SHOW: CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER 12:00
September 19, 2004 Sunday
HEADLINE: Interview With Senators Levin, Graham; Interview With Mohamed ElBaradei
GUESTS: Carl Levin, Lindsey Graham, Charlie Rangel, Christopher Cox, Mohamed ElBaradei, David Frum, Seymour Hersh, Wolfgang Ischinger, Carlos Westendorp, Michael Thawley, Ed Gillespie, Terry McAuliffe
BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer, Walter Rodgers
Interviews with Carl Levin, Lindsey Graham, Mohamed ElBaradei.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5 p.m. in London, 8 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us on "LATE EDITION."
BLITZER: Walter Rodgers in Baghdad.
Thanks very much, Walter, for that report.
The surge of violence in Iraq, plus new intelligence forecasts the country could fall into outright civil war. We're at the heart of the debate that stretches from the streets of Baghdad to the halls of the United States Congress.
Joining us now, two influential members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Carl Levin is a Democrat from Michigan. He's joining us from Detroit. Senator Lindsey Graham is a Republican from South Carolina. He's joining us from Clemson, South Carolina.
Senators, welcome to "LATE EDITION."
I'll begin with you, Senator Levin. The New York Times reporting, quoting U.S. military commanders, that they anticipate a major offensive against insurgent strongholds, including in Fallujah beginning in November or December, shortly after the U.S. presidential election.
Are you among those Democrats who suspect politics may be playing a role in U.S. military decisions in Iraq?
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Well, we know there was a political decision made in Washington telling the Marines a few weeks ago, first, to go into Fallujah, which was not what General Conway wanted to do, who is heading the Marine unit there. And then after they started to go in, it was a political decision in Washington which told them to come back out, which was also against the wishes of the Marine general there.
There is a real disconnect between Washington and our military, I believe, and what our military needs are. And I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if the tough decisions, the painful decisions, are going to be delayed by this administration until after November 2nd.
And it's too bad, because it's most important that this administration listen to some of even its Republican critics, which is that we've got a significantly worsening situation in Iraq.
And when you have the chairman-the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Lugar, who is harshly critical of this administration's unwillingness to look at the facts, the reality on the ground so that it can consider additional options, you've got a real problem with White House stubbornness.
BLITZER: All right. Senator Graham, Condoleezza Rice was on this program exactly one week ago. She insisted absolutely, positively no political influence in military decisions in Iraq.
But let me let you weigh in. Do you see political fingerprints on some of the military decisions?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I've been to Iraq twice, and the one thing I constantly hear is that we have enough troops. But I really don't buy that. And I think the security situation in Iraq is going to get worse before it gets better.
There's a rhyme or reason to what's happening here. They're attacking police stations. They're attacking people who want to join the army. They're trying to kill people who want to be part of a democratic government.
The terrorists are trying to drive people out. They're trying to overcome this move to democracy, so it's going to be tough in the short term.
I don't believe that we're playing politics here with military actions. I do believe that the political atmosphere in the United States is a reality, and we're just going to have to suffer through it.
I want the Iraqi people to know, come November, regardless of who the president is going to be, that we're going to stand with you. That when Prime Minister Allawi comes here and speaks to the Congress, I wish Democrats and Republicans both would tell him, no matter what it takes, if we need to have more, we will send more. We've got to win in Iraq.
BLITZER: Are you suggesting, Senator Graham, the U.S. simply does not have enough forces on the ground in Iraq right now to get the job done?
GRAHAM: I think we're going to need more people over time.
But one thing we've learned from Abu Ghraib is that we didn't have the right skill mix to manage that prison. I think we've been resistant to putting troops on the ground and putting resources where they need to be.
We're taking $3 billion away from infrastructure, putting it into security. We spent only a billion of the $18 billion.
I've been critical of implementing President Bush's vision. I support President Bush's vision of having a democracy in Iraq.
When it comes to vision, I think Senator Kerry is the one who's been lacking. When he told the world that we would be out of Iraq in four years, that is the worst thing he could have done. If you're trying to change Iraq, and you're a politician in Iraq, it must be chilling to know that Senator Kerry is going to pull out an arbitrary deadline.
BLITZER: All right.
GRAHAM: It chills people who want to join. It also sends the wrong signal to the terrorists. If you're going to be out in four, maybe we'll kill enough people, you'll be out in two.
So think his vision is totally wrong for the times.
BLITZER: Let's let Senator Levin respond to that. He's a strong supporter of Senator Kerry.
Go ahead, Senator.
LEVIN: Well, it seems to me, Senator Kerry's goal is exactly right. That's a very modest goal, as far as I'm concerned, to have our troops out of there in four years.
The real problem here, though...
BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt for a second, Senator Levin. Why is that a very modest goal? U.S. troops are still in Bosnia. They're still in Kosovo. Frankly, they're still in Germany and Japan so many years after all of the conflicts there.
Why is it a modest goal to get U.S. troops, 150,000 or so, out of Iraq in four years?
LEVIN: Because you've got a totally different situation in those countries. You have a very disunified country here in Iraq, where one faction is very much at odds with another faction. And when you have a reality here at home, which is this administration is unwilling to see the facts as they are, and until you can consider different options-and we've got to look at different options-you've got to be willing to face reality.
The stubbornness of this administration in ignoring what is happening right now in Iraq, in ignoring its own intelligence estimates which just came out, which says that the best scenario we can find, the best one, is that it'll be a tenuous security situation there for years-this administration still paints the rosy picture that things are just going fine, elections are going to be held. They've got to start listening to other people, and they've got to start watching and seeing what's going on on the ground.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, let me put some numbers up on the screen. The latest U.S. killed in Iraq: 1,028 U.S. troops up until this point the Pentagon says have been killed between hostile and so- called nonhostile action.
And the indications are in that National Intelligence Estimate that was reported on this week that the situation almost certainly is going to get worse before it gets better, if, in fact, it does get better.
What's your bottom-line assessment on this?
GRAHAM: Well, the bottom line is it will get worse before it gets better.
And I agree with Carl that we've done a poor job of implementing and adjusting at times. But they're not factional disputes in Iraq that's causing the dead-the American dead, and the policemen who want to become policemen in Iraq and the soldiers being killed.
You've got two competing forces in Iraq. You've got terrorist, foreign fighters, hold over from the old regime that want to destroy democracy. And you're having people getting killed who want to change the country. You've got pro-democracy forces that are dying. You've got anti-democracy forces that are kidnapping and killing. And that's what is at stake.
Prime Minister Allawi is right. If we stand behind him, the pro- democracy forces will win. Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis, Shias have bought in in the hundreds of thousands of having a democratic Iraq. Thousands of people are trying to disrupt the lives of millions.
So this is not a civil war. This is a part of the war on terror, where the terrorists have gone to Iraq. And we need to fight back or we'll lose the region.
LEVIN: You got a lot of people...
BLITZER: But, Senator Graham-let me let Senator Levin weigh in. But, Senator Graham, first, I don't see, maybe you see, an exit strategy that the president has unveiled as far as Iraq is concerned; what to do, other than generalities about calling for elections and hoping democracy takes hold.
Do you see a specific exit strategy that the Bush administration has come forward with at this point?
GRAHAM: Yes, sir, I do. The exit strategy in World War II was to take Berlin and Tokyo. There was nothing short of total victory. The same is here.
The only way we can leave Iraq, I think-and I think Carl agrees with me here-is to have a functioning democracy left behind, have a rule-of-law nation left behind. That means we're going to need more troops, not less.
And the administration has been stubborn about troops. We do not need to paint a rosy scenario for the American people. We need to let the American people know this is just like World War II; we're in it for the duration.
But when we leave Iraq, the only way we can leave and have won is to have a functioning democracy behind. The people who are doing the killing don't want that to happen. If we stay the course, we will win.
BLITZER: What about the charge-and I want Senator Levin to respond to this-a very specific charge not only made by Senator Graham but many others, that John Kerry is sending all sorts of confusing signals out there, that he doesn't really have a strong sense of where he wants to go. And by suggesting he could get U.S. troops out within four years, he's sending a message to the insurgents, to the terrorists, "You know what? He is ready to cut and run."
LEVIN: The current message is exactly the worst message, which is that we're going to stay where we are, doing what we're doing, even though it's not working.
We are a very pragmatic people. We are supposed to learn when something isn't working that we should change direction. And the administration is unwilling to see the facts as they are so that it can look at additional options.
I call that stubbornness, not a strategy. The only strategy I see, the only exit strategy I see for this administration, is for them to try to get by November 2nd if they possibly can here.
BLITZER: Well, give me a specific. Give me a specific. What would you do differently, Senator Levin?
LEVIN: I would do whatever I could in terms, number one, of bringing bipartisan support in the Congress to look at additional options to change the course.
This president will not change the course on his own. He is locked into his own rhetoric.
And what we have in the Congress is some responsible Republican leadership, such as Senator Lugar, such as Senator Hagel, such as Senator Graham, who is on this program, who will join with Democrats to tell the president, "It is not working, Mr. President. We've got to consider other options."
BLITZER: But what are those options, Senator Levin? I need a specific.
LEVIN: You want me to give you a plan for an exit strategy right here on the television?
BLITZER: No, I want an option, some of the options you'd like to see the president consider.
LEVIN: It's got to involve three things. We've got to persuade the Iraqis that they have got to control their own violence if they want a country. We cannot want democracy in Iraq more than Iraqis want democracy.
BLITZER: Aren't they trying-isn't the administration...
LEVIN: That's number one.
BLITZER: Aren't they trying to train the Iraqis to do exactly that?
LEVIN: We're trying to train the Iraqis. We're also engaged in bombing cities right now, which is making enemies. That is not a strategy. Even the Marine general, General Conway said, that is not a strategy to engage in a guerrilla war right now in Iraq. I don't consider that a winning strategy. It is a losing, downward-spiral strategy, which creates a negative dynamic, which is that everybody, all of the violent factions, are shooting at us.
BLITZER: What's the third point you want to make?
LEVIN: We have to involve other countries that are not involved now by having an Iraq government tell Islamic countries, "You must join this effort or else we're afraid that the Americans will leave us," because we cannot do this alone, Wolf.
We've got to have the international community. It's been the major failure of this administration right from the beginning not to involve the international community, not to take the steps to involve them. Instead of canceling the U.N. inspections, we should have allowed them to be completed, which would have increased chances of bringing in other countries.
That is critically important. We cannot do this. We are the target of all the violent forces.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, go ahead. I'll let you respond to that point, because we're almost out of time.
GRAHAM: Number one, Iraqis are dying in droves. Every time they blow up a police station, more people want to volunteer to be policemen. They're training police in Jordan. I've met with the king of Jordan. The Jordanians are helping the Iraqis become policemen. NATO is being involved.
We need to adjust. I think we need more assets on the ground, more troops. But the idea that the Iraqis are not fighting for their own freedom is wrong. This is not a factional war in Iraq. This is terrorism against democracy.
Democracy will prevail, if we send a strong signal to the terrorists that we're not going to cut and run, we're going to spend the resources, the blood and treasure to win this. Losing is not an option for the world, not just the United States.
BLITZER: All right, unfortunately, Senators, we have to leave it there. Senator Levin, Senator Graham, thanks to both of you for joining us on "LATE EDITION."