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Al Gore Endorses Howard Dean; What Does Saddam's Capture Mean For Effort In Iraq?; Louisiana Senator John Breaux Retires

Aired December 20, 2003 - 19:00   ET


MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with the full gang: Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.
In Baghdad last Sunday morning, the U.S. administrator announced the capture of Saddam Hussein.


PAUL BREMER, U.S. ADMINISTRATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.

Now it is time to look to the future, to your future of hope, to a future of reconciliation. Iraq's future, your future, has never been more full of hope.


SHIELDS: President Bush was asked on ABC's "Primetime" what now should be done with Saddam Hussein.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he ought to receive the ultimate penalty and -- for what he's done to his people. This is a disgusting tyrant who deserves justice, the ultimate justice.


SHIELDS: The Iraqi foreign minister predicted a dramatic reduction in guerrilla attacks.


HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: You may find some surge of these attacks as an act of revenge or frustration in the short term, but in the long term, I think they have lost and they have been defeated.


SHIELDS: The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll of U.S. voters showed approval for the way the U.S. has handled Iraq since the major fighting stopped went from 46 percent to 65 percent in one week.

Kate O'Beirne, does this really mean that the war in Iraq has been won?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Well, I think the central objective was the war was accomplished in record time. Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled. His capture, I think, means, Mark, that he's gone now in another way, a critically important way. He's gone as a symbol of defiance and his symbol as an alternative power to the new Iraqi government that's going to emerge. For 25 years, the Iraqis have lived under the scary, larger-than-life presence of Saddam Hussein. He's looking pretty small now. And why should they fight and die, as he's been calling on them to do, when he was unwilling to do the same?

The public seems to recognize -- the American public -- much more remains to be done. Fifty-eight percent say post-capturing Saddam Hussein, No, it doesn't mean we can reduce the level of troops. This isn't sufficient for the future of Iraq, but I think it was a necessary precondition for the future of Iraq.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, to a considerable degree, Saddam Hussein had become the ex post facto justification for going to war. And does his capture, I mean, in any way mean that the war itself, the rationale and the explanation for the sort of continuing resistance on the part that Saddam was supposedly responsible for -- I mean, does that mean that the administration ought to just be thrilled and...

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Well, certainly, they are thrilled. I think first you have to say about Saddam -- Kate, if anything, you're too charitable. I mean, he deserves a special place in the sniveling cowards hall of fame. I mean, this really is a -- besides a dreadful man, he's a coward.

But I think, unlike "Top Gun," unlike the staged Thanksgiving turkey, this is real, that this really is substantive. It matters. The capture -- first of all, in a negative sense, it means people can't say, You couldn't even capture Saddam Hussein, so it's important in that way. And we'll have to see -- if it does have an effect on the resistance -- and there are some people who think it will -- then that's going to be hugely important. It will be an incredibly seminal day for our -- for what's happening in Iraq.

I'm not sure yet it's going to totally break the back of those people. I'm not sure there aren't factors that go well beyond Saddam. But it certainly can't be any tougher once we've gotten Saddam.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak?

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Mark, this was not an ex post facto reason for attacking Iraq, this was the reason for attacking Iraq. No matter what they said, the real reason was a change of regime. That was even before 9/11. The people who advocated this attack wanted to change the regime. So obviously, while this guy is hanging around, you really haven't guaranteed the change of regime. And it's quite clear that the man-in-the-street interviews from his diehard people in Tikrit saying, Well, he's not really dead, this is an impostor -- it shows how much it means to them to have him alive. They've got -- there's a long, long road ahead to win the guerrilla war there, and a lot of mistakes have been made by the U.S. occupying forces, but I think they're on the right track now. And this certainly was a precondition for winning.

SHIELDS: Precondition -- Margaret Carlson, in fact, Saddam did provide a diversion from what had been the publicly stated reason for going to war, which was weapons of mass destruction, and also a diversion from sort of an examination of why there had been so little planning for the post-war.

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Well, right. I mean, Bob, it is partly ex post facto because in the order of reasons given, it was an imminent threat -- an imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction. And regime change was quietly said because that wasn't going to get as much support as getting rid of those weapons and fighting the war on terror. Bush still hasn't shown what part of the war on terror has been solved by going into Iraq and now getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Thank God he's gone. The reign of fear is over. For the world, it's a good thing. For human rights, it's a good thing. But we have to see whether it's a good thing for the war on terror. That part we don't know.

O'BEIRNE: Wanting a regime change in Saudi -- in Iraq was not said quietly. It's been the position of this government since 1998 officially. And the recognition was we will not be safer, there will be a threat from the weapons that he's determined to get his hands on as long as he's running Iraq.


O'BEIRNE: The only way to make us safer was to get rid of Saddam Hussein! It was the...


O'BEIRNE: Just for the sake of accuracy, it was also -- regime change was also called for by Clinton.


O'BEIRNE: ... in 1998.

CARLSON: But regime change by...

O'BEIRNE: It was always central!

CARLSON: ... use of force -- by use of force...

SHIELDS: Use of force...

CARLSON: ... and a preemptive invasion of a country was not always the policy of...


SHIELDS: Margaret's absolutely right.

HUNT: I would just hope, though, that now that the architects of the disastrous post-Saddam phase in Iraq would not be calling the shots. They have blundered tremendously. This is a new opportunity, and let's have new people calling...

NOVAK: Wait a minute. I mean, you want accountability?

HUNT: I do want accountability. Absolutely.

NOVAK: That's a little unreasonable in government, isn't it?

HUNT: I'm sorry, Robert.

SHIELDS: Just quickly, though -- I mean, this is a guy that was found with no phone, with no radio...

NOVAK: He had a gun.

SHIELDS: I know. But I mean -- but he -- the idea that he was...

HUNT: And 750 grand!

SHIELDS: The idea that somehow he was in control or influencing the resistance...

NOVAK: I don't think anybody said he was in command and control, but he was...


O'BEIRNE: We don't know.

CARLSON: ... that the fact that people thought that he was alive and might come back...

O'BEIRNE: He certainly was still terrifying the people. And we don't know whether he was using little minions running messages all over. We'll find that out...

SHIELDS: It's a hell of a run, Kate.

O'BEIRNE: ... as he, hopefully, sings like a canary.

SHIELDS: From Tikrit to Baghdad.

But the GANG of five will be back with Howard Dean under attack.

ANNOUNCER: Here's your CAPITAL GANG "Trivia Question of the Week." How many of the 55 most wanted Iraqis remain at large? A, 6; B, 13; C, 19. We'll have the answer right after the break.


ANNOUNCER: Before the break, we asked how many of the 55 most wanted Iraqis remain at large? The answer is B, 13.

SHIELDS: Welcome back. This was the reaction to Saddam Hussein's capture by Democratic presidential frontrunner Howard Dean.


HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... must make it clear that the capture of one very bad man does not mean that this president and the Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terror. The truth is that Americans are no safer today from these serious threats than they were the day before Saddam Hussein was captured.


SHIELDS: That assessment provoked this response from rival presidential contenders.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The choice is clear. With Howard Dean, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. This man would take us back to where the Democratic Party was before Bill Clinton -- weak on security.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein and those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture don't have the judgment to be president.


SHIELDS: A Democratic group ran this television ad.


ANNOUNCER: Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy. It's time for Democrats to think about that and think about it now.


SHIELDS: The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll of registered Democrats shows Governor Dean leading with 27 percent to 12 percent each for General Wesley Clark and Senator Joe Lieberman.

Margaret Carlson, is Howard Dean vulnerable on the national security issue?

CARLSON: The week in which the president can come out and say "We got him" makes it difficult for all the Democrats because all of the attention goes over to the other side. And just as I had a hard time explaining in the first segment why Saddam's capture doesn't solve all our problems, it's a very hard thing for any Democrat to explain the first week that it happens. I don't -- I think Howard Dean handled it fairly well until he got to the word "safer," We're no safer -- I mean, in a global sense, we are safer. In the war on terror sense, we don't -- we don't know yet because we don't know what Saddam Hussein's connection was to al Qaeda. That still hasn't been made. And we still haven't found any weapons there. He looks like a kind of helpless guy stuck in a hole. SHIELDS: Bob Novak, we haven't gone from code orange to code green.

NOVAK: No, I would say that -- we're talking Democratic politics. I think Howard Dean did about as badly as he could. He opened himself up to attacks from Lieberman and Kerry. He -- the Democrats are in a classic dilemma. What he says appeals to people who go -- who vote in New Hampshire primary and go out on a cold night in Iowa to the caucuses, but it is the kind of stuff that will not win in a general election. And the polls indicate that there is an absolute difference between Democrats and the majority of people, Republicans and independents, as far as whether this war was justified. And I can't think of anybody running that issue more -- more poorly right now than Howard Dean is, but he's ahead for the nomination.


HUNT: You know, Bob Novak is absolutely right about this. The first -- the first couple days, as Margaret suggests, he handled it right. He really had the right tone. And then he kind of got carried away. There's almost a Gingrich sort of recklessness about him when it comes to language because he -- like Gingrich, he's a very smart guy, but he loves to pop off. He did it on the Middle East. He did it on the -- on the Confederate flag. He's done it -- and when it comes to national security, Mark, for a guy who has no experience, that's a really, really dangerous quality.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne? Politically.

O'BEIRNE: It's a remarkable thing that's happening with Howard Dean. I point out in that poll we just showed, over 70 percent of Democratic voters don't have Howard Dean as their choice. But those he's captured, are those -- are the Democratic voters who are more anti-Bush than they are anti-Saddam and pro-national security.

And I submit he's worse than an anti-war candidate at the time of war, announcing this week that he might have gone to war with Iraq if the U.N. gave us permission, which is an incredible outrage. He's worse than an anti-war candidate. John Kerry's pointing out that he's not even a credible anti-war candidate because he's been all over the map! He was saying that -- well over a year ago that of course Saddam Hussein's a threat. Now he says we're no safer. He's making these sort of almost deranged comments on national security. Republicans are now saying to each other, Maybe we ought to lay off Howard Dean for fear the Democrats come to their senses before -- before it's too late. That's how, out there, they're increasingly seeing Howard Dean.

SHIELDS: The more the attacks on Dean, the more he's established and acknowledged as the frontrunner.

NOVAK: Actually, he slipped a little bit in the Gallup poll after these attacks, but he's -- he's still far out in front. The -- there is -- people I talk to really are -- really feel that they don't know how to handle it because if they come out with a big attack, that's going to be a huge split in the Democratic Party. You know that -- we showed a portion of that commercial...

SHIELDS: We didn't show the most inflammatory spot.

NOVAK: No. It was a -- that's just a sample of what he's going to get from the Republicans if he's nominated. But they pulled this off the air because they're -- they're afraid of the -- of the backlash at it from within the -- the Deanites.

O'BEIRNE: Bob, his biggest enemy is going to be tapes and transcripts, first of all, for his own flip-flops, his personal flip- flops, but also for what the other candidates are saying about him. Lieberman -- he's -- Dean is weak on defense and hard on the middle class. Kerry -- he doesn't have the credibility to be commander-in- chief. Gephardt -- he's playing politics with national security. This is going to be a real contrition convention in Boston if they all have to get up on the stage come August and endorse this guy.

HUNT: Kate, that's not new. I mean, you could, you know, play back what John McCain said about George Bush four years ago.

O'BEIRNE: But these are really...

HUNT: You could play back what -- what Paul Tsongas and Bob Kerrey said about Bill Clinton in 1992.


HUNT: I don't think those are -- I don't think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) But the problem is the commander-in-chief. That, though, is a problem. 9/11 brought back that as an issue, and that's something Dean's going to have to address, which he hasn't done yet.

SHIELDS: Margaret reminds us of "voodoo economics," Kate, and the fact that George Herbert Walker Bush...


O'BEIRNE: That was a policy dispute! It's not saying he doesn't have the credibility and experience to be commander-in-chief...


SHIELDS: It was saying it was a loony idea that you could cut taxes and balance the budget at the same time.

O'BEIRNE: And he did.

SHIELDS: He never balanced the budget in eight years!


CARLSON: Ronald Reagan was characterized as on the fringe and a rookie in foreign policy and all those other things before he won the nomination and won the election. It always happens.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson. Next on CAPITAL GANG, the courts rein in the commander-in-chief.



JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have acted with legal authority both under the laws of war and clear Supreme Court precedent which established that the military may detain a United States citizen who has joined the enemy and has entered our country to carry out hostile acts.


SHIELDS: That was the attorney general in June of last year, defending the detention of Jose Padilla, an American accused of planning to activate a dirty bomb. This week, a federal appeals court, in a 2-to-1 decision, ruled that President Bush does not have that power. Quote, "We conclude that clear congressional authorization is required for detentions of American citizens on American soil," end quote.

Another 2-to-one appellate decision ruled against indefinite detention at Guantanamo of suspected foreign terrorists. Quote, "We simply cannot accept the government's position that the executive branch possesses the unchecked authority to imprison indefinitely any persons, foreign citizens included," end quote.

Al Hunt, what do these two decisions do to the war against terrorism?

HUNT: Very little, Mark, but they're a reaffirmation of the Constitution and due process that stretches back to the Magna Carta. What the president argued was that in a war against terrorism -- it's open-ended, it's going to go on for decades -- that he has unchecked authority to take a U.S. citizen who's an enemy combatant, or suspected enemy combatant, and lock him up and keep him there as long as he wants to, with no right to counsel and no judicial review. And there's nothing to stop the government, with those decisions, from trying Mr. Padilla, from -- from indicting him, trying him and convicting him, if the evidence is there. Due process is a strength for America, not a weakness.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne?

O'BEIRNE: What's at issue here is, are we fighting a war on terror, where the United States itself is a combat zone, or are we facing some sort of a crime syndicate? And the other question is, who decides? Who decides how the war on terror is going to be fought? Who decides who's an enemy combatant, a bunch of unelected judges with lifetime jobs or a president of the United States as commander-in- chief who's accountable, who's more accountable than our lifetime federal judges with lifetime appointments? The most deranged decision, of course, is typically the 9th Circuit, showing again why it's the most overturned court in the country.

NOVAK: That's the Guantanamo detention (UNINTELLIGIBLE) O'BEIRNE: The ones who are now saying that soldiers, enemy soldiers captured on a foreign battlefield, all have a right to Johnnie Cochrans. I mean, that -- that shows how deranged federal judges are capable of being.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Maria Cantwell -- two Republican senators and a Democratic senator from Washington -- went down there to Guantanamo and raised that very issue that the Court addressed this week.

NOVAK: Well, I think it's a tough -- it's a tough issue for me because I'm very sympathetic to the civil liberty questions. My problem is, I think Jose Padilla and these terrorists should be in prison. But I am sympathetic to it. But let me just make a little political statement on these judges who made these decisions. On the decision involving Padilla, they were made 2-to-1 by two Clinton judges. Dissenting was a Bush judge. And the guy who wrote this 9th Circuit decision is my old friend, Steve Rinehart (ph), former Democratic National Committeeman from California, who is a left-wing extremist. He always was. I like him. Nice fellow. So judges do count. And don't -- I don't want to hear anybody saying that Clinton and Carter, who named Steve Rinehart, named moderate judges. They named ideologic ideologues to the federal bench.

CARLSON: Clinton and Carter named more moderate judges than Bush's...


CARLSON: ... nominating to the court. I said it, OK, Bob?

NOVAK: I said I didn't want you to say that!

CARLSON: I know. And that's...

SHIELDS: Good for you, Margaret!

CARLSON: It is why I said it. Listen, you know, right after the -- September 11, the country would go along with anything that happened. And over the course of time, there needs to be some pulling back to not have the United States have a gulag. And we have three branches of government, Kate, so that the who decides has some oversight over it, so that the checks and balances...

O'BEIRNE: Do you think...

CARLSON: ... operate.

O'BEIRNE: Do you think...

CARLSON: I do not want...

O'BEIRNE: ... soldiers captured on a foreign battlefield...

CARLSON: ... federal judges...

O'BEIRNE: ... should have lawyers?

CARLSON: I do not want federal judges running the war on terror, but I do think...

O'BEIRNE: Well, this is what this would be!

CARLSON: ... that giving Padilla a lawyer -- a lawyer...

HUNT: He's an American citizen.

CARLSON: ... is not -- he's an American citizen, and it is due process. And we have...

O'BEIRNE: An American citizen who has joined enemy forces during wartime and -- can be tried in military tribunals. The military can take jurisdiction of him. The Supreme Court said so in 1942.

HUNT: Indict him, try him and convict him. But Bob I think, if we check the record, we'll find out that one of those judges in the 2nd Circuit was a Bush appointee.

O'BEIRNE: The purpose of detention...

NOVAK: No. Wrong.

O'BEIRNE: ... is not -- is not...

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) two judges who -- in the 2nd circuit who wrote on the Padilla case were both Clinton appointees. There was a dissenting Clinton judge in the 9th Circuit.

SHIELDS: I just have a question for Bob and Kate. I mean, your diatribe against judges -- are we for the popular election of judges?

O'BEIRNE: No. The purpose of military detentions, which these judges showed a fundamental...

NOVAK: Can I answer for myself?

O'BEIRNE: ... misunderstanding of, is not to throw them into court and charge them with the crimes.

HUNT: I thought she gave a good answer.

NOVAK: Can I answer for myself?


NOVAK: I would like recall of federal judges...


NOVAK: ... like they have state judges in California. Yes, I would, because I believe in the people, and when it suits my purpose, I'm a populist! (LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: Boy, oh, boy! You're the most flexible aristocratic populist in the history of television!

Coming up in the second half of CAPITAL GANG, a sidebar. A moderate Southern Democrat bows out of the Senate. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the Arab world's reaction to Saddam Hussein's capture, with CNN's Brent Sadler directly from Beirut. And our "Outrage of the Week." That's all after the latest news headlines.


SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with the full gang, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

Three-term Democratic Senator John Breaux of Louisiana revealed a long-awaited decision.


SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D-LA): There comes a time in every career when it is time to step aside and to let others step up and serve, and for my family and me, that time has arrived. I therefore will not seek reelection to the United States Senate.


SHIELDS: Senator Breaux expressed concern about next year's presidential campaign.


BREAUX: I think Howard Dean would like to move away from some of the things that Bill Clinton stood for in terms of moderation and middle-of-the-road standards.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, what does Senator Breaux's retirement mean for Democratic chances of regaining control of the United States Senate?

NOVAK: Well, They weren't all that great anyway, and it makes it a little more difficult. It takes a sure Democratic seat, because Senator Breaux would certainly have been reelected, he's very popular in Louisiana, and it makes it a contested seat.

Now Senator Breaux is telling people he wouldn't have stepped aside if he wasn't sure that the Democrats could hold the seat, but he doesn't know anymore than I know. The elections have been very, very close in Louisiana. Democrats have won them. Democrats do much stronger in Louisiana than any other deep south seat, but it's another contested seat, and you have five southern Democratic Senators stepping aside, opening seats, and that is really a sign of how difficult it is to be a Democrat in the south and also an opportunity for the Republicans to increase the size of their majority.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, in a strange way, I mean, Zell Miller had really become, had gone over to the other side. John Breaux had always been the guy on both sides of the aisle, he could talk, he could negotiate openly. It's a blow to the Senate as well as to the Democrats.

HUNT: I mean, he's a great dealmaker, whether you're for him, if you're for the deal, it's great. If you're against the deal, it's awful.

But you know, Bob is right, this took a sure seat and now it makes it a contested seat. I think the odds are the Democrats will hold that seat. They tend to win elections in Louisiana, but they have five seats in the south and to have any shot at winning back control of the Senate, they've got to win four of those seats, and it is now a Republican area, and that's a very uphill order.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, Georgia certainly looks Republican at this point and South Carolina is a Republican state, probably the most Republican, other than Mississippi, of the deep southern states. So what's your assessment of the Breaux retirement?

O'BEIRNE: I think it digs the Senate Democrats into an even deeper hole. I think North Carolina also looks good for Republicans to pick up a seat. Erskine Bowles is talking about running again, but he lost pretty big last time to Elizabeth Dole, and when Republican presidents sweep the south, they win the White House -- '84, '88, 2000 -- and as long as the liberal base of the Democratic Party is forcing their national candidates to be anti-war, pro-abortion, anti-gun, pro- taxes, pro-gay marriage, they're going to have a really difficult time in the south.

Now Senators typically run independent of the top of the ticket. You can certainly elect a Senator of a different party. People ticket split. But I think things are becoming increasingly hostile to national Democrats in the south, the whole Tom Daschle Democrat.

CARLSON: Senator Breaux is the perfect Democrat for the south. Zell Miller, who thinks he's kind of a centrist, is really a self- loving Democrat and has gotten lots of headlines -- self-loathing Democrat. Not self-loving.

NOVAK: Not to be confused with anybody on this panel.

CARLSON: Right, right.

Let's see if I can get my train of thought back here.


CARLSON: So we'll miss Senator Breaux.

But Louisiana, I think, will elect another Democrat. It is the one southern state where that could happen, so his leaving is not as bad as, say, Zell Miller leaving in Georgia and Senator Graham leaving in Florida.

SHIELDS: In Florida, I think, in fairness, Inez Tenenbaum, the South Carolina Democrat, has been a top vote-getter in the state, the Democratic nominee. Erskine Bowles is running against Richard Burr (ph) this time, not against Elizabeth Dole. I think it's fair to say Elizabeth Dole had a lot more celebrity force.

But what's intriguing, Bob, and you've got to tell me this. Northerners will vote for southern candidates for president, OK -- Carter, Clinton, Johnson. But southerners have a real problem voting for northern candidates for president. Why is that?

NOVAK: Well, I think they would vote for the right northern candidate.

SHIELDS: And who would that be? You?

CARLSON: Keep it moving, Bob.

NOVAK: I'll have to think of one, but that is a problem with the Democratic Party, Mark, that it just has become so polarized to the left that it has a very difficult time winning presidential elections.


HUNT: I think, for instance, Erskine Bowles may even be a favorite in North Carolina now, Kate, but what they have to do, they have to pull it all off. They've got to...


O'BEIRNE: And let's see whether or not their presidential candidate campaigns for any of them.

SHIELDS: Howard Dean has had a lot more balanced budgets than George W. Bush, that's something to think about.

Coming up, the CAPITAL GANG CLASSIC, catching Osama bin Laden.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Two years ago this week a captured videotape showed Osama bin Laden rejoicing over the bloodshed of 9/11 three months earlier. U.S. officials reported the terrorist leader was surrounded in Afghanistan.

CAPITAL GANG discussed this on December 15, 2001. Our guest was Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, of Utah.


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, would the capture of Osama bin Laden be the defining event in the war against terrorism?

CARLSON: It would be a defining event-plus. If not surrounded, certainly they are right on top of him, because of the fierce fighting and defense which these troops are not known. They're protecting something very valuable -- it must be Osama.

NOVAK: If you don't get him, if he slips out, which is entirely possible, then somehow or another you say it's been a failure. Of course it hasn't been a failure. They have destroyed Afghanistan for the foreseeable future as a haven for terrorism.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UTAH): I was, I think, the first one to warn the Clinton administration that, my gosh, you'd better get on top of Osama bin Laden or he's going to kill Americans. Well, they didn't; and, of course, this has happened.

HUNT: I think we're going to get him. I think we'll get him soon. I think it will be a great triumph when we do get him. And you're right, it won't be the end of the war. And I think -- we say "dead or alive," I think both the United States and Osama agree it's better dead than red, white and blue. He doesn't want to be a prisoner.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is the failure to catch Osama bin Laden a major defeat in the war against terrorism?

HUNT: I didn't define soon, Mark. I want to quickly point out.

Look, I think even more worrisome is that Afghanistan, as they report, is becoming, parts of it, becoming a haven again for terrorism.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak?

NOVAK: I was the only one who made any sense on that show that night, but that's not unusual.

I will say this, that I believe that Afghanistan is not controlled by a government, Al, that's supporting terrorism, so it was a success. I never said they'd catch him. You did.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, you weren't there, so you can say anything you want.

O'BEIRNE: No, that's why Bob felt so lonesome. Nobody else was -- try this, Bob. It's hard to imagine this war on terror, that there's going to be any final success in the sense of, you know, Berlin falling, but I do think it's crucial to at some point capture Osama bin Laden, but the Democrats better stop taunting George Bush about it, because as we learned last week, it could happen at any time.

CARLSON: You know, Secretary Rumsfeld says that when he wakes up in the morning, for months, Mrs. Rumsfeld said, "Where is he," and she meant Osama bin Laden. We kind of let it drift.

But you know, he was surrounded, and if we'd had better troops there, we might have gotten him at that...

NOVAK: More troops.

CARLSON: More troops, we might have gotten him then.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, BEYOND THE BELTWAY looks at the Arab world's reaction to the Saddam Hussein capture, with CNN correspondent Brent Sadler, reporting from Beirut.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

In Washington, through Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia welcomed the capture of Saddam Hussein; quote: "His capture is another step in Iraq's path toward peace and unity for all of its people," end quote.

In Tehran, this was the reaction.


DR. RAMEZAN ZADER, GOVT. AND CABINET SPOKESPERSON (through translator): Members of the Iranian government were overjoyed and happy to congratulate one another at this news.


SHIELDS: Meanwhile, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi promised to surrender weapons of mass destruction and stop his country's weapons development as his son gave this explanation.


SAIF AL-ISLAM GADHAFI, SON OF MUAMMAR GADHAFI: And there was no hidden agenda against him and against Libya. And therefore he decided to discuss other American concerns and to be more transparent.


SHIELDS: Joining us now from Beirut is Brent Sadler, chief of CNN's Beirut bureau. Thank you for coming in, Brent.

Brent, you've been reporting in the region this week. Tell us, has the reaction to Saddam Hussein's capture been actually universally welcomed?

BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: Well, first of all, Mark, think in terms of shock and awe. Those images of the Iraqi president, deposed, on the run for some eight months, being exposed and, more importantly in the eyes of the Arab street and the Arab leadership, as being utterly humiliated -- many commentators here in the region said that he was really examined by that U.S. Army medic like a goat, like livestock, when he opened his mouth and that medic peered inside with a light and a swab.

And that was a very clear message, it was seen here, to the dictators in the Middle East, watch out. See how the mighty fall.

Now in terms of picking that shock and awe to pieces and looking at how other shades of opinion fall into place here, think in terms of the Palestinians, many of whom but not all feel that they lost someone who was on their side against the Israelis, in terms of the struggle with the Palestinians. And think in terms of the United States as an occupation force in Iraq, capturing Saddam Hussein.

It would have been far better, say many Arabs, if the Iraqis themselves had been able to trigger their own rebellion and capture the dictator himself. But in general terms, yes, people out here are pleased he is gone, but also at the same time very concerned that what this might lead to.

The street, very, very concerned how this will play out. The leaderships of the region, you can be sure, Mark, that every single leader in this region, some of those who are in the crosshairs of U.S. diplomatic policy in this region, like Muammar Gadhafi of Libya, like Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, would have watched those pictures and the buildup to this capture and its aftermath very closely indeed.

NOVAK: Brent, in that connection, how do you feel about the reaction towards the United States? Americans are not the most popular people in that region. Does that make us less popular or perhaps is there more respect and more fear?

SADLER: Good question. Quite clearly, U.S. policy in the eyes of those on the street here couldn't get any worse than it already is. This is not, repeat not, going to make any difference to how the massive Arab street perceives policy of the United States in this region. It's very clearly perceived as pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab. Very clearly.

But what it does show is that the power of the United States in invading and occupying Iraq and delivering the goods in capturing Saddam Hussein, and as I repeat again humiliating him in this way, it's a very, very clear signal. Why? Because it shatters the charade of greatness that Middle Eastern despots have enjoyed for many, many years. That message now very, very clear that leaders in this region, like Muammar Gadhafi, should change their spots, should react to the circumstances, and Gadhafi's declaration of coming clean on his weapons of mass destruction, giving them up, is really a very good indication, although the buildup to that has been going on for months. But even Muammar Gadhafi, who has actually admitted to bringing down the airliner over Lockerbie with the loss of those lives, and that Pan Am terror attack, he is now making steps towards rehabilitation.

Many Iraqis -- I've just come back from a trip to the Gulf -- many Iraqis, many Gulf Arabs, wondering what was so very wrong with Saddam Hussein's calculations. For one, he invaded Kuwait. Previously, he invaded Iran. And he failed to grasp the significant changes that are going on in the region, and particularly how that impacts on President Bush's plans for democracy in this region.

So all these things are very, very important right now, and you have the street on the one hand, looking at how this is developing, watching the Arabic satellite TV channels, and leaderships trying to adapt to these changing circumstances. And clearly looking for what's going to happen in the U.S. presidential elections in 2004 and wondering whether or not President Bush and his advisers are going to be pushing forward with this policy of bringing radical change in this region.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Brent, quickly, could there be a domino effect in the Middle East? As you say these despots see what happened in Iraq, and you have Gadhafi -- who could follow? Is there behavioral changes that we should expect?

SADLER: I think you're seeing the attempts here. For example, Syria is just a 2-1/2 hour drive from where I'm standing and talking to you right now. The Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is reaching out now in a concerted effort to European leaders, notably the Greeks very recently, the Spanish, the French and really the British right now, and of course Tony Blair a very strong ally of the U.S. war against terror.

Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian president, reaching out, really trying to breakthrough the isolation that Syria now faces, and the difficulties that the Syrian leadership has in its relations with the United States.

Syria, very influential here in Lebanon. Syria has great connectivity to Hezbollah, regarded by the United States as a terror organization. And just remember, recently you had that Israeli air strike against a Palestinian target, a radical base, it was described as by the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- that attack just a few weeks ago.

Again, very important indications here of the seriousness which the United States is now perceived as taking the way that this region will develop in the months and years to come.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Brent, almost 300,000 Iraqis disappeared during Saddam Hussein's regime. During a trial outlining the details of his murderous regime, how would the Arab world respond when they see all of this on full display, including the Palestinians? Might that change their view of Saddam Hussein?

SADLER: No, I don't think there's any doubt whatsoever in the minds of the leaderships of the Arab world and the street, that Saddam Hussein led a very ruthless and repressive regime for the best part of 30 years.

The extent to which that repressive behavior went, let's wait and see.

But you know, to lay bare the way that Saddam Hussein governed Iraq, to lay bare the way the military organization worked, the way that the Shiite community, the majority, 60 percent of the Iraqi population, was treated, this is going to be fascinated stuff. This is going to be shocking, shocking revelations, I'm sure, in the event of a trial, and it's not just what Saddam Hussein might say, but it's the witnesses who will be called against him.

I've just come back from talking to some very senior Iraqi officials who were involved with the regime of Saddam Hussein, and they certainly are indicating that there are many, many secrets, very many shocking revelations, that could come out of such a trial, not least of course connectivity between Saddam Hussein and the good years, Iraqis would say, they enjoy with the West, particularly when Saddam Hussein was fighting the war against Ayatollah Khomeini Iran, when France, for example, and the United States and Great Britain, were supplying expertise, intelligence and equipment to Iraq to fight the Iranian Revolution, fearing that there could be a domino effect from Iran down the Gulf states, from Kuwait all the way down to the United Arab Emirates, and therefore threatening U.S. strategic policy vis-a-vis oil in that strategic Gulf region.

HUNT: Brent, we only have 20 seconds left. I mean, Saddam Hussein was an Arab nationalist, albeit a phony one. They are despised by the Islamic fundamentalists. Why should this effect the right wing Islamic fundamentalists?

SADLER: Why should it what -- repeat again?

HUNT: Why should this effect the right wing Islamic fundamentalists who hated the Arab nationalists?

SADLER: The concern amongst many intellectuals in the region is that with the U.S. pressure on Arab one-man dictatorships or one- family dictatorships to ease repression, to allow freedom of speech, elections and so forth, that if you let that happen too quickly, then the fundamentalists will come in and they'll win the popular vote. And if they get more power, if they come and win power, then that works in the opposite way to U.S. interests.

SHIELDS: Brent, thank you so much.

The GANG will be back with the OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK.


SHIELDS: Now for the OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK. My conservative colleagues can be quite prissy.

When Howard Dean compared debate attacks on him by his opponents to "picking a fair amount of buckshot out of my rear end," end quote, conservatives complained that Dean's language was not presidential. One even called Dean's words "crummy."

But conservative prissiness is quite selective. Conservative author Tucker Carlson and his book "Politicians, Partisans and Parasites," as well as "Time" magazine, have written about George W. Bush's use of the F-word, which is more crude and offensive than rear end, I would submit. But I guess the F-word from George W. Bush does not offend prissy conservatives -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott went on the air back home in Seattle and suggested President Bush could have captured Saddam Hussein any time, but rolled him out now to boost sagging poll ratings.


REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D-WA): There's too much by happenstance for it to be just a coincidental thing that it happened.


NOVAK: Earlier, McDermott went to Baghdad and said Americans could trust Saddam Hussein but not George W. Bush. And in the House, he spins one conspiracy theory after another.

McDermott is a non-practicing psychiatrist, but can I suggest the patient psychiatrist heal thyself.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Connecticut Governor John Rowland's staff has pled guilty to millions in bribes and kickbacks, and now the governor himself has 'fessed up to accepting renovations on his house, vacations with the Tomoso (ph) family, which has won $100 million in state contracts, and he awarded $1 million in contracts to his very own business.

As Rowland commented, quote, "Go for it, hon, what can they do it us," the Mrs. blames the press of to the tune of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." She got the ending wrong, however. Here it is.

"We heard him resign, 'er he drove out of sight. Happy Christmas to all, and to the governor, good night."

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: 'Tis the season that dares not speak its name. Last week Washington enjoyed the lighting of the U.S. capital's holiday tree, which no doubt has us all dreaming of a white holiday.

In late December, we now celebrate this thing called holiday, and wish each other a happy one. In schools and offices, like Druids, we gather at snowflake socials, frost-time festivals and winter wonderlands, celebrating weather conditions, I guess.

At the risk of offending the secular elves, have a Merry Christmas.


HUNT: Mark, this Christmas there is a new heroine. Essie Mae Washington Williams disclosed that her father was Strom Thurmond. Her mother was a 16-year-old African-American maid. For 78 years this was a secret which she only revealed after Strom died and she even praised her father.

Only a year ago, some politicians defended Thurmond's vicious 1948 campaign in which he railed against the social mixing of races. Fortunately, his very dignified African-American daughter is a much better person than that despicable past.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields. Good night for the CAPITAL GANG.



Mean For Effort In Iraq?; Louisiana Senator John Breaux Retires>

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