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Service & Sacrifice; U.S. Soldiers Clash With Sadr Militia

Aired May 31, 2004 - 20:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Duty.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Markers on these hills record the names of more than 280,000 men and women. Each was once or still is the most important person in someone's life.


LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: Eight-hundred and ninety-three men and women of this coalition, young Americans, have sacrificed to free this country of an oppressive regime.

COLLINS: Country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is daddy going, kiddo?


COLLINS: Memorial Day 2004.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In time of trouble, my generation, you might say, stepped up and honored the United States by our service.


COLLINS: Good evening, everyone. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Heidi Collins, sitting in for Paula Zahn.

Today is the day America reserves for honoring the men and women who fought and died for their country. Over the weekend, thousands of World War II veterans came to the nation's capital for the dedication of the first national World War II Memorial. In a moment, Paula Zahn's exclusive interview one of those veterans, former President George Bush on what the day meant to him.

But first, over the course of 231 years, from the Revolution to the war in Iraq, more than one million Americans have died fighting for their country. Here is how America honored them on Memorial Day 2004.


G.W. BUSH: America acknowledges a debt that is beyond our power to repay. COLLINS: From Arlington National Cemetery...

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: It's a reminder that our freedom is a most precious gift bought at a very dear price, the lives of America's finest sons and daughters.

COLLINS: ... to Georgia's National Cemetery...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is important to remember why. And I make sure my grandchildren and they remember why.

COLLINS: ... to a beach on the Pacific.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can come here and be together and share this together and, you know, give our regards and respect to everybody that did this for us, that sacrificed.

COLLINS: Americans paid tribute.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: That freedom is the right of every person, that it is worth fighting for, even dying for.

COLLINS: From a rainy parade in D.C.

WILLIAM SCHULTZ, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: I was in World War II in the infantry. And I survived to have children and grandchildren. And I think on Memorial Day about all of the wonderful young men who aren't here.

COLLINS: To a parade in Portsmouth, Virginia.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love a parade, a lot like every American. We all love a parade, right?

PROTESTERS: No more Vietnams. Bring the troops home!

COLLINS: Protests in New York City did not disturb sailors and Marines visiting for Fleet Week. There were flybys and, of course, flags. Memorial Day was an emotional day for many.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It means freedom. It means my kids going to save the country. It's a lot.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The irony, the cruelty and the good and bad fortune of war is that good soldiers don't always come back.

COLLINS: On this Memorial Day, like all Memorial Days, we remember.


COLLINS: Sixteen million Americans served during World War II; 400,000 died during the war. About four million are still alive. Former President George Bush is one of them. And Paula Zahn sat down with him for an exclusive interview Saturday morning at the National Cathedral in Washington just before the nation's first national World War II memorial was dedicated.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: What does it mean to this country that you will have been the last president in office who actually served in World War II?

BUSH: Well, it -- I don't know that it really means anything to our country. It means proudly something to me. But I don't think -- I don't think anyone in the country now or in the future will be thinking of George Bush was the last World War II veteran to serve as president of the United States. It would be fine with me if they did. But it's time to move forward, and there are other generations of greatness. You see, I felt the same way about those who fought with honor in Vietnam or Korea, certainly in Desert Storm and today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I think they are worthy of the label The Greatest Generation if you define it by patriotism and volunteer service, and that's what these kids are doing. They volunteered to serve. It's a great example. But back then since we do have these modern patriots, willing to fight for their country, it kind of diminishes everybody going back to the days many years ago when we served. It does for me anyway.

ZAHN: I traveled with you to the South Pacific to do a documentary on your World War II experience. And we went to the exact spot where you were shot down where I poignantly laid wreaths in the water in honor of the two comrades you lost that day. And you talked about how difficult it has been your life to reflect on that chapter of your life -- why?

BUSH: Well, it's true.

Well, that chapter was very emotional because my life was spared and the life of two people flying with me for whom I felt and still feel responsible were taken.

ZAHN: Is part of it, you think, that some of the memories are so dark?

I mean, you vividly describe watching pilots get cut in half by accident on the aircraft carrier.

Do you think part of the reluctance to talk about it is just the overwhelming darkness?

BUSH: I don't know about other veterans but it was me. I just don't -- don't -- you know, you don't want to come off as some guy bragging about some experience he had or also, if I told you about my experience and you had been in the service, you might feel you needed to tell me about it. And we'd be there all day lying to each other. So it's not too good a deal. But no, I told you, and I think we saw the spot where American flyers were executed and I could have been one of them, and that makes a profound impact on you. But I don't live with it in that sense. I don't -- I don't want to set the clock back. Come on, kids, let me tell you what it was like back in September of 1944. We've never done that in my family, nor have they shown any interest in what I did in September of 1944.

ZAHN: Well, that's a different story.

BUSH: That's another story.

ZAHN: But as the nation reflexes on your service to the country, what is it that you want to resonate with the American public about this generation of Americans, The Greatest Generation.

BUSH: We did our duty, saluted the flag and said the pledge of allegiance. None of us thought of ourselves as super patriots of anything. But in time of trouble, my generation, you might say, stepped up and honored the United States by our service. And that's what it was all about. And it's still about that. It's still about that.


COLLINS: Still ahead tonight, we'll hear more of Paula Zahn's exclusive interview with former President Bush.


G.H.W. BUSH: The responsibility for sending someone's son and today daughter into harm's way rests on the shoulders of the president. So it is the most difficult decision.


COLLINS: Paula asked the former president about the decisions his son has made in Iraq and the war on terror.

Plus, a rare in-the-dirt look at some of the toughest warriors in the Army on the job in the mountains of Afghanistan. Green Berets join Afghan commandos in the deadly hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

It is all coming up when we return.



SANCHEZ: When we return to our home stations, we must ensure that we never forget those fallen comrades that deployed with us that will not return to their loved ones. They must not have died in vain. We must not walk away from this mission. Otherwise, their sacrifices will in fact be in vain. This mission is too important for America, for the world and for us as warriors.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: The Memorial Day message to troops in Iraq from their commander, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. He spoke in Baghdad after a shaky truce in the southern city of Kufa appeared to be unraveling. U.S. forces there clashed with suspected fighters from radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia.

Guy Raz reports from the scene.


GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was supposed to be day three of the truce. But as a recognizance patrol from Task Force 237 approached the center of town, insurgents opened fire from a cemetery near the Kufa mosque.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're shooting at 2: 00.

RAZ: For well over an hour, 100 U.S. troops, tanks and armored carriers fought a pitched battle with fighters loyal to cleric Muqtada al Sadr. Mahdi militia fighters remained holed up behind this wall of a Kufa cemetery. U.S. officials believe at least 30 suspected insurgents were killed in this fight. Rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire from the insurgents killed two U.S. soldiers as well. The first time U.S. troops have fallen in battle here in six weeks of fighting.


RAZ: The truce declared by Sadr's militia is viewed with considerable skepticism among U.S. forces.

PFC. NOAH FREEDMAN, U.S. ARMY: I didn't expect the other side to be respecting the cease-fire. I figured the other side; they were going to keep firing. I mean the first day of the cease-fire we took mortar fire here in this camp.

RAZ: Military commanders have temporarily suspended offensive operations. This is regarded as a defensive engagement.

LT. COL. PAT WHITE, U.S. ARMY: We will continue to develop the situation in Kufa to get a feel for what's going on with the Mahdi army. And at some point, Sadr is going to have to come out and tell the world, and at least Najaf, this is a situation that I'm in. Tell my guys to disarm and he's either going to have to disown the people in Kufa. And say hey, those aren't my guys over there; my guys are all over here with me. Or he's going to have to own up to those that are in the Mahdi army that are still inside that mosque with weapons, as you saw tonight.

RAZ: Six weeks since intense fighting broke out here, hundreds of insurgents have been killed. U.S. forces are hoping the latest fighting may finally force Muqtada al Sadr's hand.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS: Guy Raz reporting for us from Kufa, Iraq, tonight.

And on this Memorial Day, American troops are also fighting in Afghanistan. Over the weekend, four special forces soldiers were killed.

Ryan Chilcote has been in one of most dangerous areas of Afghanistan getting a rare close-up look at the Army's Green Berets as they battle Taliban forces. Here is his report.


RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Green Berets Afghan commandos check their weapons one last time before entering the Deh Chopan Valley. Deh Chopan, or Valley of the Shepherds, is one of Afghanistan's most remote and dangerous regions.

The last time special forces were here, they got ambushed by Taliban who then slipped away, leveraging the geography.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The thing is, they use the mountains. And you've seen the mountains, the type of terrain that we're dealing with. They know the mountains like we know our backyard back in the states. And we're on their turf now.

CHILCOTE: Turf the soldiers study and if only for a short while take. Patrolling in their Humvees, called thorn boxes by the guerrillas they fight, Green Berets fish for combat, operating in small, seemingly harmless teams, as if they're offering themselves up on a hook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not as though we're the weaker ones being put out for bait. It is more that we -- as I said, we try to appear the weaker, smaller element, but we have advantages that overcome our size.

CHILCOTE: Advantages like working with the U.S.-trained Afghan commandos, always fast on their feet, almost always out front, whether the Green Berets are hunting the man that last shot at them...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time we came through here a couple of weeks ago and got attacked up there on the hills, just north of (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

CHILCOTE: Or the soldiers are partaking in some goat stew with local soldiers, hoping to win their cooperation, or searching a mosque.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we respect the village and we don't go in. We let the Muslim A&A soldiers go in.

CHILCOTE: Or raiding a compound. This is a different kind of war, fought with the people who have been at it for more than two decades.

(on camera): As one commander put it, this is graduate level unconventional warfare for the U.S. Army's Green Berets. Most of these soldiers are here now on their third tour. And they expect to be back again. And, as you can see from the terrain here, nothing in central Afghanistan is easy.

(voice-over): Each time hoping to return to friends who will point out Taliban. But informants are hard to come by and not always reliable. The soldiers hit this site late at night after being told they would find Taliban fighters here.


CHILCOTE: But the promised fighters turned out to be the informant's own relatives that he was mad at. Two months ago, these soldiers got caught up in a firefight here. One of the bombs they called in on suspected Taliban fighters fell a little too close for comfort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rock (INAUDIBLE) about 100 meters behind us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Call off all bombers. Call off all bombers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need a change of drawers. Over.


CHILCOTE: Many of these special forces missions are not as eventful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not something that is going to be won overnight. It is not something that we can just go out and hit one area and capture one person or one group of people and it is over.

CHILCOTE: The soldiers might not have confronted the Taliban this time, but they're out there. Nearby, a convoy of U.S. and Afghan soldiers drive over a land mine. Two Afghan soldiers die after losing their legs.

There is a guerrilla war going on here in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan, not as fast-paced as the war in Iraq, but every bit as important. And these Green Berets and their partners from the Afghan National Army have plenty of work left to do.


COLLINS: Ryan Chilcote is joining us now from Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan.

Ryan, talk about an up-close and rare look, excellent piece.

But I want to ask you about Memorial Day now, if I could. Talk to me a little bit about what the mood of the soldiers on the ground is. Do they feel like they're being supported?

CHILCOTE: Yes, I do think that they feel that they're being supported. Interestingly, I'm at a place called Camp Phoenix. It is in Kabul in Afghanistan. And the soldiers here are actually from the National Guard, a little bit different from the soldiers that you saw in that piece. They're here to train the Afghan National Army. And they're part of what are commonly known back in the states as citizen soldiers. These are the soldiers that normally give just one weekend a month and two weeks a summer to the U.S. military.

And of course that all changed when they got brought over here. So a lot of the soldiers, quite naturally, are hoping to get back to their jobs and their families in the states. They're going to be here for a few more months. And that was something that was in the back of their mind as they listened to a very touching memorial ceremony here.

This unit that I'm with at this moment, the 45th Infantry Brigade, also known as the Thunderbirds, has a very impressive military history, both in Korea and in World War II. They lost more than 800 people in Korea and more than 3,500 in World War II. And a lot of soldiers say they got a lot of mileage, a lot of -- out of that. They felt that that helped them out today.

COLLINS: I'm sure it did. All right, Ryan Chilcote, thank so much for that report, coming to us live from Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, right outside of Kabul.

A terror attack this weekend struck at the lifeblood of the world economy. And that is oil. The murder of foreign workers in a major Saudi oil city is already having an impact on prices. I'll ask an industry expert about the dangers of future strikes on the Saudi oil industry.

And more of Paula Zahn's exclusive interview with former President Bush. How he did feel when the man who plagued several presidents was finally caught?


ZAHN: When you saw the pictures of Saddam Hussein shortly after he was captured, what did you think?

G.H.W. BUSH: I thought, this is great. This is wonderful. Crawling out of a rat hole, or what they did call it, the spider hole, I thought it was wonderful.



COLLINS: You may not have made the connection between the price of gasoline and this weekend's bizarre and bloody hostage taking in Saudi Arabia. There is a simple formula. Saudi instability equals higher oil prices.

Saturday, terrorists attacked an upscale housing complex for international oil workers in Khobar. They killed 22 people, some of them by cutting their throats. Saudi commandos dropped by helicopter ended the siege, but apparently let three of the four attackers escape because they were threatening to kill 242 people being held as human shields. The fear factor already pushing oil prices higher on futures markets. It could be worse, though.

An attack that changes Saudi Arabia's government or disrupts its ability to keep the oil flowing could spell disaster to the West. Al Qaeda knows this. They're obviously trying. Could they succeed?

Joining me from Seattle, Washington, tonight, Paul Roberts. He's the author of book called "The End of Oil."

Mr. Roberts, thanks for being with us tonight.

PAUL ROBERTS, AUTHOR, "THE END OF OIL": Thanks for having me.

COLLINS: I want to begin by asking you, this is the second attack, as I'm sure (AUDIO GAP) one month against Westerners. How worrisome is this?

ROBERTS: Well, clearly, the markets are already reacting. We already see oil going up by about $1 in the city markets. And whether that trend continues over the course of the day will really depend on the I think reaction of the U.S.

Longer term, people have to be asking, you know, Saudis -- on the one hand, the Saudis did a great job of responding here. They came in quickly. They cleaned up -- they cleaned out most of the terrorists quickly, minimal loss of life, considering what could have happened. And, as importantly, there was no hard damage. None of the facilities themselves were damaged.

And I think this sends a signal to the markets that the Saudis were able to keep things under control. Longer term, though, al Qaeda clearly recognizes the vulnerability of the worldwide oil system, particularly in Saudi Arabia. And longer term, the markets have to be asking, is this a sign of things to come?

COLLINS: All right, now, you mentioned vulnerability. And I know that you have visited some of these Saudi oil facilities.

Talk to me for a moment about what you noticed. Are you seeing fences? Are i.d.s being checked? What is it that they're doing and what is the sense that it gives you?

ROBERTS: Well, the Saudi oil system is extremely well guarded. Ever since 9/11, they too have bumped up security. Even before then, it was quite tight.

When I went through, every checkpoint, every fence, every gate, every door, highly guarded, I had to go through the same process over and over again. I had my belongings searched. And clearly, they're sending a signal here, too. Saudi's main value is not just the oil itself today, but its ability to keep supplying that. So security is what they're selling here, security of supply.

COLLINS: So you don't think it is just dressing. You think they're really taking this seriously enough? ROBERTS: Oh, they have nothing else to sell. If you look, Saudi Arabia is oil. And, again, it is not just the oil they have today. It is the belief that the rest of the world has that Saudi Arabia will be around in the long term if it can keep selling its oil. So they really have to push this notion of Saudi as a very secure oil supplier.

COLLINS: In fact, as I know you know, on Thursday, there will be an OPEC meeting in Beirut. They're of course expected to discuss raising oil production. What kind of impact do you think, if any, this attack will have at that meeting?

ROBERTS: Well, it's already heightened security there. This OPEC meeting will be in Beirut. It is already under tight security. And I'm sure there is a lot of concern that al Qaeda may try something there.

Certainly, to disrupt an OPEC meeting would be a classic way for al Qaeda to send its message out to, you know, concerned world markets. As far as what OPEC is wanting to do there, they're wanting to come together and agree, get some unanimity on the notion that they should raise production.


COLLINS: Do you think that's possible, Paul, to come to agreement on that?

ROBERTS: I think it is. I think already we're seeing in the aftermath of this attack, OPEC wants to come together. They want to reassure the world market first and foremost that internal squabbling is not going to prevent them from supplying steady oil.

COLLINS: All right, quickly, Paul, before we let you go, what does that mean for our oil prices here?

ROBERTS: Well, I think that this week, the market is going to be holding its breath. We might see a Well, bump tomorrow. It may be a large bump as they kind of digest the weekend's news.

Longer term, though, I think we're really more concerned with what happens this week at the OPEC meeting. Will OPEC agree and, second, does the world think that OPEC can actually raise production that high?

COLLINS: All right, I'm sure everyone will be really watching this one very, very closely.

Paul Roberts, thanks so much for your time tonight. Sure do appreciate you coming in.

When we return tonight:


G.H.W. BUSH: Everything changed in this country after 9/11. We thought we were immune. And now that has all changed with this international terror being the enemy. And it will continue to be the enemy for a long time.


COLLINS: When we come back, former President Bush on terror, the war in Iraq and his son -- an exclusive interview with Paula Zahn.

And tomorrow, "Held Hostage" begins a weeklong series featuring those who survived being held in captivity. Former Iraq war POW Ron Young tells his story. That's coming up tomorrow.


COLLINS: We have more now from Paula Zahn's exclusive interview with former president George Bush. Although they spoke before Saturday's dedication of the national World War II memorial, the conversation also turned to the war in Iraq. The former president reflected on events during his own term, as well as the current term of his son.


ZAHN: You have told me, as president, one of most difficult things you had to do was make a decision to send Americans in harm's way. How did your combat experience inform that decision?

BUSH: If I told you then that it was one of the most difficult, I was misspeaking. It is the most difficult decision and -- because there's no -- there's no committee. There's no laying the blame off on somebody else. The responsibility for sending someone's son, and today daughter, into harm's way rests on the shoulders of the president. So it is the most difficult decision.

In my own case, I think having been in combat was probably a helpful thing, just like having been in business was helpful on the economic matters and stuff, because I -- having seen right up close men die, having felt the responsibility for the death of my crewmen, it was very real to me. There wasn't -- was no glamour about that. And so I thought hard about it before committing somebody else's person -- son or daughter into harm's way.

But I think everybody does, whether you served or not in combat. I think every president feels exactly the same way about that. I know Ronald Reagan did in a small operation down there in Grenada. And I expect the current president feels exactly that way.

ZAHN: How wrenching was it for you to watch your son send troops in harm's way?

BUSH: Well, not wrenching because I think he did the right thing. And I support him totally, without reservation. But having been president, maybe I understand better than a lot of people what the feelings might be for a president who has to send kids into war. And -- but I'll say this, he never whines about it or complains to me about the loneliest job in the world. He's a leader, and he does what he thinks is right. So I think that helps me put it into less personal terms because I support the president and I know what he's going through and been through when he made a fateful decision.

ZAHN: In World War II, the enemy was very defined. It's very different in Iraq and Afghanistan...

BUSH: Very.

ZAHN: ... today, isn't it.

BUSH: Very different enemy. Then it was clear. And incidentally, it took a long time for many in our country to think it'd be worth fighting for, worth standing up against Hitler, worth standing over the -- Japanese was different because Pearl Harbor hit us hard. But it took a long time for America to get behind the idea that we needed to go in and help the United Kingdom and France and Europe, and all of that. But this has changed now because when 9/11 came along, everybody said, Hey, we're in a fight unlike anything in history, and we better do something about it.

If we prevail, and people see that organized terror like practiced and preached by al Qaeda gets done in, then I think we got a far better chance of not facing this enemy over and over again.

ZAHN: You say if we prevail, do you have any doubts that we will?

BUSH: Well, I have -- I'm -- no, I don't any doubts that we prevail in what we're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have doubts that it can be totally obliterated. But I think we're well on our way to obliterating terror.

You know, if that happens -- I had a talk with Lee Kuan Yew, a man I respect greatly in Singapore, and it brought home to me they worry. They worry about as much about it as we do. And I remember Lee Kuan Yew saying to me, Tell the president not to back down, to stay strong. I said, My friend, Harry, he's going to do just exactly that.

And that brought home to me the fact that this isn't just 9/11 here. This isn't just, you know, Lebanon or some other -- Kenya, some other base for terror, it's worldwide. And it's troubling people in Asia. So -- but they're better off if we win a clear victory over terror in Afghanistan and over terror in Iraq. And when people say it's Iraq for the Iraqis, more democratic than it's been, you know, I think -- I think there's a good chance that -- I know it'll be much better, but I think, at some point, you can see the whole thing turn away from anybody supporting this kind of international evil that is terror.

ZAHN: When you saw the pictures of Saddam Hussein shortly after he was captured, what did you think?

BUSH: I thought, This is great. This is wonderful. Crawling out of a rat hole, or what they call a spider hole -- I thought it was wonderful. And I still -- I still feel that way. And it'll be the same thing when they find Usama bin Laden. And Saddam Hussein will have a trial, far, far, far fairer, freer trial than he gave people he just had massacred for violating, you know, some tenet of his. But people are going to say, Hey, this is -- this is proper justice and...

ZAHN: Will it be, in your mind?

BUSH: Well, I'm not an objective observer about Saddam Hussein. I'm not -- I'm not objective. But under our system, he deserves a free -- deserves a fair trial, and I expect he will get one. If you left it up to most of the Iraqis, I don't think he'd -- I'm sure the justice might be a little different, but -- after what he's done to so many people, so many families in Iraq. Yes, he's entitled to a fair trial (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ZAHN: What kind of support are you able to give your son these days?

BUSH: The same kind of support you give your kids, same kind of support that anybody would give his son, especially in difficult times. And I love him, and he knows that. And so I give him the support of a father, not the support of a former president who's got this view or that view or -- Oh, yes, I was there, I know how to do this or that. Heck with that. It's simply the unconditional love of a father for a son. And Barbara, if you asked her, she'd say exactly the same way.

That's what it's about now for us, Paula. It's not about sitting at the head table or, you know, getting some award or trying to act like I know best what's good on foreign policy. It's about a father's love and a mother's love and family. And that's plenty for an old guy.

ZAHN: And yet you told me sometimes the criticism against your son was harder for you to take than when you were president.

BUSH: It hurts far more when they criticize a son, whether he's president, governor, or just in private life. Or my daughter. It hurts far more than when I was under fire back in '92 and couldn't seem to get anybody to support me in the press, or politically -- in politics. But that's the way it is. That's the way '92 was, and that's the way 2004 is. And you got to learn that this goes with the territory and not take it -- maybe, take it as personally as I did back then. But Mother used to say, Do your best. Don't blame somebody else, George.


COLLINS: Former President Bush in his own words with Paula Zahn.

And we'll be back in just a moment.


COLLINS: The U.S. turns over power to Iraq in just 30 days, but exactly who will get it? President Bush has said U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was going to name the Iraqi interim government by the end of last week. Brahimi himself had planned to finish selecting members by today, but neither has happened.


(voice-over): Although U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was able to establish a government in Afghanistan, his mission in Iraq is far more daunting. Brahimi needs to create a government that will last until next January, when national elections are scheduled. The problem is satisfying the U.S., as well as the three main groups in Iraq: the majority Shia, the powerful Sunnis and the minority Kurds. Each Iraqi group wants a major role in the government.

On Friday, it was announced that Iyad Allawi, a Shia and former Iraqi exile, will be named prime minister. Allawi led a group trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein which was backed by the CIA, and he's reportedly a favorite of the U.S. And that may not go over well with others who oppose the U.S. It's all part of a larger problem facing Brahimi and the new leadership in Iraq. Once a government is finally announced, will the Iraqi people accept it?

LAURA SECOR, "THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY": The likelihood is that, either way, this is going to be a weak government that commands no security forces of its own. There's going to be foreign soldiers on Iraqi soil no matter who is in power during this period, no matter what the relationship is between the interim government and those forces. To the extent that some of the same players are participating in this process as have been participating all along, there is real reason for concern that it will not be perceived as any more legitimate than the structures that have already been in place.


COLLINS: Joining me now from Washington to discuss efforts to create an interim government in Iraq "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson. Good evening to you guys. Thanks for being with us tonight.



COLLINS: Paul, I want to begin with you, if I could. Will Brahimi ever really be able to come up with a government that Iraqis are going feel is legitimate?

BEGALA: That's the $64,000 -- I guess $194 billion question so far. The problem is, I think our president is setting unrealistic expectations. He keeps telling the Iraqi people they will have full sovereignty -- that's his phrase, "full sovereignty." Well, I certainly hope not. I don't want Mr. Brahimi or Mr. Pachachi or Mr. Allawi commanding the 101st Airborne. As long as our soldiers are there, no Iraqi government will be fully sovereign, nor should it be. They will not be able to control force within their own borders, which is the first rule of sovereignty. So I'm not sure what the president is doing, setting us up, I think, for a fall by promising full sovereignty when he knows, as long as we have soldiers there, they can't have full sovereignty. COLLINS: All right. So Paul wants more definition, more explanation about what full sovereignty is. Tucker, what do you think it is?

CARLSON: Well, I mean, look, the Japanese and German governments in the late '40s and early '50s, and even today, have full sovereignty, and yet there are troops in both those countries, and indeed, in a hundred other countries around the world that all have governments with full sovereignty over their land. So it's possible. What you want is a government that's both democratically elected -- I mean, in order for the Iraqis to accept the government, really, it has to be an elected government, but also pro-American. I mean, that's kind of the bottom line. It's not good enough -- and I think this administration's made it pretty clear it's not good enough to have elections that produce some sort of Iran-style theocracy that breeds terror. That would be kind of counterproductive, to put it mildly. So it's going to be tough, but those are the aims.

COLLINS: So do you think, or do you see in your mind Iraqis ever actually being able to stand up and defend some sort of interim government that gets put into place, Tucker?

CARLSON: It's hard to imagine not just the Iraqis but any people defending a government they didn't choose. I mean, that's just kind of the nature of the way people are. They defend things they feel ownership in. And so really, you to have elections. I think the administration is saying that. If not, they ought to be. But there will be elections. The question is -- the security situation needs to be under much more control before that can happen, though.

COLLINS: Paul, how important is it, do you think, exactly, for President Bush to have success here with this interim government? You have said that he's really putting all of his eggs in one basket.

BEGALA: Well, I think he is. For better or for worse, he's gambled his whole presidency, and more important, America's prestige on this war. For that reason, of course, everyone, including myself, hopes he succeeds. The problem is, a lot of really thoughtful people think he doesn't have a plan, chief among them, for example, General Anthony Zinni, who has a new book out. He was the four-star Marine general who ran the Central Command, the job that Tommy Franks took when General Zinni retired. And he has said the president has had no plan here.

And so what's -- what's puzzling and frustrating for a lot of us is why our president put so much American prestige on the line, when he knew we were going to win the war -- and we all did -- but he didn't seem to have a plan for securing the peace afterwards. And Tucker's right, the security situation there is just dreadful. The prospects for democracy, I think, are not very good. And even the prospects for a long-term pro-American government don't look very good now. The interim government seems to be dominated by the very people we've set up in this kind of puppet Iraqi governing council, which experts say doesn't have any credibility with average Iraqis.

COLLINS: So Tucker, does the president have just way too much riding on this?

CARLSON: Well, he has everything riding on it. I mean, I think we knew that from the beginning. I mean, it was -- the critics are right to this extent, it was a voluntary war. I mean, it was, of course, not waged in response to an attack. And for that reason, the president wagered everything on Iraq. I mean, he put his entire presidency and his legacy on the line when he invaded Iraq. And if it turns out five-and-a-half months from now to still be a disaster, he's going to lose. And if it's in much better shape, I think he's got a good shot to win. I mean, it's sort of -- it's all about Iraq, and the rest is a sideshow, in my view.

COLLINS: All right. To the both of you tonight, we certainly appreciate your time, guys. Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala, thank so much, tonight.

BEGALA: Thanks, Heidi.

CARLSON: Thanks.

COLLINS: When we come back, two soldiers who've earned the right to talk about duty, honor and country. They fought in the same war but came back two very different people. A Memorial Day story from two Vietnam veterans and their differing views on the war in Iraq.


COLLINS: There has been so much talk this Memorial Day weekend about World War II, the good war, the one that united Americans in a common cause. Twenty-five years after it ended, Vietnam was driving the nation apart. Now, if you believe some polls, Americans are divided over the war in Iraq. And that division becomes clear in the views of two Vietnam vets Bruce Burkhardt met.


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Duty, honor, country.

TOMMY CLACK, GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS SERVICE: Unbelievable cost of what that red, white and blue represents, all these multi-hundreds of years of sacrifice.

BURKHARDT: Tommy Clack knows something about duty, honor, country -- 1969 Vietnam, lost an arm and both his legs in a fierce firefight. Still, he believes, My country, right or wrong.

CLACK: In terms of, My country, right or wrong, you take the oath and put the uniform on, you accept the fact that you may not agree with the insertion or the duty, but you perform it because it's part of your -- your duty to your oath.

BURKHARDT: Tommy is eighth-generation military, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. His father, a veteran of World War II and Korea, is buried here in the National Military Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia. Tommy works for the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, here at a ceremony honoring World War II vets.

CLACK: I grew up with a disabled dad, as my 18-year-old son has grown up with me. He graduated from high school Saturday, and on August 1, he becomes ninth-generation Army.

BURKHARDT: World War II -- it may not have been as simple back then as we like to believe now, but the stakes were clear, and so was the mission.

BARRY ROMO, VIETNAM VETS AGAINST THE WAR: And that was the reality when my father went overseas at 44 years old. And he said to me, you know, I was fighting people that were putting human beings in ovens.

BURKHARDT: Barry Romo is a Vietnam vet, too. But that's where his similarity with Tommy ends. He has a different view of duty, honor, country.

ROMO: I'm a human being first, and I'm an American soldier second.

BURKHARDT: In 1968, Barry was a 19-year-old platoon leader, a boy who answered the call and didn't question authority. But like so many who survived that hell and came home with a profoundly different outlook, today Barry is national coordinator for Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

ROMO: But if you realize you've been fighting for a lie, if you realize you've been killing people and your friends are suffering for a lie, then you can't cover that stuff over with a phrase like, My country, right or wrong.

BURKHARDT: Barry, who strongly opposes the Iraq war, sees too many similarities to Vietnam.

ROMO: The question is, do we really -- are we so patriotic and do we really love our children enough to not throw more blood after the good blood that's been shed already?

BURKHARDT: Barry and Tommy, two veterans of the same war. And on this Memorial Day, when scenes like this and this remind us that those cliches about freedom and sacrifice are not really cliches at all, Tommy and Barry, worlds apart in their views, are still, in their own ways, serving America.

Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, Atlanta.


COLLINS: We'll be back in just a moment.


COLLINS: Thanks so much for joining us tonight, everybody, on this Memorial Day. We do appreciate your time. Want to let you know about something we're doing tomorrow, though. We will begin an emotional and inspiring series with those who suffered but endured as hostages and POWs. Join us for "Held Captive." Again, that begins tomorrow. For now, "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. We leave you with lasting images of America remembering its fallen heroes. Good night.


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