that continuing fighting could hurt the president's chances for re-election. Joining us in Miami, Florida Congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican. And here on the set, a Democrat, New York Congressman Gary Ackerman, both members of the House International Relations Committee. Let's start with the congresswoman for today's big question. So can Senator Kerry turn Iraq into a serious political liability for President Bush, congresswoman?
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN ® FLORIDA: I don't think so because Senator Kerry understands that the stakes are high in Iraq as well, and he's not advocating cutting and running. The senator has voted each way on this war, so whatever position he happens to take tomorrow, I guess he'll have it for the position for the day. In contrast to President Bush who has outlined a clear vision for Iraq from day one, and I think he has kept true to his word, and I think his speech last night was true to that word again. He's got a five-step plan. We've never wanted to be an occupying power. We're going to turn it over to the Iraqis. We're going to get U.N. support. We sought it before, and I think that we're going to get it, and I think that people understand that Iraq should not be politicized.
GIBSON: All right, but Congressman Ackerman, you would think that Senator Kerry would be making more political hay out of the president's difficulties at this moment.
REP. DAN ACKERMAN (D) NEW YORK: When your opponent is drowning, the political adage is don't get involved. I think the president is having enough difficulty. Listen, nobody wants the president to fail. I don't, and Senator Kerry doesn't because a failure of the president is a failure of our country, and that's not acceptable. What is fair here is that the president is not following a concise strategy that makes sense. That that is subject to ...
GIBSON: What's wrong with the one he is outlined?
ACKERMAN: Well, the one he has outlined is nothing with nothing. It's just the same old thing that he has been doing.
GIBSON: He went to the U.N., got them to name the-whatever the new government is going to be, and say we're going to hand them power and ...
ACKERMAN: He didn't want to go to the U.N., and we could do it alone.
GIBSON: Now he is.
ACKERMAN: He not only went to the U.N., but he's got one guy, Brahimi, in the U.N. and he is going to turn the government over to him. He is going to name the people. Who is it going to go to? We don't know. He hasn't said so. It's a major unknown. The president, you know, liberated Fallujah. Now he put the Saddam's guard back into running Fallujah. Everything that he wanted to do, he has gone back on.
GIBSON: Congressman Ackerman, you lay out the objections. What is wrong with his objections from your point of view? Congresswoman.
ROS-LEHTINEN: What Gary is saying is completely false. These are folks who said that the president should have gone to the United Nations. He has gone to the United Nations time and time again. We passed 12 resolutions. The United Nations was not willing to take military action, so we did. I think that what the president has been doing has been the noble thing to do. Why should the Iraqi people not be free? Why should the United States not help them in securing they are freedom? Yes, that we have difficult times. We want a war with no casualties. That only exists in the fairy tales. It's tough roads ahead. I think the president has ...
GIBSON: Congresswoman ...
ROS-LEHTINEN: And I think we're going to have that transfer of power.
GIBSON: If we were here today and you were sitting here and listening to the president outlining a whole new approach to Iraq last night, wouldn't you be jumping up and down on him like a trampoline?
ACKERMAN: I would-I would be joyful if he outlined an approach that made sense. What he has done here is outline the things that he has been saying all along. Each of which he has already flip-flopped and doubled back on. He dissed the U.N.. He dismissed the U.N.. He has been very dismissive of them. All of a sudden, the U.N. is going to appoint a government, and what is that all about?
GIBSON: What is the alternative? The world is saying if the U.N. doesn't appoint a government, there is no legitimacy.
ACKERMAN: John, we're half cutting and half running here. We're staying, but we're not leaving. We're giving them complete autonomy, but they don't have it. What happens if they decide to invite our army to leave if they're completely autonomous.
GIBSON: I heard Colin Powell say we leave.
ACKERMAN: Yes, you heard Colin Powell say we leave, but we heard the Department of Defense say we stay. I mean, nobody discussed this with each other. It is-the president said we can expect confusion, so as soon as we say there's confusion, he can say, well, that's the plan. He's the right. The plan is confusion.
GIBSON: You heard Congressman Ackerman attack the president's plan. Now, let me just ask you, you are out there with voters, are the voters going to say Congressman Ackerman is right, this is a mess, or not?
ROS-LEHTINEN: No. I think the voters understand that the president has had a clear vision. He's been consistent, unlike Senator Kerry. He has outlined a plan. He is going to follow through. He's a man of his word, and I think that the American voters appreciate that. And I think that they know that that cause has been a noble one. Yes, we've shed blood and tears over this war, and we grieve for every one of them. I think that if we're successful in turning Iraq into a stable government, what a vision that will be what a model that will be for that volatile region.
GIBSON: What will Senator Kerry do?
ACKERMAN: First of all, hopefully, Senator Kerry wouldn't have gotten us into this mess.
GIBSON: But what would he do right now ...
ACKERMAN: John, that is an unfair question.
GIBSON: The president is narrowing our options, and he is telling somebody us they should solve it.
GIBSON: Gary, he is running for president. What would he do?
ACKERMAN: He would not have gotten us into this mess. He would have done it differently.
GIBSON: But what would he do now? People want to know. What would he do now?
ACKERMAN: The president has screwed up the situation. I voted with the president. I voted with Ileana Ross-Lehtinen because I believed it was the right thing to do. But that doesn't mean we're handling it right.
GIBSON: Congressman, what will Kerry do if he's president?
ACKERMAN: What he should be doing is he should be doing a mea culpa. He should be saying get rid of the American arrogance that we've shown, and to say to some of our major allies, which include the French, and include the Germans and include the Russians ...
GIBSON: You want to say you're sorry to the French.
ACKERMAN: I don't want to say I'm sorry. It I want to say we screwed this and up and we now need your help?
GIBSON: You think the French are going to come help us now that people are getting killed?
ACKERMAN: John, do you know there are two flags flying over Afghanistan. It's ours and the French. They're the only real people with real numbers.
GIBSON: Nobody is shooting there.
ACKERMAN: Oh, they're shooting like crazy in there.
GIBSON: How many French have died?
ACKERMAN: I don't know how many French have died. If it's like this, if you do it from the sky, there's very few casualties. We won the war with few causalities, we are now winning the peace, and over 800 people have died.
GIBSON: Congresswoman, you get to take the last word and make it quick.
ROS-LEHTINEN: And the more we know about the oil-for-food scandal in the U.N., the more French fingerprints we're going to see, and then we're going to see why they didn't help us when they should have.
GIBSON: Congressman Gary Ackerman, always a good tussle. And Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, I appreciate it very much.