Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Hoshyar Zebari; Interview With Bob Dole, Donna Shalala
Aired March 11, 2007 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN ROBERTS, GUEST HOST: And it's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London, 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks for joining "Late Edition." I'm John Roberts reporting from Washington. Wolf Blitzer is off today. We're going to get to our guests in a moment. But first, Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta has a check on what's in the news right now. Fred?
ROBERTS: Fred, thanks very much. Two events to tell you about in Baghdad. One was, sadly, part of normal life in Iraq. A suicide bomber killed 20 people at an Iraqi army checkpoint just outside of Sadr City.
The other event was definitely unusual. Diplomats from more than a dozen nations, including Iraq's neighbors Syria and Iran, met for a one-day conference seeking ways to support the struggling Iraqi government. What came out of this meeting, and is the stepped-up security presence having any effect on the violence there?
To answer these questions, I spoke to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Baghdad just a short time ago.
ROBERTS: Minister Zebari, the conference that you hosted yesterday, there was a lot of bickering at this meeting, not even an agreement on when or if to meet again. Is anything going to come out of this conference?
HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQ'S FOREIGN MINISTER: John, I think the meeting was a major success for my country, for Iraq and for the government. And in fact, it was a vote of confidence for Iraq's sovereignty and ability to organize such a meeting. I think it was very constructive. That was the conclusion of all the delegates.
Yes, people had higher expectations to see -- to read (ph) some certain measures, but in fact, I think our achievements were reasonable. I mean, we hold them to form three working groups on some key practical issues that face Iraq on security cooperations, on refugees, on fuel and energy supplies. I think these are tangible steps that we will follow up with the countries in order to see being implemented and to hold them to that.
ZEBARI: So that was the one...
ROBERTS: Minister Zebari, let me read a quote of a statement you said to the Iranian delegation. You said, quote, "Iran has a vital role in the resolution of Iraq's problems, and it has always played a constructive and positive part in easing our nation's sufferings." Did you really mean that or were you just being diplomatic?
ZEBARI: No. I don't think this was my real quote, actually. This was the Iranian news agency quote, you see. In fact, in our relations with Iran, we have been very honest, very direct. Iran is a major neighbor, indeed. It has its own interests and concerns. We as Iraqis also have.
It's our destiny to live, geographical destiny to live with them, but in fact, all along we have asked the Iranians to refrain from interfering in our internal affairs and to play a constructive role. And that they need to match their statement of support for the Iraqi government with actions and words on the ground. And we have been very consistent with them along this line.
So the quote you refer to, I think I've seen it in one of the Iranian news agencies. Yes, we still enjoy good relations. We would like very much to work with them, to engage them positively, but at the same time to respect the independence and the sovereignty of my country.
ROBERTS: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday appealed to Iraq's neighbors, specifically Iran and Syria, to stop providing funding, weapons and fighters for militia and insurgent groups. Zalmay Khalilzad also has pointed the finger repeatedly at Iran for supplying weapons to militant groups. Let's take a quick listen, Minister Zebari, to what he told Wolf Blitzer on "Late Edition" last weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: It is my understanding that EFPs do come across the border, and that there is continuing support and assistance from elements in Iran to elements in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: When he was talking about EFPs, he's talking about those improvised explosive devices, explosive form penetrators, those deadly IEDs that are believed to come across the border from Iran. Do you have any intelligence that would prove that those components are indeed coming from Iran?
ZEBARI: Well, in fact, there are numerous intelligence that weapons, people, some support is coming across the border from the Iranian side. And we have confronted them all along in all our bilateral meetings with the Iranian officials about this information and intelligence. The one thing that they have come up every time is they're willing to discuss those issues. They're willing to establish mechanisms or channels of communication that this is not the government policy.
But in fact, as I said earlier, you see actions speaks louder than the words. And I believe there is tension between Iran and the United States over a whole range of issues. One of them is Iraq.
And yesterday's conference I think was an ice-breaking attempt to provide an atmosphere for some discussions. They have a role. We cannot deny that, John. In fact, they are a major regional power. They have their own dreams, ambitions and so on. And they have their own difficulties.
The message I gave them yesterday, not to turn Iraq into a battlefield for settling scores with the United States or any other countries at our cost. That it's your interest to see a stable, prosperous Iraq living next door to you.
ROBERTS: Here is the part, Minister Zebari, here's the part I don't understand. You talk with the Iranians all the time. You personally have good relations with them. When I came to interview you at your office last October, you were just completing a meeting with the Iranian ambassador. Why don't you just tell them to stop?
ZEBARI: Well, we have. All along. In fact, publicly we have called on them to stop, privately. We have used whatever channels of communication we have with them.
And every time they -- sometimes they deny, sometimes they say there may be people acting beyond the authorities, but their fingerprints are there, definitely. And we have repeatedly asked them not to interfere. And we also alerted them to the dangers of a spillover of the situation here in Iraq immediately on their interests.
And no country will be immune from Iraq's failure and the consequences that they will suffer. I think now there is a better recognition of this fact.
ROBERTS: Let me read you a quote from the Abbas Araghchi, who is the Iranian deputy foreign minister who attended the conference there on Saturday. He said, quote, "For the sake of peace and stability in Iraq, and to keep its integrity and unity, we need a timetable for the withdrawal of the foreign forces."
Iran is saying it's the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq that is the problem. Do you agree or disagree?
ZEBARI: No, I disagree, in fact. And in the meeting we extend our position that the presence of the multinational forces, of the American forces here, are mandated by international communities through Security Council resolution. They are here with the consent of our government.
And we have a timetable, in fact. Under the new Security Council resolution, every six months we have a chance to review that mandate. And at the end of the year also that many resolution expires and there would be a need or another request. So their presence now is vital, is needed to...
ROBERTS: Well, you probably heard what is going on in Congress here in the United States. The Democrats are trying to nail down a date certain for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq if Iraq doesn't meet certain benchmarks. If the United States were to withdraw its troops from Iraq, Minister Zebari, what would the result be?
ZEBARI: Well, there are conditions for the withdrawal definitely. I mean, nobody is for the continued presence of foreign troops in one's country indefinitely. There has to be a time when these forces will go home with all due gratitude and respect from our people.
ROBERTS: Is Iraq right now ready to provide for its own security?
ZEBARI: At the moment, no. I mean, in some provinces, yes, in some southern provinces where security responsibility have been handed over, let's say, to Iraqi authorities. And Kurdish and northern provinces also there is peace and stability. There is there noise need for such troops. The problem is in Baghdad and in some central provinces. Still their presence is much needed. I think any decisions to pull these troops out prematurely or in a hasty way would have disastrous consequences for everybody, for the United States, for the region, for the stability and security of the entire region, which is the most vital.
ROBERTS: Well, Minister Zebari, we certainly wish you a lot of luck in this conference and trying to get your neighbors to play ball here, and to do something to finally get stability and security on the ground in your country. Don't know if it's going to work, but we certainly applaud your efforts.
Minister Zebari, thanks very much. Good to speak with you again, sir.
ZEBARI: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, John.
ROBERTS: And coming up, the Capitol Hill debate over Iraq war funding. Will lawmakers force the president to change course? We'll talk with two key members of the Senate: Democrat Joseph Biden and Republican Lindsey Graham.
Also, America's wounded warriors. We'll talk with former Senator Bob Dole and former Clinton cabinet member Donna Shalala about their new task of getting to the bottom of the Walter Reed controversy.
Plus, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee tells us why he thinks he is the best presidential candidate for conservatives.
And, later, join me at 1:00 p.m. Eastern for "This Week At War."
"Late Edition" will be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: This week, Democrats in Congress ratcheted up their challenge to the White House over Iraq by outlining various resolutions and amendments seeking specific timetables for the exit of U.S. forces. But will it amount to any significant change in policy?
Joining us from Wilmington, Delaware, is the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden; and in Greenville, South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Senator Biden, let me go to you first of all. This conference that took place in Iraq yesterday, do you have any hope at all that it's going to lead to some sort of progress in the future?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, I'm glad it occurred, John. But the bottom line here is you need a political solution inside Iraq that will be bided by outside Iraq. And the bottom line of that is, there's never been an end of sectarian violence that's self-sustaining without either a dictator, occupation or a federal system. Giving the people in that area -- the Sunnis, the Shias, the Kurds -- control over the fabric of their daily lives, and that, ultimately -- everybody says, no military solution, need for political solution, yet there is no specific discussion of what the nature of that political solution will be. And if they get to that, it will be very positive.
ROBERTS: Senator Graham, yesterday after the conference at a press conference, Abbas Araghchi, who is the Iranian deputy foreign minister said, quote, "The security of Iraq is our security. I think that the Americans are unfortunately suffering from intelligence failure. They have made so many mistakes and policies in Iraq because of the false information and intelligence they had at the beginning."
Essentially, Iran spent all of yesterday saying this is all the United States' fault. How do you respond to that?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think the biggest mistake the international community is going to make with Iran is to not focus like a laser on their nuclear program. I don't believe the international community has made a mistake when it believes in a search that the Iranian nuclear program is beyond peaceful purposes, heading onto the weapons arena.
So what I would like to see us do with Iran, as an international community, is focus on their nuclear weapons program. I think the evidence is strong. I think it's overwhelming. And I hope the international community will act regarding the Iranian nuclear program.
As to Iraq, Iran could play a constructive role. They are not. I believe, according to Admiral McConnell in response to Senator Levin's question, that the Iranian Republican Guard units, branches of that Republican Guard are providing weapons to Iraq and there is a high probability that the political leadership in Iran is condoning that.
So I hope we can bring better security to Iraq, but I don't believe Iran shares our goal of creating a democracy in Iraq and we'll never have unity there.
ROBERTS: I think that's the al-Quds Force that you're referring to, Senator Graham.
GRAHAM: Yes, sir. Yes, that's right. That's right.
ROBERTS: And you might have just heard the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, say that they have reached out to Iran many times. When I went to interview him in October in his office in Baghdad, he had just been meeting with the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, yet they can't seem to make any headway. So how do you deal with a country that is as recalcitrant as that about what's happening inside your own country?
GRAHAM: Well, from my point of view, I think the Iraqis are trying to reach out to their neighbors and trying to explain to Iran that, "Hey, a dysfunctional Iraq is not in your best interest."
But the truth of the matter is that the biggest threat to the Iranian theocracy would be a democracy in Iran. The biggest threat to the police state in Syria would be a democracy in Lebanon or Iraq. So we just don't have common interest.
And again, my big fear is, when we talk about Iran's role in Iraq, that we take our eye off the ball when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program. So I would love the world to support Iraq and tell Iraq two things -- Iran two things: Quit meddling in -- Iran, quit meddling in Iraq, and stop your nuclear ambitions. I think the world needs to tell Iran that, and a conference in Baghdad is not exactly going to deliver that message.
ROBERTS: Senator Biden, the United States and Iran didn't sit down and talk with each other. There was some speculation as to whether they might. U.S. officials said, if we happen to bump into them in the room, certainly we'll talk to them. Should they have made a point talking to each other?
BIDEN: Well, John, I think it's useful for them to talk with one another. But look, let's get to the -- let's cut to the chase here. Let's assume Iran all of a sudden became a perfect neighbor. Does anybody think that ends the war in Iraq?
Let's get real here. What is happening here is, there is a self- sustaining sectarian violence. Shia killing Sunni. Let's cut through it all. Everybody in the outside could go away and be perfect. No one involved. We still have Americans getting killed. Eighty-seven, 85, 27 so far this month.
Why? Because of the self-sustaining sectarian violence. Why are people bringing in these weapons? Why are they being accepted when they're sent in? Because you've got Sunnis -- Shia using them to kill Sunnis. Sunnis out there with death squads killing Shia.
So, the bottom line here is, there's no possibility of a democracy like we know it in our lifetime there. Their constitution calls for a decentralized federal government. The only time, John, this has ever ended in history is when you have a loosely federated system like what we did up in Bosnia and in Kosovo.
The circumstance requires you to allow the president to back off of this notion of a strong central government headed by Shia that's somehow going to be a democracy. It will never, never, never happen, no matter what the neighbors do.
ROBERTS: That's a plan you've been pushing for a while. Your colleagues in Congress don't seem to be adopting it just yet, Senator Biden. But they are moving...
BIDEN: Well, a lot of people are adopting it. If you've noticed, John, it's becoming the plan of default almost everybody's part from Henry Kissinger to, straight through. Everybody's going to get to that eventually, because no one can name me a circumstance where any other solution has ever worked.
ROBERTS: But the point was, the plan they are getting through is the idea of with drawing the troops. Seminar Graham on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, here is what you said about Democratic attempts to end the war without cutting off funding.
And that is, "If you're not willing to cut off funding, which is the Congress's responsibility, then everything else really hampers General Petraeus. It's really a signal to him that, 'We have no faith in you'. Either stop him from going or give him the resources to do their job. Everything else is just political theater."
What the Democrats were doing this week, Senator Graham, is that all just political theater?
GRAHAM: I think it is political theater that's dangerous in nature. I do believe that there will never be a political settlement in Iraq until you deal with the violence. And that when you set a date certain that we're going to withdraw, and you put benchmarks that the following things are not done by a certain date, you're not only communicating to the Iraqi political leadership, you're communicating to the insurgents in al Qaida. You're giving them a road map as to what they need to do to beat us and drive us out.
The Iraqi representative who was on before us understands what would happen if we left Iraq. Our national security interests are going to be defined not by when we leave, but what we left behind. I do believe that the political leadership of Iraq, with increased capacity, politically, militarily and economically, can resolve their problems in a way to create a stable, functioning government.
But the day you set a deadline and tell our enemy when we're going to leave and what it takes to make us leave, you've undercut Petraeus, you've undercut the political compromises that need to be made. This Joe and I agree on. You're not going to win this war militarily.
But here is where we differ. We have made a mistake in the past. The biggest mistake is not to have enough troops on the ground to secure the country. There's 40 percent unemployment in Baghdad. We need to reinforce this infant democracy that's less than a year old across all fronts and quit talking about leaving until we get it right. Our national security interests will be determined by what we left behind. A failed state in Iraq is a nightmare for this country. We need to allow General Petraeus a chance to go forward. These resolution do not help.
ROBERTS: When these resolutions were unveiled later in the week, they were convoluted to say the least. Take a quick listen to some of this press conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAVID R. OBEY, D-WIS.: Troops must be out of a combat role by October -- I mean, by August of 19 -- 2007.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: 2008. If they meet (inaudible).
OBEY: I'm sorry, that's right.
PELOSI: OK. But if they haven't made any progress by July, we begin the 180 days. If they haven't made any. If they haven't made -- if the president cannot demonstrate progress by July, we begin the 180 days.
UNKNOWN: July 1st or 31st?
PELOSI: Is it July 1st or 31st? July 1st?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Joe Biden, how do you pass or enforce something you can't even explain?
BIDEN: Well, look, here's what's going on here. The Iraq Study Group, the Biden-Gelb plan, every proposal out there says that,, look, unless you start to move towards some kind of resolution of your political dilemma in Iraq, you can't expect us to stay forever. The Iraqi study group said by March of '08. The Biden-Levin proposal that is now the Reid proposal says by March '08. That's the goal.
The bottom line here is, you cannot continue to escalate this war without any underlying plan as to what happens when in fact you do bring order, if you bring order. The president has now gone from Petraeus telling us there are going to be 17,500 troops. They're now talking about the need for 30,000 troops in there. They're now talking about being there for another year.
I mean, what is the plan, Stan? What's going on here? What are you attempting to do? And all we're saying is, Mr. President, do what the rest of the military had said. Don't put us in the middle of a civil war. Train the Iraqi troops, guard the borders, make sure that you deny jihadis occupation of open territory.
And to do that you need fewer troops. You need fewer troops to do that, and you'll have fewer Americans being killed. And you'll put the burden upon the Iraqi leadership to come up with an accommodation between Sunni and Shia so they stop killing each other.
ROBERTS: Gentlemen, I want to take...
BIDEN: That's the bottom line.
ROBERTS: I want to take a quick break. Stay around, though, because we've got lots more to talk about.
Coming up, the FBI acknowledges improperly obtaining the personal records of thousands of Americans. Did the agency abuse anti- terrorism laws? We'll ask Senators Biden and Graham. But up next, a check of what's in the news right now, including today's deadly bombing in Baghdad. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: I am the person responsible. I am the person accountable. And I am committed to ensuring that we correct these deficiencies and live up to these responsibilities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: FBI Director Robert Mueller responding to an internal audit which found that the agency improperly seized phone, banking and other personal records of thousands of Americans.
I'm John Roberts in for Wolf Blitzer. We're talking with Senators Joseph Biden and Lindsey Graham, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And Senator Graham, let me go to this one with you, first of all, on this Department of Justice inspectors general's report which said, quote, "We concluded many of the problems we identified constituted serious misuse of the FBI's national security letter authorities."
Senator Graham, isn't this exactly what opponents of the Patriot Act had been warning about?
GRAHAM: Well, I think the authority given to the FBI is a necessary change in our laws to combat the war on terror. The fact that it may have been abused is something that we'll take serious. It came from an internal investigation or audit by the FBI, so I expect the Judiciary Committee, Senator Biden, Levin, Specter, myself and others, will have some interest in how this is corrected.
I think the change in the law made sense, the Patriot Act makes sense, but you can't allow it to be abused. And, apparently, there is some evidence that it has been abused and we need to correct it.
ROBERTS: Senator Biden, to you on that. Again, isn't this what people were warning about? BIDEN: Yes. It's a power that can't be controlled. It should be withdrawn or the people in charge should be fired, one of the two. You've got to do something about that.
ROBERTS: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has come under some fire for the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. In fact, this morning on another morning program, Senator Schumer said that he should be fired or should resign.
Arlen Specter at a committee hearing the other day suggested as much. Take a quick listen to what he said. He said "One day," quote, "there will be a new attorney general, maybe sooner rather than later." He then clarified his comments to say, "I'm not saying he should step down."
But Senator Graham, what you do think? Should he?
GRAHAM: I think the fact that Senator Schumer asked for him to step down means he won't. You know, it does interject a little politics here. But the idea of how these U.S. attorneys were handled is, at best, clumsy.
You know, U.S. attorneys serve at the will of the president, and most of them involved have been there five and six years. But this idea they were fired for a cause seems to me to be unseemly, unnecessary and this whole matter was poorly handled. And that's all I know to say about it.
I don't believe the attorney general will resign, but this whole episode was unnecessarily poorly handled, because you can ask any U.S. attorney to leave. That's the right of the president. Clinton let them all go when he took over, but you don't need to start attacking people's reputations unfairly and I think some of that's been done.
ROBERTS: Senator Biden, what you do think about the attorney general, should he go?
BIDEN: You don't let them go in the middle of their term when they are, in fact, put in a position where pressure is being put on them to proceed in a political way.
I think Gonzales has lost the confidence of the vast majority of the American people. I think it goes all the way back to the torture memos, when we gave him the benefit of the doubt, straight through to the firing of these U.S. attorneys and until recently insisting that they could, in fact, under a law -- a little-known provision in the law -- allow them to replace attorneys general.
I think it's an abuse of power. And I think he's lost the confidence of the American people. I think he's lost the confidence of many in the United States Congress. And, obviously, it it's president's judgment to say whether he should stay or not, but I think he's lost the confidence of the Congress.
ROBERTS: And do you think he should resign? BIDEN: Well, that's a judgment -- I think we would be better off if he did, but that's a judgment the president is going to have to make. He has got some real problems here. There is very little credibility in the Justice Department right now.
ROBERTS: OK, let me turn quickly, if I could, to presidential politics. The latest Republican to say that he might be throwing his hat into the ring is former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, who most of America thinks was the president anyway because of his numerous movie roles.
Lindsey Graham, what you do think about that?
GRAHAM: I think he makes a great president in the movies and he might make a great one in real life. He is one of my best friends. He is a dear friend. If he threw his hat in the ring, he would be a very credible candidate.
And, you know, one thing is for sure: America is not short of good candidates. And if Joe Biden got to be president, here is one thing we can agree on: We would have a terrific first lady.
ROBERTS: And, Senator Biden, what you do think? Obviously, Fred Thompson would do well among conservatives. Would he make a good president?
BIDEN: I think he is a solid guy. He is as qualified as anybody in the Republican side, or for that matter, probably the Democratic side to credibly throw his hat in the ring.
ROBERTS: And, Senator Graham, we are talking with one presidential candidate on the other end of the line, Senator Biden there in Delaware. What about you? Are you going to run?
GRAHAM: Well, somebody's got to run the Senate. I will be the entire Senate.
I will be the only person left.
ROBERTS: By default.
GRAHAM: Well, I don't want a term-limited job. Being the senator from South Carolina, I've got a long view of things. You can only be president for eight years.
ROBERTS: So is that a firm no then?
GRAHAM: I hope to stay around until I'm 100 in the Senate, God willing.
ROBERTS: And, Senator Biden, I want to finish it off with you. You agreed with a Republican guideline just recently. You said that you would not attack any of your Democratic candidates. What would you say to Hillary Clinton's campaign, Barack Obama's campaign, and John Edwards' campaign, all of which seem to be determined to try to take the mickey out of each other in the harshest possible way?
BIDEN: I would say, "You are on your own, folks." I can only speak for myself. And I think attacking anyone else's character, their conduct, et cetera, I think that's inappropriate. But I do think there's going to be strong disagreements on policy. And I hope we finally get to that.
I hope we get these debates going where we have fundamental disagreements on policy and we should debate them. That's very different than attacking the conduct of their campaigns or their personnel, or their character, or their family, or anything like that.
ROBERTS: All right. Gentlemen, always good to see you. Thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
BIDEN: Thanks a lot.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Coming up next, the Walter Reed controversy and the outrage over the care of wounded veterans. We'll talk with former Health Secretary Donna Shalala and former Senator Bob Dole about how their new commission plans to rectify the problem. Stay with us. Late Edition is coming right back.
LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, U.S. ARMY SURGEON GENERAL: I am personally and professionally sorry, and I apologize to the soldiers and their families, to the Department of Defense, to the members of Congress and to the nation for this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: That's the U.S. Army Surgeon General Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley having to answer some difficult questions on Capitol Hill from the House panel this week.
Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm John Roberts in for Wolf Blitzer.
Joining us now are the heads of a new commission named by President Bush this week to investigate the care of wounded veterans at medical facilities, not just at Walter Reed, but across the country.
Here in Washington, former Republican Senate leader Bob Dole; and in Orlando, Florida, former Clinton health secretary Donna Shalala, who is now the president of the University of Miami.
Before we get into what it is that this commission has been charged to do, let's first of all listen to some very compelling testimony that we heard at Walter Reed Army Medical Center earlier this week. Annette McLeod, she is the wife of a soldier badly injured in Iraq. Listen to what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNETTE MCLEOD, WIFE OF WOUNDED VETERAN: I have one question I'd like to ask, because I worked the chain. I worked anywhere that would listen. So if you don't want to hear it, you don't want to hear it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Annette McLeod, she is the wife of Corporal Wendell McLeod, at that Walter Reed hearing.
Senator Dole, what's this committee going to do?
BOB DOLE, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, ours is a much broader mandate than Walter Reed and we're going to look at V.A. hospitals, DOD hospitals and other V.A. and DOD facilities and try to do it all by June 30th. It's going to be a lot of work.
ROBERTS: Are you going to be able to make that deadline?
DOLE: Yes, we do have a 30-day extension if we need it, and I think we'll probably need it because we now have the commission, we have the membership. As Secretary Shalala knows, we're looking for a very good executive director and we are ready to go to work.
ROBERTS: So you think this is probably going to take you until the 30th of July to be complete?
DOLE: Well, I'm just guessing. We might be able to do it by June 30th, but if we are going to go out and have some hearings and visit DOD facilities, V.A. facilities, whatever, it's going to take awhile.
ROBERTS: Secretary Shalala, what did you think of the testimony that you heard from Walter Reed Army Medical Center earlier this week, and how is that going to stay with you as you go through this process?
DONNA SHALALA, FORMER HHS SECRETARY: Well, it will stay with us and with every American. And that's why we need to take a broad look at what happens from the time someone is injured in Iraq or Afghanistan to the point at which they can go back to civilian life or go back into their military jobs.
But there is no excuse, and no one ought to offer any excuse for what seems to be happening. And, you know, some of it's outpatient facilities, some of it's housing, some of it's the relationship, the hand-off between DOD to veterans hospitals.
We'll take a very careful look at every part of the system, if there is, in fact, a system, to make certain that our recommendations make a difference for these young men and young women that we're sending in harm's way.
ROBERTS: Senator Dole, you have said repeatedly that you've been all over Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Did you never see any of these problems yourself?
DOLE: Well, I saw a few things. But I didn't see...
ROBERTS: What did you see?
DOLE: Well, I think as far as some of the facilities working like trying to find a place where you can take a shower and things of that kind -- in some cases it didn't work -- but they were very minor. I thought the health care, the medical care itself was excellent.
And I didn't see Building 18 because it was sort of off campus. But, you know, there is no excuse for it. It's not acceptable. I think the president told both me and Secretary Shalala that if we found one person out there who was not treated fairly, he wanted us to fix it. So we have pretty much carte blanche to do what we think ought to be done. And we're going to do it on a nonpartisan basis and see if we can make a difference.
ROBERTS: A name that keeps coming up in all of this -- there have been a couple of firings. Major General Weightman was relieved of duty. Francis Harvey, the secretary of the Army, was relieved of duty. But the name Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley who is the surgeon general, keeps coming up, and whether or not his head should roll as well.
Take a listen to what Representative Jeff Miller of Florida said about this. He said, quote, "Quite frankly, I think he no longer deserves the honor of commanding our Army's fine medical professionals during a time of war. I strongly recommend General Kiley be removed from his current position and hope you will take my recommendation into consideration." That was a letter from Congressman Miller to Secretary of Defense Gates.
And then this editorial, from the Army Times, dated March 2: quote, "As the Army surgeon general, Kiley is ultimately responsible for not only that hospital, but the Army's slow, complex and unfair disability evaluations system. He has failed in this role and should follow Harvey out the door."
Secretary Shalala, do you think he should be relieved of duty?
SHALALA: That's not our decision. That's a decision for the defense secretary and for the president of the United States.
ROBERTS: How you do feel about it personally?
SHALALA: Well, I feel awful about what happened to our soldiers as everyone does. But it's a different system now. Senator Dole said to me that when he was severely wounded, they took him to a hospital. He stayed in the hospital, including his rehab period, and then they sent him home.
American medicine has changed and we are saving lives now in the field that we couldn't save before. And then they are coming back to the United States. They are being treated, I think, with very good, high-tech medicine at military hospitals.
It's the outpatients, it's the decision about disability, it's support services including pay decisions that need to be looked at. We need to look at the system from the beginning, when some one is hurt in Iraq and Afghanistan, all the way through, and to see not simply where the glitches are, but where the whole government has broken down.
These young soldiers deserve better and the highest quality medicine we can provide. We have that quality medicine. We need to get the management systems in place to make sure they get the highest quality of care.
ROBERTS: Senator Dole, what about you? I know it's not in your purview as part of your commission mandate, but personally, you do think Kiley should go?
DOLE: Well, I thought it was a very weak performance. I mean, that's about as far as I'll go, because as the secretary said, our job is not to say who ought to be fired. Our job is trying to correct the mistakes. And we hope we can do that.
And we don't want to indict the whole medical service and the V.A. and the DOD facilities -- Department of Defense facilities -- because some are very good. But we want to take a look and see where the problems are and see if it can be fixed. It may not need more money. It just may need clarification or somehow better coordination between the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration.
But we have an obligation and responsibility to everyone who puts on the uniform.
ROBERTS: On Wednesday, after you met with the president about the bipartisan commission, you came out on the White House driveway with Secretary Shalala. You suggested others might have some responsibility here not bringing the problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the attention of commanders and to the government on a more broad basis. Let's take a quick listen to what you said in the driveway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: Does it bother you that no one brought it to your attention, or that all your...
DOLE: Yeah, I wonder where all the service organizations were and others.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: So you say you wonder where all the service organizations were. The VFW and AMVETS have gone off on you over this. They called your comments reckless, that you shouldn't have been pointing fingers at them. You should have been pointing fingers at the military chain of command. Do you want to apologize to them?
DOLE: No, I don't want to -- you know, I was surprised. I mean, that's the point. They're out there all the time. They do a lot of good work. And I'm a lifetime member of the VFW, so forth. But I'm just surprised somebody hadn't discovered it. I mean, if it was there, all they had to do was walk in Building 18.
And all these groups have representatives at Walter Reed and other places. So that's why I said, you know, it's a wonder somebody else didn't uncover it.
ROBERTS: We learn from a Congressional Quarterly article as well that Representative Bill Young of Florida and at least one other member of the House knew about this but didn't want to say anything about it because they didn't want to, quote, "embarrass the military" at a time of war. Secretary Shalala, should they have come forward?
SHALALA: Well, you know, this is all beside the point. For a young soldier that's been injured, they're not interested in who to fix the blame. They want to make sure that they get the care that they need, and their families in particular want to make sure they get the care that they need.
The politicians can fix the blame. The president can hold people accountable. The secretary of defense can be held accountable himself. Our job is to make sure that this country makes a commitment to young men and young women that we put in harm's way that may be injured. And if they are injured, we have to make sure this country commits the resources and the management skills, so that they get the best possible care no matter which government agency is responsible.
And frankly, they don't have time to waste while we debate who's responsible here. They want that care now, and they want it to be of the highest quality.
DOLE: I think there are some extremely complex cases that Secretary Shalala knows better than I, like traumatic brain injuries, where they just don't have the facilities in the V.A., or very limited facilities, and they ought to be able to go to the best private hospital they can go to for the best treatment.
ROBERTS: That was pointed out by Bob Woodruff in his fine special the other night. But you sort of said, right, when I was talking about Congressman Young. Could some of this had been avoided had he come forward earlier? Or at least (inaudible)
DOLE: I think he did call it to somebody's attention, as I recall the conversation.
ROBERTS: He didn't make it public, though. DOLE: He didn't make it public. Nothing happened. A couple of times he called it to the attention of, I don't know if it was the commanding general of the hospital, but nothing happened. You know, in hindsight, maybe he should have gone public, but, you know, they're -- I don't want to leave the impression this happens to every patient at Walter Reed or any other V.A. hospital. I think it's probably going to be a very small percentage of cases. But that's OK.
ROBERTS: But I guess the point is, it shouldn't even be happening.
DOLE: Shouldn't be one. The president said if it's one, he wants us to fix it.
ROBERTS: Well, we wish you success in this. It's very important. Senator Dole, Secretary Shalala, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.
Still ahead, with more than a year before the first official contest, an already-packed U.S. presidential race. We'll talk about who is standing out early with three of the best political veterans in the business. And Mike Huckabee, himself a presidential candidate, coming up. Stay with us.
ROBERTS: Much more ahead. Iraq and the 2008 campaign. We'll talk with Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. Stay with us on "Late Edition."
ROBERTS: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE: I'm going to share it with you. It is not because of my ego. It really is because of my country. .
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: A conversation with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee about the war in Iraq, when to bring U.S. troops home and why he wants to be the next president of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING ABDULLAH OF JORDAN: The people of the region still regard the United States as the key to peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Jordan's King Abdullah reminds a joint session of Congress of their responsibility to broker peace in the Middle East. But does the United States still have the power? Does have it the will to make it happen? We'll ask Michael Orin, author of "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East," and Shibley Telhami, author of "The Stakes, America and the Middle East."
And a year before the first primary, the 2008 presidential campaign is in overdrive. Three seasoned political pros will handicap the field: Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, former White House speechwriter David Frum, and CNN's veteran pollwatcher, Bill Schneider.
Welcome back. I'm John Roberts sitting in for Wolf Blitzer. We're going to talk with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in just a moment. But first, here's Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta with a check on what's in the news right now. Fred?
ROBERTS: Hey, Fred, thanks very much. One of the stories we have been following all weekend is the disappearance of a four-day-old baby from a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, Covenant Lakeside Hospital. Apparently, someone posing as a hospital worker or perhaps a hospital worker themselves walked out of that facility yesterday with this baby in their purse.
The baby was found earlier today about 100 miles away in New Mexico. Let's go to a press conference that the hospital, Covenant Lakeside, is holding right now and get a little bit of an update in the situation here.
LT. SCOTT HUDGENS, LUBBOCK POLICE DEPARTMENT: ... more than likely be extradited back to Lubbock.
HUDGENS: I don't have that information at this time.
HUDGENS: I don't know that at this time either.
UNKNOWN: What about the male (inaudible)?
HUDGENS: That's still under investigation. I know early reports were that there may be a male accomplice in a red pickup truck. But that's something that our investigators are still clearing up at this time. We have two of our investigators and FBI agents in Clovis at this time following up on these.
UNKNOWN: Can you clarify something in the press release you said, that the (inaudible) investigation had located (inaudible).
HUDGENS: Right. That was a miscommunication due to the fluidness of the situation. That was just a minor miscommunication that...
HUDGENS: The baby was actually found in a residence there in Clovis, New Mexico, in the company of an adult female. UNKNOWN: (inaudible) I realize you can't give out all names and details here, but (inaudible) public relationship (inaudible)?
HUDGENS: That's still not known at this time.
UNKNOWN: Do you have a condition of that infant (inaudible)?
HUDGENS: No. Clovis is still investigating.
UNKNOWN: Is there anybody else (inaudible) suspect?
HUDGENS: The information that I've is just an adult female and Mychael.
UNKNOWN: Yesterday it was reported there was a driver, possibly a male driver in a red pickup truck. Has that person been found?
HUDGENS: That's still being investigated. That's some of the things that our investigators and the FBI will still be clearing up while they are in Clovis.
UNKNOWN: Can you or Gwen talk about the baby and how the bracelet came off, the difficulties of that happening, and where that is? Is this part of the investigation as well?
HUDGENS: I think Gwen could probably best describe that.
GWEN STAFFORD, COVENANT MEDICAL CENTER: I think it is important to know that the standard of care and security was certainly in place. That as soon as the baby and this security piece were separated, we were alarmed and knew. And I think that's what enabled us to be able to get the visual of the pickup.
I think that clearly, we need to take security to a higher standard. This individual was pretty sophisticated or at least knowledgeable of what happens in health-care institutions. We're not going to rest until we take it up a notch, another level. I don't know that we can ever have anything perfect, but the system functioned. The baby was separated from that, and we are all in the process of that with the police department. We've just got to do better. Not only this hospital but all hospitals in this world.
UNKNOWN: Was the suspect by chance an employee of the hospital?
STAFFORD: My understanding at this point is, was not. But, again, I'm going to defer to the Clovis police, the FBI and all of those to get those details. But my understanding is, they were not an employee nor a former employee.
But let me couch that with, as they find out these details, we'll certainly always correct that. But that's my understanding at this moment.
UNKNOWN: Lieutenant, do you know if there was any connection between the suspect and the baby? In other words, any indication as to why the suspect chose (inaudible) as opposed to (inaudible)? HUDGENS: No, we don't have any indication the suspect knew or had any contact with the family prior to this incident.
UNKNOWN: We don't know (inaudible)
HUDGENS: Within a 24-hour period, we received over 200 telephone tips. And so I'd say that that was a very big part of the investigation was the media's assistance in this. And within an hour, hour and a half of the Amber Alert going out, I was receiving telephone calls from national media outlets in New York, Washington, D.C., and around the nation.
HUDGENS: Well, the nature of the tip was basically that a suspect had been seen in the Clovis area that matched the description of the person that we were looking for. And the caller also gave a general area of where this person had been seen. The Clovis Police Department did an outstanding job at following up on that tip and locating the residence where this person was staying. And that's how they found baby Mychael and this adult female.
And through their investigation and conversations with this female, they were able to locate the suspect and then take her into custody.
UNKNOWN: Obviously, this was a premeditated act. Was this baby in particular targeted, or was this (inaudible) an opportunity crime (inaudible)?
HUDGENS: Like I say, our investigators in Clovis are still working on that. And although we can have telephone conversations, it's difficult to get the full picture until they return and give a face-to-face and written report of what they encountered in Clovis.
UNKNOWN: Can you give an indication if the suspect is a new mother, too?
HUDGENS: No. Like I said, at this point, we don't have any indication of that.
HUDGENS: Well, the second video that was sent out with the clearer images, that was taken the day prior to the abduction. And so we know that she was in there at least that day.
UNKNOWN: As far as the baby's health, when she left the hospital she was jaundiced. How was she cared for? Was she in worse health when the investigators found her, or was she doing well?
HUDGENS: That's still not known. As far as I know, the, Baby Mychael's still in the hospital in Clovis. Or is she in transit now?
STAFFORD: Probably in transit now. HUDGENS: Probably in transit now. And once the -- I'm sure once she gets back to Covenant, they'll make another full assessment, and they'll have a better idea at that time.
UNKNOWN: So there was no report from the Clovis hospital on her condition at the time (inaudible)?
HUDGENS: The investigators are probably looking into that, and that may be something we find out upon their return.
UNKNOWN: (inaudible) late Friday night, before she came back after midnight?
HUDGENS: I believe it was early Friday evening.
ROBERTS: So there's Lieutenant Scott Hudgens of the Lubbock Police Department talking about the abduction from the Covenant Lakeside Hospital early on Saturday, saying that the police believe that the suspect had been casing out the hospital the previous evening, then abducted the baby, four-day-old Mychael Darthard-Dawodu.
ROBERTS: On Saturday morning fled in a red pickup truck. There was a pretty good description of the pickup truck you saw. They had surveillance video of the person who they believed was responsible for the abduction dressed as a hospital employee. Apparently, took the baby out in a purse, drove to Clovis, New Mexico, about 100 miles away.
There were numerous Amber Alerts that had been issued as well as a manhunt that was underway. And someone in Clovis apparently saw that pickup truck, identified the woman from the Amber Alert, called police. And now 4-year-old (sic) is back of the hands of the people who should have it.
There is a drawing of the suspect, the person who was believed responsible for the abduction of this baby. Probably very likely that the baby will be returned to Covenant Lakeside Hospital very soon.
The baby was suffering from jaundice which is a common condition among newborns. But liver function not quite up to snuff, skin gets a little bit colored. They have to be on a special diet and need some special care for the first few weeks of life.
But other than that, it looks like the baby is going to be OK, and thankfully a happy ending to this story that we have been following for you all weekend.
We are going to take a quick break, but then we're going to go right to Little Rock and speak with former Governor Mike Huckabee about his presidential plans. Stay with us. "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk, is coming right back.
ROBERTS: The war in Iraq promises to loom large over the 2008 presidential race and the candidates are already staking out their positions.
Joining us now us now from Little Rock, Arkansas, is Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
Governor Huckabee, good to see you again.
MIKE HUCKABEE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ARKANSAS: Well, same here, John. Thanks.
ROBERTS: This past week, you signed a pledge with Grover Norquist -- it's Americans for Tax Reform -- that if elected president, you would not raise taxes. Yet, on "Meet the Press" back on January the 28 you said, when asked the same question about making a pledge to not raise taxes, you said, quote, "It's dangerous to make such pledges." What changed?
HUCKABEE: Primarily an understanding that the pledge itself is really not saying that there are no conditions under which we wouldn't have to find revenues. But it's not going to be raising the marginal income tax which shouldn't be raised because it's high enough.
And I think the key thing is that, as I looked at the pledge at the federal level -- very different than the one at the state level -- I'm very comfortable with it and I think it's good to let the taxpayers know that it's not that our taxes are too low, it's that our spending is too high and that's what we need to get control of.
ROBERTS: So under what circumstances would you raise taxes as president?
HUCKABEE: I think we always have to keep options. For example, if we were in a catastrophic war or if we had some huge catastrophe, and it doesn't preclude something of that nature.
ROBERTS: Well, we are in a war right now, and we...
HUCKABEE: We are. And we're underspending in many ways for that. We only spent 3.8 percent of our GDP on this war, less than we have. I think one of the challenges is that we may be underfunding in some ways. But, again, that's not an issue about our taxes. That's an issue about our spending priorities. That's something we are going to have to address as a country.
ROBERTS: Let's take a quick look, Governor Huckabee, at some polls that came out recently. At the CPAC conference that took a straw poll, you did not make the top five. It was Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Sam Brownback, Newt Gingrich, John McCain all leading that poll.
Then there was an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, March 2 to 5, in which you polled 2 percent, compared to Rudy Giuliani who was the leader at 38 percent.
A Quinnipiac College poll, You barely registered, even among white evangelicals. That's a segment of the Republican base that you should really have a lock on. Why aren't you catching fire with them?
HUCKABEE: Well, I think the key issue right now is name identification. A lot of people don't know who I am, but that will change over the course of the next few months. I would suggest we are getting great miles per gallon out of the funds that we have and what we are beginning to see.
We are moving up. We are progressing and I'm very optimistic that when this becomes more than about message than just money, there's going to be very different rankings going on. ROBERTS: Yes, let me just drill down onto that a little bit if I could. Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, was at the Clinton School of Public Service earlier this week, where he said of you, quote, "Huckabee is going to have an interesting race. He's not going to have a big money base. He's going to have to do it on personality and buzz."
But the polls are indicating that there's not much buzz at this point. And if you don't have any money or enough money, as much as the other candidates do, how are you going to do it?
HUCKABEE: Well, when people go to my Web site, explorehuckabee.com, they will start finding out what the issues are that I think separates me from some of the others.
But I'm also confident that right now, we are still seeing this whole race being focused on a few folks that have, again, understandably, very good name identification. But this is a marathon, not a sprint. And having run a few of those, I can tell you, you don't worry about the people that are in front of you in the first five or six miles. What you're focused on is getting to the finish line and making sure that you have a plan to get there.
So it's not so much that I'm spooked by the fact there are some folks running ahead of me. I would be more spooked if I was running out there all by myself in the front and wondering will I have enough juice to make it all the way.
ROBERTS: Well, you know, Governor, I've watched the New York City marathon, the Boston marathon many times. And very often the fellow who or the women who are leading at the beginning, they are the ones who are at the beginning when the race is finally over.
HUCKABEE: Well, not always, John. And the key thing here is this is about being able to pace yourself. I'm still confident that as the American people start focusing on the issues and the character of the candidates and all of the issues that are going to make people really think about who their next president is going to be -- you know, think about it a year ago. Who were the frontrunners? Virtually none of the people who are today. Six months from now, I think you will see a very different lineup.
ROBERTS: Let me read back to you, Governor Huckabee, something that you said to CNBC. It was a couple of years ago, June 4th, 2005, regarding President Bush. You said, quote, "I think the president has done a magnificent job. I don't find many areas where I would disagree with him." Do you still feel that way?
HUCKABEE: I found a couple. One is I think we need to do a better job of giving some relief to our Guard and reserve troops. We're overusing them in the deployment in Iraq. They're being extended way too long away from their families, their communities and their employers.
I think another area is that we've usurped a lot of the roles of the states. We're talking a lot about rebuilding Iraq. We'd better be talking also about rebuilding America. Our roads, our bridges, our sewer and water systems are in neglect. They need attention.
And we need to be thinking about the health of Americans. We need to be thinking about the education of young Americans and whether or not they are going to be competitive.
So while I understand the need to rebuild Iraq and invest in other countries, I think that the single greatest priority that Americans expect us to focus on is rebuilding America from the ground up.
ROBERTS: What about this surge, Governor Huckabee? Do you support that fully?
HUCKABEE: I think we have to give the president the opportunity to carry out his plan. The Senate unanimously confirmed General Petraeus to go and carry out that plan. Let's hope it works.
But what we also see is 13 nations gathering in Iraq this weekend, perhaps the most positive sign in awhile. Something I've been saying for quite some months is that we have to engage the neighbors of that region because if the whole thing catches on fire and blows up, they are going to be singed long before us.
So this is a positive sign to see those other countries from around the Middle East getting involved in a peaceful solution to the Iraq situation.
ROBERTS: Governor Huckabee, you talk a lot about the need to keep the pressure up in Iraq because of the potential consequences. When you were campaigning in New Hampshire in February, you said, quote, "We need to understand that this is, in fact, World War III. Unlike any other world war that we've ever fought, this is one we can't afford to lose."
I'm a little confused. Are you suggesting that we could have afforded to lose World Wars II or I?
HUCKABEE: No, I certainly don't mean that. I'm just saying that this is a global conflict. It is not simply limited to the Middle East because the cells of terror are everywhere. They are in Africa, they're in Asia, they're in Europe.
And if we think that this a Middle East war -- but the other factor that makes this so different, this isn't a conventional war where we are fighting an army that has uniforms and is marching under the banner of a flag.
This is an ideology and it's largely a theology of radical Islamic fascism that we have to take seriously and we have to understand because it is not over personalities or property lines. Because it is a theological war to our enemies, there is no negotiation. They have one goal. That's our annihilation and destruction. You can't negotiate that.
ROBERTS: Governor, people who are handicapping this race for the Republican nomination have pointed out that you have no national security experience. And they are wondering how can a person with no national security experience become president in a post-9/11 world.
HUCKABEE: Well, Ronald Reagan did not have national security experience when he became president.
ROBERTS: But that was before 9/11. That was before 9/11.
HUCKABEE: But we also have been in the middle of a Cold War during that time. Every president is going to face crises. What you look for is character. You look for judgment. You look for a person who knows that he does not know everything and he knows what he doesn't know and then surrounds himself with capable, quality people.
What you want is the operating system, that basic essence of his character and judgment to be something that comes from conviction, not just convenience. That's what people need in a president and look for in a president more than anything else.
ROBERTS: Governor Huckabee, you call yourself a, quote, "genuine conservative." Do John McCain or Mitt Romney fit that bill?
HUCKABEE: I'm not even talking about the other candidates. They all have their opportunities to sell their campaigns and candidacy. I'm just simply saying that if people look at my positions over the course, not just of my career as a governor, but over my entire life, dating back to my teenage years, they are going to find consistency.
They are going to find that these are positions that I hold now and that are not recent, that they are life-long and they're held out of the deepest convictions of my inner being.
ROBERTS: Mitt Romney certainly is talking about his competitors. He said back on March 1st, in an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, about Rudy Giuliani, he said, quote, "Giuliani is pro-choice. He is pro-gay marriage and anti-gun" -- which actually isn't true. He's not pro-gay marriage. He is pro-gay rights. He said, quote, "That's a tough combination in a Republican primary."
We talked with Tom DeLay not long ago, who is a fan of yours. But he said that he could not vote for Rudy Giuliani because of his views, particularly on abortion. Could you vote for Rudy Giuliani?
HUCKABEE: Well, I think the issue is, you know, let's not get the Republicans fighting each other. We have got plenty of battles yet ahead and, you know, I may want to pick Rudy as my running mate at some point. So let me reserve any comment on that.
I like him. He's a great guy, tremendous leader and the American people will sort out -- and particularly in the Republican Party we will sort out -- who we want to carry our banner, our flag and who most holds our convictions and viewpoints.
ROBERTS: Right, well, there is a banner headline: "Huckabee- Giuliani in '08." Governor Huckabee, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
HUCKABEE: Thank you, John. Pleasure to be here.
ROBERTS: All right.
Coming up on "Late Edition," as Israelis and Palestinians meet today, it's clear that U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast is changing. But is it succeeding? We will take on that question in depth with two experts on American policy in the region.
And the presidential race is already fast and furious. We'll add up this week's winners and losers with a panel of veteran political observers. You're watching "Late Edition." We'll be back right after this.
ROBERTS: Welcome back to "Late Edition."
Talking to Iran, negotiating with North Korea, restarting Middle East peace talks -- there is little doubt that U.S. foreign policy is in a period of change, but is it too little too late?
To discuss that and much more, I'm joined by two analysts of America's role in the Middle East. Michael Oren is a senior fellow at the Shalom Center is Jerusalem, and author of "Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present." And Shibley Telhami is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, also a professor at the University of Maryland and he's the author of "Reflections of Hearts and Mind: Media Opinion and Identity in the Arab World."
King Abdullah from Jordan was in Washington this past week. On Tuesday he addressed a joint session of Congress talking about the need for greater emphasis by the United States on Middle East peace. Let's take a quick listen to what Abdullah said, then talk about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING ABDULLAH, JORDAN: Nothing can achieve that more effectively, nothing can assert America's moral vision more clearly, nothing can reach and teach the world's youth more directly than your leadership in a peace process that delivers results not next year, not in five years, but this year.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: "Not next year, not in five years, but this year." Can you force negotiations between two parties who, at this point, really don't want to negotiate?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, MIDEAST EXPERT: Put this in perspective, first of all. This is an amazing opportunity the king of Jordan has to speak to a joint session in Congress. He's got a lot of issues on the table. Iraq is very important to him. He has got nearly a million Iraqi refugees. A disaster in Iraq is going to affect him at home.
And he has a choice to make as to what to address the American people in Congress about. And he makes this his single most important issue. That tells you something about the extent to which this Arab- Israeli issue remains the prism through which most people in the region -- public opinion polls show it day in and day out. We don't want to acknowledge it.
Now, can we do something about it in America? Well, for one thing, we should stop discouraging people from trying to do it, I mean, like the Israelis and the Syrians. I'm not sure that America in this environment is going to be able to broker an Arab-Israeli peace if the parties don't want it. I mean, clearly, there's no way the president of the United States is going to be able to impose a solution on the Israelis and the Palestinians.
ROBERTS: Well, what do you think, Michael? Is it time for the United States to say, look, it is time for negotiations here, enough talking about talking?
MICHAEL OREN, AUTHOR: I think we need to distinguish between America making a bold initiative to achieve peace in the Middle East -- which is certainly warranted and certainly wanted -- and the ability to bring home results as King Abdullah says this year or the next year.
While I think it is very important to create the impression among all peoples of the Middle East that the United States is willing to do the utmost to try to achieve between peace between Israelis and Palestinians, or even Israelis between the Arab world in general, we have to really look at the situation on the ground and see, ask ourselves whether the components there are necessary for making that peace.
Right now we have an extremely unpopular government in Israel of Ehud Olmert, a very weak Palestinian leadership. You have part of the Palestinian leadership under Hamas which is openly opposed to accepting the state of Israel. More difficult.
ROBERTS: And now there are reports that Hamas is sending some of its militants to Iran for military training. Is that a recipe for success at the peace table?
TELHAMI: Clearly, not. And I agree that there are a lot of obstacles to peace right now and it may not be possible. But you know what? If you look historically, there's never a good chance to make peace. There is never a good opportunity to make peace. Almost all the peace breakthroughs that happened -- the 1993 agreement between Israel and the PLO, people forget Rabin wasn't exactly having the biggest coalition in -- he got elected with no Jewish majority in the Knesset. Nobody predicted that breakthrough would happen. When Sadat went to Jerusalem, no one predicted it.
These things happen. I'm not saying there is a -- the opportunity that is there is more at the regional level. You have, for the first time, Arab governments really wanting to make a comprehensive peace and more importantly, our public opinion polls show that two-thirds of Arabs are prepared for a peace agreement based on the 67 borders. That's a new opportunity.
ROBERTS: Certainly, Saudi Arabia seems to have launched a new desire to try to see a Middle East peace and that's why it's trying to bring these two sides together. King Abdullah also said that if you want to solve the problem in Iraq, you have got to solve the Israeli- Palestinian question first.
Here's what he told Congress. He said, quote, "People say the road to peace is through Baghdad. It is not. It is through Jerusalem. Removing the core issue off the table greatly deflates the frustration and anger and suspicion in our part of the world. Actually, that was in an interview with PBS earlier this week.
But here's the question: If you were to remove the Palestinian- Israeli issue from the table, the region has shown over history that they will just find something else to fight about.
TELHAMI: Well, I agree that the Arab-Israeli issues is not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East. It is not. I mean, there are problems that have to be addressed: political, economic, military, social.
What the Middle East -- what the Arab-Israeli issues and prism through which people see the world, and for that reason it is very hard to have effective diplomacy. The king is not worried -- he is worried about what is happening in Iraq separately, but he's also worried about the spillover.
The impact of the Iraq war is intensified because his of constituency that cares about the Arab-Israeli conflict. And he's in a difficult bind in relation to that constituency.
ROBERTS: Is Israel willing to make peace with the Palestinians just so that things in Iraq get better?
OREN: I think that Israel is willing to make peace with the Palestinians for the sake of the Israelis. And I think people in Israel understand what the price of that peace is. The question is whether there is somebody on the other side who is willing to sign on a piece of paper that says this is the end of the conflict. We're going to live side by side in the situation of two permanently, mutually-recognized states. You know, keep in mind either when Sadat and Begin made peace in 1979, or when Rabin and Arafat signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, both cases, the Israelis and the Arab side had negotiated separately without the involvement of the United States. They brought the United States in at the last stage after they had already succeeded in making tremendous headway. We don't see a similar situation today.
I agree that Arab-Israeli peace would make a tremendous contribution to stability in the Middle East and improving America's image in the Middle East. But I think that would be a mistake to think that that would be the end of Middle Eastern problems of bring peace between the Sunnis and the Shiites.
ROBERTS: Another huge problem in the Middle East, and one, perhaps, of more concern to Israel than even Iraqis is Iran's nuclear program. Ehud Olmert, back on January the 24th said, quote, "Anyone who threatens us, who threatens our existence, must know that we have the determination and capability of defending ourselves and responding with force, discretion and with all of the means at our disposal."
Michael Oren, there is a school of thought that if Iran progresses much further down the road with its nuclear program, Israel may launch a preemptive strike.
OREN: Certainly a school of thought among the Israel intelligence officials, who view a nuclearized Iran as an existential threat to the state of Israel, and that's not only because you have an Iranian theological regime that's willing, according to Israeli estimates, to give up about 50 percent of its population to destroy the state of Israel.
But looking down the line, if Iran has a nuclear weapon, Israel will be incapable of responding to the Hezbollah missile strikes. Iran will go on nuclear alert. Israel will have to go on nuclear alert.
There will be no more tourism, no more foreign investment. Israel will dry up economically. And, finally, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have all gone on record saying that if Iran gets the bomb, they are going to get the bomb.
ROBERTS: What would be the repercussions in the region, Shibley, if Israel did launch a preemptive strike against Iran?
TELHAMI: Well, I think the reality of it is it would not have as much of an impact as people think because our governments, in some ways, are worried about it. But I think the public opinion is a different story. In fact, public opinion in the Arab world is not worried about Iran. Sixty-two percent believe that the international community should not pressure Iran to stop its nuclear program.
And the oddity of this is the Israelis, I understand what they're worried about. They are looking at this in part through the prism of the Holocaust and the threats that are coming from an Iranian president. If Iran were to attack Israel with a nuclear bomb, Jordan would be destroyed. The Palestinian areas will be destroyed. And, yet, the public opinion in those countries is not asking for war or even to put pressure on Iran to stop. That means we really don't have a very good debate on this. We have got to have an analytical debate. Obviously, both are -- you know, have some right and some wrong in this debate but I think, frankly, the military option is a disastrous one because it will put Israel at war with the Persians for a generation to come and without any guarantees that this will end the conflict.
ROBERTS: And that's certainly something the region does not need. Shibley Telhami, Michael Oren, good to see you again. Haven't seen you since last summer at the war. Glad you are still around.
OREN: You, too.
ROBERTS: All right. Coming up, private family matters become political fair game this week for two GOP politicians. We'll get insight from a panel of political veterans. "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk is coming right back. Stay with us.
ROBERTS: This week proved, if there was ever any doubt, that the road to the White House is never easy. Joining me to calculate the odds on all of this are CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
Joining us on the telephone is David Frum. He's a former speechwriter for President Bush, now a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute. David was going to be here in the studio, feeling a little under the weather. So David, thanks very much for joining us on the telephone. Let me start with you. What do you think of the idea of Fred Thompson maybe throwing his hat in the ring for president?
DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, everyone senses that there is this great void. The traditional Reagan conservative on economics, conservative on social issues is a little unrepresented in this election cycle. The question for someone like Fred Thompson is, can his TV star power equal the 9/11 star power of somebody like Rudy Giuliani?
ROBERTS: Well, certainly, Bill Schneider and Donna Brazile, he has made enough movies where he played the president or a high government official that people think he probably is.
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Why not step right into the role? Well, there is a void. You know, there's no one carrying the conservative banner. Bush has no one carrying his legacy because Cheney is not running.
So, yeah, conservatives, when I went to the CPAC meeting to watch what the conservatives were doing, the name that came up all time there wasn't George Bush, it was Ronald Reagan. Nobody in the 2008 field was a real hero to them.
ROBERTS: Donna, could he beat Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I doubt it very seriously. Look, I mean, when he was in the Senate, people knew he was there. But he didn't really distinguish himself. And I think, like every other senator running for office, he will have to compete in a very congested primary on the Republican side and try to capture, you know, some of the votes that will not go to Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
ROBERTS: This new plan that the Democrats came out with this week to pull troops out of Iraq, either by March of 2008 or late 2008, depending on whose plan you listen to or the one that you can actually figure out because they're so convoluted, David Frum, do you see this as being anything more than political grandstanding? Because they come out with these ideas knowing they don't have the votes to get through the Senate.
FRUM: It is absolutely political grandstanding mingled with political panic. I think one of the things that the Democrats know, 2008 is probably going to be a good Democratic year. So people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and John Edwards have to think very hard about, well, what do I do if I'm president?
And I think one of the things they all know is if the troops are still there in January 2009, they will not be removing them because the negative consequences of fast withdrawal are going to be just as negative for a Democratic president as they are for a Republican president.
ROBERTS: Now, not all Democrats, of course, are onto this plan. The progressive caucus came out right after Nancy Pelosi announced her plan, to denounce it. And look at this extraordinary exchange between Appropriations Chairman David Obey and an antiwar activist who met him in the halls of Congress. Take a quick look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBEY: It's time these idiot liberals understand there's a hell of a difference between defunding the troops and ending the war. I'm not going to deny body armor, I'm not going to deny funding for veterans hospitals so you can help people who have medical problems. That's what you do if you are going against that bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: And it went on from there and got more heated when another fellow came in. But the bottom line is that there are so many factions in the Democratic Party that how do you ever reach a consensus on legislation like this?
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, Mr. Obey did apologize to that mother of an Iraq veteran. He's under a lot of pressure. So is Nancy Pelosi and the other Democrats. You have 73 members of the "out of Iraq" caucus. You got 44, 45 members of the Congressional blue dog caucus, they all would like to support something to bring our troops home. But there's no consensus. I think that Speaker Pelosi has put together about 200 votes. They are looking for another 18. And Rahm Emmanuel believes that he can get it from some of the other caucuses.
SCHNEIDER: And there is a purpose to this. The purpose is to put pressure on the Republicans, who so far have held fast behind President Bush's policy. They are on the defensive. President Bush is acting in direct defiance of public opinion on this. The public said in October -- in November in the election, we want to end the war in Iraq, we want to get the United States out. And the president said, I'm going send more troops. Well, Republicans are going to be under a lot of pressure in the next year or so, and the Democrats are holding their feet to the fire by drawing ranks around this withdrawal plan.
ROBERTS: Now, Hillary Clinton is supporting the new Democratic Senate legislation which would start to bring troops home by March of 2008. She told me in an interview about a month and a half ago that she didn't like the idea of timetables. Take a quick listen to what she said in New Hampshire over the weekend, compared to what she told me back in January.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: Our soldiers matter. That's why we finally have to start bringing them home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I am not advocating a date-certain, an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: David Frum, is that a flip-flop?
FRUM: No. She's really trapped. She can see -- I mean, she is a very serious person who has dealt with the Iraq issue in the White House in 1990s. She can see there's a lot of good use from the surge. The last thing anybody needs right now is to hit the Army in the back of the head with this kind of message.
And she also knows if she's president, that she does not want to inherit the calamity that would befall the United States if troops are withdrawn before the situation in Iraq is stabilized.
ROBERTS: So, Donna Brazile, that brings up a theory that some people are talking about, that the Democrats want to make a lot of noise about this, but they don't want to actually effect any change because, if they did and it went bad, it could come back to bite them in 2008.
BRAZILE: Well, many Democrats do not want to, do not wish to micromanage this war and, therefore, own this war. This is the president's war, a war of choice, and Democrats believe that it's time for a new direction. And this phased deployment will allow Democrats to tell the American people, you voted for us or you gave us the power to, you know, move this country in a different direction. We are doing it in Iraq, and we'll do it on other issues down the road.
ROBERTS: The Democratic Party in Nevada canceled debates set up with Fox News. They said it was because of a joke that Roger Ailes, who's the president of Fox, made at the First Amendment dinner on Wednesday night. I was there. I heard it. Take a listen and see for yourself. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER AILES, CHAIRMAN, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: It is true that Barack Obama is on the move. I don't know if it's true, but President Bush called Musharraf and said, why can't we catch this guy?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: So he makes a joke about Obama, the Democrats say, that's it, we're out of here. Is that an excuse? Because it looks like they didn't want do this to begin with.
SCHNEIDER: Well, the argument was that they didn't want a debate sponsored by Fox News because a lot of Democrats, particularly the bloggers, the Internet activists believe that Fox News is not fair and balanced, but is biased to the right. And they don't want -- John Edwards had said already that he didn't want to participate in a debate sponsored by Fox News.
ROBERTS: Now, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Donna Brazile, after the Democratic Party dropped Fox as a sponsor for the debate, said, quote, "By Friday, the Nevada Democratic Party caved in to the lunatic fringe and began seeking a more 'appropriate' television partner. Comedy Central, perhaps?"
They're claiming that moveon.org owns the Democratic Party. Do they?
BRAZILE: No. They have a prominence at the table. but the conservative blue dogs also have a seat at the table. Look, the blogosphere, as Bill alluded to, they are very, very powerful inside the Democratic Party. And they warned the Nevada Democratic Party not to co-sponsor this debate, and now you see the results.
ROBERTS: Folks, we've got to go, but thanks very much. Bill Schneider, Donna Brazile, David Frum on the phone. Appreciate it.
FRUM: Thank you.
ROBERTS: We'll be right back after this.
ROBERTS: Now, let's go on the campaign trail and map out where presidential candidates will be in the next few days. Today, Senator Barack Obama will wrap up a two-day trip to Iowa. And anti-war activist Dennis Kucinich is campaigning in Minnesota later today. Senator John McCain will be raising money in California today and tomorrow, while former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney looks for donors in Arizona and Nevada.
On Monday, Senator Chris Dodd will appear with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's "Daily Show."
And Senator Chuck Hagel will be holding a news conference back home in Nebraska tomorrow. His staff isn't saying if he's going to announce for the presidency, but he has already accepted an invitation to speak at a candidates' forum later next week, so it's a fairly safe bet.
ROBERTS: Up next, "In Case You Missed It," "Late Edition" Sunday morning talk show roundup. And then coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War" looks at the global dangers that may be overlooked in our concentration on Iraq. Don't miss it.
ROBERTS: And now in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the Sunday morning talk shows.
On NBC, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, talked about how during yesterday's security conference, he warned the Iranians to stop playing a negative role in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I did raise that with them, and we will see the impact of this meeting and future engagements on what they do in terms of the Iranian policy. Will they stop supplying these EFPs to the Iraqis, will they stop supplying arms and training and money to militias and other unauthorized groups? What happens to their statements and their broadcasts into Iraq? So we will be monitoring their behavior.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Over on ABC, Democratic Senator Jim Webb said this weekend's conference demonstrated the need for the United States to engage in more diplomacy with Iran and Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VA.: I don't think you can expect to see, you know, a flowering of diplomatic relations in one meeting. But this is a -- this is a very important confidence-builder in the region. And you know, when you go back even a year ago, you and I were talking less than a year ago, and the rhetoric that was coming out from the other side was that even talking to these people would be a negative impact on what we are trying to do there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: On CBS, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer had this harsh assessment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' leadership of the Justice Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Attorney General Gonzales is a nice man, but he either doesn't accept or doesn't understand that he's no longer just the president's lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution, even when the president should not want it to be so. And so, this department has been so political that I think for the sake of the nation, Attorney General Gonzales should step down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: And over on Fox, actor and former Senator Fred Thompson confirmed that he is considering a run for the White House in 2008, joining an already crowded GOP race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It is not really a reflection on the current field at all, as you know. Some are very good friends of mine. I'm going to wait and see how it pans out, see how they do, how it develops. A lot of people think it's late already. I don't really think it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
And checking now what's on the cover of this week's major U.S. news magazines -- Time magazine looks at the verdict on Vice President Dick Cheney. Newsweek explores "The Evolution Revolution." And U.S. News and World Report has its 2007 career guide, "The Best Job for You."
And that's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, March 11th. Wolf Blitzer, who took a rare day off, will be back again next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
Stay with CNN. "This Week at War" is coming right up. I'll see you in just a minute.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com