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CNN Larry King Live - Transcript

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Panelists React to President's Speech on Iraq War
Aired December 18, 2005 - 21:00 ET

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President speaking for about 16.5 minutes, promising to complete the job in Iraq, despite the difficulties. I'll be back right at the top of the hour. A complete hour of "THE SITUATION ROOM." But for now, let's go to Larry King. He's got a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Larry?

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf. And we'll meet a special panel of two panelists and journalists as well, later. But first, we're joined in Greenville, South Carolina, by Senator Lindsay Graham, republican of South Carolina, member of the center on Armed Services Committee, who's- just back from monitoring the elections in Iraq.

And in Wilmington, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, a democrat of Delaware, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who's also just returned from back from monitoring in Iraq elections.

Senator Biden has been a strong critic of the administration. We'll start with him. Did this speech impress you?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Larry, it was positive, but the president seems to have -- let me put it this way: If we defeated every single terrorist in the world, we'd still have a war in Iraq. Americans would still be at risk from being killed in Iraq. There is a major, major conflict between three major groups trying to take control, or be the prominent force in that county, and we need a political solution. The next six months is going to determine that. Again, there is terror, that's real.

But there's also the so-called insurgency, Larry, which is made up for former Saddamist and Ba'athists, for the vast majority of the people, and we'd better figure out how to deal with that and we have six months to do it. That's the time in which they choose a new government, in which they'll have a constitution.

And if they don't choose a government -- for example, they very well choose a government -- we don't know what the election outcome is, it may be a Shia government, that is an Iranian style government that oppresses women. That's still up in the air. We don't know the answer to that. We better impact on what they do and we better impact on the kind of constitution they write to get everybody to buy in. In other words, it's an all out civil war and there's still possibility, but we have six months.


KING: Senator Biden, do you think he swayed public opinion?

BIDEN: Well Larry, I'm not smart enough to know that, but I do think Lindsay is correct, if -- we must succeed in Iraq because succeeding in Iraq will have an impact on the rest of the world, it will have an impact upon -- on terror in the region. Or to put it another way, if we fail, it will become a terror state and to be somewhat facetious, it'll be a Bush fulfilling prophecy. We will have a center of terror in that part of the world. So there's a great deal at stake.

The only point I want to make is, the American people should understand there's also a simmering civil war that we're dealing with and the only solution to that is -- was written by a very conservative columnist named David Brooks, today -- is either you either partition that county, which would be a disaster or you get a political solution.

And that requires us to use all the influence we have, Larry, and do what I've been suggesting, quite frankly, and Secretary Kissinger, very recently, and Secretary Schultz -- we have engage the regional powers and international powers to put pressure on the constituent parties, Sunni, Shia, and Kurds, to make a compromise that everyone can live.

Absent that, you know, as the old nursery rhyme goes, "All the kings horses, and all the kings men" will not keep Iraq together if it ends up if it ends up in a full-blown civil war. That will be determined by what the government looks like and what the constitution reads.


KING: Senator Biden, you reiterated...

BIDEN: ... Larry, can I add one point?

KING: OK, go ahead.

BIDEN: If the ambassador, who's one of the best ambassadors I have ever worked with, and I think Lindsay would agree with me, he's a really knowledgeable guy. He said something on television today that I think everyone should take note of.

He said: the violence will begin to cease and we'll succeed if -- if, two big ifs -- if we get a government that is not a religious government based on an Iranian style state. And we don't know who got elected.

If this guy Maddi (ph) got elected we have a problem. If somebody else gets elected we have a better chance. And he said secondly, the big if will be, if in fact we get a constitution the Sunnis can buy into. And so he's the one that's leveled the most with everyone.

And the fact of the matter is democracy as we know it is not in the offering. That is not a realistic expectation. The -- what's as realistic is to have a nation that is secure within its borders, not a treat to its neighbors, not a haven for terror and that all the major parties think they have a better deal being in the deal then out of the deal.

KING: All right.

BIDEN: That's the best we're going to be able to do.

KING: Senator Graham, do you agree completely with that statement?

BIDEN: And that's good.

GRAHAM: Yeah, I think he's pretty much dead on. Two major obstacles in the short term. We cannot have a democracy where you have militias. You can't have a democracy where you got political parties with armies strong than the central government forces. And you can't have a police force that a minority of the population believes doesn't have their best interests at heart.

You know these secret prisons you been reading about Larry, in Iraq? They're being used by the Shia majority to oppress the Sunni minority and they're being sanctioned by the police commanders. We've got to make sure that the Sunnis understand that the rule of law means that they can be protected by the law and not killed by the law.

So I'm looking to see if the Iraqi people will prosecute the Shia who've abused the Sunnis because that never happened under the Saddam the other way.

Here's the bottom line, will the people who've been oppressed all of these years do better than the ones that they're replacing? That's hard, but I'm hopeful they will.

KING: You're watching a special Sunday night edition of LARRY KING LIVE. We'll spend some more moments with Senators Lindsay Graham and Joe Biden, who monitored the elections, following the president's speech. And then we'll have a major panel discussion.

And then another hour of "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer at the top of the hour. We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Senators Graham in Greenville, South Carolina, and Biden in Wilmington, Delaware.

It wasn't in the speech tonight, but I would certainly be interested in your thoughts, Senator Biden, on the president acknowledging over the weekend that he ordered domestic spying and vows to continue it; it's all a part of the war on terrorism. What do you think?

BIDEN: You know, Larry, I heard the vice president, after the president spoke, saying that the only people we're spying on are people who have contact with terrorists. If that's true, there's no need for this without going through the courts. We have a secret court, called a FISA court, which I helped write the law for, when I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, years ago. And what is says is, the government can go there and say, they can eavesdrop on anyone for up to 72 hours without permission, as long as within that time they go to this court and say this is why we're doing it. And the court says, well, entitled or you're not entitled.

If in fact, this is what is happening, only those people who are in contact with known terrorists, that's one thing. They should go to the court. If it's not that, then it is something very different and the America public is not about, in my view, to give up their personal freedom and privacy in return for this amorphous notion that it is the generic war on terror.

So, I think, the president is still out of bounds here. And I'm, quite frankly, confused. Why did he have to do this so massively when he has the power right now to intercept any communications, for up to 72, as long as he goes to the secret court. Doesn't have to tell anybody. Go to the court and say, this is why I'm doing it.


KING: Were you surprised, Senator Biden, that Dick Cheney the vice president went to both Iraq and Afghanistan and said, that we are making remarkable progress?

BIDEN: No. I'm never surprised by what he says.

Look, I mean, this idea we're making remarkable progress. The president has made some changes in policy. I wished he had talked about them. For example, he's beginning to train up the Iraqi security forces better, but he acknowledged, the police aren't trained at all.

Lindsey and I, and others, have been saying there is no police training program worth a darn. This year, General Casey said this coming year will be the year of training the police. They're a problem, they're not an asset.

He's changed the way in which we let contracts. We have learned, to my great satisfaction, that instead of 90 percent of the contracts going to mega companies in the United States, that don't employ Iraqis, 75 percent of those contracts are now going to local Iraqi companies to get that 40 percent unemployment rate down and change the situation on the ground.

So, he has made some progress. But the notion that this is remarkable, you would not hear the -- our ambassador say that. You would not hear General Casey say that. You would not hear anybody on the ground there say that. We are making some progress. We've made some monumental mistakes, we're correcting them now. We must continue over the next six months to get it right.

But, Larry, the question here is are we going trade a dictator for chaos? Are we going to trade a dictator for stability? And if we end up with a Shia dominated state, that is an Iranian style, is anybody going to call that progress? The jury is still out on that, but we can affect it. We should get about doing that, affecting it.


KING: Senator Biden, there were no exit polls?


BIDEN: No, there were no exit polls, Larry. And you know, this election, to put it in American terms, is kind of like you have the election, and now there is the primary. Now you choose the candidates. Now the debating goes on, who is going to be the prime minister? Who is going to head up the ministries? And this is really, as I look at it, Larry, the end of the beginning. Not the beginning of the end. It's the end of the beginning, to paraphrase Churchill.

And now the beginning really is underway. And, look, the question here is are we going to end up with broadly representative government that is non-sectarian, both in its operation and in its constitution? That's our goal. If that doesn't get accomplished, then we've traded a dictator for a chaos.

KING: Thank you both very much. Two distinguished members of the Senate, frequent guests on this program, always great to see them. Thank you, Senators Biden and Graham.

You're watching a special Sunday night edition of LARRY KING LIVE. When we come back, David Gergen, Michael Isikoff, Congress Shays, Congresswoman Tauscher, and from Baghdad, Aneesh Raman, CNN's Baghdad correspondent. And then "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer at the top of hour. Don't go away.


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