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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Interview With Tommy Franks
Aired August 16, 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 HOST: Tonight, General Tommy Franks. On Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN TOMMY FRANKS, FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER: It's chaotic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: On his unlikely journey from college dropout to master strategist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: You were a partier?
FRANKS: Right. I actually did flunk out of school.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: And on politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Would you like to see President Bush reelected?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Tonight, my interview with General Tommy Franks.
Good evening. Welcome to a brand new week here. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. Today, campaigning in Cincinnati President Bush said 60 to 70,000 Americans in uniform overseas would come home over the next ten years. It is a shift from a Cold War strategy to fighting terrorism, but it will not affect the 150,000 men and women now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their mission continues. Before the president's announcement, I sat down with one of the nation's top generals, the man who planned the invasion of Iraq and today, more than a year after his lightning war brought down Saddam Hussein, General Tommy Franks is telling a story in a book called "American Soldier," and he had some surprising answers to my questions about the war and what has happened since.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ZAHN: March 19th, 2003. A country on the verge of war. 173,000 soldiers and marines on the ground along the Kuwaiti border. 149 ships, five aircraft carriers ready to launch air, sea and land forces. It was this man's D-day. The General, counting down the minutes. The man with the power to launch hundreds of thousands of soldiers into war. The day President Bush told you that Operation Iraqi Freedom was about to begin and you wrote, "I pause, climbing the stairs to my plane, the President had just ordered me to go to war. The troops were ready. The question in my mind was 'Am I ready?'"
ZAHN: What were you worried about?
FRANKS: Oh, my gracious. Oh, my gracious. I think at a time like that, you start thinking about all the things that can happen and you start wondering have we put all of the forces in place where they need to be in place? Have we made all of the arrangements that need to be made in order to support them? Have we properly prepared all these kids to face weapons of mass destruction, which I was absolutely convinced Saddam both had and would use.
ZAHN: Did a chill go through your spine?
FRANKS: Probably on more than one occasion. What popped into my mind and stayed there for a while was more about the values of the country and character and decisiveness and the things that I thought would be called into question in the days ahead. Progress toward our objectives has been rapid and, in some cases, dramatic.
ZAHN: And Franks was front and center from the outset, receiving spirited accolades.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We gave Tommy the tools necessary to win. We agreed with his strategy. And he's running this war.
ZAHN: And relentless criticism.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The criticism is voiced about not enough troops to maintain the peace, would you comment?
FRANKS: I make it a practice to not comment on--on the remarks of predecessors.
ZAHN: It did not take long for the second-guessing to start.
ZAHN: How did you separate the politics of the criticism from the substance of the criticism about your plan?
FRANKS: For me, I tried to distance myself from it. I guess as a short answer, what I tried to do was just remain remote from it. Because I was concerned that I might be influenced by what I saw, so I stayed away from it.
ZAHN: In your book, you mention that you projected that you thought you needed a quarter of a million troops on the ground. FRANKS: Uh-huh.
ZAHN: You didn't get that. Why not?
FRANKS: Up to a quarter of a million troops and certainly not all of them Americans. My view was--and remains as still my view-- that the beginning of the operation and the movement through major combat operations was force-sized about perfectly. I wasn't sure how many troops it would take, once we began security and stability operations in Iraq, but I was pretty sure that the international community, a whole laundry list of countries, would provide troops to augment the Americans already on the ground as soon as major combat operations had been completed and so...
ZAHN: But that support never materialized?
FRANKS: Some did.
ZAHN: Not in the numbers you hoped.
FRANKS: No, no. Some did, but not at the level that I wanted. I'll be eternally grateful to the 22, 23 countries who are there and who are doing something.
ZAHN: When you reflect on the war, you say you believe you were force-sized perfectly and yet, as you know, there were a number of critics out there suggesting that if you had gotten up to the 250,000 troops, you might not be facing the insurgency movement you are today. Are they right?
FRANKS: Absolutely. I don't know. I think five years from now, ten years from now, we'll look back and we'll have a better--we'll have a better sense of the beginning of the operation and the end of the operation, and maybe, at that point, we can say okay, that argument is vindicated. If we had had larger numbers to begin with and so forth, maybe. I don't know that right now. And I'm not sure-- I'm not sure anyone knows that.
ZAHN: In the book, you concede that not enough was done to win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Was the post war plan flawed?
FRANKS: I don't--I don't think the plan was flawed as much as it simply did not describe with certainty whether when our troops moved into Iraq, whether they were going to find open arms and find Iraqis who would come forward and reduce the chaos in that country, or whether, on the other end of that continuum, we would see what we see right now. I think there simply was no certainty about which of those courses we'd find.
ZAHN: You mentioned a little bit earlier, not only did you believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction...
ZAHN: ...you expected him... FRANKS: Absolutely.
ZAHN: ....to use them against your troops.
FRANKS: I did.
ZAHN: Now that it has become clear that that military intelligence was flawed...
ZAHN: ...do you feel like you were misled?
FRANKS: Not at all. Because I think if one has the degree of focus that our country had had on Iraq--you know we came out of the first Iraq War, Desert Storm in 1991 and we knew what we knew and we saw the stockpiles of chemical weapons and there was no speculation about that. I mean, saw and destroyed a lot of those stockpiles and then year after year, we continued to see the reports from the United Nations inspectors. "Well, there are still SCUD missiles unaccounted for, there are biologicals unaccounted for."
The latest report I think I saw on that was maybe dated 1999 from the inspectors. Well, it doesn't say that he had them, that he has the weapons. It says that we can't--we can't prove whether he does or does not have them, but he's not cooperating. The regime is not cooperating. Well, if have you that kind of information, within a context where a year or so earlier, America lost 3000 lives at the hands of terrorists, could you take the risk of not knowing with certitude that a guy who had used weapons of mass destruction against the Iranians, against his own people, the Kurds, wouldn't do that?
ZAHN: Had the inspections been allowed to continue, though, do you think the United States could have avoided this war?
FRANKS: Political question during a political season, it's a question a lot of people ask. But I don't know whether it could have worked or not. But I said very honestly to a number of people, President Bush never asked me, throughout the planning process, whether I thought we should attack Saddam Hussein or not.
ZAHN: Had he asked you that, what would have been your answer?
FRANKS: You bet. Absolutely.
ZAHN: And when we come back, General Franks' surprising revelation about the President's controversial "Mission Accomplished" declaration.
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ZAHN: Do you believe the American public was left with a false impression by the President's appearance on that aircraft carrier?
FRANKS: I think--I think maybe so.
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ZAHN: We just heard General Tommy Franks acknowledge that he did not have as many troops on the ground in Iraq as he would've liked to keep Iraq secure once major combat operations ended. He also told me that if he had been asked whether--before the war--whether the U.S. should attack Saddam, he would've said "Yes, absolutely." In part two of my interview, General Franks recalls the victories in Iraq, the defeats and a surprising controversy.
ZAHN: This was Tommy Franks' moment in history.
Take us back to the day that the Saddam Hussein statue was toppled. I was covering it live on the air.
And a lot of symbolism at play here.
What was your reaction when you saw those first pictures being fed back?
FRANKS: Oh, Paula, just like yours, "Oh, goody!"
ZAHN: It was a victory made even sweeter. Franks and some of his generals who he called "The Band of Brothers," took over Saddam Hussein's palace in Baghdad, April 16th, 2003. But Franks knew well that this was only the first victory in what would become a very long battle. A battle that even today continues to take many lives.
FRANKS: One needs to be exceedingly careful about being overly jubilant about things mid-course and I viewed the statue of Saddam coming down as a mid-course victory with a long ways to go.
ZAHN: In spite of knowing what a tough lie there was ahead, there had to be a certain amount of satisfaction when you actually toured some of Saddam Hussein's palaces after his downfall.
FRANKS: There was. There was. And it was not too long after the 9th of April when the statue came down, so--maybe a couple of weeks that in a conversation with Secretary Rumsfeld, I said there is no more army, navy, air force here. Major combat, this is a done deal. And I'd really appreciate it if you'd have the President, you know, announce that.
BUSH: My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended and the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies, have prevailed.
FRANKS: And as a result of that, unintended consequences. I mean, I'm the guy who did that.
ZAHN: We were all led to believe it was the White House press office or someone within that infrastructure that encouraged the President to do that.
FRANKS: I don't know--I don't know about the mission accomplished and the aircraft carrier and all that. I don't know about that. And I wouldn't try to defend it at all, but the idea of major combat finished. That came from me.
ZAHN: And what was the turning point? What made you believe that?
FRANKS: No more army, no more air force, navy. We had our tanks parked in the middle of the Republican Guard's formations and, in fact, the Iraqis were already making contact with us, seeking positions in the various ministries in Baghdad.
ZAHN: In retrospect, was it a mistake to believe that combat operations were over?
FRANKS: Not a mistake in military parlance. Major combat is defined in a certain way. Major combat has to do with tanks and jets and ships and that sort of thing. What probably is wrong is to pass it along and not civilianize the term. Major combat operations, in my view as a military man were over and are over. But that does not imply that we're not fighting a heck of a fight over there today.
ZAHN: So do you think the American public was left with a false impression by the President's appearance on that aircraft carrier?
FRANKS: I think--I think maybe so, but I'm sure not an intentional one. I believe if the election were coming up from that day, the 1st of May, 2003 in November, then I can see some advantage to the President having sought to do something like that. But in May of 2003, I actually think that this commander in chief was given the general--me--what I asked for. That's what I believe.
BUSH: I have a special word for Secretary Rumsfeld, for General Franks, and for all of the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States: America is grateful for a job well done.
ZAHN: What does the President get for following your orders?
FRANKS: Well, I guess in this particular case, a lot of people questioning--questioning what he decided to do.
ZAHN: Are you burdened by this?
FRANKS: I'm burdened that a guy I have respect for maybe has been given undue notoriety for having been something--for having done something that I suggested he do, sure.
ZAHN: But you didn't suggest getting on the aircraft carrier and putting on the flight suit and landing dramatically in a fighter jet?
FRANKS: No, I didn't, but even at that, I have to confess that when I saw it done, I said, "There you go!" You know?
ZAHN: You did? FRANKS: Thanks a lot to myself.
ZAHN: You liked the picture?
FRANKS: Yeah. I thought it was--I thought it was great. And, you know, be that particular aircraft carrier, I mean, that thing had been on a long deployment, all the sailors were worn out, they had been at war and all that. And so I can see "Mission Accomplished" in a sort of thing there, but "mission accomplished" tactically for that aircraft carrier or a division of troops means one thing and "mission accomplished" at the strategic level means something else and so I have, all along, understood the controversy and I just have not felt terribly good about having been the guy that started it all.
ZAHN: And when we come back, the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Did Tommy Franks make a crucial mistake?
ZAHN: I know you admit in the book, maybe if you had to do it all over again, you would immediately have sealed the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
FRANKS: And I might have.
ZAHN: Why don't you?
ZAHN: More now with my interview with General Tommy Franks, the man who led the invasion of Iraq. A year and a half before the Iraq war, Franks had another assignment, Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. He succeeded in only one part of that mission.
ZAHN: The elusive man the at the top of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. The man directly and indirectly responsible for more deaths than any other terrorist alive today.
Why hasn't the United States either captured or killed Osama bin Laden?
FRANKS: He's a hard target.
ZAHN: Four-star General Tommy Franks knows that better than anyone. In 2000, Franks was put in charge of U.S. Central command, responsible for a tough part of the world, from Africa to Asia, including most of the Middle East and Iraq. In response to the September 11th attacks, Franks was ordered to break up al Qaeda and take out the Taliban in Afghanistan, the fundamentalist regime that had sheltered and supported Osama bin Laden. FRANKS: Good afternoon. I see we have a full house.
ZAHN: Franks defeated the Taliban. He could not capture bin Laden. He might have come close, though. In December of 2001, American planes bombed the Tora Bora mountains. Bin Laden was believed to be hiding out there but there was a tactical error. No American troops were stationed on the borders.
I know you admit in the book maybe if you had to go back and do it all over again, you would immediately have sealed the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
FRANKS: I might have done that.
ZAHN: Why didn't we do that?
FRANKS: Well, because I think not so well reported, the fact that Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, had put, at our request, a hundred thousand men on that border.
ZAHN: Do you really believe they were loyal to him or some of the warlords who controlled potentially Osama bin Laden's fate?
FRANKS: I believe they're loyal to Pervez Musharraf. The reason I believe that is because we loaded bus after bus after bus of al Qaeda terrorists and Talibans into jails as a result of that. And so I think it may be a bit simplistic to say, well, this is where the personality was that bin Laden was here and he was on you know, this day and so...maybe. Maybe. But I'm not yet quite convinced that the issues around Tora Bora as we've discussed them, are conclusive with respect to the notion that, well, well, we missed him, but I know this.
Someone asked me, I think maybe last October. At that time, we didn't have Saddam Hussein yet. And someone said, "Well, General, tell me about bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Are you guys going to get 'em? I mean, are you ever going to get 'em?" And I said, Saddam Hussein, within 60 to 90 days. Bin Laden, within my lifetime. And the reason is because Saddam had no place to go. The people in Iraq didn't like him and that's pretty obvious to all of us. That's not the case with Osama bin Laden. There is an ideology that surrounds him and there are--I don't want to be myself guilty of hyperbole so let me be conservative. There are millions of homes in the region where bin Laden is thought of as a hero. And he'll be--and he'll be protected. He's a hard target.
ZAHN: You were the chief architect of the plan in Afghanistan. Does it drive you nuts that he hasn't been captured or killed?
FRANKS: I think--one of the things that does bother me is the fact that bin Laden and a number of other murderers remain at large. Are they effective in planning the next attack on the United States of America? I don't think so.
ZAHN: You think their power has been degraded? FRANKS: I think their power has been degraded but I don't think that they have been denuded. I don't believe that they're totally incapacitated. But I will sleep a lot better when the job is done with bin Laden.
ZAHN: So what are you thinking about late at night when you can't sleep and this image of Osama bin Laden is haunting you?
FRANKS: A corny answer. That's a great question. A corny answer. My grandkids. I think of my grandkids. I believe that perhaps the greatest threat we've seen to our way of life in this country is terrorism, wherein, people are afraid to take their kids to the mall or get on an airplane or go to a movie theater. That is not the United States of America that I grew up in and I don't want my grandkids to grow up in that world, but I think that's what we're confronted with right now and so that actually turns out to be the only comment that I can make that's political. I can't--I just can't be away from it.
America wants to have Bush, Kerry, Kerry, Bush. Either one. However America chooses our next leader, I believe that it's imperative that this business of terrorism and the threat that we face in this country, because it relates to our kids and our grandkids, be the thing that all Americans take very, very seriously. Here is what I ask everyone I know--and I've been doing this for a while-"How did you feel on the 12th of September, 2001? How did you feel?"
FRANKS: What would you have done on the 12th of September, 2001 to keep that from happening again? Whatever the answer is, America, whatever we were willing to do on the 12th of September, 2001 to keep it from happening again, let's not get so far away from that that we forget how we felt and what we would have been willing to do because those actions, whatever they are, are still necessary. We are not out of the woods, Paula.
ZAHN: Is any of this personal for you? Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani once said that if he were to confront Osama bin Laden, he would personally take him out. What would you do if you confronted Osama bin Laden?
FRANKS: I'd like to meet him.
ZAHN: You'd like to meet him?
FRANKS: I'd like to meet him. I'd like to meet him.
ZAHN: What would you want to know from him? What would you say to him?
FRANKS: Nothing. I wouldn't say anything to him. I'd just like to look at him. Because some in this administration have taken me to task a little bit for having said bin Laden is no coward.
Let's be careful. Let's not -- let's not demean our enemies by saying, you know, they're cowards and they're madmen and they're crazy and all of that. This is a very capable guy.
We have every reason in the world to hate him. He's killed thousands of Americans. But we have no reason to underestimate him, and I'd like to -- I'd like to see him for that -- for that purpose, and I would like to see him brought to justice. And that is a little personal, maybe, yes.
ZAHN: Coming up next, will the former four-star general vote to reelect the man who was his commander in chief?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Would you like to see President Bush reelected?
FRANKS: Absolutely. Tough question. Tough question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: One of the most important parts of Tommy Franks' 38 years in the United States Army was, as we've seen tonight, the invasion of Iraq. But how he got to the Army in the first place is a remarkable story in itself.
In the final part of our interview, General Franks reveals a more personal side.
ZAHN: People might be surprised to learn in this book that you described yourself in your teens as a pretty undisciplined guy, a guy who almost got kicked out of school. You were a partier.
FRANKS: Right. Right.
ZAHN: What was in your DNA that existed that prepared you for this incredibly disciplined life you have led in the military?
FRANKS: An inquisitive nature.
ZAHN (voice-over): Before Tommy Franks was a four star general, he was just Tommy Ray. His friends called him Bubba.
Born in Winwood, Oklahoma, his father, Ray, was a mechanic and his mother, Lorene (ph), was a stay at home mom. When he was a baby, they moved to Texas, where Tommy would attend the same high school as first lady Laura Bush and then the University of Texas at Austin.
But college proved surprisingly difficult for Tommy Ray Franks.
FRANKS: When I actually did flunk out of school at the University of Texas after two years, I couldn't figure it out. I just couldn't figure out what I was -- what I was going to do. What's it all about, Alfie?
You know, and I woke up one morning and I went downtown in Austin. And I found the recruiting office and said, "I'm your guy." And I signed up without any sense at all of where I'd go or what I'd do.
It was a change. It was a big adventure. And then year-by-year, experience in Vietnam, and so forth, I finally grew up. It just took me a little longer than some people.
ZAHN: And it was that experience in Vietnam as an artillery officer that stayed with him, even at the pinnacle of his military service, a four-star general in charge of U.S. Central Command.
He writes in his book, "I would be seated in my air-conditioned command center in Qatar, scanning a wall of digital maps pulsing with bright symbols. But I would also be riding in those clanking Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. In my mind, I'd choke on the dust and sooty diesel fumes and smell the bitter sweat of fear."
FRANKS: It's always the young men and women, like I was a young guy in Vietnam, a long time ago. They're the ones who are doing the hard work.
And maybe that's why one of the things that is so important to leadership, especially in war time, is experience, because if they haven't been there, they don't quite understand the time, the distance, and the psychology associated with that. And so I worked hard to never forget it.
ZAHN (on camera): Former President Bush once told me as president, the most difficult decision you have to make is whether to put Americans in harm's way. How do you confront family members who have lost young men and women in Iraq...
FRANKS: Right. Right.
ZAHN: ... who think they were misled about why we went into Iraq and really don't believe we ever should of entered into this war? What do you say to them?
FRANKS: As you would suspect, I meet them all the time. There is nothing that -- that anyone in a leadership position can do to remove the pain of having lost a loved one in this.
What I try to do is simply express my appreciation personally on behalf of my grandkids, and assure them that the sacrifice made by their loved one makes a difference to the country.
ZAHN: What do you rely upon during these hard times? I know you never travel very far without your Bible.
ZAHN: I know you grip your wedding ring...
ZAHN: ... when you're feeling particularly...
FRANKS: Yes. And a small American flag.
ZAHN: ... tense.
FRANKS: And a small American flag. It's tough to not be -- maybe even a little melodramatic about that. I actually -- I actually believe in my family and my country and my faith.
The best decision I ever made in my life was 35 plus years ago when -- when I got married. She has traveled with me. There are some photographs in the book of her standing with some young Special Forces troopers in late November in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the middle of the night. It's one of the most beautiful photographs you can imagine.
You need to look at the eyes of the kids who are standing there with -- with Cathy, because I believe that it makes -- that it has meaning for these kids when you're willing to be there and at least to some extent, put it on the line.
Kabul, Afghanistan, on the 22nd of December, 2001, that was the day Karzai was inaugurated. And on the way to that event, we had a surface-to-air missile fired at the helicopter. And the president, some way or other, he learned of that and bit me.
He said, "Is what I've heard true?"
"Yes, it's true."
"Well, don't do it! I don't need to get my general and wife killed, you know, doing something, so be careful. Don't do things like that."
"Yes, Mr. President."
ZAHN: Did you kind of feel like a little kid that was getting scolded by a father?
FRANKS: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. Because that's the way he gave it. It was -- it was a fatherly scolding.
ZAHN: What is your relationship with President Bush?
FRANKS: It's a very good one. I think of him as -- I think of him as a friend. And many people have said, well, "Franks, the only person in this book that you like, other than your father is George W. Bush." And I just -- maybe I acknowledge it, but it's not intentional.
ZAHN: Would you like to see George Bush reelected? FRANKS: I'm leaning in that direction. If I were going to support President Bush for reelection, I could do that in the quietude of the voting booth and go do that, so that's sort of like one answer.
The other answer is support George W. Bush for reelection and really try to help. And that's the part that I haven't -- that I have not decided yet.
ZAHN: Do you feel some pressure to support him now that you've been invited to speak at the Republican National Convention?
FRANKS: I don't feel any pressure at all. I maintain my contacts with not only my liberal friends in New York City, and I have a bunch of them.
ZAHN: There's some conservatives that live there, too.
FRANKS: There are some of those, as well. But those are the ones who are my friends, you know? As well as in this White House.
It's about issues with me. It really is about issues. And it is not about medals over a wall. It is not about a National Guard thing. It's the future.
It's where -- someone asked me the other day, "Well, is John Kerry qualified to be the president of the United States?"
And I said, "Of course. Of course he is."
What I want to work in my own mind is the future, not the past. It really is about security in the country.
ZAHN: But what haven't you heard so far that might change your vote between now and November?
FRANKS: I want to have a better sense, Paula, of what do you think about our force levels? OK? Are you more concerned with having Americans out of Iraq, or are you more concerned with having Iraq a functioning free country, in order to make a decision?
ZAHN: What's the right answer for you?
FRANKS: I don't -- I don't...
ZAHN: Should we be more concerned about drawing down troop strength?
FRANKS: That's a fair -- That's a fair -- That's a fair question. I think 25 years from now, 50 years from now, when people look back on this time, to try to decide did we do the right thing about going into Iraq? Because that's when we'll know. I mean, that's when we'll know if we did the right thing or not.
I think if the United States of America leaves Iraq without having set conditions there for the Iraqis to have a free country, it's a devastating thing. And if either one of the candidates were to express to me that they believed the most important thing was to back America away from the chaos, that would be a negative answer to me, because in my view, the most important thing is to be sure that Iraq does not become a sanctuary, as it was before. And that means we must complete it.
ZAHN: How many years do you think it will be before the U.S. can pull out completely militarily?
FRANKS: My sense is three to five years. And I think you could -- you could ask me, "Where's the arithmetic, Franks? I mean, why three?"
ZAHN: I was getting to go that. Trying to figure this out!
ZAHN: Why three or why five? Well, part of it would be 1776 to 1789 in the United States of America. How long did it take to create not just the will to have a democracy, but the bureaucratic mechanisms which permit a bureaucracy to operate? Now, '76 to 1789. I mean, 13 years.
It won't take that long, because we didn't have anyone in our early years to help us do that. The Iraqis do have someone. They have -- they have us. And they have other friends. So it won't take that long.
ZAHN (voice-over): Franks believes strongly that, as a nation, we must follow through, despite the loss of life that is bound to come with the tough decisions ahead.
And even as a four-star general, he never forgot the lesson he learned back in the days when he was just Tommy Ray.
FRANKS: My dad, as a result of a teenage accident, lost an eye and lost some fingers doing something he shouldn't have been doing. But I was maybe in my teens before I realized that my dad had a handicap. Now, that's -- that's amazing.
I mean, of course, I knew that he had lost an eye and that he had lost several fingers, but it never occurred to me that he was -- that he was not just absolutely normal, because it never slowed him down. It's perseverance.
My dad taught me to use three words, and I think they're very powerful words: "It's my fault." Because at the end of the day, people are much more interested in getting the job done than they are in the excuse as to why the job wasn't done.
ZAHN: Not an easy thing for a lot of us in this country to say.
Stick around because we're going to tell you about a very special PAULA ZAHN NOW coming up now this week. Right after this break, we'll be right back.
ZAHN: We're back with some 78 days away from the presidential election with polls showing George Bush and John Kerry about as deadlocked as can you get.
That means undecided voters in the closest states, the battleground states, hold the key. And while one poll finds those voters favor President Bush on personal qualities such as leadership, on the issues such as the economy, things may not be going the president's way.
Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has more.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Where is this presidential election going to be won?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, George.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
SCHNEIDER: Seventeen battleground states, where red voters for Bush and blue voters for Kerry are closely matched. Call them purple states. That's where both campaigns are focused.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to have the most incredible journey across the country through Pennsylvania, New York, upstate New York and down through Pennsylvania and Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, down into Iowa, ultimately St. Louis.
SCHNEIDER: Take Florida, ground zero in the 2000 election, narrowly carried by George W. Bush after a five-week recount. But, now, a post Democratic convention poll shows Bush in trouble in Florida.
Take Ohio, widely seen as this year's ground zero. Bush carried Ohio narrowly in 2000, but now Ohio, too, looks shaky.
President Bush may be in trouble in the swing states. Why? The Pew Research Center reports that over one voter in five is not firmly committed.
What do we know about these swing voters? They're driven by two powerful concerns: jobs and leadership in the war on terrorism.
We know they like President Bush. But we also know they're unhappy about the economy. By nearly 2-1, swing voters say the economy is only fair or poor, rather than excellent or good.
President Bush is pitching his character and leadership to swing voters.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every day that I wake up, I think of best how to defend our country. I will never relent.
SCHNEIDER: And trying to reassure them about jobs.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You should know that the president and I will not be satisfied until every American who wants to work can find a job.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats talk about jobs, jobs, jobs.
KERRY: When you've lost 25,000 jobs manufacturing, right here in the state of Oregon.
SCHNEIDER: While trying to reassure swing voters about Kerry's character and leadership.
TERESA HEINZ KERRY, JOHN KERRY'S WIFE: It is important to have a president who believes that having friends in this world and making friends in this world is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
ZAHN: And Bill Schneider himself joins us from our Los Angeles bureau tonight.
Always good to see you, Bill. So give us your sense of how local issues will be shaping this presidential election this cycle.
SCHNEIDER: Well, it works like this. Local issues matter less if national issues matter more. So that if there is a sudden terror threat, if Osama bin Laden is captured, if there is a sudden crisis in Iraq or a downturn in the economy, then local issues are going to look a lot smaller than they might otherwise look, Paula.
ZAHN: The one thing that I guess everybody can agree on is John Kerry gained some tremendous momentum through this Democratic National Convention. Now you've got the Republicans, their convention coming up. Do you believe that convention will erase some of Kerry's gains?
SCHNEIDER: Well, historically, it's supposed to, but I'll tell you something. There's a problem for Bush in his convention, namely the threat of serious protests and even disruption.
If that happens, then a lot of voters could see the convention reinforcing Bush's image as a divider. They could condemn the protests, and especially if they're disruptive, but at the same time they could conclude if we reelect this guy, we're asking for trouble. That's the way they felt in 1968 about Hubert Humphrey and the Democrats.
ZAHN: What are his campaign people telling you? Are they really worried about that happening?
SCHNEIDER: Well, their view is that people will have to pick sides between the protesters and the president. But my experience, going way back to 1968, is no! People don't feel they have to pick sides. They can condemn the protesters but, at the same time, conclude it's very risky to reelect this president.
ZAHN: Then let's fast forward to the debates, always a critical factor in elections. How will it be this time around?
SCHNEIDER: I always say the prize for winning the debate is not the presidency. Most experts agree that Al Gore won the debates in 2000 on points, but voters liked George Bush better.
You know, Paula, every Democrat I know believes that John Kerry is smarter than George Bush. But if he goes in that debate acting as if he believes that, he could be in trouble.
ZAHN: That's something that campaign's have been worried about. Bill Schneider, thanks so much. Appreciate your time tonight.
Coming up later on this week, we're going to take you to perhaps the most important presidential battleground for a special edition of PAULA ZAHN NOW. On Wednesday night, we will be in Canton, Ohio, for a live town hall meeting with some 200 likely voters, as well as representatives from both the Bush and the Kerry campaigns.
It is a chance for you and the people of Ohio to find out where the candidates stand on the fight for Iraq, the war on terror, the economy, jobs, health care and education.
And if you're watching from home, you could still take part. Post your questions. They've got to be good ones for us to use them, for the candidates' representatives. On our web site now, just log on to CNN.com/Paula -- that would be backslash dot Paula.
Join us Wednesday at 8 p.m. Eastern to find out if your questions are asked and hopefully answered.
We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here this evening. Thanks so much for being with us tonight.
Tomorrow, two whistle-blowers who say they found serious flaws in the FBI's campaign against terror. And both say they were punished for speaking out. Hear their stories and what the FBI has to say about their very specific allegations. That is tomorrow night. We hope you'll join us then.
"LARRY KING LIVE" is next with the latest in the Scott Peterson murder trial. Again, thanks for dropping by tonight. Hope you'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night.
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