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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Senators Reed, Specter; Interview With Senate Majority Leader Frist
Aired October 22, 2006 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6 p.m. in Baghdad, and midnight in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll speak with senators Arlen Specter and Jack Reed in just a moment. First, though, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hi, Fred.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.
And with a clearly deteriorating situation unfolding in Iraq and with polls here in the United States showing widespread voter discontent over the mission there, the Bush administration is under enormous pressure right now to try to change its Iraq strategy. Joining us now to speak about that and more, two guests, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Senators, thanks very much for coming in. Senator Specter, I'll start with you. How much time does the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, have to get tough to deal with the death squads, the militias, before the United States has to reassess its strategy?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I would say, Wolf, that the time has already passed. I was encouraged by a lead story in The New York Times today that the administration is considering some timetables. President Bush said yesterday in his Saturday address that he's going to be flexible and would make adjustments if necessary to be victorious.
There is no doubt that there's a lot of political pressure. You see Senator George Allen of Virginia in a tough campaign, calling for a change in tactics. We have James Baker saying that there are alternatives besides staying the course and cutting and running. I don't believe that a shift in tactics ought to wait until after the election. There are too many casualties there. If we have a better course, we ought to adopt it sooner rather than later.
BLITZER: So, just spell out what you would like to see in the next -- it's only a little bit more than two weeks before the election. Specifically, Senator Specter, what would you like to see the president announce? SPECTER: Well, I like the report in The Times today that the administration is considering timetables to tell the Iraqis that they're going to have to take a larger role in their own security, that they're going to have to show some progress on sectarian violence, and maybe even further consideration of the option of dividing Iraq into three segments, Shiite, Sunni and Kurd, so these warring factions will be less likely to kill each other.
BLITZER: Senator Reed, you're just back from Iraq. You've been there several times. A spokesman for the National Security Council is denying the New York Times report, saying that they are now (ph) considering a timetable for certain actions by the Iraqi government in order to demonstrate to the American government and to the American people that this government of Nouri al-Maliki is serious in dealing with the threats over there. What's your assessment right now about the current situation?
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, months ago, Senator Levin and I and other Democrats called for a change in policy to begin redeployment of our forces and put real pressure on the Maliki government to do what they have to do.
BLITZER: When you say redeployment of forces, what specifically, what did you and Senator Levin have in mind?
REED: We would say that the policy of the United States was to begin a redeployment of American forces...
BLITZER: Outside of Iraq?
REED: Outside of Iraq. Initially within Iraq, then outside of Iraq. And also that this redeployment would be coupled with more aggressive action by the Iraqi government to take charge of its own security, continued efforts by the United States to assist in the reconstruction and those efforts.
The strategy of the administration has failed. The strategy of clear, build and hold has not worked. It's been clear, build and wait. And while we've waited, without the resources to rebuild the Iraqi economy, the insurgents have snuck back in. The sectarian militias have snuck back in and established control in many places. What we have is a situation where this government over the last few months is deteriorating. And Maliki has a huge challenge to keep the government running.
BLITZER: Because we saw in Amara this week, a southern city of about a quarter of million people, an extraordinary situation unfold, Senator Reed, whereby you had Shiites going after Shiites, specifically various Shiite militias going after the Iraqi largely Shiite police and military force there. It was a brutal battle, and you have Muqtada al Sadr, this radical Shiite cleric, who at one point was wanted for terrorist actions by the U.S. military in Iraq, who's now an ally of the prime minister.
REED: Well, he's an ally of the prime minister. The prime minister depends upon him for his political support. He's also has close ties to the government in Tehran, the Iranians. And there's a fight within the Shia community for power. This is a civil war. And we are being sucked slowly into a civil war with disastrous consequences.
BLITZER: Is it a civil war already, Senator Specter, as many of the critics are suggesting?
BLITZER: That's your flat answer. So on this specific point, Senator Specter, you clearly disagree with the president and vice president.
SPECTER: Well, I think it's a matter of semantics, but when you have the insurgents as violent as they have been, and when you have the three major factions in Iraq killing each other, and you have the level of violence, I don't think there's any point, Wolf, in hiding the facts. I think we have to face the facts.
And I was pleased to see the president in his Saturday address yesterday said that he's prepared to be more flexible if it's necessary to win the war. And he has given tacit approval by all reports to what James Baker is doing on trying to come up with new strategies. So I think the administration understands the nature of the problem and is searching for a better answer.
BLITZER: If it is, Senator Specter, a civil war, what business does the United States and the U.S. military, specifically 140,000 troops, have in getting involved in a civil war?
SPECTER: Because we intervened. Had we known that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction, I think we wouldn't have, but once we're there, we ought not to leave the country destabilized if we can possibly avoid it. We ought to try to build up the Iraqi military, the Iraqi police force. And I think this report in The Times this morning has all the earmarks of accuracy when it says that the United States is going to insist on a timetable from Iraq that we're not going to be the guarantors forever.
BLITZER: I want you to listen -- let me read to you what Senator Olympia Snowe, who is a moderate Republican from the state of Maine, what she said on October 10th: "The patience of the Congress and the American people is finite, and our presence there is neither unlimited nor unconditional. The Congress and the administration must be open to considering alternative plans for the future role of the U.S. in Iraq.
Specifically, Senator Reed, and as someone -- how many times have you been to Iraq now?
REED: Nine times.
BLITZER: Nine times. You've probably been there at least as much as anybody else, but maybe more so than any other U.S. senator. You're a former U.S. Army ranger, if I'm correct. You know this military situation. Is it time, as Senator Specter and others are now suggesting, to consider partitioning Iraq into a Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish sector?
REED: Well, that has a certain appeal, but the problem is that the southern part has the oil, the northern part has oil, the center with Baghdad, Sunni populations significantly, doesn't have an economic resource to make them viable. So a partition, I think, would be very difficult. It well may happen because of the internal domestic forces in Iraq.
But I think the issue now is, can we maintain a stable national government, and if there is a progression to regionalization, that progression is modulated; it's not an abrupt rupture which leaves the center in chaos and a virtually free-fire zone.
BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Senator Specter, Tony Snow said this week that the idea of dividing up Iraq into three different sectors is, in his words, a nonstarter.
But listen to Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. She told the Dallas Morning News this week, this.
She said, "Yes it would be hard to do, but it would be worth trying... People say, 'Well, that would Balkanize the country.' Well, things are pretty stable in the Balkans right now. It's looking better than Iraq.'"
Your assessment on this partition plan, potential partition plan, for Iraq?
SPECTER: Well, Tony Snow says it's a nonstarter, but what does Tony have to say as to what is a starter?
When Senator Reed talks about the oil being located so that one side would have an advantage, I think we can work that out. I think, on the partition arrangement, it's the oil which is going to keep that country together, the access to those funds.
I don't know that dividing it up into three parts is the best idea, but it's an idea which ought to be explored, at least until somebody has a better idea.
That's the search, Wolf. I'm not in concrete on what I say should be done. But let's consider the alternatives. Let's see what Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton and his group are thinking about, sooner rather than later.
BLITZER: Senator Specter, this is what the vice president, Dick Cheney, said a year and a half ago on "Larry King Live." Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He said he thought the insurgency was in the last throes.
This week, in an interview with Time magazine, he says, "I expressed the sentiment some time ago that I thought we were over the hump in terms of violence; I think that was premature. I thought the elections would have created that environment" -- the elections, in Iraq, that is -- "and it hasn't happened yet."
Do you still have confidence, Senator Specter, in the vice president, and more specifically, in the defense secretary, in the way they've been conducting this war?
SPECTER: I have confidence in the vice president. He's not the first person that made an assessment of what was going on in Iraq that proved to be invalid.
As to Secretary Rumsfeld, I'm going to leave that up to the president. The president is the commander in chief, and Rumsfeld serves at his pleasure. And I'm not going to express an opinion on that.
BLITZER: It doesn't sound like a resounding vote of confidence in the defense secretary, Senator Specter.
SPECTER: Well, I don't think that I ought to pick the secretary of defense. The president's very very close to the situation.
Quite a number of people have called for the secretary's ouster: Senator DeWine, Senator Chafee. I think that's a presidential call, not a senator's call.
BLITZER: What about Senator Reed? What do you think of Rumsfeld?
REED: I think he should be fired. We're asking -- the president's asking Prime Minister Maliki to make tough decisions, including rearranging his cabinet, getting rid of people who aren't performing. And I think the least he can show is the same leadership here in the United States.
And I would say, as far as the vice president, no one has been more consistently wrong about Iraq than the vice president. And he continues to be so.
The president has to step up and start -- our president -- leadership. It would start with the Department of Defense, changing leadership. And then it would start by approaching the American people, not on a partisan basis as part of an election campaign, but on a bipartisan basis, asking for the help and support and also committing the resources that we need.
One of the failures of this administration is they talk a good game, but when it comes to providing our troops the necessary equipment, providing the Iraqis with the kind of support they need, it's all talk.
BLITZER: Senators, I want both of you to stand by. We have a lot more to talk about.
Just ahead, is a power shift ahead for Capitol Hill? Senators Specter and Reed weigh in their party's chances in the midterm elections.
At the top of the hour, the next hour, that is, my conversation with the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. We'll get his take on the war in Iraq and the upcoming elections here at home.
Also, has Iraq reached a tipping point for the U.S. to do any good?
We'll get special insight from two former U.S. presidential advisers.
And this reminder for our North American viewers: Right after "Late Edition" at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, it's a special "This Week at War," hosted by our John Roberts. John is in Baghdad. That's coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're speaking with the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and the Senate Armed Services Committee member, Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island.
I'll start with you at this time, Senator Reed. The negotiations right now, the effort to try to ease this crisis with North Korea, clearly at a very, very sensitive moment -- I want you to listen to what the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice said in Beijing on Friday. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What the North wants is to have a negotiation with the United States so that, when they ignore the terms of the agreement, they can say, well, after all, that was with the United States.
What is troubling to the North is that, for the first time, they're having to face the collective will of China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and now, with Resolution 1718, the entire international system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Her point is that the U.S. can negotiate directly with North Korea, but only in the context of these six-party talks, not outside that framework.
The North Koreans say they want bilateral talks with the United States, outside -- without China, South Korea, Japan or Russia participating.
What do you think? REED: Well, this administration, in the last several years, has watched, first, as the North Koreans have taken the plutonium away from international inspectors and fashioned nuclear devices. They've seen a missile launch on the fourth of July. And now they've seen a detonation of a nuclear device.
And all the time, they've been paralyzed about this discussion between whether it should be a multinational or bilateral talks. I think we have to get down to negotiations.
I think you can have a forum which is multinational, but at the heart of that should be, I think, discussions between the United States and the North Koreans.
BLITZER: Even outside the six-party negotiations? Is that what you're saying?
REED: Well, I think that's one way to get the talks, but I think, really, with the pressure that's been building, that the North Koreans, I think, if they understand that these talks will have, at least as an adjunct, discussions with the United States, should undertake these talks.
This notion about the format of the talks is less important to me than actually negotiating, or trying to negotiate -- it might not be successful -- but trying to negotiate with the North Koreans.
BLITZER: What do you think?
Can this crisis with North Korea, Senator Specter, be resolved?
SPECTER: Wolf, I think we ought to be negotiating on both tracks at the same time. I made an extensive floor statement in the Senate last July, where I urged that we talk directly to Iran and talk directly to North Korea.
The multilateral talks are indispensable if we're to have any sanctions that are effective. And I've been encouraged to see that China is now talking tougher about some effective sanctions. So, from my point of view, they have to be multilateral.
Shortly after President Reagan said that the Soviet Union was the evil empire, he undertook direct talks. Listen, whether it's deserved or not, there's a big feeling around the world about ugly Americans. I don't think it's deserved, but a lot of people feel that way.
You have Iran, wants to be part of the nuclear club, North Korea wants to pound its chest. Well, let's talk to them. The issue is serious enough with North Korea, with their having nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them, that I think we ought to use every alternative, including direct bilateral talks.
BLITZER: All right. Let's move on and talk a little bit about the elections, just a little bit more than two weeks away. The former president of the United States, Senator Reed, Bill Clinton, made this statement this past week. I want you to listen to it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They've won two elections by their skin's teeth, by scaring people at the end and dividing them up again. But you can only run the dog through the same path so many times before it doesn't work anymore. I just think it's kind of a mangy old dog now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Some Republicans, including reportedly the president of the United States and his top political adviser, Karl Rove, think the Republicans can still pull it out, have the majority in the house and the Senate because, in the end, Americans are going to be afraid of terrorism and they're going to believe that Republicans can do a better job protecting them than Democrats.
REED: Well, I think that the veil has fallen from the Republican in terms of the capability of protecting us. The report recently that the operations in Iraq have made us more vulnerable to terrorism I think really crystallized the feelings among the public and the United States that we have to change. And we have to change not only in the international arena, but we also have to change domestic. Because there's a growing concern, particularly with middle-income families, that their future is being constrained by the policies of this administration.
So, I think there's a huge, huge force to change. I think that will be displayed in the elections. And I think we stand a very good chance of doing very well, taking over the House, and it's a long run for us in the Senate, but I think we're in a good position.
BLITZER: Senator Specter, in our most recent CNN poll, we asked about attitudes towards the Republicans out there, Republicans in Congress specifically. Job-approval ratings, only 36 percent approved of the way Republicans are handling the situation in Congress, 61 percent disapprove. Are you worried, Senator Specter, that you're going to be the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee as opposed to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee when the dust settles?
SPECTER: I'm not worried about that, Wolf, but I don't take anything for granted. When you say that the opinion polls are not good for Republicans, opinion polls are not good for any public officials. And I think perhaps we've earned it.
But I don't agree with former President Clinton and his mangy old dog comment, and I don't agree with former President Clinton when he talks about Republicans scaring the people to death. I think that there was a Republican victor after the Clinton-Gore administration because the people didn't like too well what President Clinton had done. I think that would be a more sound basis for an evaluation.
But look here, we had a terrible attack on 9/11. And if you want to affix blame, I think a fair amount of it can go in all directions, including to President Clinton. We haven't had an attack. Now, have we been just lucky? Is it because we have been more on the alert? Is it because we have changed our national intelligence system to try to correct what happened before 9/11 when the FBI and CIA didn't talk to each other?
There are a lot of problems in Iraq beyond any question, but there's a lot more to the Bush administration than what's happening in Iraq. And I think this election, Wolf, if I can add one more addendum, like most elections, it could be decided by the people who plan not to vote. If we get out to vote, you could be surprised. Senator Santorum, for example, has a really good get-out-the-vote effort. And (inaudible)...
BLITZER: Well, I was going to mention, in your state, Senator Specter, Senator Santorum clearly fighting for his life right now against Bob Casey. This is a very, very close race, although all polls show that Casey is slightly ahead of Santorum. And Senator Reed, in your state of Rhode Island right now, Lincoln Chaffey, the incumbent Republican, a very moderate Republican, fighting for his political life against Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic challenger. The polls showing Whitehouse clearly ahead right now. A very quick thought from you first, Senator Reed, on Rhode Island. What do you think?
REED: Well, I think there's a very strong surge for Democrats. I think there's a very, much concern about the president. And I think that is translating into a positive effort on Rhode Island Democrats to come out and vote. And I think we'll do very well.
BLITZER: So you think Whitehouse will win.
REED: I do.
BLITZER: And I assume you think that Senator Santorum, Senator Specter, your colleague, Republican colleague, can still pull it out, even though he's clearly behind in the polls?
SPECTER: Well, Wolf, when you say Senator Santorum is in a fight for his life, I tell you that I've been in the fight for my life lots of times in many ways, and so far, I've won every time. Don't count Rick Santorum out.
BLITZER: Well, we're glad, we're certainly glad you beat that fight that you had with cancer a few years ago...
SPECTER: I fight to win.
BLITZER: ... Senator Specter. Thank you very much as always. Hope you'll be joining us for many, many years to come on "Late Edition." Senator Reed, thanks very much to you as well.
REED: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good to have both of you on the program.
Still ahead, is the United States taking the right approach toward what President Bush once called the axis of evil? We'll get special insight from two men with very different perspectives, the former Secretary of State Alexander Haig and the former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including an update on a deadly weekend for U.S. troops in Iraq. And don't forget to stay with "Late Edition" and CNN for the best political team on television for all your campaign news. You can also find the most up-to-date political news on our CNN political ticker. Just go to cnn.com/ticker. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They believe that the war in Iraq is a diversion from the war on terror. I believe the war in Iraq is a central part in defeating the terrorists in order that we protect ourselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush, outlining his differences with critics of his Iraq war strategy.
Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Joining us now, two guests who served as top advisers to U.S. presidents: the former Reagan secretary of state Alexander Haig and the former Carter national security adviser, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Do you agree, Dr. Brzezinski, with the president when he says that the war in Iraq is the central part, in his words, is a central part in the war on terrorism?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: No, I do not. And if it was, it would be a sign that we are losing the war on terror.
BRZEZINSKI: Because we're not winning in Iraq. We're doing badly.
BLITZER: Even though the war in Iraq may not have originally started off as part of the war on terrorism, is it now part of the war on terrorism, given the Al Qaida operatives who have come into Iraq and who are clearly fighting the U.S. there, hoping to escalate from Iraq beyond?
BRZEZINSKI: Look, most of the Iraqis who are fighting against us and most of the Iraqis who are fighting with each other are not members of Al Qaida.
The ones who are fighting against us mostly don't like us being there because, after all, we are seen by them as legacies of the age of colonialism, as foreigners.
And a lot of Iraqis are fighting against each other for sectarian, religious reasons. We have actually destabilized, broken up Iraq. And we have created the mess in which we find ourselves now entangled.
BLITZER: And many military commanders in Iraq themselves acknowledge that the great threat to the U.S. is not necessarily from the Al Qaida operatives but from the sectarian violence, the Shia and the Sunni who hate each other and who are killing each other and, as a result, are killing American troops.
AL HAIG, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, first, I think that this is a conflict that's essentially political. It's not just purely military. It's political and religious and ideological. And it was driven by the so-called neocons that hijacked my party, the Republican Party, before this administration...
BLITZER: Name names, Mr. Secretary. Who are you talking about?
HAIG: Well, I'm talking about...
BLITZER: Because a lot of our viewers hear the word "neocon" and they don't know what you're talking about.
HAIG: Well, they're a group of people who are ex-Democrats. Many of them hovered around the Seattle Conservative Democrats some years ago, who...
BLITZER: Who specifically are you referring to?
HAIG: I'm talking about Wolfowitz. I'm talking about Richard Perle. I'm talking about some newly-made ones. I'm talking about the former editor of the Wall Street Journal.
These people are very, very deeply embedded in Yale and certain intellectual circles. And for years, they've been against NATO...
BLITZER: But did they hijack the strategy, the policy, from the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States?
BLITZER: The secretary of state, the secretary of defense?
HAIG: Well, no, not the secretary of state, but he sat there and had to be a passenger on a train that he wasn't driving?
BLITZER: Was Rumsfeld a neocon?
HAIG: I wouldn't say he was. I wouldn't say...
BLITZER: But was he in charge of the military strategy?
HAIG: No, no. The outcome of the strategy was to create democracy with a bayonet.
BLITZER: Is Cheney a neocon?
HAIG: I think so.
BLITZER: So he's part of that neocon conspiracy, or cabal, or whatever?
HAIG: Those around him were, if he wasn't.
BLITZER: And they could basically influence the president and dictate to the president what to do, in terms of going to war against Saddam Hussein?
HAIG: Well, I'm not here to talk about that. There were a lot of influences on the president, but he's the president, and he's responsible.
BLITZER: So what do you think of this argument?
Because you hear it all the time, Dr. Brzezinski, that there were these group of of neoconservatives in there, like Paul Wolfowitz, who has the deputy secretary of defense; Richard Perle, who wasn't even in the government but he was an outside adviser, who were effectively shaping U.S. strategy.
Do you buy that?
BRZEZINSKI: I buy a great deal of that. I think Al Haig is absolutely right.
We had, at the top a president, who was essentially uninformed about foreign policy, and then top policy-makers like Rumsfeld and, of course, Cheney who are, kind of, traditional, quote, end quote, "realists," hard nosed types.
But the guys who provided the strategy and made the argument that we have to go into Iraq, that we have to link the war on terror with an attack on Iraq, were the guys that Al Haig is talking about.
They provided strategy. They provided the argument that we would be greeted as liberators, that this would be a cake walk. And they have devastated American national interests as a consequence.
BLITZER: Do you agree with that assessment?
HAIG: Well, that was a term that Wolfowitz used twice, "cake walk."
BLITZER: I don't know if he specifically used that term, but others suggested...
HAIG: Yes, he did.
BLITZER: ... that it would be relatively smooth sailing to get rid of Saddam Hussein, which it was relatively smooth sailing. The preparation for the post-Saddam Iraq, of course, lacked considerably, as you know.
HAIG: But you know, finger-pointing isn't the problem today. The problem today is where we go from here. And I think there are some very, very disturbed reactions to what have been some misjudgments, which the president was the first to admit.
And that is that no one has really analyzed carefully what would happen if we suddenly bugged out or cut and ran.
BLITZER: So despite the mistakes, what you're saying, the United States should...
HAIG: Of course.
BLITZER: Listen to what General William Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, what he said this past Thursday because it caused a lot of consternation back here in Washington. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: We're taking a lot of time to go back and look at the whole Baghdad security plan. We're asking ourselves if the conditions under which it was first devised and planned still exist today, or have the conditions changed and therefore modification to that plan needs to be made?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What's your bottom line right now?
You're a retired U.S. general. You understand the constraints the U.S. military is under right now.
Is this whole strategy of what Rumsfeld and the U.S. military leadership have been up to -- is it a waste of time?
Is it simply going to fail?
HAIG: Of course, nothing is a waste of time. It may be wrong- headed in some ways.
BLITZER: Do you believe it was?
HAIG: I think it was very improperly run, the war, because its goals were unachievable. And that is the creation of a model image of American democracy in a country that has no background or no experience. It took us a thousand years of British history, as well as 300 of our own.
BLITZER: So this goal of a democratic Iraq, along the lines of other democracies in Europe, for example, which, at least, is a stated U.S. goal, is that totally unrealistic?
BRZEZINSKI: Completely unrealistic. I completely agree with Al here. It's an unrealistic goal. BLITZER: Why is that unrealistic, to assume that there can be a Western-style democracy in the Arab world?
BRZEZINSKI: As an end objective, that's not unrealistic. But the way we went about pursuing it was absolutely devastating to the pursuit of that goal.
We cannot ignore the political history of this region, its recent encounter with colonialism and imperialism. And here we are coming in with a foreign army of a different religion, different culture, devastating the country, killing thousands of Iraqis, destroying the infrastructure of that society, all in the name of democracy. And then we expect the Iraqis to be grateful and to emulate us and build a democratic system. That is what is so fatally flawed in the strategy...
BLITZER: Do you agree?
BRZEZINSKI: ... that we have been pursuing.
HAIG: Well, I wouldn't chose those terms in every case, but I think the problem is that we didn't pay attention to our founding fathers. And they had made the point way back in the early 1800s that the best way to spread our values, democracy, human rights and other very laudable and essential parts of the American democracy, is through example. Make others want to repeat what you have had success with.
That's what brought the Soviet Union to its knees. Their internal failures an the image and the example of what market economies could do in this world, in this global world.
BLITZER: Here's an excerpt, Dr. Brzezinski, of what the president said this week in making his case for Iraq. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the sake of the security of the United States of America, we must defeat the enemy in Iraq. For the sake of world peace, for the sake of peace for our children, we must not let the extremists have their way in this vital front in the war on terror. So America will stay, we will fight and we will win in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Go ahead and respond to the president's argument.
BRZEZINSKI: First of all, the president struck me as being rather nervous and excited. And I think it reflects his increasing realization that he's not headed for a victory, but for a major disaster. A disaster politically for his party, but much more importantly, a disaster for the United States.
Because the fact is, we're bogged down in Iraq, and we have no way of getting out right now. The administration is absolutely blinded by its own rhetoric. Maybe the Baker-Hamilton commission will offer some alternatives, but I fear that for the moment we are stuck. The president senses it, so he's using inflammatory rhetoric, patriotic rhetoric as a refuge.
BLITZER: I want to move on to other subjects and take a commercial break, but your quick response to this analogy that's increasingly being made between Iraq and Vietnam, and specifically the notion of a Tet Offensive under way in Iraq right now.
Tom Friedman writing Wednesday in The New York Times: "In time we'll come to see the events unfolding -- or rather, unraveling -- in Iraq today as the real October surprise, because what we're seeing there seems like the jihadist equivalent of the Tet Offensive. The jihadists want to sow so much havoc that Bush supporters will be defeated in the midterms and the president will face a revolt from his own party, as well as from Democrats, if he does not begin a pullout from Iraq."
Is the Vietnam analogy applicable to Iraq today?
HAIG: Well, there are some overtones that are very applicable, and I'm a great admirer of Mr. Friedman, who has written well on the subject. He talked about having an aggressive policy but without providing the means to conduct that policy recently. And I think he was right on the mark.
That was the problem with this war. We never had enough of anything, troops on the ground, strategy rather than tactics, and we've been floundering around. Now, the real question is, what will happen if we cut and run? Because this is the issue today, not all this who shot who.
And this is the very critical issue. We have some outcomes that would be a disaster. First, your first question today, yes, it is part of the war on terrorism because we made it that. And it is, and it will be that, and you could be facing 30 -- or 3 billion Muslim fanatics rather than the 30 percent of that that we face today.
BLITZER: Well, there aren't that many Muslims out there in the world yet, but...
HAIG: 1.3. 1.3.
BLITZER: Right. Well, let's take a quick break. Because we've got a lot of other issues I want to go through as well. Much more of our conversation coming up with Dr. Brzezinski and Secretary Haig. We'll also move on to talk about Iran, North Korea, that's coming up.
And later, we'll also move into some serious discussion on politics. And this important note for our viewers, please be sure to join Lou Dobbs tonight, 7 p.m. Eastern, as he explores the war on the middle class. "Late Edition" will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-NEW YORK: In the middle of the Civil War, the bloodiest war that our nation ever fought, Abraham Lincoln did not hesitate to change generals. We have a secretary of defense who is not credible any longer. We need to change the secretary of defense to send a signal to our troops an the rest of the world that we can do better than what we're doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton speaking bluntly about the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're assessing U.S. policy in Iraq, Iran, North Korea with former Reagan Secretary of State Alexander Haig, former national security adviser under Jimmy Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski. Time to dump Rumsfeld, you think, Secretary Haig?
HAIG: Political question, political comment just made by a political candidate. I'm not going to touch it with a ten-foot pole because that's all it is.
BLITZER: What do you think?
BRZEZINSKI: You know, of course he ought to be removed because he hasn't done well, but the point is that if you're a Democratic leader and you're advocating that, then you should also be willing to advocate what you think ought to be done in Iraq. Simply saying that he ought to be fired and that someone else will do better is not the answer because it begs the question, what does it mean to say he'll do better, the successor?
What kind of policy are you prepared to advocate? And I'm sad to say I don't hear this from Democratic leaders.
BLITZER: Let me quote Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leader, the president of Iran. On Friday, he said this: "You should believe that this regime, Israel, cannot last and has no more benefit to you. What benefit have you got in supporting this regime, except the hatred of the nations? We inform you that the nations are like an ocean that is welling up, and if a storm begins, the dimensions will not stay limited to Palestine, and you may get hurt."
These kinds of threats from the Iranian president, should the U.S. be alarmed by them, take them seriously, or write them off as just rhetoric coming from a radical Islamic regime?
HAIG: I would never give that the term "rhetoric." This is a very smart cookie, this fellow that's running Iran today. And he's out, shot us in almost every instance. At some point, he's going to run out of ammunition. That's inevitable. But right now, it's a very important statement.
And I think we have to reject it out of hand because it's a statement that is designed to separate us from our allies, our longstanding allies.
BLITZER: Do you take these threats seriously, Dr. Brzezinski?
BRZEZINSKI: I take them seriously, but in a different way. I don't think they mean very much in an imminent sense because Iran doesn't have the power to do anything of that kind, and it's not likely to have that power in the near future. But what I...
BLITZER: But there are widespread reports that they're working on a bomb.
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. But what I do take seriously is this: If our position in the Middle East keeps deteriorating -- and it is deteriorating not only because of Iraq but because also the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, because of the uncertainties involving Iran. If the Islamic hostility towards us becomes overwhelmingly dominant in the region, we are going to be pushed out of that region. And I think there are signs that things are pointing that way. And if we are pushed out of that region, then Israel will be in mortal danger.
BLITZER: You're heading to China, Secretary Haig. Is China, the government in Beijing right now, doing everything it can to squeeze North Korea to come back from the brink, given its nuclear test only a couple of weeks ago?
HAIG: Well, I think so, yes. I think they've done a great deal. There's no reason for Pyongyang to be taking what I call apologetic position they're taking, agreeing to go back to the six-party talks, agreeing that there will be no more tests. This had to come from very, very strong pressure from Beijing. And it's time we recognize it and gave them credit for it instead of trying to pick rows with them as our neocon friends have done all during this administration.
BLITZER: Back to the neocons. What do you think?
BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think, basically, that's correct, but we also have to recognize the fact that there are some serious differences in perspective, ours and the Chinese. The Chinese are more concerned about the problems of political stability in North Korea, and the consequences of some massive upheaval. So that is a significant difference of perspective. Secondly, beyond that, I think we have to face the fact that our own rhetoric lately has changed. We used to say a nuclear bomb in the hands of the North Koreans is unacceptable, intolerable, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
But because of the loss of our prestige and influence and even power in Iraq, we have not been able to pursue that policy. And now we're talking about something quite different. We're now saying, we'll not let the North Koreans disseminate nuclear weapons. We're de facto signaling that we're getting ready to live with a nuclear North Korea. And that's a very serious setback.
BLITZER: We're going to have leave a continuation of this discussion for another occasion because unfortunately, we're all out of time. But if you have ten seconds, I'll give you ten seconds.
HAIG: Well, I think this time, the administration's done it very well. I think our secretary of state, our ambassador, who was going to be a fumblemouth and turned out to be rather good at the U.N....
BLITZER: Ambassador at the U.N.
HAIG: ... -- yes, our ambassador -- have done a great job. And I think this time, China has recognized that if they let Pyongyang go on the way they're going, there's going to be a defense system given to Tokyo, a defense system perhaps given to Taiwan.
BLITZER: Let's leave it there. Let's leave it there because we're out of time. Secretary Haig, Dr. Brzezinski, good discussion. Thanks to both of you.
And coming up, with campaign 2006 approaching its final two weeks, we're going to get special perspective on why so many Americans feel the government is broken, from our top CNN correspondents and analysts. And please stay with "Late Edition" for the best political team on television and for all your campaign news. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including a conversation with the Senate's top Republican, Bill Frist. He's in the hot seat. What's his prescription for a GOP victory in the midterm elections?
Plus, Democrats, Republicans, a White House power play and what critics call a do-nothing Congress. We'll explore whether the government is broken with the best political team on television. Stay with us.
And for our North American viewers, at 1 p.m. Eastern, a special "This Week at War," John Roberts in Baghdad. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the key issues in this election is who best sees the future?
And who best has a plan to deal with it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our party has a great responsibility to try to unite the country and move away from the ideological partisan and, I think, ultimately destructive positions that have been taken.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER (voice over): With just 16 days until the midterm elections, Republicans and Democrats are locked in a tight battle for control of Congress.
What's the GOP's game plan for maintaining majority stat us? We'll discuss that and more with the Senate's majority leader, Bill Frist.
A new poll shows Americans think their government is broken. How can it be fixed? The best political team on television investigates in a new documentary series. We'll have a special preview.
From Iraq to the war on terror to the scandals in Congress: What's resonating most with voters?
We'll get perspective on all the key issues.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my conversation with the top Republican in the United States Senate, the majority leader, Bill Frist, in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now. CNN's Fredricka Whitfield, joining us from the CNN Center. Fred?
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.
In Iraq, the death toll grows for both civilians and U.S. troops, as the government in Baghdad struggles to try to stamp out widening sectarian violence.
CNN's Arwa Damon is following the deteriorating situation. She's joining us, now, live from Baghdad with a little bit more.
Arwa, this weekend, in fact, this whole month has been extraordinarily violent. What's the latest?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we have really seen over the last two days is violence that is just serving to highlight how there is very little that Iraqis can do to stay safe.
At 4:30 in the afternoon in Baghdad, the eastern part of the city, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a very crowded marketplace, killing at least three Iraqis, wounding another 20 in that attack.
This follows earlier explosions in the capital of Baghdad, again, at a marketplace, one explosion happening there, the second one happening in front of a bakery.
Iraqis really are facing danger from the moment that they step outside of their homes. In Baqubah, a doctor was shot down by unknown gunmen earlier this morning. And also, an ambulance was targeted in Baqubah, a roadside bomb exploding there, killing the driver, wounding six others.
And last night, in Mahmoudiya, five motorcycles rigged with explosives detonating again in the crowded, busy marketplace in that southern city, about 45 miles south of the capital of Baghdad, killing at least 18 Iraqis.
Meanwhile, the ministry of defense has just announced that the insurgents are perhaps developing a new tactic, warning Iraqi civilians to be careful of insurgents posing as Iraqi army soldiers.
Apparently, they are handing out flyers with fake emergency numbers for Iraqis to call. This, apparently an insurgent effort to root out informants among the Iraqi population.
And October is gearing up to be the deadliest month for U.S. forces in quite some time. It is the deadliest, deadliest month for U.S. troops so far this year, 79 U.S. troops killed here in Iraq, Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa, you're an incredibly courageous journalist. You've been in Iraq for more than three years. You've gone on countless embeds with U.S. military forces to bring the story to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Very briefly, give our viewers a sense -- is it accurate to say that the situation today is as bad, if not worse, than it's ever been, since the collapse of Saddam Hussein?
DAMON: Well, Wolf, that's a lot of what we're hearing. And a lot of the troops that are here right now -- they're coming back for their second, even third deployments.
And they are able to see for themselves how, especially in some areas, the capital, Baghdad, and the areas around it, the security situation is deteriorating.
Of course, they do go out there every day, doing what they can. But they can see it for themselves. So they're noticing that as well. And the Iraqi population, the Iraqi civilians will also tell you that the security has not gotten much better.
They don't see much hope for the future. And many of them, although they don't like to admit it, do say that they sometimes long for the days of Saddam Hussein, if only because it was secure, Wolf.
BLITZER: Arwa Damon, reporting for us in Baghdad. Arwa, thanks very much.
Republican control of Congress is hanging in the balance. Many Americans are angry at their lawmakers, disapproving of a Republican president, disillusioned about the war in Iraq.
One party leader riding the storm, this political storm, is the Senate majority leader, maybe a potential presidential candidate, Bill Frist of Tennessee.
Mr. Leader, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: You're welcome.
BLITZER: You were just there in Iraq yourself. You saw the situation up close and personal.
Listen to what U.S. Army Major General William Caldwell offered this past week. Listen to this assessment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CALDWELL: The violence is indeed disheartening. In Baghdad alone, we've seen a 22 percent increase in attacks during the first three weeks of Ramadan, as compared to the three weeks preceding Ramadan.
In Baghdad, Operation Together Forward has made a difference in the focus areas but has not met our overall expectations of sustaining a reduction in the levels of violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This kind of pessimistic assessment increasingly being voiced publicly by U.S. and British commanders.
What's your assessment?
FRIST: Wolf, I was there just two weeks ago. There's no question that the violence over the last three months has been increasing and increasing steadily.
A lot of people are speculating on the reasons for that, but clearly it has increased.
By the same token, we have a government that does need to be supported. I met with Prime Minister Maliki and I met with President Talabani. I met with members of the cabinet, both Sunni and Shiite.
And I can tell you, that government deserves our support, is making progress. We do need to insist upon further progress over the next several months.
BLITZER: Should there be a timeline, a timetable for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to get his act together and to start dealing with these death squads, these militias; in other words, fighting his fellow Shiites, who clearly have no great love for his government?
FRIST: Wolf, I think timelines, in terms of milestones and goals do need to be set, and they are being set.
And I can tell you that, in my conversations with him, and in him working with his government, things like legislatively being able to disarm the militias, and doing it in a way that is done legislatively, with that duly elected government, things like...
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: I want to find out if you think that it's productive for the United States to tell the Iraqi government, guess what, guys, you have three months to do this; you have four months to do that; otherwise the U.S. is going to start pulling out?
FRIST: That's what I was going to try to say, is that, in my discussions with Prime Minister Maliki, one on one, just like this -- and President Talabani, is that, give us the support, give us the time that we -- we're duly elected by the Iraqi people, by the Shia and by the Sunni; we're the representative government; give us time and continue to support us, for us to make the decision on when we have the economic reform, decide on how the oil revenues are shared, disarm the militia.
Now, that needs to be done sooner rather than later. But that's what we're telling us. No, the United States shouldn't come in and impose timelines, especially if, as you do -- as some of the Left want to do, say, if you don't meet the time line, we are going to cut and run; we are going to surrender.
BLITZER: One of the major Shiite militias is the militia that belongs to Muqtada al-Sadr, this young, radical Shiite cleric, who is aligned with the prime minister. And a lot of people think that the chances of Nouri al-Maliki clamping down on the Mahdi militia that belongs to Muqtada al-Sadr is slim or nil.
FRIST: No. Six months people, a lot of people said that having even a representative government there is slim to nil.
But right now, we have a government out there that was duly elected, that is reflective of the Iraqi people. And we need to support them and let them make the fundamental decisions.
Yes, give the military support, the security support in the background, but support them to set their milestones, their timelines. Because ultimately, it is going to take a political solution.
BLITZER: Here's what the British army chief, General Richard Dannatt, said the other day, October 12, in the British newspaper, The Daily Mail: "... get ourselves sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems... Whatever consent we may have had in the first place... has largely turned to intolerance." Is that your assessment?
FRIST: Well, being over there talking to people, and talking to people -- to the Iraqi people themselves, they would like not to have the United States being a so-called occupying force. The only way we can achieve that -- and we always stress about building up the military and as we stand up their military, we can stand down. I think that's fine, but ultimately, it's got to be done politically.
And this government is only four and a half months old. In a part of the region that looks upon 10 years, 100 years, 1,000 years, 2,000 years as history, this government has four and a half months. So yes, they should set the milestones. We should support those milestones, and ultimately we will be able to withdraw, but not in the next week, not in the next month and maybe not in the next year or two years.
BLITZER: Well, how much time do you think the U.S. should give the Iraqi government?
FRIST: It depends on -- we have to give that responsibility to the government. And what you suggested earlier of us setting milestones and dictating them is absolutely wrong. We can't do that. We're not doing that today. They do need to pass the legislation to disarm the militias.
BLITZER: Here is what your Republican colleague from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel, said on this program last week. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEBRASKA: The American people are not going to continue to support, sustain a policy that puts American troops in the middle of a civil war. We need to find a new strategy, a way out of Iraq, because the entire Middle East, Wolf, is more combustible than it's been in probably since 1948, and more dangerous. And we're in the middle of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Senator Specter, Arlen Specter, just said on this program that there is a civil war under way in Iraq right now. You want to respond?
FRIST: Well, I don't think there's a civil war. There's sectarian violence going on today. But, again, the civil war and what's a civil war is a little bit semantics. And I agree with what Chuck just said. The American people, with the images that they see, with the lack of progress being made in the short time, do feel, you and I feel, the American people feel very uncomfortable.
But that does not mean that we allow the terrorists to defeat us, especially when the playbook has been given to us by Zarqawi and Zawahiri last year, that that is the forefront in the war on terror, that the goal is to establish a caliphate throughout the region and after that, they're going to come and take down the United States.
BLITZER: Senator John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, just came back himself from Iraq. And he said there's a limited amount of time that this Iraqi government has. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR JOHN WARNER, R-VIRGINIA: In two or three months if this thing hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control, and this government able to function, I think it's a responsibility of our government internally to determine, is there a change of course that we should take?
BLITZER: Two or three months, he says, and that was said on October 6, so it's even less time since then. Do you agree with him? FRIST: Yeah, well, two things. First of all, he also said that you don't wave the white flag and surrender, and if you do, the terrorists will win and that caliphate will be established. So he also said that.
But I agree conceptually with the point, and I think the administration agrees with it as well, that we have to be resilient. We have to be flexible. We have to be adaptable to whatever the realities are that day. I think John Warner's comments reflect a lot of what I'm trying to say as well. And that is, the responsibility of that government politically is to carry out what they were elected to do, five months ago elected to do. And that is to pass legislation, to rule.
BLITZER: You think Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, can still do it?
FRIST: I do. And I do. He is duly elected by the Iraqi people. And when our leaders -- and I heard some people on some of the shows earlier saying, political figures saying, no, Maliki is not the person to do it. We need somebody else in there.
I disagree with that wholeheartedly. He was elected by the Iraqi people. He's got their support. He's got the support of the cabinet. So we've got to give them the chance. And yes, set milestones, but give them a chance to do it.
BLITZER: In addition to Iraq, you were also in Afghanistan. You caused a bit of a stir with these words that were reported in the Associated Press back October 2nd: "Frist said the only way to win in Afghanistan is 'assimilate people who call themselves Taliban into a larger, more representative government. Military versus insurgency one to one, doesn't sound like it can be won. It sounds that the Taliban is everywhere."
To which Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, said this: "Senator Frist now suggests that the best way forward in Afghanistan is to coddle the Taliban by welcoming Taliban members into a coalition government, as if 9/11 had never happened."
You want to respond?
FRIST: First of all, I appreciate you saying my statements because clearly I didn't say what Nancy Pelosi wants to try to politicize it. I think...
BLITZER: Explain what you meant by the Taliban coming in (inaudible).
FRIST: I will. I will. It's interesting because in Afghanistan, the Taliban is making inroads today. And it's important for the American people to understand that, and the international community. And I can tell what you I can see, because I don't stay just in Kabul. I went to down to the south, where there's a lot of trouble today in Zabul. And when I talked to our military and our special forces and the people running the hospitals and people trying to educate people, here's what I hear. We do have people coming across that border today who are Taliban fighters. Of the 100 people say that we're fighting down there today, 80 percent are not Taliban.
They may say they're Taliban because they are the ones who are giving them the hope, the education, the infrastructure, the hope for a better future. And yes, government does need to reach out and provide education, provide that health care, provide those services every day to capture their hearts and minds. And I'm exactly right when I say it can't be won militarily. You have to have a government down there who is reaching out to capture the hearts and the minds and giving hope for the future.
BLITZER: You're not running for re-election, although maybe down the road you will run for the Republican nomination for the presidency. In the Newsweek poll that's out, and asked is the American public satisfied with the way things are going in the country right now, only 25 percent said yes. Sixty-seven percent said no, which suggests, suggests that the Republicans going into this election only a little bit more than two weeks from today are in deep trouble.
First of all, your bottom-line assessment on the Senate, which you know a lot better than the House. The Democrats need six seats. Looks like they're in pretty good shape with four of them. There are three or four others that may be at play. What's your bottom-line assessment?
FRIST: In the Senate, we'll keep the Senate for sure. And it's because we've got a vision out there, a Republican vision for the future, and that's what the voter ultimately over the next two weeks, these teachable moments, is going to decide on.
Is it going to be a Republican future of lower taxes out there, strong on security, or a Democrat vision, who is going to come out and raise your taxes and does want to surrender to the terrorists today. And that's ultimately what's going to decide it, and with that, we will absolutely keep the majority in the United States Senate.
BLITZER: Well, you're having trouble in your own state of Tennessee. Harold Ford Jr., the congressman, is going against Bob Corker, and our most recent poll, that Rasmussen Reports poll, 48 percent for Ford, 46 percent for Corker. Others show it a little bit closer, a little bit differently.
The Newsweek magazine cover just out is entitled "Not Your Daddy's Democrats. Hungry to take back Congress, moderates like Harold Ford Jr. have the GOP running scared." If this man on the cover of Newsweek beats Corker in your state of Tennessee, the seat you're giving up, what will that mean?
FRIST: Well, what we need to do over the next two weeks -- because it's not going to happen. It's not going to happen -- is we've got to show the consequences under Democratic leadership what would happen if the terrorists win, if we actually admit defeat to the terrorists. What would happen if we do what Charlie Rangel wants to do, and that's increase your taxes, or to the people listening to me, by 58 percent.
BLITZER: When the terrorists win, are you suggesting Harold Ford Jr. is a terrorist?
FRIST: No, but I'm saying if we follow the Democratic leadership, who does want to cut and run, right now we're going to allow Iraq to explode on the forefront on the war on terror and do exactly what they've told us they were going to do a year and a half ago, and that is expand that Taliban.
BLITZER: But it looks increasingly like a lot of Republicans are beginning to sound like Democrats when it comes to having a timetable, having benchmarks, dealing with the Iraqis, along the lines that Senator Reed, Jack Reed, who was just here, has been promoting for some time.
FRIST: Yeah. At the end of the day, we're going to defeat the terrorists, and that's where Republicans are strong. The Democrats are all over the place. You just cited two or three places. Right now, they will surrender and wave the white flag.
At the end of the day, America wants to be safe. We look back at 9/11, we look back at 1993 when we hit here, we look at the U.S.S. Cole, we haven't had a terrorist attack in the last five years. America will be safer under Republican leadership.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but why in our most recent poll does it show that Americans trust Democrats in dealing with the issue of terrorism more than Republicans?
FRIST: It's the images. Right now, the images in Iraq...
BLITZER: But that's what people are going to go to the polls and vote on.
FRIST: Well, that's right. And over the next two weeks, we have to come down to the fundamental thing: Do you trust Republicans more in fighting the terrorists, or do you ultimately trust the Democrats? And we will see that message has got to get out over the next two weeks.
BLITZER: And after the elections, are you going to throw your hat in the presidential ring?
FRIST: You know, I'm a citizen legislator. I took a term-limit pledge to be here for 12 years. I'm going to do what a lot of politicians don't do, go back home and leave Washington D.C., fulfilling my pledge, and then make a decision about the future.
BLITZER: When will you make that decision?
FRIST: Oh, sometime early part of next year.
BLITZER: Senator Frist, thanks very much for coming in. FRIST: Great to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
And up next, the countdown to this crucial midterm congressional election. Voter disenchantment with the government. We'll get analysis from the best political team on television.
And later, our special "In Case You Missed It" segment, highlights of what President Bush and other newsmakers said on the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.
And this note for our North American viewers. At 1 p.m. Eastern, right after "Late Edition," John Roberts is in Baghdad for a special "This Week at War." Stay with CNN and "Late Edition." We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Joining us, now, to sort through all the key issues in the election, the best political team on television. In New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield and CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin. Here in Washington, our chief national correspondent, John King, our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and our White House correspondent Ed Henry.
Good to have all of you here on "Late Edition."
Jeff Greenfield, I'll start with you. And I'll refer to the CNN poll that recently came up, which asked which party would do a better job moving the country in the right direction. Democrats got 53 percent. Republicans got 36 percent.
I know you hate polls, but this is a significant poll -- right direction, wrong direction.
What's your assessment, a little bit more than two weeks out of this election?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Yes, I mean, here's a brilliant, original analysis. When generic poll, one party's 17 points ahead of the party controlling the House, you would expect that that party controlling the House would lose.
And I think this election is going to come down to whether or not that mood -- and I do think it's prevalent -- is going to be trumped by the vaunted 72-hour Republican get-out-the-vote operation and also whether or not a lot of grumpy and disaffected conservatives, whether they're social conservatives or spending conservatives, take a look at the prospect of a Democratic House and say, we're coming out and vote, even with our dissatisfaction.
So yes, the poll means something. But I would not mortgage the farm, assuming I wasn't an urban type, or, in my case, my co-op, on the fact that it will happen.
BLITZER: John King, you've just spent a lot of time out there, watching what's called the ground war out there, the ability to get out the vote. And Republicans, generally, are better at this than Democrats. How significant will that be in these final two weeks?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans think it will make the difference. They've written off, already, 12 House seats, which means the Democrats, if that's true, only need three more to get the majority. Some Republicans think they could lose 30 or more, depending on the ground game.
The polls are very much like 1994, when Republicans had big gains. It looks like the Democrats will have big gains. The Republicans are counting on this ground, where they have a significant financial advantage.
And the thing to watch in the final two weeks is not just the TV ads. This is where the phone calls to people, the direct mail -- some of the nastiest campaigning is done in direct mailings to households -- the Republicans are going to use every weapon at their disposal.
They like this car. They won with this car in 2000, 2002 and 2004. They're going to drive it again in 2006. We'll see if it has one more race left in it.
BLITZER: I've got to tell you, Candy, as you well know, a lot of Democrats, right now -- they're feeling pretty giddy right now and they're wondering -- something's going to have to go wrong because they're -- frankly, they're not used to winning.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's absolutely true. The inner defeatist is still out there. And I have to tell you. I've never talked to a Democrat yet that didn't caveat, yes it looks good, but you know, we've been in this place before.
So they really are -- I mean, they'd love to go celebrate, but at this point, they know that they have here before and they've gotten clocked by last-minute surprises and by turnout.
BLITZER: Ed, let me read to you from Friday's New York Times, a piece that you probably saw: "... almost regardless of the outcome on November 7, many conservatives express frustration that the party has lost its ideological focus. And after six years of nearly continuous control over the White House and Congress, conservatives are having a hard time finding anyone but one another to blame."
Is that your assessment?
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure. I mean, I talked to one conservative activist, I remember, when I was working on a piece about Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist. And this whole argument about culture of corruption is going to be one of the factors in this election.
This activist said many a conservative comes to Washington thinking it's a cesspool and winds up believing it's actually a hot tub. And I think that's one of the things -- there's frustration among conservatives that, going all the way back to the 1994 Republican revolution, they said they'd shake things up; and instead -- now they've got the keys to the whole place; they've had control of Congress, both chambers, as well as the White House -- and much of the conservative agenda has not been enacted. And in fact, it's taken some steps backward, especially in the areas of spending.
BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, I know, come November 7, there could be a very, very long night. There could be some very, very close races in some of the key battleground states.
And there will be legal issues, presumably, that will come up, especially in connection with a lot of the new ways to vote, the electronic voting, the new machines that are out there.
Give our viewers a little sense of how difficult, how dangerous, how perilous this legal quagmire could be on November 7.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are really, sort of, two legacies here, of Bush v. Gore that we'll really start to see more of on election night.
The first is the alleged improvements in technology. Everybody remembers the horrors of the butterfly ballot and punch-card ballots.
But the question some people are asking -- is the cure worse than the disease?
Are these new electronic systems sufficiently reliable and can they be checked?
Several of those have now come online. And we'll see whether they're effective.
The other is the issue of supposed vote fraud. Republicans in many states, in Georgia, particularly, have established new requirements that say you need photo I.D.s; you need more identification to prove you can vote.
Democrats are saying this is just racism; this is just an attempt to get poor people and black people not voting. The Supreme Court didn't step into that yet. They sat aside from an Arizona dispute.
But look for fights over voter registration and vote fraud to be coming up next month as well.
BLITZER: This notion of having to have a photo I.D., a government-given photo I.D. to go ahead and vote, Jeff -- are there a lot of elderly people who don't have a driver's license, who don't have a passport? What do they do if they want to go out and vote and don't have a photo I.D.? TOOBIN: Well, there are -- in each state that has these requirements, there are bypass provisions. If you don't have a driver's license, you can use something else, some other kind of photo I.D. But A, a lot of people don't know about those rules; and B, some people don't have those, either. And it's been a problem, and it's going to continue to be a problem.
Republicans say, well, vote fraud's a problem, so you've got to have some tradeoff there, but the Supreme Court is almost certainly going to have to step into that. But that will be long after this election, so we're likely to see some controversy on November 7.
BLITZER: I'm going to ask our panel to stay with us because there's a lot more to talk about.
We're going to preview CNN's "Broken Government" documentary series that begins tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, here on CNN. You're going to want to get this special preview.
And remember, for the very latest political developments, sign up for the CNN political ticker. You can do that by logging on to CNN.com/ticker.
Up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news, including what Saddam Hussein's lawyers are planning for his trial. Much more of our political panel. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. All next week, the best political team in television is going to investigate America's broken government in an unprecedented series of nightly special programs.
BLITZER: Monday, Ed Henry looks at what critics charge is our do-nothing Congress.
HENRY: Congress has become the Tuesday through Thursday Club, with lawmakers enjoying a work schedule most Americans can only dream of. Pulling in $165,000 for what's essentially become a part-time job.
BLITZER: Tuesday, Candy Crowley digs into why Democrats seem to have so much trouble winning elections.
DAVID "MUDCAT" SAUNDERS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There are certain Democrats who can not win in rural America.
CROWLEY: Are they the l word? SAUNDERS: No, they're not the l word. They are the n word for naive. They might even be the n word for ignorant.
BLITZER: Thursday, John King takes a hard look at how powerful the president has become in the post-9/11 world.
KING: No search warrant, no arrest warrant. Enemy combatant was his designation. And he would soon realize there were others, and his captors wanted information, and that they were impatient.
MOZZAM BEGG, FORMER DETAINEE: Dragged across the floor, thrown onto the ground. Our clothes were ripped off with knives, (inaudible) soldiers sitting on top of us. We were being kicked, beaten, sworn at, spat at. Dogs were barking around us. We were photographed naked and then dragged naked and shivering into interrogation rooms, where the first questioning began. BLITZER: Friday, Jeff Greenfield will examine how the Republican party seems to have lost its way.
ANDREW SULLIVAN, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNISTS: A lot of conservatives are saying, I think, look, the problem is too much power, too long, corruption. What we need is divided government for a while to try and put a check against this unrestrained power and corrupt power.
BLITZER: Finally, next Saturday, Jeff Toobin explores the tangled relationship between politics and the judiciary.
UNKNOWN: This is a horrible decision. This court doesn't seem to understand the unintended consequences.
UNKNOWN: Rein back in this broad interpretation.
UNKNOWN: Congress has to respond to this. We cannot let the courts step in.
SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR, RETIRED SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: We saw legislation introduced to somehow restrict or affect judges at both the state and federal levels, and even public opinion polls about courts and judges showed an increase in dissatisfaction with the American public.
BLITZER: And still with us, our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield and our senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin. They're in New York. Our White House correspondent Ed Henry, our chief national correspondent John King, and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.
Candy, the Republican National Committee has this very, very fearful ad that they've put out. I don't know how much money they're going to spend getting it out there, but it's getting a lot of free publicity. In the meantime, basically saying the stakes right now are enormous, reviving fears of that old LBJ ad in 1964 of a nuclear attack. Is this, in the final two weeks, going to work for them in convincing their base to come out and vote?
CROWLEY: Probably not. I mean, you know, the national Republican Party is now sort of a one-trick pony. It has to go back to terrorism. I mean, that has been what they've been strongest on. I think the conservative base in large part still will come out. The question is whether they're going to be able to get them out in the same force that they had before, and the polls suggest they won't be able to.
BLITZER: One of the major problems, Jeff Greenfield, that the Republicans have is the president's low job-approval numbers right now. How is Bush handling his job as president? In our CNN poll, 36 percent said approve. Sixty-one percent said disapprove. Not necessarily a great job-approval number going into this election.
GREENFIELD: Right, and you could say, well, it's the midterms. But we know a couple of things, assuming history is a guide. And you could argue post-9/11, it's less of a guide. One is, this is again, it's a no-brainer that the lower the approval rating of the president, the worse his party in power does.
There are a couple of other things here. I think that the combination of Iraq and Katrina proved to be a very toxic mix this year, because the disaffection with Iraq, which is a national issue -- I mean, I always say all politics are local. That's an exaggeration in my view. But I think the response to Katrina helped underline the growing objection to Iraq, which was execution and competence.
And I think when you throw in the Mark Foley case, which I think is going to have more of an effect than the polls show, it seemed to suggest, particularly to Republicans, that our party isn't handling things competently. I think all of those things together help make the president's approval rating, you know, more of a problem for the Republicans because they were less able to separate themselves from the performance of the party in the White House.
BLITZER: The theme that we have, John King, this week, is broken government, and you're going to have a special. Yours airs Thursday night, 8 p.m. In our new CNN poll that's just coming out today, we asked the question, is our system of government broken? Seventy-eight percent said yes, 22 percent said no. We break that down a little bit more, is our system of government broken? Yes, and cannot be fixed, 7 percent. Yes, but can be fixed, 71 percent. If you add those two numbers up, that's where you get the 78 percent. No, not broken, 22 percent.
What's your sense right now? This notion of a broken government, which is so widely held out there, that's presumably going to play into the hands of Democrats.
KING: Presumably, but Wolf, you have to look at the last few election cycles. The Democrats blame President Bush and the Republican Congress. Republicans, some of them are mad about the war. Some of them are mad about spending. Some of them are mad about other issues in the conservative agenda.
They certainly will run ads in the next few weeks saying don't elect the Democrats, even if you're mad at us. They'll raise your taxes. They'll be weak in the war on terrorism. I think the voters share responsibility for this, too, though. If you think about it, you get divided government. You get paralysis in Washington when you have split 50/50 elections.
The president just barely won. The Supreme Court decided the election six years ago. He got a bare majority of 51 percent in the last presidential election. And the voters have sent us a very evenly divided Congress. That's one of the reasons you can't get much done. It's because the Republicans don't have a big enough majority. If they lose a few votes in the House or a few votes in the Senate, they can't get anything done, and they have been unwilling to reach across the aisle to the Democrats.
That will be the big question after this election. Will we have this continued partisan divide into the presidential cycle, or will people say, you know what, why don't we actually give working together a chance for two years.
BLITZER: For the Democrats to be the majority in the House of Representatives, and Ed, you spent a lot of time covering the Hill. Now you cover the White House. The Democrats need to capture 15 seats right now, and a lot of people think there are at least 25, maybe 30 or even 40 seats at play right now. Is it a foregone conclusion -- and you've done the math, you've looked at the seats -- that the Democrats will be the majority in the house of representatives?
HENRY: No. We have -- two weeks is a lifetime in politics. We all know that. It's clear that a lot still has to play out. Certainly, the atmospherics right now point to a Democratic victory. But it's not done by any stretch of the imagination.
And to pick up on John King's point, the Democrats are talking a good game right now, that if Nancy Pelosi becomes the speaker of the House, they're going to change things. They're going to work with Republicans. They're going to reverse what's happened in the last 12 years. And time will tell whether or not, if they get in.
BLITZER: If the American public thinks the government is broken, with a Republican administration and a Republican House and a Republican Senate, wait 'til there's a Democratic maybe House of Representatives, maybe even Senate, with a Republican. Then this notion of a broken government could further escalate.
HENRY: It could, but one of the -- if you look at the flipside, one of the things we explore in our documentary tomorrow night is that we went back to Chicago and interviewed Dan Rostenkowski, the former ways and means chairman. He ended up going to jail in a corruption scandal of his own. Pardoned by Bill Clinton.
But he talked about the days when Ronald Reagan was president and the Democrats ran the Hill. And you would assume that they got absolutely nothing done. They fought like cats and dogs, but they still legislated, they still governed. They had a major compromise in tax reform, for example, in 1986. You never would have thought someone as conservative as Ronald Reagan and as liberal as Rostenkowski and Tip O'Neill could work together. But the fact is, they did. And so, I think you can turn that notion on its head a bit and say that sometimes divided government, when the Democrats have one part of government, Republicans have the other, sometimes both sides have a stake in getting things done.
BLITZER: A lot of people like that checks and balances. Jeff Toobin, as we look forward to your special, your report next Saturday night, the whole legal situation, the legislative branch, the executive branch, but there is a judicial branch of government and the suspicion is, guess what? The Republicans effectively, at least upper levels of that, control that as well.
Tell our viewers, give us a little preview of what you have in store with your report.
TOOBIN: Well, Wolf, you know, we begin with a story that I think will be both a political and legal landmark of this whole decade, and that's the Terri Schiavo case. That was a moment when the entire political machinery under total Republican control mobilized over this single case that was very much a proxy for abortion, a pro-life struggle at the end of life, instead of at the beginning.
And in the judicial system, the judges were frankly freaked out by a Congress and president telling the federal courts, you get involved. You do what we say. And Sandra Day O'Connor in an unusual and frankly unusually candid interview with us, said, you know, I was disturbed by the Terri Schiavo case because the judiciary is supposed to be independent.
We're supposed to be above the fray. And here the Congress was trying to get us involved in this one case completely outside our procedures, and that struggle between the Republican Congress and the judiciary is likely to continue, if it remains in Republican hands.
GREENFIELD: And, Wolf, in my documentary, you hear a conservative like Dick Armey, former house majority leader, just whaling on the Republicans on the Schiavo case, saying, what -- you've entered a region that is intensely personal. You did you it for political gain. And a lot of more libertarian conservatives really were upset with the Republican political leadership, because they tried to make that a political issue in what the libertarians regard as an intensely personal matter.
TOOBIN: And if you look at the polls, since the Schiavo case, that's when the bottom fell out of Republican support. You know, it's not involved in that many political races now, I don't think, but that was the case where I think the Republican Congress then under Tom DeLay overstepped, and the consequences continue.
BLITZER: Candy, "Two Left Feet," that's your special report, airs Tuesday night, 8 p.m. How'd you come up with that title?
CROWLEY: Well, I agreed to it from -- I mean, it came from the top, so what can I tell you. I mean, the basic premise is, what is wrong with these people, these Democrats, if they cannot win elections? I mean, we are talking about in the past 40 years, by the time this George Bush leaves office, over 40 years they have occupied the Oval Office for 12 of them.
They've been a minority for 12 years on Capitol Hill. So, the premise was, why can't they win elections? And we talked to only Democrats, and they've been pretty frank, I think, pretty up front. And it's been interesting.
BLITZER: Let me review the schedule for our viewers, because they're going to want to see this, all of our viewers. Monday night 8 p.m. Eastern, Ed Henry, "The Do Nothing Congress." Tuesday 8 p.m., Candy Crowley, "Two Left Feet." We know how she got the title. Thursday 8 p.m., John King, "Power Play." Friday night 8 p.m., Jeff Greenfield, "Where the Right Went Wrong." Saturday night, Jeff Toobin, "Judges on Trial."
If you're missing Wednesday night, Lou Dobbs has a special town hall meeting from San Antonio Wednesday night, part of our "Broken Government" series as well. Lou's town hall meeting will air 7 p.m. Eastern Wednesday night. Our viewers are going to want to see that.
Still ahead -- we thank all of our correspondents and analysts for that.
Still ahead, our special "In Case You Missed It" segment. We'll take a closer look at what Senator Barack Obama and other newsmakers are saying on the Sunday talk shows. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.
With the war in Iraq looming over the upcoming midterm elections, Iraq and concerns about its struggling government were the main topics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I define success or failure as to whether or not the Iraqis will be able to defend themselves. I define success or failure as to whether the unity government is making the difficult decisions necessary to unite the country.
The people voted for a government. And this government is going to have to perform to the will of the people. And that stands in stark contrast to the tyrant that preceded them, and to the vision of those who would like to change the governments all throughout the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): The most important thing is to send a strong signal that we can't arbitrate a civil war. We can't impose a military solution on the problems in Iraq. What we're going to have to do is make all the parties involved come to some sort of political accommodation.
And they're going to have to make a decision about the kind of country that they want to live in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-NE) CHMN. SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: People would like a strong leader, "strong" in quotes, which is not Maliki. Maliki comes to us, I'm told, a phone call with the president, wanting assurance that we're not going to displace him. But the fact is that we don't have anybody to displace. We're talking about putting pressure on Maliki, but he doesn't have much clout.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): People are not happy with the direction America is going. And they're certainly not happy in Iraq. An overwhelming majority of people, Democrats, Republicans, independents don't like it. The president says, stay the course and no one sees what it's all about.
For the first time, Bob, foreign policy, led by Iraq, has become a Democratic strong point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows, here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
This reminder, a new way, the best way to keep on top of political developments, the CNN ticker. Sign up now for your e-mail. Go to CNN.com/ticker. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Want to podcast us? That's the way to do it. Go to CNN.com/podcast. That's your "Late Edition" for our Sunday, October 22 version. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday for two hours, beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for the last word in Sunday talk.
I'm in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday, 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern and another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. See you tomorrow. Thanks very much.
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