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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
Comparisons to Vietnam Stoke Iraq Debate, Interview with Senator John Kerry, Interview with Senator John Sununu.
Aired April 7, 2004 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: As the fighting in Iraq rages on, lawmakers draw battle lines on Capitol Hill.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: It is staggeringly clear that the administration did not understand the consequences of invading Iraq.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If we fail, if we cut and run, the results can be disastrous.
ANNOUNCER: We'll gauge the political fallout from the escalating violence.
The Democratic opposition pounces on the president.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They need to go to the world and say we're not going to have an American authority that is creating this new government. We're going to have an international authority that will help develop the new government.
ANNOUNCER: John Kerry hits the White House on Iraq and the economy today, and saves sometime to talk to us.
Lots of bachelors.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANIDIDATE: I support him every way I know how, and I believe he will be president.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we'll be a great president.
MCCAIN: But I'm just not going to attack a friend.
ANNOUNCER: But no love match yet, as Kerry's quest for a running mate continues.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from the Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.
JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.
We are standing by for a Pentagon briefing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman, General Richard Myers. As soon as that gets under way, we will take you to it live.
Meantime, the briefing comes as U.S. and coalition forces today continue their fierce battles with Iraqi insurgents, while here in Washington, the debate over U.S. policy in Iraq took a sharp and at times emotional turn. U.S. troops are battling a Shiite militia loyal to an anti-U.S. cleric in a region outside of Baghdad. U.S. Marines, meanwhile, are fighting Sunni Muslim insurgents in Fallujah, which is part of the rebellious region known as the Sunni Triangle. In other parts of Iraq, Polish and Ukrainian forces have executed fire with anti-coalition funmen.
Senator John Kerry has increased his criticism of U.S. policy toward Iraq. My interview with Senator Kerry is coming up.
But, first, we head to the Senate, where comparisons to Vietnam have stoked the Iraq debate. Our congressional correspondent, Joe Johns, is standing by with more -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, comparisons to Vietnam started this week with Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who, so far, is not backing down. And now the Senate's leading critic of the Iraq war, Senator Robert Byrd...
WOODRUFF: Joe, I'm going to interrupt you. I apologize. We're going to go straight to the Pentagon for this briefing with the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)
WOODRUFF: We've been listening to a briefing at the Pentagon at a time of high casualties in Iraq. We've been listening to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, chairman of joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers. We heard at the end General -- rather Secretary Rumsfeld underlining if the commander on the ground says he needs more troops, he will get more troops. And he said the first people to know whether those troops are coming would be the troops themselves.
Just very quickly recapping, we heard Secretary Rumsfeld say, explaining these pitched battles have been fought throughout Iraq over the last several days in which as many as 25 or 30 U.S. troops have died. The secretary said U.S. forces are on the offense. They are taking the battle to the terrorists. He said we will not allow the cleric, al-Sadr or anyone else to get away with murder. And he went on to say this is an important moment for Iraq, and he said it is an important moment for the world. Again, summarizing about a half hour briefing there at the Pentagon by the defense secretary and the chairman of the joint chiefs.
Well, as we know, the would-be presumed Democratic nominee for president, Senator John Kerry, has often criticized the Bush administration for what he says is a unilateral approach in Iraq. I spoke with Senator Kerry just a little while ago and I started by asking for his reaction to Bush advisers who say they are already doing much of what Kerry advocates and that his criticism amounts to what they call phony politics.
KERRY: They're doing it in such a frankly, inept way, Judy, that they're not really inviting anybody sufficiently to the table. People don't want to go to work for Paul Bremer and the provisional authority. What you need to do is have a transfer of authority for the reconstruction and for the transformation of the government to a legitimate international entity. Every day that goes by that this administration has refused to do it has complicated the doing of it. They, in fact, have made it much harder to accomplish what could have been accomplished and should have been accomplished a long time ago. I refuse to accept that logic from them, and I laid out this plan months ago. They're trying to do it through the backdoor, through almost through the keyhole rather than openly coming forward and acknowledging they need help.
WOODRUFF: So Senator...
KERRY: The Arab countries have an interest...
WOODRUFF: What exactly right now would you do differently?
KERRY: Right now, what I would do differently is, I mean, look, I'm not the president, and I didn't create this mess so I don't want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven't made. The president needs to step up and acknowledge that there are difficulties and that the world needs to be involved and they need to reverse their policy that countries that were not involved in supporting us are not going to be part of the reconstruction.
I mean, that's a terrible message to send to countries. They need to go to the world and say we're not going to have an American authority that is -- creating this new government. We're going to have an international authority that will help develop the new government and absent a legitimate effort to globalize this presence, they're going to continue to have the very problems they have today.
This was predictable, and there are many of us who have said that this is exactly the kind of thing that will happen absent a legitimate kind of international presence.
WOODRUFF: Senator, you said it was a mistake, not your mistake, but you called it a mistake and also said you wouldn't cut and run. You've acknowledged there may need to be more troops. If there were a President Kerry, he might have to send in more troops. I want to ask you the question you asked during the Vietnam war. How do you ask a man and today that would be a man or a woman, to be the last to die for a mistake?
KERRY: Well, the mistake that I'm talking about, Judy, is not the effort to fight and have -- not the effort to have a stable Iraq. The mistake is in the way that they are going about it. So I would change the way you're going about it. I mean again and again, I have said, I laid out with great specificity months ago the steps that they should have taken, and I believe that those people who have been in touch with people in the international community know there is a different and better way to put together an effort that could legitimize a government in Iraq. If we insist on doing this through our provisional government authority, if we insist on being totally in control the way we are today, we're going to having an impossible time legitimately bringing people to the table.
WOODRUFF: Your speech...
KERRY: I think that's really the problem.
WOODRUFF: Your speech today on the economy, Senator Rick Santorum, the senator from Pennsylvania turned around and said you may have a plan, but we have your voting record. Are you concerned they're going to continue to use your voting record and ignore any plan you've put out there?
KERRY: I don't -- listen, the American people want the truth and they want real leadership here. My voting record is clear. I voted for Gramm-Rudman-Hollings for the deficit reduction law. I voted for the balanced budget. I voted in 1993 without one Republican vote for the Deficit Reduction Act of '93, and I voted in '97 to close the deal with the compromise that we put together to balance the budget.
So my voting record when it was tough and we had to make those choices is very clear. If they want to play games adding up individual votes and try to muddy the waters, let the Republicans do that. The American people know the difference and ultimately when we finish with this campaign, they will know the difference that I have a serious plan to put America back to work to be fiscally responsible. They have the biggest deficits in history. They've lost 1.8 million jobs. They don't have a plan to put America back to work.
WOODRUFF: The Bush-Cheney campaign, Senator, says that you would take the United States back to the days when the government kept more of people's money and decided how to spend it, back to the policies of the Carter administration.
KERRY: That is so funny. That is such unbelievably outdated rhetoric that it's almost -- I mean it is laughable. Everything in my record shows that I have talked about creating jobs, fought to create jobs. This administration has taken us back to the worst deficits in the history of our country. They've lost more jobs than any other administration since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression. I mean it's a joke to hear them use that kind of language. As I said today, under my plan, 98 percent of Americans will get a tax cut. 99 percent of American businesses will get a tax cut. They're so (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by common sense, they don't know what to say. So they just make it up.
WOODRUFF: Senator, Dan Baltz (ph), reporter at the "Washington Post" wrote the other day that Democrats who want you to win say that your challenge is to distill a laundry list of campaign promises and some seemingly contradictory statements into a succinct and compelling agenda. Can you do that?
KERRY: You bet I can. I did it today. Succinct agenda. We're going to balance the budget, cut the deficit in half in four years, create 10 million jobs and provide health care to all Americans. How's that?
WOODRUFF: All right. We'll take that, the vice presidential pick, reports are out there all over the place that you're looking to make a decision in the next couple of months. My question to you is, what's the rationale, what's the case for doing it early rather than waiting?
KERRY: Judy, I've said again and again, I'm not going to speculate at all with respect to that choice. It's a very important choice...
WOODRUFF: I'm asking about the timing.
KERRY: I've read some of these articles. Well, I'm not going to talk about the timing. I'm not going to contribute to the discussion. It is a private process. And I've enjoyed reading some of the articles that I've read. They've been revelations to me. I've said nothing to anybody, and I'm proceeding on my own schedule.
WOODRUFF: Senator John Kerry. We talked to him just a short time ago before that briefing at the Pentagon. When we come back, Republican Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire talks about the spiraling violence in Iraq and responds to some of John Kerry's comments.
WOODRUFF: As we heard earlier, Senator John Kerry is calling the situation in Iraq a mess. And he is calling on the Bush administration to do more to get the international community involved. With me now from Capitol Hill to talk more about the situation in Iraq and to respond to some of Senator Kerry's comments, Republican Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire.
Essentially what I heard John Kerry saying is it's not he believes the U.S. should pull out by any stretch. What he is saying it was the way the administration got into Iraq that is making it hard to create now an international coalition to lead Iraq into the next step.
SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, everyone understands there are a great number of challenges here, but I think the most important question you asked Senator Kerry was what would he do differently, specifically what would he do differently and, Judy, he really had no answer at all for you. The one suggestion that you just mentioned, get the international community involved, there is a U.N. envoy on the ground in Baghdad right now negotiating to help structure the interim Iraqi government that will take political responsibility come June 30. At the same time, John Kerry has suggested that had we should just abandon that June 30 date, and I think that would send a terrible message to the Iraqi people about our willingness to keep to our commitments.
WOODRUFF: On the June 30 date, it's my understanding of what Senator Kerry is saying is that that may be too soon, that the Iraqi people are not ready at this point at that stage, likely not to be ready to run their own country and that we are turning over to them a situation that is virtually ungovernable.
SUNUNU: He seems to be abandoning that transition in the face of this fighting terrorism that we've seen in recent days. But the fact remains, the very intent of this terrorist activity is to delay that transition in power because al-Sadr and his supporters do not want representational government in Iraq. We saw terrorist attacks in Spain, devoted to affect the political outcome of elections there and in much the same way, these terrorists are trying to dissuade us from transitioning political power to the Iraqi people on June 30. I think we have a commitment and an obligation. Our forces, our troops, our engagement in security activities is not going to go away after June 30, but we have an obligation to do everything in our power to ensure transition to the Iraqi interim government.
WOODRUFF: But what about John Kerry's point that the administration has not been willing to bring in the international community, be it NATO, be it the United Nations in a meaningful way that would make them feel that they had a stake in the outcome in Iraq, as well.
SUNUNU: Judy, the United Nations envoy, Mr. Brahimi is negotiating on the ground right now with our coalition partners, with the Iraqi governing council to help structure the interim government. I think that is a very meaningful participation, moreover, in the foreign relations committee hearing today with Ambassador Negroponte the United Nations representative to the United Nations, which Senator Kerry did not attend even though he's on the committee, Ambassador Negroponte, he was clear, we welcome and embrace full United Nations participation in helping with the political transition to elections in January of next year. Their role, their ability to support that effort of a transition to a permanent government in Iraq is welcome. It's important. And it's taking place right now on the ground.
WOODRUFF: Very quickly, to some of what the senator had to say about the economy, he's talking about creating 10 million new jobs. He's talking about rearranging some of the -- a big chunk of government spending and about cutting the deficit in half, a deficit that he says this president is in large part responsible for.
SUNUNU: The audacity of Senator Kerry's proposals today to cut the growth in government spending to the rate of inflation is unbelievable. He basically threw out every promise he made to get the Democrat nomination for the presidency over the last six months. He threw out his promises and commitments on veterans' health care, on spending for the environment, on spending for cops' programs, on spending for health care, threw all of those out the window in order to put out a new budget proposal today. The level of contradiction there I think, is beyond belief. You can't campaign to increase spending in 10, 20, 30, or 40 different areas well above the rate of inflation and suddenly turn around in a quick press conference today and say I'm going to cut the rate of spending and balance the budget.
WOODRUFF: We don't have time to get into a big debate. As I understand it, he said part of the reason for that is the fact that the deficit has gotten so large under this administration, that he was forced to cut back on some of those promises.
SUNUNU: The deficits were big two months ago when he was making those promises campaigning for president. I think it's ridiculous to say things have changed so much in the last six weeks insofar as the budget is concerned. It's not credible.
WOODRUFF: OK. We are going to leave it there. Senator John Sununu, good to see you. Thanks very much for talking with me.
SUNUNU: My pleasure.
WOODRUFF: Well, President Bush has been monitoring developments in Iraq from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. We're going to check in with our Suzanne Malveaux next for White House reaction and a preview of tomorrow's terror commission testimony by Condoleezza Rice.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ...British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Blair is going to be visiting with the president next Friday at the White House. The two of them to discuss a strategy to turn over the power to the Iraqi people. Also, how to work with the U.N. to get a functioning governing body to be able to handle the task on the ground in Iraq, and of course, both leaders determined to meet the June 30 deadline -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Suzanne, the president feeling this is a time when it's OK to be away from Washington, given all that's going on?
MALVEAUX: Well, as you know, the Crawford ranch, he is fully briefed on all the details. He has a full staff always national security council sends a staffer from his inner circle from his team. This is something the president is paying very close attention to. He is getting these briefings, and this is something, of course as you know, it's an Easter vacation, but it's also a working vacation and all eyes, of course, very important day for the White House tomorrow when Dr. Rice testifies.
WOODRUFF: For sure. All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thank you very much.
Still ahead, question is, will democracy ever succeed in Iraq. Bill Schneider takes a closer look at that issue when INSIDE POLITICS returns.
WOODRUFF: Despite the ongoing violence in Iraq, the United States and its coalition allies say they are still firmly committed to the establishment of a sovereign Democratic Iraq, but can democracy take hold in Iraq? That's a question our Bill Schneider has been looking into. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Iraq has just become a two-front political challenge as well as a two- front military challenge. One front, Sunni insurgents loyal to Saddam Hussein.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Remnants of his regime joined by foreign terrorists continue their battle against order and against civilization.
SCHNEIDER: Now a second front has opened up. Shiite radicals who are followers of Muqtada al-Sadr.
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We've got this particular cleric who's an extremist and a fanatic who doesn't want what the majority of Shias, never mind the majority of Iraqis, want which is a Democratic Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: The Shiite insurgency is especially disturbing. Shiites were oppressed by Saddam Hussein. They were supposed to welcome Americans as liberators and since Shias are the majority in Iraq, they should welcome the prospect of democracy. President Bush argues that democracy in Iraq is in the strategic interests of the United States.
BUSH: The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world and increase dangers to the American people.
SCHNEIDER: But Americans have never been particularly starry- eyed about the prospects for democracy in Iraq. In April 2003, just after the fall of Saddam, more than 80 percent of Americans thought it would be difficult to create a stable Democratic government in Iraq. Now, there are two political possibilities in Iraq. One is pessimistic. Shiite radicals join forces with Sunni insurgents to rally the Iraqi people against the occupation, against the United States, and against democracy.
PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATOR: It's basically an effort to take over the country. It represents a fundamental challenge to the concept of the rule of law.
SCHNEIDER: The other is optimistic. The insurgents are seen as anti--Democratic forces fighting for a radical Islamic regime.
BLAIR: The person who's trying to run these local militias in Iraq who actually want a fundamentalist extremist state.
SCHNEIDER: Or for a return to tyranny.
MCCAIN: A vast majority of Iraqi people are glad we are there and have a state unequivocally that they are better off, better off than they were under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: The current insurrection in Iraq could become a popular insurgency against the U.S. occupation. That's the danger, or it could become a rear guard fight either for the return of a Baath party dictatorship or an Islamic republic, in which case democracy could become a genuinely popular cause.
WOODRUFF: All right. A lot to consider in these very troubled days. Bill Schneider, thank you.
And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.
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