CNN CAPITAL GANG
U.N. Hears Bush's Case Against Hussein; Who Are Political Losers in This Year's Primaries?; Interview With David Halberstam
Aired September 14, 2002 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: From Washington, the CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.
Our guest is Congressman Charles Rangel of New York -- not only the top Democrat of the House Ways and Means Committee, but one of the best-dressed men in Washington. Good to have you back, Charlie.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL, (D), NEW YORK: Good to be back ...
SHIELDS: On his way to the Congressional Black Caucus dinner this evening. That's why Congressman Rangel is so nattily attired.
President Bush went to the United Nations to make the case against Saddam Hussein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively, to hold Iraq to account.
We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Does that mean the United States will act against Iraq without U.N. approval?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we prefer to do this on an international basis, with the approval and cooperation and support of other nations, but that this is deemed to be such an important issue and such an important problem, that we will address it by ourselves if we have to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Baghdad's response was negative.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The return of inspectors without conditions will not solve the problem, because we have had a bad experience with them.
BUSH: I am highly doubtful that he'll meet our demands. He's had 11 years to meet the demands. And for 11 long years he has basically told the United Nations and the world, he doesn't care.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
SHIELDS: Bob Novak, what did the president's U.N. speech accomplish?
ROBERT NOVAK, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: I think he gave a message to the world that he wasn't a lone cowboy, just having the United States unilaterally acting.
I think this was a triumph for Secretary of State Powell against the superhawks in the Pentagon who just wanted them to go ahead, don't worry about coalitions, don't worry about multilateral.
I think it made it more of an international operation. And also, I think it did -- he opened the way, if Saddam Hussein wants to be sensible, that he can avoid this war by coming around.
I think there's a lot of people in the Pentagon saying, let's get rid of him. We don't want him to agree. But I thought that the president took a more reasonable position.
SHIELDS: More reasonable position, Kate O'Beirne.
KATE O'BEIRNE, NATIONAL REVIEW: It was a victory, I think, for the president personally, and his team, certainly, Bob.
Because the president has signaled for some months that the United States, as far as he was concerned, would have to be willing to go it alone. That's how great the threat was.
He guaranteed that we're not going to go alone, because the rest of the world responds to that kind of resolve and leadership on our part.
He made a great gift to the United Nations by helping to save them from irrelevancy. He went to the United Nations and said, I mean what you've said. Now it's your chance to be relevant.
If they can't meet this challenge, to get rid of this lethal threat, they're no more than a multilingual conference center on the East River.
SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, he did shift the onus and the responsibility directly to the United Nations, saying that this is your problem, your challenge, not simply ours, didn't he?
MARGARET CARLSON, TIME MAGAZINE: It took him a long time to get here, but he ended up where he should have begun, which is at the U.N., asking for these resolutions to be enforced.
It's the most important thing he can do, is to get, if we must go there, get the country and our allies to the place where we have to go into Iraq, not because President Bush wants to, but because we must.
And we're not there yet. So, the process has begun. And that has to run its course.
And during that time, perhaps the president will put the proof on the table, because while he keeps saying, Saddam Hussein is evil -- and he did do a good list of particulars in that speech -- he's never made the distinction between the evil of Saddam Hussein and the distinction that makes Saddam Hussein the one person that we must go to at this very moment.
SHIELDS: Charlie Rangel, one Republican said to me, in many respects this was the easiest part for the president, because there was no mention of regime change in this speech to the United Nations.
And it was essentially presenting the case against Saddam Hussein and his violation of U.N. resolutions rather than advocating an invasion, an occupation and a dismantling of the Iraqi government.
RANGEL: I agree. I think the president did a great job in saying that the United Nations is there to enforce its resolutions, that for 11 years they haven't, and the United States, now having paid its dues in joining UNESCO, goes to the U.N. and say, listen. If you're going to have any credibility, you have to enforce these resolutions.
The president said nothing to link an invasion of Iraq. It had nothing to do with that. It was totally unrelated.
So the vice president's look at this is so, in such a cavalier way, and say, if you don't do anything, we're going to invade, I think that's insulting to the American ...
NOVAK: I ...
RANGEL: ... people.
NOVAK: I think, Kate, that this was a great victory for Colin Powell. This is the -- his style -- and is not the cowboy style that a lot of your friends over there were proposing.
What's very interesting is, it's going to be -- they've given up trying to link Iraq to 9/11. And it's going to be very hard to ever prove nuclear. They say they can't prove nuclear. They say they don't know.
So, what you have to do is a violation of U.N. resolutions. That's the only reason for taking military action.
SHIELDS: Quickly around, what will the U.N. do? I mean, will the U.N. demand full, free and total inspections? O'BEIRNE: The U.N. will step to the challenge. The U.N. will step up to the challenge, and the United States will have the authorization we need to move against -- to remove Saddam Hussein.
Ultimately, that is what the U.N. is going to ...
NOVAK: I think the interesting thing ...
O'BEIRNE: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) facility.
NOVAK: ... is whether the Russians and the Chinese are going to put pressure on Saddam Hussein or leave in -- let in inspectors.
CARLSON: This is a good thing for the U.N. They get to show their relevance.
RANGEL: It's a good thing for the Congress. It gives us an opportunity to be bipartisan in our support of the president and the United Nations.
SHIELDS: Last word, Charlie Rangel. Charlie Rangel and the gang will be back with Iraq and its political fallout.
SHIELDS: Welcome back. President Bush called on Congress to pass an Iraqi resolution, even prior to action by the U.N.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BUSH: If I were running for office, I'm not sure how I would explain to the American people. I said, you know, vote for me. And oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I'm going to wait for somebody else to act.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN JR. (D-DE), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: If we have a resolution next week, what's the point of hearings? Vote first, listen later?
We should be deliberate about this. We should make sure the country is behind us.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
SHIELDS: Are the Republicans playing politics and pushing for a vote before the November 5 election?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: This is one of those issues where I don't think the American people respond well to the suggestion that somehow this is just a political issue, or something that's being done spur of the moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: The question boiled over on the Senate floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, (R), ALABAMA: I think it is now important for this Congress to speak. Are we with the president? Or are we against him?
SEN. ROBERT BYRD, (D), WEST VIRGINIA: No. Don't tell me, are you with -- you're either with the president or against the president.
I'm with the Constitution. Mark me down for the Constitution.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, are the Republicans trying to make the war a campaign issue?
O'BEIRNE: Mark, let me offer them a little friendly advice. They should schedule a vote before the election.
Tom Daschle is acting as though the Democrats are more afraid of the voters and being accountable for the most fundamental question facing the country than they are of Saddam Hussein.
I haven't heard the Democrats favorite Republican, John McCain, quoted in weeks. But as John McCain has said this week, Americans deserve to know where their representatives stand when it comes to spending our blood and treasure.
Joe Lieberman says, every day Saddam Hussein remains in power is a day America remains in danger.
Schedule a vote, Tom Daschle, and stop making your party look so political and so frightened of the American public.
SHIELDS: Charlie Rangel, here's the Democrats' plight. Get a quick vote, and then you get the conversation about the campaign, back to things like the recession, prescription drugs, the economy, Bush's lousy stewardship of the economy.
As long as this continues to drag on, it's war and peace, the commander-in-chief standing behind the flag, and the Democrats never get a chance to raise their issues.
RANGEL: I don't really think, on the question of war and peace, that you're going to find a Democrat or Republican position. And even if the administration is thinking in political terms, they might win on the vote, but I think they would lose in the credibility you're talking about, war and peace.
We have to recognize that if there was a clear and present danger, there's not one member of Congress that would not authorize the president to take out wherever that enemy is.
If there is a threat to the United States, if we waited 11 years, why on the eve of an election? We can come back immediately after the election, and without the emotion.
People say, well, where are your constituents? My constituents are with the last person who tells them that the country is in danger. And then they would put our troops in harm's way.
But if someone said, there's no connection between what the president is talking about and pre-emptively striking a country, we're violating every rule in international law without any evidence at all to support it.
SHIELDS: Robert Novak, I know you've been a frequent critic of Senator Byrd as an appropriator. But as a constitutionalist -- I mean, isn't it right, I mean, if there's nothing else we've learned from Vietnam, to ask questions on the way in instead of ask on the way out?
NOVAK: Oh, if you're -- if you're -- this business about, are you for the president or against the president, I think that's a little harsh politics. I don't think that's very good.
But, it -- you know, I'm not as ...
SHIELDS: Yeah, that was Sessions ...
NOVAK: ... Sessions, that's what I mean. But I'm not the subtle political thinker that Charlie is, and I want to just simplify it, that there will be a -- I think there will be a vote in the House of Representatives for a war resolution. Whether there should be or not, there will be.
And it'll be popular. And that the war will be more popular once the Congress votes.
And then I don't think Tom Daschle can say, we're not going to vote in the Senate. I think the Democrats -- I think you're right, Mark. I think the Democrats have to get rid of that so they can talk about socialism, the things they're for.
RANGEL: Well, it won't be popular ...
CARLSON: Let's have a ...
RANGEL: ... it won't be popular with the parents that are going to have to send their kids in harm's way. It's not popular with the advisers of former President Bush. It's not popular with our military.
And so it may be ...
NOVAK: It's not popular ...
RANGEL: ... popular ...
NOVAK: ... it's not popular ...
RANGEL: It may be popular for those people who want to score politically before the election.
NOVAK: It's not popular with me.
O'BEIRNE: Well, it's not supposed to ...
NOVAK: But it becomes more popular.
O'BEIRNE: ... but, if your colleagues agree with you on every one of those points, they ought to vote no. Nancy Pelosi says there are still some questions, some unknowns.
There are going to be unknowns involved. She ought to vote no.
RANGEL: So ...
O'BEIRNE: ... stole (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
RANGEL: ... politician votes ...
RANGEL: ... he'd like to do what the constituents want. But when it means putting kids in war because of a political question, I think that we shouldn't have to do that.
CARLSON: Yeah, I was surprised ...
SHIELDS: Go ahead, Margaret.
CARLSON: ... that the U.S. did -- the Republicans are playing politics with the war.
I was surprised after a good week and a good speech -- powerful, resolute, before the U.N. -- that the president would immediately introduce politics into it, and in such a blatant way.
The problem with the vote is this. There's not going to be sufficient information on the part of the Congress to do this vote. The U.N. is still going to be working on the resolution.
It is a blank check without sufficient information, because, what about the resolution? What are they going to find?
And, the other part of it is, it makes it so that Bush does not have to provide the intelligence information that he must have that says we've got to go with our guns blazing.
SHIELDS: Let me -- let me indicate, one, what I think is a litmus test, where this is going to be politicized. And that is, if the resolution is drawn up by the big four of Congress -- the leaders in both parties in both houses, which would include Denny Hastert and Trent Lott and Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle -- or it's a Tom DeLay resolution.
If it's a Tom DeLay resolution, drawn by Republican partisans, then I think it is pretty transparently a campaign issue, isn't it?
O'BEIRNE: Well, Democrats don't want to go on the record. That's what's going on here. Everybody would like, would prefer to be in the position Bill Clinton was in when he ran for president. He said, I would have supported the Gulf War resolution, but I agreed with the people who didn't support it.
And now, they've got to be held accountable. And there's no more important issue on which they should be held accountable.
RANGEL: You let the president give us evidence that this great nation is in danger, and you're not having one person vote against a resolution. The commander-in-chief will be given the authority to take that evil person out.
SHIELDS: Second ...
RANGEL: Given the information.
SHIELDS: Second segment in a row, Charlie Rangel's had the last word. That does it.
Next on CAPITAL GANG, super Tuesday, not so super for Florida voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB SMITH (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: We'll be looking forward to talking to John, and wish him the best in his campaign, as he moves forward to try to preserve the president's agenda ...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: In New York, Republican Governor George Pataki unexpectedly faces a conservative challenger. Self-financed, multi- millionaire Tom Golisano defeated Pataki for the Independence Party nomination.
Margaret Carlson, starting with Florida, who is the political loser here?
CARLSON: Well, obviously, Janet Reno. She didn't lose by enough that she can get -- or it wasn't close enough that she can get an automatic recount.
Jeb Bush doesn't look very good. It's the second debacle in an election. And I can see an ad now. He's lost a child in Florida. He loses ballots in Florida. And it looks like he can't run the state properly.
He might want, however, because if McBride wins, I think he's going to have a race to have the Supreme Court or Katherine Harris declare Janet Reno the winner so he can have a much easier ...
NOVAK: Oh, that's ...
CARLSON: ... race down there.
NOVAK: ... that's terrible.
SHIELDS: I will say this. Jeb Bush certainly is a loser, Bob, in the sense that he's tried like Gray Davis to pick, out in California, to pick his opponent -- spending millions against Bill McBride in the primary, and ended up with Bill McBride.
NOVAK: Yeah, but the point was that they wanted a real bump out of McBride, and they didn't want all this recount stuff. And the people couldn't vote -- the people, again, they couldn't vote straight.
And so I think it hurt their momentum. And now that -- the nicest ...
SHIELDS: McBride's momentum.
NOVAK: ... the McBride momentum. I think the greatest story -- I mean, this is obviously a failing of the Democrats in Miami and Broward, not the Governor.
And the big story going around is that the Democratic establishment screwed up the voting there so Janet wouldn't won -- wouldn't win. And they are out -- and she would be a sure loser against Jeb Bush.
SHIELDS: Well, that's true, Charlie. I mean, the polls show that McBride is quite competitive, actually, within the margin of error, in some surveys against Jeb Bush, while Janet Reno is running some 15, 16 points behind.
RANGEL: I love Janet Reno. I think Democrats, too, believe that McBride is a more competitive candidate.
But I think the real loser is Al Gore. They tell me they're still having the recount there in Florida for Al Gore. And that's the reason that this election got screwed up.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, tell me how this works for Jeb Bush?
O'BEIRNE: The Democrats are absolutely delighted that Janet Reno is not the nominee in Florida, and they don't much care how it happened.
This is evidence of how they politicized the failure to run a good election two years ago. They're no cause. Jesse Jackson hasn't gone down there demanding recounts. Al Gore hasn't been heard from. They are so happy with the results of this, that they don't have Janet Reno statewide, that they're willing to ignore it -- yet more local Democratic officials who can't count votes. SHIELDS: Jeb Bush has had two major challenges as governor. One is -- which he ran on, to reform the child welfare system, which is an abject failure...
NOVAK: Oh, that's, that's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
SHIELDS: ... and two was, and two was elections...
O'BEIRNE: Elections are run by counties.
SHIELDS: ... was elections. It was a state report...
O'BEIRNE: Election there, Republican counties...
NOVAK: ... can I bring up New Hampshire?
SHIELDS: Of course.
CARLSON: ... he lost a child, and he lost those ballots.
NOVAK: I, let me say that. I want to talk about New Hampshire. This was a -- Bob Smith could not have defeated Democratic Governor Jean Shaheen...
NOVAK: ... so this was, this was obviously a big win for the Republican Sununu. Now, they were holding their breath election night that Bob Smith was going to say something mean, and as you saw in that sound bite, he was nice.
But then the next morning...
SHIELDS: Didn't show up at the solidarity breakfast.
NOVAK: ... he didn't go to the, he didn't go to the harmony breakfast, the unity breakfast, said he had to vote on the floor. They had a, they had a...
SHIELDS: And he didn't vote.
NOVAK: ... they had -- and he didn't vote, yes, OK.
SHIELDS: Charlie, what about Tom Golisano, the independent multimillionaire with the diabolical scheming of Roger Stone, erstwhile Nixon operative, in the background to help him against George Pataki? Will that change the dynamic of that governor's race in New York?
RANGEL: You bet your life. This is a body blow to Pataki. He recognized that the Clinton victory, the Schumer victory, meant there was a hemorrhage of Republican votes upstate, which is having an economic depression. They don't vote for Democrats, they just don't vote. That's why Pataki spent so much time in San Juan for the Puerto Rican votes, Santo Domingo for the Puerto Rican votes.
And Golisano says, Hey, that's no Republican. And so he's going after him.
SHIELDS: Bob, do you think he's vulnerable (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
NOVAK: Oh, he's sure, I said, I said that last week, and a lot of people said I was crazy to say that Pataki was vulnerable. He's very -- see, the thing is, Pataki moved so far to the left that he, that he got Andy Stern, the leftist labor leader, to support him. He got that, that, that, that...
SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Rivera.
NOVAK: Rivera, then he got all those far left laborites to support him.
RANGEL: Far left.
NOVAK: And, and I'll tell you, there's a lot of pro, pro-life conservatives who would, who would, who would rather see Carl McCall in there...
O'BEIRNE: There are anti-tax conservatives. There's an anti- Pataki conservative vote in New York that now has someplace to go. And if he winds up being a spoiler and electing Carl McCall, a lot of those people won't much care.
NOVAK: And Golisano's ready to spend $100 million of his own money...
SHIELDS: A hundred million?
O'BEIRNE: And you have the most...
RANGEL: Oh, yes, he's spent $50 million...
O'BEIRNE: ... the most effective ads...
RANGEL: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
O'BEIRNE: ... already. I mean, he's been up on the air for a long time. People are getting to know him, and it's, it's a real threat to Pataki.
SHIELDS: New Hampshire, do you agree that Sununu is a tougher opponent than Smith against Shaheen?
RANGEL: No, I wanted Smith, really.
O'BEIRNE: There's your answer...
SHIELDS: ... they give you candor (ph), Charlie.
We'll be back with our CAPITAL Classic discussing whether the first President Bush should have gone to war against Iraq.
SHIELDS: Welcome back.
Nearly 12 years ago, President George Herbert Walker Bush promised the deposed premier of Kuwait that Iraq's military occupation of his country would be ended.
THE CAPITAL GANG discussed that promise on September 29, 1990. Our guest was the late Ron Brown, then the Democratic National Committee chairman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, September 29, 1990)
PATRICK BUCHANAN: Does the president's pledge to the emir pretty much rule out a negotiated settlement? Al Hunt.
AL HUNT, THE CAPITAL GANG: First, Pat, not a single American life ought to be lost for some Kuwaiti royalist. But I do think a settlement is possible, but we have to hang tough.
NOVAK: It is very difficult for me to see how you're going to get a negotiated settlement, Al, if you think this out, when you say we're going to make unconditional demands.
BUCHANAN: Should we fight to reverse the takeover of Kuwait?
RON BROWN, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, I certainly -- that certainly seems to be the president's position. That's what he's saying. We've got 200,000 troops there. We seem to be preparing for the worst. We hope the worst doesn't come.
SHIELDS: I think for the first time, public opinion is really freezing the linebackers of the war hawks in this country. I think there's a sense both in the Congress and in the country, wait a minute, let's stop, what is the price here?
BUCHANAN: There is no doubt we are on a collision course.
BUCHANAN: The president said this is not going to stand, you're going out, legitimate government's going back...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Kate, your future colleagues were certainly not ready for war then, were they?
O'BEIRNE: Well, let me first pay Bob a compliment. You're consistent, Bob. Wrong then, and wrong now.
Back then, Bob was uncharacteristically gullible in accepting estimates that there'd be 20,000 casualties if we moved on Iraq, he was so anti-war he was open to those kinds of outrageous estimates. And an awful lot of people thought that Saddam Hussein's sense of self-preservation would force him to back down. It didn't, and he didn't, and there's no evidence he will now.
SHIELDS: Bob Novak?
NOVAK: I still believe there could have been a negotiated settlement in that, in that, preventing, preventing the war. But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what, from a, that's a, that's a, that's ancient history.
I think the interesting thing is that in April of the year before the war, no, that wasn't in April, September of the year before the war, there was no consensus for going in. I mean, there was a -- in the country, it was still undecided. Just as more undecided than it is today.
SHIELDS: Charlie Rangel.
RANGEL: Well, you know, then Saddam had invaded Kuwait, and that was an excuse to protect those oil fields. What's the excuse now? He hasn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) anybody.
O'BEIRNE: To protect ourselves.
RANGEL: Well, if there was evidence that we were in danger...
O'BEIRNE: We could wait for that.
RANGEL: What -- have you got the evidence? I listen, I read the president's speech, there's not one scintilla of evidence...
O'BEIRNE: We can wait.
RANGEL: ... that our country's in danger. What is there is that we will put our young people in danger by invading.
SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.
CARLSON: Right, there was a predicate for going in there then. Now, there -- why didn't -- what did Cheney not know then that he knows now that makes the country have to go after Saddam, when in the back yard of Saddam the president and Cheney decided not to go forward? What is the piece of information that exists now that didn't exist then?
And we don't know what that is. And until...
SHIELDS: Do you have it?
CARLSON: ... we do -- I wish I did.
SHIELDS: OK, I don't have it, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
CARLSON: And you know what I'd do? I wouldn't be able to able to divulge it, but I'd, I'd, you know, take the oath and...
CARLSON: ... the Intelligence Committee, and turn it over to them.
SHIELDS: OK. Charlie Rangel, thank you so much for being with us.
RANGEL: Good to be back.
SHIELDS: We'll be back with the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG. Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is writer David Halberstam talking about the heroic firemen of September 11. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the Japanese prime minister's forthcoming visit to North Korea with CNN Tokyo bureau chief Rebecca MacKinnon. And our "Outrages of the Week."
That's all after the latest news following these significant messages.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG.
I'm Mark Shields with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.
Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam.
David Halberstam, age 68, residence New York City. Graduate of Harvard, Pulitzer Prize winner for the New York -- his own "New York Times" coverage of the Vietnam War. Author of 11 consecutive best- sellers, currently "Firehouse."
Earlier this week, our own Al Hunt interviewed David Halberstam from New York.
HUNT: In your book on the courageous firemen of Station House 40-35, 12 of whom lost their lives on 9/11, you extol the nobility of ordinary people. What is it in our culture that produces such nobility?
DAVID HALBERSTAM, AUTHOR, "FIREHOUSE": Well, I think it's something that's almost in the family, and there is a religiosity. Many of those men were the sons and grandsons of firemen. A sense of having lives that are larger than just narrow self-interest. I think it probably in many cases almost goes back to parochial school. HUNT: Well, you're right that the courage of these men who went into that blazing inferno, facing death, was beyond comprehension for those of us who live basically risk-free lives.
HALBERSTAM: That lasting image of that day a year ago would be of all the people fleeing the World Trade Center buildings and the firemen going in. And I think it's ingrained in their codes that you do this, you risk your life for other strangers...
HUNT: David, you have written a fascinating account of a profession that most of us have taken for granted. It's not the money. Bruce Garry (ph) could have made more money as a plumber, a number of these men had college degrees. What is it that makes the firehouse so special to such men?
HALBERSTAM: It's a very warm, communal place in a society that doesn't have much community these days. And here's a place where you eat together and you risk your life together, you care about each other, you go out and repair each other's homes on the weekend.
I -- and as Angie Callahan, the widow of Captain Frank Callahan, an extraordinary woman, by the way, said to me, "Where else can you be brave in a time of peace?"
HUNT: The saturation 9/11 media coverage this week, was it good for the country, or was it exploitive and excessive?
HALBERSTAM: Oh, probably a little bit of both. I mean, we're not a country that underdoes media events. I think within limits it was good for the country to feel bonded, to have a shared experience, to have -- it was a like a national day of church. But I think there was an element of saturation.
HUNT: The David Halberstam legend began 40 years ago as a "New York Times" Vietnam correspondent. I want to ask you about the parallels to Vietnam. Congress rushed through the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Is there a danger of history repeating itself Iraq, or is the clear and present danger of Saddam abundantly clear?
HALBERSTAM: I would not rush this thing. I'm made very uneasy. There are voices from the past I hear. I think it could damage the hunt for the al Qaeda. It could put unbearable pressure on the fragile government in Pakistan, which we demonstrably do not want to tumble.
I think it's a little bit like punching your hand into a hornet's nest. The idea of American kids, black and white, predominantly Christian, doing, for example, occupation duty in Baghdad is not something that I find thrilling.
I do think that one of the things that we underestimated in Indochina was the shadow of a colonial experience and how that changes things. And that shadow is out there today in the Middle East.
HUNT: Many of those raising caution flags about Iraq, the doves, in the vernacular of yesteryear, are former soldiers, Brent Scowcroft, Chuck Hagel, General Schwarzkopf, Zinni, Wes Clark, and Colin Powell, while many of the most passionate hawks never wore the uniform. Is there significance?
HALBERSTAM: I think mostly the people who went to Vietnam have a sense of the consequences, that if you do this, it's messier than it tends to seem. It's not an easy question. He is a rogue, head of a rogue state who is, I think, sworn in the long run to oppose all the things we care about.
SHIELDS: If firefighters, police were -- police officers, and emergency workers are our new social icons and heroes, is that accurate?
CARLSON: I haven't seen them on the cut, you know, as many celebrities on the cover of "People" magazine, and we've seen some firefighters, and that's a healthy development for the culture.
But I predicted the numbing of America last week, and I think the ceremony at ground zero was as solemn and touching as possible. A lot of silence and a lot of feeling.
NOVAK: You know, David Halberstam was touched and remembers Vietnam very well, and I was there many times, and I remember it. But the thing you have to remember is that our present military, whatever misgivings they have about Iraq, it's not the Vietnam syndrome.
I had a dinner with three -- two three-star generals, and I was kind of shocked to realize that they -- these are lieutenant generals, they're both too young to have served in Vietnam. There's no Vietnam experience in the Pentagon.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.
O'BEIRNE: The firemen, who provided such an incredible example that so few of us were able to follow, it's because they believe in something bigger than themselves that permits them to do what they do. And since the loss of so many lives last year, we're reminded that their families share that selflessness.
SHIELDS: David Halberstam is truly an American treasure, I really believe that. But every politician in shoe leather has scrambled to have his or her picture taken with firefighters, cops, emergency workers over the last year. And if that were really the case, and we had such admiration for them, their position in the economic pecking order would have been improved, and firefighters wouldn't have to be fighting to get a pay raise, which they can't get today.
Next on CAPITAL GANG, Beyond the Beltway looks at the prime minister of Japan going to communist North Korea, with CNN correspondent Rebecca MacKinnon.
SHIELDS: Welcome back.
Next Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi will pay an historic visit to the reclusive communist state of North Korea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I felt that now we've come to the point where we'll not be able to make further progress in relations between Japan and North Korea unless the top leaders of the two countries got together.
KIM DAE-JUNG, PRESIDENT OF SOUTH KOREA (through translator): I expect the summit between North Korea and Japan will make the stalemate in relations between the two countries.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
SHIELDS: Joining us now from Korea is CNN Tokyo bureau chief Rebecca MacKinnon, who will cover Prime Minister Koizumi's trip from Tokyo. She has been to North Korea five times.
Rebecca, what concrete results are likely to result from this important visit?
REBECCA MACKINNON, CNN TOKYO BUREAU CHIEF: Well, what both countries are hoping to get out of this is the eventual normalization of diplomatic relations, Japan and North Korea have never had diplomatic relations since North Korea was established.
Now, what North Korea wants is an apology for the Japanese occupation of Korea up until the end of World War II. It also wants quite a lot of money, which it would bill at home as war reparations, but which Japan would bill more as development aid to help North Korea with its struggling economy.
Now, as far as Japan is concerned, it wants to get a number of commitments from North Korea that Washington also wants to see. One is a continued moratorium on missile testing. Another is a pledge by North Korea to allow in nuclear inspectors to verify that North Korea is indeed not developing any sort of nuclear weapon.
Japan also wants some kind of commitment that North Korea will open talks with the United States on weapons proliferation.
Now, Japan also has some thorny issues domestically to deal with. The Japanese government believes that at least 11 Japanese citizens were abducted to North Korea in the 1970s and '80s. Japan wants answers from the North Korean government about where those people currently are.
And officials here are saying they're optimistic that they may get some information about some of these individuals. And they're saying without any progress on that particular issue, which is very sensitive here domestically, they're unlikely to proceed with any kind of normalization.
SHIELDS: Bob Novak.
NOVAK: Rebecca, is there any kind of disconnect from the sense that the president -- President Bush has listed North Korea in the axis of evil, about to go to war against another member of the axis, and that Japan, the most important U.S. ally in the Far East, is about to normalize relations? Is there any feeling that in Tokyo that the Japanese government is operating against the wishes of the president on this, of President Bush on this?
MACKINNON: Absolutely not. In fact, Koizumi just met with President Bush, and President Bush did endorse Koizumi's trip. Even though it does perhaps seem a little bit counterintuitive, what seems to be going on here is a bit of good cop-bad cop, in a way, the United States taking a very hard line, very uncompromising, while the North Korean government really getting increasingly nervous about what the Bush administration might do, nervous that North Korea might be next on the list after Iraq in the axis of evil, and therefore North Korea being driven, really, to open its door to Japan, which is a traditional enemy, considered by North Korea.
And so in a way, this is seen as a way for Japan to work as a middleman between the two countries and try to facilitate, in a way, communications between North Korea and Washington.
SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.
CARLSON: Rebecca, but what needs to happen here for that to take place, if we're going to see this visit as a perhaps stalking horse for President Bush? What needs to be accomplished for the United States to, say, take North Korea off the -- out of the axis of evil?
MACKINNON: Well, there needs to be, first, coming out of this visit, there need to be very serious commitments from the North Korean side. Koizumi needs to come out of this trip looking like he has not appeased North Korea, that he has not given them handouts, but that he's coming out with concrete commitments about missile proliferation, about missile testing, about weapons of mass destruction.
A dialogue needs to be started up between the United States and North Korea as well. The Bush administration has indicated that it might be ready to send an envoy to North Korea in the coming month or so if these talks go well.
So -- but the main thing to keep in mind is that North Korea really has to give some very concrete commitments, otherwise the North Korea skeptics in Washington will say, We told you so.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.
O'BEIRNE: Rebecca, with the world's attention focused on the United Nations, the world community, and Saddam Hussein, who has been giving commitments for 11 years and in dialogue with the international for 11 years, might North Korea at this moment have to do more than just make concrete commitments? Is there anything concrete outside the mere commitment or dialogue arena that people should look to to see whether or not North Korea really intends to better cooperate?
MACKINNON: Well, I think the most concrete thing they could do in the near term would to be -- would be to allow in international nuclear inspectors from the IAEA to go into their nuclear facilities to verify that weapons-grade plutonium that they're known to have has not been used towards any kind of nuclear weapons program.
That would be the most concrete gesture of good faith that the North Korean regime could make at this point, and would most likely help to allay a great deal of fears.
SHIELDS: Rebecca, when Koizumi was elected in Japan, he was seen as a breath of fresh air, almost Kennedy-esque. Is the bloom off the rose at all politically at home for him now?
MACKINNON: Well, he's in a tough period, because the economy here continues to struggle. And this is another reason why his trip to North Korea is so important. There are some people here who are saying that if it goes well, it could be politically and in terms of geopolitical developments, it could be as important as Nixon's trip to China.
And so he's really looking to do something statesmanlike, something that will make his mark in history at a time when really the economy continues to struggle, he continues to have problems getting a consensus in his administration about how to move forward with reform.
So this is very important to him.
SHIELDS: Rebecca MacKinnon, thank you very much for being with us.
THE GANG will be back with the "Outrages of the Week."
SHIELDS: Now for the "Outrage of the Week."
Do you remember in 2000 when candidate George W. Bush boldly advocated partially privatizing Social Security while pledging to protect the benefits of workers at or near retirement age?
Well, a recession and a shrinking stock market have scared stiff Republicans now fleeing from Mr. Bush's even partial privatization plan. House Republicans officially proclaimed, quote, "Republicans are opposed to privatization," end quote.
In an Orwellian abuse of the language, conservatives, including even the respected Cato Institute, insist that they're now for Social Security choice, not for dreaded privatization.
Yes, and war is peace.
Robert D. Novak.
NOVAK: I'm still for privatization.
SHIELDS: Good for you, Bob.
NOVAK: A chummy General Ashcroft this week raised the terrorism level to orange, instructing Americans to be more alert. Eunice Stone of Cartersville, Georgia, took that seriously. Eating breakfast in a Calhoun, Georgia, restaurant, she thought she heard young Arab Americans in the next booth plotting terrorism.
That was enough to put the men in police custody for 18 hours, close down I-75 in Florida, spend lots of public money.
There was no plot, no arrests. But police thanked Miss Stone for being alert.
Now we know what level orange means.
SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.
CARLSON: Well, Bob, we're all a little rattled these days, some about invisible pathogens, including Vermont Senator Pat Leahy. In a radio interview, Leahy suggested the government investigate whether the West Nile virus was actually, quote, "a biological weapon."
We can forgive Leahy for being a nervous Nellie. One of the anthrax letters came to him. But does he think there are mosquito training camps in Afghanistan? A supply of teeny-tiny night vision goggles for the little buggers?
Let's catch the perpetrator of the anthrax mailings and forget the wild mosquito chase.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.
O'BEIRNE: In the hope that no one will notice, the State Department is quietly seeking Senate approval for a new treaty on mutual legal assistance with Sweden, despite that country's clear violations of current treaties and its support for its citizens who commit felonies against American parents whose children have been abducted to Sweden.
The Senate has in the past unanimously condemned Sweden's failure to keep its international agreements. Surely it won't commit the U.S. to new obligations until Sweden meets its old ones.
SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.
Coming up next, "LARRY KING WEEKEND."
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Losers in This Year's Primaries?; Interview With David Halberstam>