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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Kidnapping New Terrorist Weapon of Choice? How Should Candidates Handel Unpopular Wars?
Aired August 9, 2004 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Wave after wave of kidnappings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They attacked our convoy.
ZAHN: Threats, executions undermining the new Iraq.
Tonight, taking hostages, the new weapon of choice.
And in another time, in another election campaign, the same question, how to handle an unpopular war.
ZAHN: And good evening and welcome. We join you from Washington this evening. Thanks so much for joining us.
Iraq's new government is fighting a two-front war. There are the battles on the ground like the one for Najaf that has been raging over the last few days, some of the most intense fighting since the invasion. And today, Najaf's governor gave U.S. Marines permission to operate in around the Imam Ali shrine, which is considered the most holy place in Shiite Islam. Militia fighters are said to be using it, plus a nearby cemetery, as hideouts.
Well, yesterday, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi flew to Najaf and declared there would be no negotiation or truce. The other battlefront facing Allawi and his leadership, the wave of kidnappings and brutal murders of foreigners working on rebuilding Iraq. Today, there are reports that two Jordanian hostages have been freed after being held for two weeks, but more than a dozen people are still being held captive.
Here is CNN international correspondent Walter Rodgers.
WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has become what some former intelligence officers call a poor man's nuclear weapon, hostage taking in Iraq, leveling the playing field between Islamist extremists, and the American-led occupation forces.
Hostage taking and beheading send a message from Iran to Egypt that extremists have found a strategic balance. A retired Israeli intelligence general described these kidnappings as a tool to -- quote -- "bring the Westerners to their knees." In Iraq, the problem grows exponentially.
M.J. GOHEL, TERRORISM ANALYST: The problem here is a psychological one, seeing a hostage surrounded by hooded gunmen carrying knives and the hostage pleading for his life. We know his name. We see his family members crying. We connect with that distress far more than we do, say, with a suicide bombing or a vehicle explosion.
RODGERS: Hostage taking gained currency in the 1980s in Lebanon, but on a much smaller scale. Often, freelance gunmen would snatch Westerners and sell them to Islamic militants like Hezbollah. For those of us covering Beirut then, kidnapping seemed a highly cost- effective weapon to force the Americans out of Lebanon.
In tandem with the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks and the U.S. Embassy there, it worked. But my colleague Terry Anderson, an American hostage held by Hezbollah in Beirut, says kidnapping was more finally targeted then, in his case to get Hezbollah prisoners released.
TERRY ANDERSON, FORMER HOSTAGE: It seems to me the ones in Iraq are more vicious. They seem to be less focused on a specific goal and more interested in just causing terror.
RODGERS: But hostage-takers in Iraq now do seem to have a very clear agenda, crippling the reconstruction and ultimately forcing the Americans out.
After kidnappers seized this Filipino, threatening to kill him, his government pulled out of President Bush's coalition of the willing. Execute one hostage, a terrorism expert said, and 99 others feel slaughtered. More recently, the Turkish trucking company stopped ferrying crucially needed supplies to American clients in Iraq after the videotaped killing of one of their drivers. Kuwaiti truckers also quit Iraq. Russia withdrew several hundred of its workers from a power station after three of its nationals were killed.
GOHEL: Even if one country or one company capitulates, it destroys the whole effort because this fuels the cycle of hostage taking.
RODGERS: There are now upwards of 20 foreign hostages in Iraq now. A scorecard helps, as the number shift lately. What is different, at least for journalists in Iraq today, is that the viciousness and brutality is a much greater inhibitor to work. You hire armed bodyguards to protect you in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our armed guard pulled his machine gun, his automatic machine gun, and opened fire to get us through there.
RODGERS: In Lebanon 20 years ago, you just took your chances. Then kidnappers had a loose Koranic code regarding prisoners. Now some see the American abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib as changing the rules. ANDERSON: It gives them an excuse to treat the hostages badly. And God knows, it's bad enough just to be taken hostage and to be confined in some filthy room and maybe blindfolded. I don't see any way it can have anything but a bad effect.
RODGERS: One hundred forty thousand U.S. troops in Iraq have, so far, been unable to arrest the problem. Indeed, they do not seem to put a very high priority on kidnapping of foreign workers, which has not only become a growth industry for the ruthless, but it also appears to be the most effective strategic weapon Iraqi militants possess.
ZAHN: And that was Walt Rodgers reporting.
Joining me now from Athens, Ohio, is Terry Anderson. You just saw him in that last report. He was held hostage in Lebanon for seven years before being freed in 1991. And in New York is a man who was instrumental in negotiating his release, former United Nations hostage negotiator Giandomenico Picco. He is now the head of a GDP Associates, a company that helps corporation doing business in emerging countries.
Good to see both of you. Welcome.
Terry, we heard you talk about the kidnappings in Lebanon not being as brutal or as vicious as what we're witnessing in Iraq. How so?
ANDERSON: Well, it's a matter of degree, I guess you'd have to say. Remember, hostages in Lebanon did die. Some of them were killed. But, for the most part, we were valuable commodities, if you will. They wanted to preserve our life for at least as long as they had a purpose in it. So they did treat us at least with basic necessities and did not deliberately torture us or harm us in any way. We were valuable to them.
ZAHN: Mr. Picco, I want to ask you about something that I think came through in the piece that might be confusing to some people about how unclear the goals of these kidnappers seem to be.
What is it you think, then, that you think they're after?
GIANDOMENICO PICCO, FORMER U.N. HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: Well, I think it's very important to make a difference, as you rightly said and as Terry actually said in the piece, that the objective of what is pursued by these individuals in Iraq is not as precise as it was in Lebanon.
In Lebanon, both the enemy of these individuals and the objective was well-known, precise, and unchangeable. In Iraq, we see these individuals are basically pursuing a philosophy, if you like to say in this way, that is the al Qaeda type, if you like. And their objective is vague because, as somebody has explained in other situations, they have this Takfiri mentality. The Takfiri basically defines who is his enemy and his enemy is everybody else, except those who are like me.
And, therefore, it is a very huge amount of enemies and a huge amount of objectives, because objective is basically the war until the end of time, until I become like you.
ZAHN: Terry, the one relatively new weapon in all of this is the mass broadcasting of the images of these poor souls being kidnapped or watching them make these horrible pleas for their lives to be saved. Do you think these tapes have much resonance at all?
ANDERSON: I think they have a great deal of resonance. Who could watch something like that and not be affected?
They're using the media very strongly. In fact, they're using the Internet pretty effectively. They're not stupid. They know what they want to accomplish. And that is the sowing of terror. The fact that they're actually gaining practical things, if you will, that some countries have decided to pull out their troops and some companies have stopped sending people in, I think is almost beside the point. It's good for them. It's a gain for them, but, really, I think what they're really after is just terror.
ZAHN: And I guess that comes through very clearly, Mr. Picco, when you listen to the heartfelt pleas that family members have made along the way, not only for those folks held captive in Iraq, but those in Saudi Arabia as well.
I wanted to share with our audience part of an interview that CNN did with Paul Johnson's son, Paul III. Let's watch this together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL JOHNSON III, SON OF PAUL JOHNSON: I know that the group of men that got my father -- you guys are probably fathers. And just please let him come home and be a grandfather. And this is Paul Marshal Johnson IV. My father gave me his name. And I honor my father so much, I gave my son his name. And I just want a safe return. And I'm optimistic with the Saudis can get him home safely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: What is so particularly heartbreaking about watching this, of course, is that Paul Johnson ended up being killed by his captors.
When Terry Anderson, Mr. Picco, talked earlier about, this is exactly what these captors want, is this effective or does this turn people off who watch the brutality of this?
PICCO: I think the kidnappers in Lebanon, just to go back to the piece we just heard -- and it brought back memories to me. The first time I was myself, as you may know, taken to take home Terry Anderson and others, I actually raised the same question.
I asked, are you a father, because, if you're a father, we have something in common. And, actually, that comment of mine to the kidnappers, who for that particular moment were also my kidnappers, resonated with them and they reacted in some way. What we see here clearly is a different kind of groups, groups who have no interest, but that of creating, as Terry said, terror and to perpetrate hostility until the end of time.
And I think that should be understood. This is not a group of people, by and large, with whom you can negotiate, because their objective is overwhelmingly large, if there is one that can be defined in one sentence. And, therefore, there is nothing to negotiate about. The cruelty, of course, is the same for the victim, both if you're detained for seven years like Terry or detained for seven days and then killed.
But I think the politics of it is profoundly different. In this case, I think -- and we speak here in Iraq -- only one kind of kidnappers, those who have taken people for very highly political reasons. And those people, I think, are there for an objective which is beyond our reach, even if we tried to imagine negotiations.
ZAHN: Terry, I see you nodding in agreement. A quick final thought for us this evening.
ANDERSON: This is going to be very difficult to deal with. I mean, if anybody should know how to deal with these kind of people, it would be Johnny Picco. He did it so successfully in Lebanon and Afghanistan and Iran.
These are going to be very difficult to deal with because their only interest is in chaos and anarchy. And that is where they gain. The more the central government coalesces, the more it asserts its authority, the more it manages to take charge, the more they lose. And they're bound and determined to prevent that. And it's just going to be very hard to stop them.
ZAHN: Terry Anderson, Giandomenico Picco, thank you for both of your perspectives this evening.
And when we come back, facing down the kidnappers, teaching the art of not becoming a victim.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what I get. This is what I get after I give my son to them. And after he die, this is what I get.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: A son gone, a home lost -- that story coming up.
ZAHN: As you saw, the people working to rebuild Iraq face the constant fear of being kidnapped and held hostage. It is also a very real possibility for people who are used to desk jobs and diplomacy.
Andrea Koppel shows us how the U.S. State Department is getting its workers ready to face lethal dangers it never imagined.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The green pastures of West Virginia are a world away from the dusty streets of Baghdad. But it's here that hundreds of American diplomats and other federal workers are learning some of the skills they'll need to survive in what's considered the most dangerous diplomatic post in the area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is going to be primary area where I'm going to stick my mirror and/or preferably my body.
KOPPEL: Instructors from the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Bureau show students that anything, from a suitcase to a cigar box, can be used to hide explosives, the kind of explosives that have killed so many people in Iraq. Look at the effect on this car from only one stick of dynamite.
NANCY PILON, STATE DEPARTMENT: To hear the sound and actually feel it and your heart rate starts pumping. And it's amazing.
KOPPEL: Forty-two-year-old Nancy Pilon, a protocol officer at the State Department, is among a small army of American diplomats who volunteered to leave the comforts of home for at least the next six months to work at the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
PILON: I think it's important to go there and put a face on the administration, hopefully, and I'm looking forward to it.
KOPPEL: Thirty-one-year-old Ryan Styles (ph) says he'll be working with Iraqis to help build democratic institutions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was doing counterterrorism and homeland security from behind a desk prior to this. And I wanted to get more on the front line.
KOPPEL: Fifty-nine-year-old Stuart Foote, an auditor for the U.S. Air Force in Ohio, is leaving his wife and grown children to help track how Iraqi oil money and U.S. taxpayer funds are spent.
STUART FOOTE, U.S. AIR FORCE AUDITOR: This is where the work is. This is where the need it. If I didn't go, there would be somebody in a green uniform maybe doing what I'm doing. And there is no reason for that. I'm qualified to do it and they've set up this opportunity and I'm happy to take advantage of it.
KOPPEL: But before they leave for duty in Iraq, they first have to complete this mandatory weeklong course. For some, including Nancy Pilon, that means learning to fire an AK-47 and other weapons for the first time.
(on camera): The philosophy behind this course is essentially the best offense is a good defense. And so, though most of these men and women won't actually carry a weapon in Iraq, they'll know how to use one if they ever need to.
FRANK TAYLOR, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DIPLOMATIC SECURITY: The diplomats are the first line defense of our nation. They are in harm's way. And it's our obligation to make sure that when we ask them to go serve their nation, that they're the best prepared.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anybody here ever experience shock?
KOPPEL: That means as part of their training, students also learn first aid, what to do if the worst happens.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I obviously didn't sustain a direct hit or else it would have been severed.
KOPPEL: Paula Wikle says she is living proof the training can save lives and limbs. Last October, she was staying in Baghdad's Al- Rashid Hotel when it came under rocket attack. One landed in Paula's room; 12 surgeries later, she has lost two inches of bone and a lot of the muscle. But she still considers herself lucky,.
PAULA WIKLE, INJURED IN BAGHDAD: Kind of like a wakeup call. If I hadn't had the training, they're not real sure what would have happened.
KOPPEL: Only a few of the 550 students who have been through the training so far have opted not to go to Baghdad. It's a measure of just how important Iraq is to the United States that these men and women are going at all. If there were similar dangers in any other country, State Department officials say, the U.S. would be ordering its diplomats to leave.
ZAHN: And State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel joins us now. She's home here at the Washington bureau.
Thanks for inviting us in here tonight.
So I guess, in watching that, I find it hard to believe that these diplomats would feel prepared after just one week of training.
KOPPEL: That's true. You can only get so much experience in handling a weapon for a few hours, as opposed to what the U.S. military, for instance, gives its soldiers.
But the point of the training really is to give these men and women at least some experience such that if, for instance, the diplomatic security officer that they were with or the U.S. military soldier who was guarding them, if they're going, let's say, from Baghdad to Najaf or Baghdad to Nasiriyah, if they were injured, wounded or killed, that they could either disarm the weapon so that it doesn't go off in the car, or, if they were wounded, that they actually could do some first aid to help somebody who was with them, or, if worst comes to worst, that they would be able to pick up that weapon and defend themselves.
So this is, again, worst-case scenario training because they're going into the most dangerous climate right now that any American diplomat could go into.
ZAHN: And, obviously, it's comforting to them. Little did they know, many of them who signed on 15 years ago, that their training would entail this.
KOPPEL: That's right. That's right.
In fact, this is not a new course for the State Department. Diplomats have been able to take this course for any number of years, but it's been something that they were signing up for voluntarily. This is the first time it's mandatory. And Paula Wikle, who you saw in the piece, she took the course years ago when she went to Guatemala. And she's convinced the reason that she saved her arm and perhaps even her life is that somebody put a tourniquet around her arm.
She said, through her pain, through her shock, that is the wrong thing for you to be doing. Another woman who had taken a course for another embassy helped her out. And the two of them coped, were able to basically save her arm.
ZAHN: They're lucky they both listened.
ZAHN: Andrea Koppel, thanks so much.
We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, losing a son, a family, a country. That's coming up next.
ZAHN: Welcome back.
The law is the law. That's what the family of a young Army soldier by the name of Zeferino Colunga has been told. The 20-year- old man died one year ago at a U.S. military hospital in Germany after serving in Iraq. But this story is only partially about the death of a soldier serving his country. The other part is about his family, in particular, Colunga's father, a man who lived illegally in the United States for two decades. He was deported do Mexico after the death of his only son.
Ed Lavandera explains what happened.
ZEFERINO COLUNGA-REYES, FATHER OF KILLED U.S. SOLDIER: This is where I stay. This is where I'm going to live for a while, I guess.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Zeferino Colunga- Reyes feels like he's been knocked out. COLUNGA-REYES: This room is built to be a washateria.
LAVANDERA: He lives alone in a shanty space next to his brother's roadside market in Matamoros, Mexico.
COLUNGA-REYES: It's hard for me to live here because I'm -- I'm not used to it. I cannot get used to living here.
LAVANDERA: But Colunga-Reyes has no choice. The doors to the United States are closed to him. His family and life are one side of the border while he sits on the other.
(on camera): What do you do on most days now?
COLUNGA-REYES: Wait. Wait to see what, you know, what's come. That's all we do, wait. There is no work in here.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): The promise of work brought Colunga- Reyes to the United States about 25 years ago. He's lived more than half his life in the U.S., picking fruit, driving trucks and raising a family. So when his son, at age 17, came to him and asked to join the Army, this migrant working father could not have been more proud.
COLUNGA-REYES: And the Army have nothing but the best, because the Army takes the best. And I raise a good boy. I raise a good boy.
LAVANDERA: It seemed a little ironic to Colunga-Reyes that he, an illegal immigrant, could sign his son up for the United States Army.
TERESA COLUNGA, SISTER OF KILLED U.S. SOLDIER: He would always call him, my little soldier, my little champion. He was very proud of my brother. And he would brag to his friends about him. And it was amazing. I mean, my brother was his pride.
LAVANDERA: Special Zeferino Colunga was an Army helicopter mechanic. Last year, he was sent to Baghdad. But a few months later, he got sick. He died in six days. Military officials say Colunga had a form of leukemia that had gone undetected.
Four months after Specialist Colunga was buried, his sister got a frantic phone call.
T. COLUNGA: I was working and my mom called me crying. They're like they took your dad in. They took your dad in. I'm like, who? I was, like, immigration? I was, like, immigration?
LAVANDERA: Colunga-Reyes was deported to Mexico. The other two illegal immigrants detained with him were allowed to go free. He remember how he lashed out at immigration officers.
COLUNGA-REYES: This is what I get. This is what I get. I give my son to the Army. And after he die, this is what I get.
LAVANDERA: But Colunga-Reyes could not escape his past. While living in Idaho, he and his brother were arrested and charged with selling cocaine.
(on camera): When Colunga-Reyes was arrested in 1987, he didn't speak English and had little money, but he was in the process of becoming a legal resident. According to transcripts, his court- appointed attorney suggested he plead guilty and suggest probation, because that would have no impact on his immigration status. Well, seventeen years later, Colunga-Reyes says that's the worst decision he's ever made.
(voice-over): He was deported in 1993. But with a family to raise in Texas, he snuck back a month after being deported. For 10 years, he drove a truck, even got speeding tickets, but he lived life as an American.
CARL RUSNOK, U.S. IMMIGRATION: The fact that his son served has nothing to do with the immigration case. He entered this country illegally at least two twice that we know of. He was removed twice. He's an aggravated felon. Immigration law indicates that there is no relief for such people.
LAVANDERA (on camera): So why in December 2003 do you get deported?
COLUNGA-REYES: I don't know. No idea.
JUANITA COLUNGA, MOTHER OF KILLED U.S. SOLDIER: He was good enough to sign my life's son away. Why isn't it good for anybody to help him come back, you know, for us to live a normal life? That's all, a normal life. My son was good enough for the Army, but I guess my husband wasn't. You know? Good for the United States. My husband wasn't good enough.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): One year after Specialist Colunga dies, the family gathers for a memorial service in Bellville, Texas, sad mariachi songs about a life that ended too soon.
As that is happening, we are driving around Matamoros, Mexico, with Colunga-Reyes, who gets a phone call describing the event. On the side of the road, emotion finally catches up to him.
COLUNGA-REYES: I should be there, man. I should. I want to be over there visiting my boy's grave.
LAVANDERA: Specialist Colunga was buried with full military honors. An honor guard presented his father with the American flag, a token of appreciation, they said, from a grateful nation.
Zeferino Colunga Reyes wonders why the country that gave him the flag won't allow him to come home.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: That was Ed Lavandera reporting.
Joining us now from Houston are two members of the Colunga family, two of whom you've just met. Juanita Colunga is the wife of Zeferino Colunga Reyes. Teresa Colunga is his daughter.
Welcome to both of you.
TERESA COLUNGA, DAUGHTER OF ZEFERINO COLUNGA REYES: Thank you.
ZAHN: Teresa, I want to start with you this evening. I know your family has hired an attorney in hopes of getting your father back into this country. Are you optimistic?
T. COLUNGA: Yes, very, very. I still have hope that there is something that could be done to allow my father to re-enter the United States legally this time.
ZAHN: And yet, you have to be somewhat realistic about what you face. I know you've heard what immigration officials have said. Basically, in spite of the tremendous service your brother has shown to this country and the tremendous sacrifice, they don't, in any way, connect his service to your father's immigration case.
What do you say to that?
T. COLUNGA: I think it does, because if nothing would have happened to my brother, my father's name would have never came up. My father is Zeferino Colunga Reyes. Zeferino Colunga died serving the military, and if he wouldn't have passed away, we would still be living a normal life.
ZAHN: And yet, Juanita, I know it's hard for you to take what else immigration officials are telling you. But they say in fact it was your husband's actions that led to his deportation.
You don't buy that at all, do you?
JUANITA COLUNGA, WIFE OF ZEFERINO COLUNGA REYES: No, I don't.
ZAHN: And why not?
J. COLUNGA: We were living a normal life, like my daughter said, you know. He was a truck driver. He would come and go. And that they never happened.
All of a sudden, four months later after my son's death, all this happens. I don't understand why. I don't.
ZAHN: Teresa, I know it's hard for you to understand, as well as your mother, but they once again -- immigration officials point out that they removed your father twice, because they said he was here illegally.
And they said just basically based on what he agreed to with a cocaine charge, that should be heavy consideration in not letting him come back into this country.
T. COLUNGA: Well, it wasn't cocaine. It was marijuana. It wasn't cocaine. It was marijuana that he was charged with. And to not allow my father to come back in -- there has been numerous people that have went to prison for murdering, molesting, raping of other -- other people, and they have gotten paroled.
All I'm asking is for a second chance for my father to come back and be able to be by my side, live a normal life with my mother. And that's all I have left is my mother and my father. My brother left, and that's all I'm asking, you know, is to have my father back.
ZAHN: Juanita, I know you're equally hopeful. It has been a year now since you lost your son to the war in Iraq. He ultimately ended up dying in Germany because of this illness.
What do you want America to understand about his service to this country?
J. COLUNGA: My son was really proud to be in the Army. And, in a way, I am proud, too, but I don't understand what's going on. I really don't.
ZAHN: Well, I know this is a very difficult time for every member of your family, particularly at this one-year marker. Teresa and Juanita, thank you very much for sharing your story with us tonight. We appreciate it.
T. COLUNGA: Thank you very much.
J. COLUNGA: Thank you.
ZAHN: And we're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: Thirty years ago today, August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon boarded Air Force One for the last time as president of the United States. He was on his way home to California, resigning in disgrace after Watergate.
Well, two years before, Nixon was struggling with how to handle an unpopular war in the middle of a reelection campaign, a situation that resonates now some 32 years later.
We get a glimpse of Nixon's torment in newly released transcripts of Oval Office tape recordings.
Here is Bruce Morton.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the summer of 1972, with a presidential election coming up, President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, talked about how to get out of Vietnam.
Nixon was down.
NIXON: I feel in the long run South Vietnam is probably never going to even survive anyway. MORTON: They talked about winning the election but...
NIXON: It's terrible important this year, but can we have a viable foreign policy if a year from now, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam? That's the real question.
HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We can have a viable foreign policy if it looks like the result of South Vietnamese incompetence.
MORTON: Kissinger argues that a quick pullout would upset everybody, even the Chinese, and domestically it won't help all that much, because opponents will say we should have done it even earlier. They need a year or two of space, he says.
KISSINGER: After a year, Mr. President, Vietnam will be a backwater. If we settle, say, this October, by January 1974, no one will give a damn.
MORTON: Which is sort of what happened. The U.S. settled. Its prisoners came home in 1973. Watergate, which no one could have predicted, drove Nixon from office and the North Vietnamese actually took Saigon and won the war when Gerald Ford was president.
Did Nixon really think about getting out in 1972? It depends on who you ask. He just got discouraged sometimes. Was Vietnam then like Iraq now? Yes and no. The country was more divided then, full of demonstrations, clashes.
Young Americans were being drafted then, dying in much greater numbers then. Many wanted an immediate U.S. withdrawal then. Neither President Bush nor Senator Kerry favors that now.
But Nixon's plan -- Vietnamize the war, get U.S. troops out and turn it over to the South Vietnamese to fight -- surely finds echoes in what President Bush hopes for now. Get the election over with, install some sort of Iraqi government and leave.
And surely Kissinger's hope that if it comes apart in a year or two, no one will care, must be the kind of hope that flowers in this White House all those years later.
ZAHN: Bruce Morton with our report.
Joining me here in Washington to discuss President Nixon's predicament with Vietnam as he sought reelection and whether there might have been any lessons there for President Bush and his handling of the conflict in Iraq is Allan J. Lichtman. He is chairman of the Department of History at American University.
Always good to see you. Welcome.
ALLAN J. LICHTMAN, CHAIRMAN, HISTORY DEPARTMENT, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Thank you, Paula. ZAHN: So let's talk a little bit about the political motivations Richard Nixon had here. Put these tapes into perspective.
LICHTMAN: All presidents care about their reelection.
ZAHN: Of course. And this one...
LICHTMAN: This one...
ZAHN: ... cared probably more than any.
LICHTMAN: He was obsessed with his reelection. That's what Watergate was all about.
Look, here is the problem for them. An election is coming up, and they had three objectives and they finessed them brilliantly.
No. 1, they didn't want to be nailed by the Congress with a specific withdrawal date from Vietnam.
No. 2, they wanted to make some progress toward negotiations.
But No. 3, they didn't want to immediately imperil their clients in South Vietnam before the election.
They pulled it all off. Nothing came out of Congress. They had negotiations. A couple of weeks before the election, Henry Kissinger was able to say peace is at hand. But the fall of Vietnam was still a long way off, well after the election.
And they essentially disarmed their opponent, George McGovern, the anti-war candidate.
ZAHN: Did the election, in your judgment, then turn on the issue of Vietnam?
LICHTMAN: I don't think so. Remember, this was a blowout election. Richard Nixon won 49 states. He had to defuse Vietnam, make it a non-issue, and that's what he did.
Meanwhile, he used all of the powers of the presidency to pump up the economy, to make sure the economy was doing well, to make his breakthrough with China and Russia, and to manipulate, as we know, dirty tricks, harassments and spying, the campaign itself.
It was the perfect political storm that swept away poor old George McGovern.
ZAHN: So let's come back to the foreign policy lessons...
ZAHN: ... learned, perhaps, for President Bush. As he watches or rereads the history of what happened, what should he have learned?
LICHTMAN: No. 1 and above all, even a president cannot control events. Aside from the election, the grim reality for Kissinger and Nixon was they could not sustain the government of South Vietnam without the massive reintroduction of American ground forces, and they weren't about to do that.
It was only a matter of time before South Vietnam fell, and their policy was simply to create a decent interval between the peace and the final fall.
George Bush had better be aware that as powerful as he is, he doesn't control events.
Secondly, although it wasn't Dick Nixon's war -- Lyndon Johnson started it -- it became his war. Now with Iraq, Bush has nobody else to point to. This is Mr. Bush's war. And you can see his strategy is quite similar to that of Nixon and Kissinger.
ZAHN: Well, when you look at the handover happening in June prior to the election, isn't that pretty obvious that this was one way to distance the U.S. administration from the future of Iraq? Maybe not militarily, but politically?
LICHTMAN: Absolutely. Make it not Mr. Bush's war, but the Iraqis' war. Turn it over to them, create distance and, above all, keep down the casualties as much as you can.
You know, there are over 900 American deaths in Iraq. If it hits a thousand, I think that would be a real political problem for Mr. Bush.
Interestingly, one of the big problems Nixon had was, of course, the draft, which Nixon very shrewdly ended. And of course, Bush does not have the draft now. He has a volunteer army.
ZAHN: How do you suspect on election day this whole issue of Iraq plays?
LICHTMAN: It's going to play out according to the real world. I think Mr. Bush can muddle through if there's some semblance of an Iraqi government, if casualties don't mount and go over a thousand.
But if things turn sour in Iraq, if things turn sour in Afghanistan, it makes no difference what Mr. Kerry says, whether he has a different policy or not, the finger of blame will point at President Bush, just as President Nixon did everything in his power to keep that finger from pointing at him.
ZAHN: Always a lot to be learned from history and from you. We'll sign up for your class. Allan J. Lichtman from American University. Again, thanks for dropping by tonight.
LICHTMAN: Thanks, Paula.
ZAHN: Coming up next, double trouble for the Chalabi's. One was supposed to lead Iraq. The other is supposed to put Saddam on trial. Now they are both wanted men. What is going on?
We'll be right back.
ZAHN: As we saw at the top of the program, there are a number of battles underway in Iraq, including the intense gunfight for control of Najaf.
But there are other battlefronts in that country, as well, such as the fight for political control and the battle to establish law and order.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Ahmed Chalabi, once a favorite of some in the Bush administration, a potential leader in Iraq. Now he is accused of counterfeiting. He says the charges against him are false. He blames them on political rivals.
Tonight, he spoke from the Iranian capital of Tehran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AHMED CHALABI, FORMER IRAQI GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: Clearly a way to try to prevent me from going back to Iraq and stop me from doing my patriotic duty. This I refuse, and I will go back to Iraq and this judgment won't intimidate me. We fought Saddam for many decades, and this judge will not stop me from doing my national and patriotic duty in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Chalabi's influence nephew, Salem Chalabi, faces a more serious charge. He is wanted in connection with the murder of an official of Iraq's finance ministry.
Salem Chalabi is overseeing the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Tonight from London, he told CNN people are trying to stop that tribunal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SALEM CHALABI, AHMED CHALABI'S NEPHEW: I know that I have a lot of enemies in Iraq, because people just don't want this tribunal to succeed. And I just feel that -- I mean, it's surreal, that suddenly some people kind of trump up some weird allegations, and there's a judge who's willing to take those on and issue an arrest warrant for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Joining us now is Robert Baer. He is a former CIA field officer who worked with Ahmad Chalabi and warned Bush administration officials that he was not a man to be trusted. Robert Baer is also the author of a book called, "Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude."
Welcome, Bob. Good to see you. ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA FIELD OFFICER: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: So you worked with Mr. Chalabi in the mid '90s. You never trusted the man. Why?
BAER: It was not a question of trust -- I didn't trust him, but more than that, he was obsessed with returning to Baghdad. And he made it very clear to me and anybody who worked with him, that he would do anything to get back there.
What did he was he tried, over a series of years, to -- to overthrow Saddam. He failed and came to Washington, and enlisted the Bush administration and the neocons to send American military in there.
But he was very clear that he was an Iraqi nationalist, and he was going to do anything he could to get back to that country and lead it.
ZAHN: Do these charges, then, against him surprise you at all?
BAER: They don't surprise me. He has a bad record in financial matters. He had his bank in Jordan fail. There was an audit that went through those accounts and held him responsible for taking money. There was a lot of other activities that he's been engaged in, leaking secrets to the Iranians.
But really what's telling is that Ahmad Chalabi is in Tehran. And Moqtada al-Sadr, the man leading the rebellion in Najaf right now is very close to the clerical leadership in Iran. It almost looks like Chalabi is -- consulting with the Iranians on this and has defected from the American side.
ZAHN: So you don't buy into his defense tonight in any way or any form that these charges against him are politically motivated?
BAER: I doubt it. I mean, the Bush administration has cut Chalabi loose very reluctantly. He was the favorite in Washington since 1996 and forward. The evidence had to be pretty compelling against Chalabi to go after him like this.
And this is an American appointed judge. It's an American appointed prime minister. I don't think that this would have occurred without the consent of somebody in Washington.
ZAHN: Final thought on the arrest of Salem Chalabi, charged with murder. Do you believe this will compromise the trial of Saddam Hussein, which he was overseeing?
BAER: Absolutely. I mean, if -- if you've got the man leading the prosecution is under investigation for murder, they're going to have to change him. It just can't go forward like this.
ZAHN: So what do you think will happen?
BAER: I think -- I don't -- if I were Salem Chalabi or Ahmed Chalabi, I wouldn't go back to Iraq. It's clearly -- someone's out to get them, and they're going to end up in Abu Ghraib prison or worse. They're going to have to first of all take care of this rebellion in Najaf and find out who's on our side and who's not and proceed accordingly.
ZAHN: And that's becoming increasingly hard to figure out, isn't it?
BAER: It looks grim. It's on the knife's edge in Iraq right now.
ZAHN: All right. Bob Baer, always good to have your perspective. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.
BAER: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: And coming up next, New York's high caliber tourist attraction. You might be surprised.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is it the gun or the dog that...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's the gun that's really quite -- We don't see anything like that back home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Armed to the teeth and saying cheese, when we come back.
ZAHN: There is no sure way to attract a crowd than when something is suddenly in the news and even seems a little bit dangerous. And as Jeanne Moos discovered, New York's new terror precautions are providing exactly what some sightseers crave.
MOOS (voice-over): It used to be tourists would shoot everything from the statue of liberty to the statue of George Washington, but these days, standing like statues are cops with assault weapons. And when someone asks...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you take our picture?
MOOS: ... they might be posing in front of New York's latest attraction.
(on camera) Now, you just posed with those guys. What were you thinking?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had a big gun!
MOOS (voice-over): Tourists from Australia, from Wisconsin, from Scotland are taking aim at those big guns.
(on camera) Is it the gun or the dog that you find...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's the gun that's really quite shocking, you know? We don't see anything like that back home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unbelievable to see them standing on the corner with machine guns.
MOOS (voice-over): Well, actually, they're M-4 semiautomatics, and tourists seem automatically drawn to them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In London, police don't have guns. It's quite a sight for us to see Americans with guns.
MOOS (on camera): It looks almost like a toy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's not. Trust me.
MOOS (voice-over): The bigger the gun, the more tourists want to pose.
(on camera) Does it happen all the time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Constantly.
MOOS: Do you mind when they pose with you? Or are you OK with it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all. I'm fine with it.
MOOS (voice-over): Eleven-year-old Christopher Stallman posed while his parents snapped away. Why did Christopher want the photo?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they're great people for protecting our country.
MOOS: Imagine showing off snapshots from your New York trip.
(on camera) I assume you have pictures of nice little touristy things, and then you're going to suddenly have guys with guns.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're here because our daughter is performing at the Godfrey (ph) Ballet, and so we're going to have ballet pictures and fully fledged machine gun police officers.
MOOS (voice-over): Some, like this Chinese student, are full of admiration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I could, I would be -- be one with them.
MOOS (on camera): One of these policemen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a tourist picture in the war. Yes. I don't like it very much.
MOOS (voice-over): Of course, some folks...
(on camera) He's taking a picture of us.
(voice-over) ... will shoot anything.
You can divide those taking photos into two groups.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really scary.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's awe-inspiring. It's kind of nice to see that.
MOOS (on camera): Is it scary or make you feel more secure?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, definitely more secure. They're on my side.
MOOS (voice-over): It's different being on the town when the town is on edge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): It's a wonderful time.
MOOS: It's still wonderful if vacation photos ain't what they used to be, when what you're shooting can shoot back.
ZAHN: Go figure. Jeanne Moos reporting. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here in Washington, D.C., tonight. We'll be back in New York tomorrow with the latest on what is expected to be a dramatic day in the courtroom in the Scott Peterson trial. His mistress, Amber Frey, finally takes the stand. We'll take you inside.
"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Thanks for joining us tonight. Good night.
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