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With Saddam Hussein's Military Force Basically Defeated, Have Those Who Predicted a Cakewalk Been Vindicated?

Aired April 12, 2003 - 19:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields with the full GANG, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.

With Saddam Hussein's military force basically defeated after three weeks of war, have those who predicted a cakewalk been vindicated?

Al Hunt?

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Mark, 140 Brits and U.S. soldiers have been killed, 500 wounded. The war's cost $70 billion. You don't call that a cakewalk. But I certainly think it's true that the strategy of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and General Franks has been vindicated. This was an incredibly effective force. The lightning-quick, high- tech U.S. force, just performed extraordinarily well, better, I think, than even most optimists thought they would do.

Some exaggeration on the historical importance. They were going up against an incredibly poorly led second-, third-, fourth-rate army that made incredible miscalculations. But there are a couple things that were really important. The precision bombing we've developing for the last 15 years obviously really paid off, 80 percent smart bombs this time, 10 percent 12 years ago. And use of U.S. special forces was incredibly effective.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, do you agree with Al?

ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: I don't think it was a cakewalk in the Ken Adelman sense that we would show the colors, and nobody -- they wouldn't fight back at all. The Fedayeen fought. The Ba'athist Party fought. Even some of the Republican Guard fought.

But as Al said, the big difference was air power. There was a lot of people in the Pentagon who were worried sick that we had had too few -- of U.S. air, too few people submitted under the Rumsfeld- Tommy Franks game plan. But in fact, the air power was so devastating that they were able to really destroy the Iraqi ground forces, even though there probably weren't enough U.S. troops under conventional measurements.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Well, it seems to me, given the range of predictions, it was certainly far more cakewalk than it was quagmire. And an awful lot of people were predicting a quagmire, which it wasn't.

I think Vice President Cheney probably nailed it best when he said it will be a decisive win, it'll be in a matter of weeks, not months, and the U.S. troops will be greeted as liberators. That's exactly what happened.

When you compare this effort to 1991, which this time was a much tougher goal, getting rid of the regime, not just kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. It was less than half the time, less than half the troops, less than half the casualties. It was a stunning military success.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: That Baghdad is standing after the pounding it took is like a military miracle, because the infrastructure and a lot of what's needed to rebuild the city and the country is still there. The precision bombs that can go into a window is a great achievement. The new army and the new military that Donald Rumsfeld built has been proved to be effective, and he made the right choices.

I mean, it remains to be seen whether this victory, which was magnificent, creates a stable Iraq and whether democracy 100 flowers bloom.


HUNT: Let me just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Margaret. He made the right choices. He didn't build this army. This army's been built -- this force has been built...

NOVAK: This is Bill Clinton's army.


HUNT: Actually, lot of it. Bill Perry was the guy that came up with an awful lot of this, yes, yes.

SHIELDS: The secretary of defense.

HUNT: Secretary of defense...


NOVAK: That is a debatable point, you know that.

CARLSON: But what the military was criticizing Rumsfeld for...

HUNT: No, but you would agree that Don Rumsfeld didn't create this incredible force in a matter of two years. CARLSON: No, but he made some choices...

NOVAK: I think he improved it.

CARLSON: ... he made some choices...

NOVAK: I think he improved it.

CARLSON: ... against the military and the Pentagon brass that were unpopular and yet have been proved to be right.

NOVAK: Mark, I would say the only shortfall in this victory, in this victory militarily is, no weapons of mass destruction. And you say, Well, they're hard to find, that's why the U.N. inspectors had such a hard time. Just don't forget, this was the major cause for war, to remove -- or, I mean, stated cause, to remove weapons of mass destruction. They haven't found them. Even though they're hard to find, Mark, the question is, if there were weapons of mass destruction, why didn't the Iraqis use them?

O'BEIRNE: Well, why didn't they do a lot, Bob? They didn't blow up bridges. They didn't blow up dams to flood things. They didn't throw Scud missiles at Israel. They didn't use weapons of mass destruction. I think the American forces achieved tactical surprise, and there may have been a lot of things in Saddam's cupboard they didn't even get around to using.


SHIELDS: I think to some degree, Kate, that the speed of the attack and this -- the effectiveness of it surprised us and them. I think it surprised Saddam Hussein, and I think that probably the idea that you might have an option of time to make those decisions was gone from him. And I think you could see that it -- we were not prepared for it, in the aftermath, the immediate aftermath, I think that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: Well, with the Seven of Diamonds turning himself in today, you know, the chances of tracing them may be better...

SHIELDS: The Seven of Diamonds.

CARLSON: ... as the -- Saddam Hussein's chief scientific adviser.


CARLSON: And if they've been transported to Syria, he may -- we may be able to extract that information.

NOVAK: There's no, there's no proof they were -- there's no proof that they had these weapons in any serious way. Now, I -- Kate, let's just agree that the people who wanted to fight this war, and they had a good point, this is a terrible regime, let's change it. And this was more of an excuse for changing it than a real cause for changing it. But it is an embarrassment that they haven't -- they didn't find these weapons yet.

SHIELDS: The biggest problem was there were too many reasons for this war. It was the U.N. resolutions, it was the fact that the weapons of mass destruction, it was to bring democracy, it was to liberate. And that's -- if anything, there were too many arguments advanced, but there was no single compelling argument.


O'BEIRNE: Well, if you listened to President Bush, there was a fundamental reason., and he talked about it the night that the -- on March 19 when the attack was launched. One fundamental reason. Saddam Hussein posed a lethal threat to America.

Now, the liberation of the people of Iraq is a result he talked about that we looked forward to. He didn't list that as a rationale.


O'BEIRNE: But boy, there were never (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- there were no...


O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I'm with on the war, but you and I both know that Saddam Hussein did not pose any kind of imminent threat to America.

O'BEIRNE: I don't know that. I don't know that at all.


HUNT: He posed a threat to the region...

CARLSON: He may not have posed -- but he (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: ... but he did not pose an imminent...

CARLSON: ... an imminent threat, but it is...

HUNT: ... threat to America.

CARLSON: The United states standing in the international community will be improved if we find weapons of mass destruction...

O'BEIRNE: They'll be there.

CARLSON: ... which will be the...

O'BEIRNE: We will.

CARLSON: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for having gone to war.

O'BEIRNE: We will. SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson. THE GANG of five will be back with, how will Iraq be governed after Saddam?


O'BEIRNE: ... redistribution that's long overdue, Mark.

SHIELDS: Kate, closing 39 of the 40 hospitals in Baghdad...

O'BEIRNE: That'll be fixed.

SHIELDS: ... because of looters. No, that's a bad thing.

O'BEIRNE: That'll be fixed.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: I think was a brilliantly planned offensive, as we said in the last segment. Not any planning whatsoever for this looting. The troops didn't know what to do. They looked at them looting. They didn't try to stop them. Is that a major development for us in the United States? No. But it may -- the chaos, Kate, cannot be a good thing. And they were looting a lot more than presidential palaces. They were looting a lot of private property, which I have a lot of great deal of respect for.


NOVAK: Are they glad to get rid of Saddam Hussein? Absolutely. But I really do believe this is going to be a very hard place to govern. It's an artificial country, created in 1919 by the British colonial office. Nobody's governed it well. And to say that these exiles and dissidents are going to step in immediately and govern it is unrealistic.

SHIELDS: How unrealistic, Margaret?

CARLSON: Well, you know, in 1991, when Vice President Cheney was explaining why we didn't go to Baghdad, he said nobody knows what to do once you get there. And that was obvious the other day. And yet those who predicted a cakewalk or at least stipulated that the military action would be successful and successful quickly, why weren't they ready?

And we're -- the United States is going to have to do something like a peacekeeping in Kosovo. And it might be a way to repair the U.N. And let's make France and Germany put up most of the money and most of the people to go in and administer in this interim period, Iraq.


HUNT: Well, I think it's undeniable that the vast majority of Iraqi people -- and I have didn't done a survey, I haven't even been there, so -- but are delighted that Saddam is gone. I think it's undeniable that the vast majority of countries in the region are delighted this thug is gone.

But that does not -- it does not follow ipso facto they're going to embrace America or embrace American leadership. And I think that Bob Novak is absolutely right, that as brilliantly -- as brilliant as this war plan was, we were woefully ill prepared for the day after.

That comes not just from reading the journalism from over there, but the Kurdish interior minister said that. And there were people in the streets saying that. There is growing hostilities. And is it -- does that mean that it's all over? Of course not. There's time, as Kate suggested, but they better do it quickly.

And the reason you got to get the U.N. involved in some way is because there's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- you may have all kinds of complaints about in the U.N., but some things they do well, refugees. 2 million in Afghanistan, food, you know, that kind of relief. And this and -- Mr. Rumsfeld better start to reach out.

NOVAK: Obviously, there's a time limit on looting. After you steal everything, there's no more to steal. So that solves itself. But I think that is endemic, that is emblematic of the difficulties that we face in that country right now.


SHIELDS: Let's be very blunt about it. When you've had a repressive, despotic regime that has submerged the ethnic strife that is there, and when you've got -- you've got an Iraqi National Congress being backed by the Defense Department, that is very, very shy on Sunnis and very strong on both Shi'ites and Kurds, it's impossible.

NOVAK: Is it going to be like Yugoslavia after (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

O'BEIRNE: Actually...

SHIELDS: Is it going to be?

O'BEIRNE: ... actually, it's a wealthy country. The oil should be back in the hands of the Iraqi people. It's an educated country. And actually it was Saddam Hussein who set Iraqis against each other who actually have a history of tolerance, pre- the Saddam Hussein fascist regime.

NOVAK: Were they tolerant when they murdered 33 British soldiers in 1919?

HUNT: Thirty-three thousand.

O'BEIRNE: Bob...

NOVAK: Thirty-three thousand?

O'BEIRNE: ... Bob, but the people who want -- I do agree that there is some role for the U.N. The president (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some sort of vital role, humanitarian assistance, maybe helping with refugees. But the idea that the U.N. would have any moral authority to now help in Iraq...

NOVAK: Who's going to run the place?

O'BEIRNE: ... given that, given that not only did they not stop the repression and brutality, they tried to stop the people who wanted to stop the repression and brutality.

NOVAK: Who's going to, who's going to run, who's going to govern the place?

O'BEIRNE: Over time, Bob...

NOVAK: Over time?

O'BEIRNE: ... over time, the Iraqis are going to...


O'BEIRNE: ... not the U.N....

HUNT: Over time, we're all dead. But Bob...

O'BEIRNE: ... not the U.N., Bob.


HUNT: ... let me just say this.


HUNT: There was a story in "The New York Times" today that the -- that a bunch of Iraqi Shi'ites went and stormed the embassy in Tehran in Iran. And they had two signs, "Death to Saddam" and "Death to America."

And we better understand that we have a problem over there, and if we're arrogant about it, Kate, we're going to pay a price.

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) being arrogant about it?

HUNT: Mr. Rumsfeld.

O'BEIRNE: We did not shed American and British blood for the French to come in and run Iraq.

CARLSON: Listen, I think Karl Rove got through to the soldier putting the flag up over the statue in central Baghdad.


CARLSON: And there was -- yes, that -- you know, five, five satellite phone calls got through to him. The United States was too -- it was afraid of being seen as conquering, and so was not ready with the police action. Law-abiding Iraqis would have been happy to see the soldiers be, you know, enforced curfews and a police action on the looters. And in the interim, the United States has to -- military's going to have to do that.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson. Next on CAPITAL GANG, will George W. Bush do as well at home as he has in Iraq?


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

As American troops triumphed in Iraq, George W. Bush was having trouble getting the kind of budget and emergency war appropriations he had wanted, as Congress raced to begin its Easter recess.

Bob Novak, is this a sign that President Bush faces the same kind of political trouble that 12 years ago afflicted and ultimately defeated his dad?

NOVAK: I don't think they necessarily connect. You see, the -- every war president has trouble with Congress trying to take advantage of his preoccupation with the war. Franklin Roosevelt, when we had the fate of the nation at stake in World War II, had to veto a revenue bill because the Senate wouldn't go along with what he wanted.

But I do think the problem is going to be whether the economy responds favorably to the -- to this war, to the end of the war. That's what they're counting on. If it doesn't respond favorably, he could be in big trouble in 2004, war victory or not.

But he's very, very popular right now. And if the economy doesn't tank, he's going to be...

SHIELDS: Doesn't tank or doesn't recover? I mean, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: Doesn't tank, doesn't tank.

SHIELDS: ... continues to muddle along the way it is?

NOVAK: Yes. If it just -- if it gets no worse than it is now, and it doesn't matter what Congress does. They're not passing a big enough tax cut. But I know that. But that won't hurt the economy in itself.

SHIELDS: Not a big enough tax cut, Al Hunt?

HUNT: They're passing too big a tax cut. But I'm going to tell you, three cheers for Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who stood up...

SHIELDS: Republican of Iowa.

HUNT: ... stood up, a very conservative Republican from Iowa, and said a $750 billion tax cut just isn't going to pass. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Senate approved of $385 billion, he said that's too much, but it's at least a little bit of fiscal sanity in there.

I don't think it translates, Bob. I don't think the popularity -- the popularity's enormous. I don't think it's going to have much impact on Capitol Hill at all, and who knows what'll happen a year from now?

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, can the president survive politically with an economy that most Americans have lost confidence in and are not optimistic about?

CARLSON: You know, it's not just a muddle. Lots of people have lost their jobs or know people who have lost their jobs. The job -- it's not a job recovery, to the extent that it's a recovery at all that we're looking at.

Senator Grassley, a huge profile in courage, taken to the woodshed by the White House, and yet came back and did what he did. And Senator Olympia Snowe and George Voynovich. The reason his popularity isn't going to translate to getting his tax cut through is that the war and the tax cut are at war. People cannot logically see that you can have a $700 trillion tax cut when you're paying for a war.

NOVAK: Isn't the war over?

SHIELDS: Kate, Kate O'Beirne...

CARLSON: No, it's not.


CARLSON: They keep telling us it's not over, Bob. It's not.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, "The Wall Street Journal" had a marvelous little box on Thursday of this week, and it showed President George Herbert Walker Bush's record, which was the creation of 1.6 million jobs at this point in his presidency.

This president's lost more 2 million, that the market had gone down, whereas it had gone up under President Bush the first. I mean, his economic record was a lot rosier than the current economic record of the President Bush, and do you think he can continue to survive with this sort of an economic record?

O'BEIRNE: One quick point first, and then about he and his (UNINTELLIGIBLE) different situation than his dad. Those profiles in courage you're talking about, Margaret, in the name of deficit reduction, have approved a budget that has twice as many spending increases as it does tax cuts. So much for deficit reduction.

Look, unlike his father, because of the war on terrorism, national security is going to remain among the top concerns, which was not so, of course, in 1992. And unlike his father, he has an ambitious domestic agenda. Now, like his father, he faces a weak economy. And it seems to me that what the Democrats are determined to do, given that George Bush is such a winner on foreign policy, is to make darn sure he's a loser in domestic policy.

Their war plan for 2004 is a weak economy. And the president's plan, which would stimulate the economy, is exactly what they don't want to see happen.

NOVAK: Let's be frank about the Democrats' situation. They -- the thing the Democrats really counted on was a collapse of this war, that it was going to be a quagmire, that it was going to go on and on and on, and it was going to be a disaster. We're for the troops but we're against the way the war. Now all they can depend on...

O'BEIRNE: Is a weak economy.

NOVAK: ... is a weak economy. And of course, don't forget, Bush senior had a recession. This is not a recession we're in now.


HUNT: I just don't remember all those Republicans in '98 and '99 cheering for a good economy. Were they?


HUNT: Oh, they were? All right.

NOVAK: Listen, let me tell you this...


NOVAK: ... I always, I always cheer for a good economy.


SHIELDS: Let me just disagree strenuously with Brother Novak, and that is, the Democratic criticism prior to this war was not about a quagmire nearly as it was about this criticism of the failed diplomacy of President Bush, and a concern, also expressed by Brother Novak, about the implications and the ultimate consequences...


SHIELDS: ... of what would happen (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: ... about a quagmire, come on, Mark...


SHIELDS: I didn't hear the word quagmire from anybody.

O'BEIRNE: ... talk about thousands of casualties on both sides.

SHIELDS: I didn't hear the word quagmire.


HUNT: The great aftermath, as Bob so eloquently...


HUNT: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the problems of the aftermath that you so eloquently articulated a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or two ago.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the Democrats cannot win this election on the war now. They've got to rely on a lousy economy. That's a tough position for a political party to be in.

SHIELDS: And when was the last time -- what did Ronald Reagan win in 1980?

That's it. But the GANG of five will be right back with who are winners and who are losers of the second Gulf War.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was the winner, and Secretary of State Colin Powell the loser as America went to war in Iraq.

Margaret, as of now, who are the real winners and the losers in this war?

CARLSON: Well, some of the financial geniuses in the Republican administration who are favor of the dividend tax cut and capital gains taxes and all other kinds of things are going to -- people the Baghdad finance ministry. They're heading over there now, including Heritage Foundation people and Grover Norquist.

Loser, reality TV, in that the wonderful job that embedded journalists did, showing us a real war, I think, is going to put "Fear Factor" and "Survivor" out of business. And thank goodness.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Big winner is Dick Cheney, the vice president. He wanted to fight this war from the beginning. He is very influential and very powerful in this administration. I'm going to give you two losers. One is Gerhard Schroeder, the chancellor of Germany, who could actually be overthrown because of this. And the other one is the Arab nationalism, which has taken a heavy blow.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Don Rumsfeld transformation agenda for the military is a big winner. It should -- the performance in both Afghanistan and Iraq should persuade the doubters at the Pentagon. And losers are all the Democrats who pander to the antiwar, anti-Bush, pro-Saddam left. And interestingly, not including Hillary Clinton.


HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) obviously Saddam Hussein and all of his junior league Nazi thugs around him. Thank God they're gone. And Mark, I think the big loser also would be anybody who makes predictions now, because it remains to be seen how this is going to play out. SHIELDS: Big winner was the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon, which got -- eliminated one of its greatest nemeses. And without any attack upon the population or the property of the state of Israel.

And the losers, those moral conservatives who say things like free people are free to commit crimes and do bad things and somehow rationalize looters.

And at the same time, I would add...


SHIELDS: ... I would add to that...


SHIELDS: ... I'd add -- Don Rumsfeld said that, OK?



SHIELDS: And I'd say those anti-immigrant...

O'BEIRNE: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not a problem.


SHIELDS: ... nativist jerks...


SHIELDS: ... who don't acknowledge the fact that there are 37,000 noncitizens fighting for the United States right now.

This is Mark Shields saying goodbye for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next on CNN, live from the front lines, and stay tuned for a CNN special, "The Rescue of Jessica Lynch" at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 5:30 p.m. Pacific.


Have Those Who Predicted a Cakewalk Been Vindicated?>

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