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THIS WEEK AT WAR
Week's War-Related Activities Recounted
Aired June 2, 2007 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: Here in the United States, politics can seem to be a game. But in Iraq, U.S. troops are putting their lives on the line to give Iraqi politicians time to make a deal and suddenly you can see just how high the stakes are, here and there. THIS WEEK AT WAR right after a look at what's happening in the news right now.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Tom. I'm Rick Sanchez. Let's bring you up to date on what's going on right now. Four men are charged in a plot to blow up New York JFK airport. Officials say the plot never got past the planning stages. The four are charged with conspiring to blow up fuel tanks and pipelines at JFK. Federal officials say the plot could have caused unthinkable destruction.
Protests in Germany escalated into a riot today. Police clashed with demonstrators protesting the upcoming group of eight summit near Rostock, Germany. Officials say nearly 150 officers were injured, 25 seriously, 50 protesters were arrested.
Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki says he will not allow Iraq's Kurdish region to turn into a battleground. Insurgents today bombed a key bridge that links the area to Baghdad and Turkish troops massed across the border for a possible strike against Kurdish fighters. I'm Rick Sanchez, news breaks, I'll break in right away. Now let's go back to Tom and THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: I'm Tom Foreman and here is where we're going in THIS WEEK AT WAR. First, to Paula Hancocks in Baghdad where the trend is down. Results are scarce as the death toll hits a tragic eye. Next Arab affairs editor Octavia Nasr on the increasing danger of al Qaeda propaganda. Who are they targeting and how well is it working? At the "Washington Post," Robin Wright on U.S./Iranian relations, a mixed situation at best as U.S. diplomats sit down with Iranian negotiators this week while fellow Americans sit in Iranian jails.
Then to Richard Roth at the United Nations where tough sanctions are stalled and the people of Darfur continue to die. And finally, to New Hampshire and an up arrow. It's always a good thing when presidential candidates have to face the tough questions of war and peace. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
On Monday, Memorial Day, 10 U.S. troops died in Iraq making May the bloodiest month in two and a half years. General David Petraeus said that he hoped the Iraqi politicians would make the most of the opportunity that American and Iraqi soldiers are fighting and dying to give. But will those politicians step up? Paula Hancocks is in our Baghdad bureau. Barbara Starr is on duty at the Pentagon and here in Washington, Kathleen Hicks, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Paula, first up, with all this effort being expended, what are the Iraqi politicians doing now?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tom, at this point, they're trying to actually stick together and work together as a government rather than separate entities. We've certainly seen this in the case of the Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. He's in a very tricky position. At this point, he's indebted to the United States. He's indebted to Iran. He's indebted to Muqtada al Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric. So at this point he's trying to keep everybody happy. But of course when you try and do that, you keep very few people happy. And he's not a powerful man. He doesn't have his own militia. At this point, al Maliki is really just trying to keep things together and try and get this national reconciliation plan that he announced a year ago on track.
FOREMAN: It could be very slow progress when you're doing all that as well. Let's take a look at how many U.S. troops are suffering and dying over there right now, 2004 it was about 849. It's been around that number over the past few years. But this year, if we keep going this way, it will go over 1,000 deaths for the year, the worst by far. Barbara Starr talked about more troops that are headed there now as part of the so-called surge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The fifth and final brigade of the U.S. troops that are part of the security crackdown has now arrived in Iraq. In just 12 weeks, the top commander, General David Petraeus is supposed to tell President Bush if the new strategy is working.
BRIG. GEN. PERRY WIGGINS, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We're starting to see a shift in momentum that comes with having additional ground forces on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: And Barbara Starr, what does that mean?
STARR: It's all coming at a very heavy price, as you point out, for U.S. troops. The casualty rate is definitely on the rise and top commanders say they have every expectation it is going to get worse before September, that the insurgents that al Qaeda and the Sunni and Shia militants that are not going to give up will try to step up the violence to make it all look as worse as they possibly can before that September time frame when General Petraeus is supposed to report on how it's all going.
FOREMAN: Barbara, then what kind of shift in momentum is he talking about?
STARR: Especially out west, that is one place that is supposed to be a bright spot right now in al Anbar province, a place for years now we've heard Fallujah, Ramadi, the places that have been the hotbed of the al Qaeda stronghold. Apparently in recent weeks, the people there have basically turned against al Qaeda. They're tired of the violence. They're tired of the problems out there and reconciliation is slightly beginning to take hold according to all reports. Some rebuilding is going on, there's some political momentum. The goal of top commanders now is to try and make that work in other parts of Iraq.
FOREMAN: Kathleen Hicks, now we see some of this fighting of Sunni forces against al Qaeda actually in Baghdad. Is this a good sign or a bad sign? What do you think is happening?
KATHLEEN HICKS, CTR FOR STRATEGIC & INTL STUDIES: I think it's a good sign. As Barbara just pointed out about al Anbar, what you're really seeing is the Iraqis in some cases taking their own future into their hands and that's the only thing that's going to bring solutions to Iraq to bring victory or success to Iraq as we think of it. The question for the United States will be to what extent do our troops add or subtract to that security picture in the future.
FOREMAN: Do you see real movement from the Iraqi politicians at this point?
HICKS: To the extent that you see any movement, you're seeing it at the local level. Again, this is happening in some parts of Baghdad. It's happening in al Anbar. And at the national level, you still have essentially a stalemate and it's questionable over the summer how much reconciliation you'll see happening..
FOREMAN: Paula Hancocks, there's been this sense very much that it was the tribal leaders, the people out in the western part of al Anbar who started making this work. How much are you seeing other tribal leaders around the nation wanting to join in this effort? And in effect, can that mean stabilizing the country from the outside in to Baghdad, not from Baghdad out?
HANCOCKS: Tom, the very fact that this kind of incident is spreading towards Baghdad, it's spreading into the capital, is very significant. The fact we have seen this in Anbar, some of these Sunni insurgent groups in particular are really sick and tired of what al Qaeda is doing. Al Qaeda is indiscriminate in its attacks. These Sunni insurgents are specific. They don't want to see their own people dying. They want to get rid of these U.S. troops. Certainly the fact that that is moving closer to the center does give some room for hope. But on the other hand, it also means that possibly you're just moving these troubles into different areas. Anbar certainly has quieted down but then you'll just see this moving closer to Baghdad. At one point does it stop moving and they have to confront the problem.
FOREMAN: The ground commander in Iraq had some things to say about it, the notion that we may be changing the timetable as well. We've been talking all about September. Listen to what he said this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: I have to wait and see what happens. And if I think I might need a little more time, I'll give an assessment and say, bit I'd like to have more time. If I don't think I need more time and I can make an adequate assessment that's accurate, I will do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Kathleen, what are we supposed to make of this? There's a fear on one side saying yes, we've been told to wait for years now and maybe this is yet another delay for no good reason, the other fear being, maybe there's real progress and we ought to wait. How do we sort it out?
HICKS: I think this is when you get into this now tired analogy of the Baghdad clock and the Washington clock. September is the Washington clock. And they're going to have to make some statement in September. And as General Odierno (ph) said, the statement might be, here's our progress, but I'm going to have to give you a statement again later. But the fact of the matter is for the American domestic situation, you're going to have some movement in September, particularly with the Republicans pushing on the president to get a resolution to what we're going to do in Iraq.
FOREMAN: Do you think political leaders here in Washington have knowledge beyond what we know in the general public that would give them reason to be fearful of too precipitous of a pullout even if that's what we're going to do?
HICKS: I don't think it's knowledge beyond what the public has but I think there's a lot of reason to fear a precipitous withdrawal. First of all, it's pretty difficult to withdraw 120,000 U.S. troops we have in Iraq. It will take at least a year to do that even if we were to do it so-called precipitously. I think it will be somewhat of a shock to the public how long it will take to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. The sooner we talk about that, the better.
FOREMAN: I want to go back to Barbara. Very quickly at the end here, Barbara, there's been some noise that people are talking about a Korea model where we might have U.S. troops in Iraq for the remainder of all of our natural lives. Does that have a lot of traction at the Pentagon?
STARR: It's something they're thinking about for long-term stability. But of course the elephant in that closet is, what about the rest of the Middle East? What will the Iranians, what will the Syrians think if U.S. troops announce that they're staying for the next 50 years?
FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Barbara, Kathleen and Paula as well. Iraq will be a key question, perhaps the key question when the presidential candidates go head-to-head in the first real battleground state, New Hampshire. The Democrats debate on Sunday and the Republicans face off on Tuesday. Live at 7:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN. You do not want to miss it. Coming up later this hour, Americans are in Iranian jails. U.S. Aircraft carriers are in the Persian Gulf and Iran's nuclear program is going full blast. So why are the U.S. and Iran sitting down to negotiate now? We'll try to clarify a very confused relationship.
And straight ahead, the American who sells the new, improved al Qaeda. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
ADAM GADAHN, AMERICAN AL QAEDA MEMBER: You and your people will, Allah willing, experience things which will make you forget all about the horrors of September 11th (INAUDIBLE) and Virginia Tech.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Azam (ph) the American threatening the United States in an al Qaeda videotape released on Tuesday. Threats are one thing. But this video of Azam, formerly Adam Gadahn from southern California is a prime example of the highly produced and media-savvy al Qaeda propaganda that now floods the Internet. Propaganda and recruiting a new generation of home-grown terrorists, the same way you'd sell soap. Can this slick campaign be stopped? At the CNN center in Atlanta, Octavia Nasr, CNN's senior editor for Arab affairs joins us and with me in Washington Ben Venzke, the head of Intelcenter, a company that tracks terrorist groups worldwide. Ben, let's start with you. This isn't just a low level ad campaign.
BEN VENZKE, INTELCENTER: No, this is an extremely sophisticated, packed with resources, the latest technology that they're adopting very aggressively because they feel it's a critical and important element of their operations.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at one of the things which your group Intelcenter found on this. This is a videotape put together by one of these groups, essentially a video contest for the best attacks upon coalition forces. So this then is actually an awards contest online from various terror groups saying, let's award the video production and the quality of the bombing. This just is mind-boggling to look at.
VENZKE: It really is. When you think about it, it's almost like something like from a "Saturday Night Live" skit until you realize these are actual real attacks and what they're doing is, they're using this to boost morale, to try to encourage their fighters to do better, whether it's filming the operation or whether they're bombing something, to do it in a much more spectacular way. Just like in any other profession or job, people would like credit. They want to be recognized for what they're doing and that's what they're using this for.
FOREMAN: It's terrible to look at. But let's take a look now at who they're reaching out to. A lot of these videotapes are being used to reach out to Diaspora communities, people who grew up in some of these troubled areas who now live in Indonesia, who live over the Middle East, who maybe even live up in Europe to try to get them to pay attention. Octavia, specifically in those communities, who are they reaching out for? OCTAVIA NASR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The extreme, simply the extreme, definitely not the mainstream. You go to these web sites, hundreds of them on the Internet and you find a lot of enthusiasts, people who cheer (INAUDIBLE) send them to their friends and some experts are very worried that having Adam Gadahn speak in clear English and address the American population, those experts are worried that his message could be reaching the U.S.
FOREMAN: Ted Rowlands reported earlier this week about the value of Gadahn to this movement. Listen to his report for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gadahn's importance to al Qaeda seems evident. He's introduced by bin Laden's top deputy, Ahman al Zawahiri and still, it's Gadahn that dominates the more than 45-minute message.
ADAM GADAHN: We have no choice but to fight those who fight us.
ROWLANDS: Because he knows the United States and speaks perfect English, experts say Gadahn is clearly a valuable asset for al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Do you think, Ben, that the insurgents understand the propaganda war better than we do because they certainly seem to be going at it full boar.
VENZKE: I think in many ways they do. Not only do they understand it better but I think they've proven that they have the ability to quickly adapt and adopt different things that they feel will advance that even further. So in other words, they can see the importance and then they can quickly then bring those things online in a matter of days whereas in other places, you would have constant discussion and debate about the right course.
FOREMAN: Octavia, how quickly has their message been changing on these websites?
NASR: It's been changing. First of all, the technical aspect of the message is changing. It's becoming better and better by the message. We're not seeing much training video as we used to see years ago but definitely the quality is better. The message is clear and simple. And they're staying on message. Whether you hear Zawahiri or Adam Gadahn or anyone else from al Qaeda, it seems that their message is clear and focused.
FOREMAN: Let me ask you this, Ben. One of the things that I understand from this is that one of the things they're also doing with these web sites is often tracking who comes to look at them. They're trying to have a sense of who they can reach out to. If you visit a lot of times, if you write questions and say, tell me about your movement, then you're more likely to get steered toward deeper levels of contact. Do you see evidence of that? VENZKE: The one thing that the Internet allows them to do as a recruitment took, is it allows them to very safely filter through people to determine who are very serious, who are just sort of sitting on the edges that like the idea of participating but aren't really going to go forward with an operation. And also to hopefully from their point of view screen out possible intelligence operatives and others that are looking to penetrate their organization. So that kind of filtering process does occur through the different web sites.
FOREMAN: So Octavia, do you see different levels of these sites, some that are basically fundraising sites or simply informational sites and then some that indicate a much deeper level of commitment?
NASR: It's really all three combined, definitely. These messages, when they put them out, they really don't expect an immediate response. And they're very patient. They say that through their messages, through their message boards and in their chat rooms. They're very patient. They put the word out there. We need experts. We need people to sign up for attacks and so forth, and basically the frequency of those videotapes indicate that they feel very successful with their target audience.
FOREMAN: Ben, very quickly, you know the tech side of this. Can anything be done to stop it? If they're posting all this stuff, why can't we track it back to them?
VENZKE: Stopping it? No. There's nothing that we can do about that. As far as tracking back, we can put a lot of resources towards it, but it's an extremely difficult process.
FOREMAN: All right, thanks so much, Ben Vezke from Intelcenter for being here, Octavia Nasr as well.
straight ahead, why can't the world community stop the genocide in Darfur? We'll go to the UN for the latest.
And in just a few minutes, we'll get the lowdown on this week's presidential debates in New Hampshire. What to expect from CNN, the best political team on television.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I promise this to the people of Darfur -- the United States will not avert our eyes from a crisis that challenges the conscience of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: President Bush on Tuesday announces sanctions on Sudanese leaders to stop what the U.S. has termed genocide in the Darfur region. But other nations have been reluctant to impose sanctions much less support putting more troops on the ground to stop the bloodshed. Why is the UN unable to act in the face of 200,000 dead and even two million plus driven from their homes? CNN's senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth is at his post and in our New York bureau John Pendergrast, senior adviser to the international crisis group and co-author with actor Don Cheadle of "Not on Our Watch, the Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond." John, let me start with you. New sanctions, will they do anything?
JOHN PRENDERGAST, CO-AUTHOR, "NOT ON OUR WATCH": I think it's not enough. You've got to work multilaterally. You got to work through the United Nations Security Council now to make a difference in Sudan today. So for the United States to issue unilateral sanctions, those things are meaningless. They've already been discounted by the Sudanese. The real action begins now up in New York where if the United States can work with the French and the British to get a significant resolution on the table and passed through the council, that will actually, that will actually make a difference in the calculations to the Khartoum regime.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at the map and have a sense of where we're talking about. As we move in and look at Sudan, this is Darfur over in this part of the country over in this direction where all the terrible carnage has been taking place. Richard reported earlier this week on the sense that there are real roadblocks to this internationally. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Despite U.S. pressure, this new sanctions resolution is not a slam dunk. Security Council power China buys most of Sudan's oil and has staunchly defended what it portrays as Sudan's right to police its own territory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Richard, is this the fundamental problem here that China is standing in the way or is there simply a lack of will of many nations to do anything about this?
ROTH: It's both of those reasons. It goes to the core of the UN problem right now, the inability to police its own members and get tough on one of its own. It's a big, private international club now and Sudan does not seemingly warrant high enough crisis attention to get the big powers to really throw their weight around on the Sudan issue. I asked the Chinese ambassador Wang (ph) on Friday afternoon again, what's your sense on this resolution? He said it's not helpful at this time. They prefer diplomacy. So does the secretary general of the UN who I asked on Friday again. He even in fact said China has been helpful and we've been even hearing that from some U.S.officials. They'd still like to pursue diplomatic means as the violence continues.
FOREMAN: Richard, aren't people at the UN worried about making this organization, the UN completely irrelevant because there seems to be a sense, certainly in the U.S., that far too often it's talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, faced with something like Darfur, no action.
ROTH: Very few diplomats wants to stick out and be the irritant to the fly there to really stir things up. And Secretary General (INAUDIBLE) definitely preferred a quieter diplomacy behind the scenes. He could have come into office with new political capital and been what at times was known as the secular pope. He decided he thought it could be worked out with the government of Sudan, which lied to him on several occasions despite face to face meetings. They have heard the irrelevancy charge before during other crises but Sudan has been called a genocide to the U.S., but it's not enough to get the security council to do something enough about it fast enough.
FOREMAN: Sudan's government still says that nothing really is going on effectively. Listen to what the ambassador said here in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN UKEC LUETH UKEC, SUDAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: The sanctions are unwarranted. They should not be done by this time when my government is constructively and objectively working towards a comprehensive peace in the entire country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: John, you hear him saying they're working constructively toward comprehensive peace in the entire country. Every report out of Darfur says that's simply not true. What is your reaction?
PRENDERGAST: Nothing really truly could be further from the truth. You have the government of Sudan both destroying and obstructing in Darfur. The destruction occurs by virtue of their turning on and off the aid tap. A million people are now in Darfur inaccessible to humanitarian assistance because of targeted violence and because of aid restrictions, bureaucratic restrictions on aid agencies. That's an incredible number of people that we ought to be alarmed about and galvanizing for action. The destruction occurs on the ground by supporting militias. The obstruction occurs by virtue of blocking aid agencies in delivering humanitarian assistance.
FOREMAN: Richard, how concerned are you about this roadblock really at the UN because the simple truth is, if Iraq went away today, there's not much appetite in the U.S. for saying, oh, we, the United States, should just go solve some other problem, because people will say, we tried that in places. It hasn't always worked out so well. Seems like the UN has to lead the way.
ROTH: Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan have convinced the Bush administration, apparently, that there isn't a public appetite. I don't know. I might disagree on that. George Clooney, Mia Farrow, celebrity power may indeed work out. There's a real campaign to have the Beijing Olympics known as the genocide Olympics. It was enough to get China to send and establish a special envoy for Darfur. They were stung by the early criticism. I wouldn't rule out China acquiescing on this resolution. The problem is it may be too little too late. There's not that much teeth in this resolution.
FOREMAN: John, what do you think will break the roadblock? What could move it forward? PRENDERGAST: On the one hand, Richard is right. I think that actually China -- they're not going to veto a resolution. If the French who have a new spirit about trying to resolve the Darfur question with the president, work with the United States along with Great Britain, I think we can press forward a resolution that does have some significant teeth and provide some incentive for Khartoum to reconsider. But more importantly, China working with the United States and working with the French, diplomatically working together I think provides a golden opportunity now to encourage good cop and bad cop, encourage the Sudanese that the time is up. They've got to work. They've got to allow the UN-led force into Darfur and they've got to get serious about a peace deal.
FOREMAN: Seems like a very long road ahead and even longer if you're sitting in Darfur. John, Richard, thanks so much for being here.
Still to come, the first time in almost 30 years, the U.S. and Iran sit down and talk. Is this the beginning of a relationship or a diplomatic dead end?
And later, where do the presidential candidates stand on the vital questions of war and peace? A debate preview on THIS WEEK AT WAR.
TOM FOREMAN, HOST: Winston Churchill once said that "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war." It probably sounds better with a British accent but his point was that talking is preferable to fighting. But which one will win out in the extreme complex relationship between the United States and Iran?
Robin Wright is national security staff writer at "The Washington Post" and the author of "Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East."
Iran and the U.S. are talking now, Robin. Are they making any real progress?
ROBIN WRIGHT, NATIONAL SECURITY STAFF WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, this was the beginning. Remember they haven't talked for almost three decades and getting them to the table itself is a major feat. This is a get-acquainted session. There are clear indications that there may be a second meeting but it's going to take a lot more than a few meetings to resolve the issues they have just in Iraq. And of course there are many other even more daunting issues that they face, including the issue of Iran's nuclear program.
FOREMAN: We always like to remind our viewers with the map of exactly what we're talking about. Iran is right over here. It shares a big border with Iraq, a lot of complaints about Iranians sending troops even to some degree, advisers and/or weapons across into Iraq. Some Iranians were arrested in Iraq. They've been held there. Now some Americans have been picked up in Iraq. Listen to what the president said about that.
"I strongly condemn their detention at the hands of Iranian authorities. They should be freed immediately and unconditionally."
How much, Robin is this complicating these talks, the fact that Americans are sitting in jails and that Iranians are sitting in a different jail?
WRIGHT: It doesn't complicate the Iraqi issue per se but it does complicate the relationship. And this comes at a very difficult time, a number of Americans who are dual nationals detained in Iran, going as far back as December. And this is going to be a sore point. Many in the United States want this issue to be put on the table when the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq meets his counterpart from Iran.
The U.S. is trying to say, no, this is a forum only for discussion of the future stability of Iraq. The danger is, if you expand those talks that they then get into all the other issues between the two countries and there are many.
FOREMAN: Let's say that these ancillary issues can be kept off the table right now. Let's talk about just the Iraq part. What does Iran want from these talks?
WRIGHT: Well, Iran actually holds all the trump cards. The United States has very little when it comes to the issue of Iraq. Iran has more influence. It has better intelligence operation inside Iraq than the United States does. It has very strong alliances with the largest three Shiite parties, control government politics. At the moment, they're the dominant block. They have had a relationship with Iran, been armed, trained, funded by Iran, dating back more than two decades.
The United States is in the awkward position of having to ask Iran to limit its influence, to stop training militias, to stop transferring arms to its allies in Iraq.
FOREMAN: And let me go back to the question then. What does Iran -- if they have all those trump cards, what do they even want out of this? What can they get out of these negotiations?
WRIGHT: I think the one thing that Iran wants most is for the United States to leave. And there are those who believe that this is a kind of managed chaos. In other words, challenge the United States as much as you can and its allies in Iraq, press them or push them into leaving and then having an Iraq that is allied very closely with Iran.
FOREMAN: One of the things that raised by the ambassador, Ryan Crocker, after four hours of talks with Iran, is that you really have to look at actions not just words. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: We're going to want to wait and see not what is said next but what happens next on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Robin, what do you think we can expect on the ground, anything from Iran at this point or do we have to get through more talks first?
WRIGHT: I think we'll have to go through many more talks. This is something that we are asking and Iran has the leverage. And you know it takes incentive to act. And I'm not sure what incentive Iran has. It does not want to see a totally unstable Iraq down the road, but it does want the U.S. troops to leave, not just because of Iranian influence in Iraq but also because it doesn't want American troops to move further east into Iran.
FOREMAN: Does Iran seem intently aware of the fact that all -- intensely aware that all they have to do is just wait because the clock is ticking so hard now and so loudly in the U.S. these days?
WRIGHT: I think that's a very important point. The Iranians don't feel the kind of pressure to act. This is something they can sit on the sidelines, talk to the United States any number of times, perhaps withdraw a little bit of actions. It can play with the United States, in other words, and then wait and tell the United States either move some bases or withdraws from Iraq altogether.
FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Robin Wright at "The Washington Post."
WRIGHT: Thank you.
FOREMAN: In all likelihood, the future of troops like these is going to be decided by who wins the White House in 2008. For some, it will be a question of life or death. We'll discuss the presidential campaign next on THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: In a poll taken on Thursday, the issues that most voters thought were extremely important were terrorism and the war in Iraq. With that in mind, let's dig into where the presidential candidates stand on these issues. Joining me, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and chief national correspondent John King. Both of them are in Manchester, New Hampshire preparing for the upcoming presidential debates here on CNN. And with me here in Washington, senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
Let's go to the big board first and look at what the Democrats have to say about this. Those supporting phased troop withdrawal are Clinton, Biden and Dodd. Those who want combat troops out by '08, that's Edwards and Obama. And those who want all troops out by '07, that's Richardson, Gravel and Kucinich. It's a bit of an oversimplification but those are the general camps that they're in.
Candy, let me start with you, this is supposed to be based on last year's election the Democrats' issue. Which one of those options do most Democrats like the most? CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, in the end, the left, which is who we're talking about in the primary season, in the caucus season, wants out of this war as quickly as possible. Having said that, you have to understand that the one issue that overrides how do you stand on the war is who can win this election? So in some case, you have to take some people out of this mix and say, whoever comes up with the most concrete plan to remove troops as quickly as possible is going to be the one that wins this election because it is the left of the party that is going to vote in the primaries in the caucuses.
FOREMAN: So Bill Schneider, is the left the anchor for the Democrats or is it the anchor that might drag them down in the general if they rush too much to that direction?
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Democrats are almost unanimously anti-war. That's not just the left, it's Democratic rank and file across the country. In every poll we've taken, over 90 percent of Democrats oppose this war. That's even more than we used to find during the Vietnam War when Democrats turned against the war started by their own administration.
They want out. They want the war over, or at least American troops withdrawn as soon as possible. And a lot of Democrats are angry that a lot of Democrats in Congress did vote to continue funding the war without a timeline for withdrawal. You mentioned the top two issues, terrorism and Iraq. For Democrats, it's Iraq. For Republicans, the top issue is terrorism. And they see the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism.
FOREMAN: But John, is this something that in the general election that these candidates can afford to court too heavily now because they spent the last week explaining their vote on the war funding bill. How much explanation will they have to do if they lean toward the side that says get out now?
JOHN KING, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely no question, Tom. That is a concern from a general election perspective. Bill and Candy are dead right. The juice and the energy in the Democratic Party right now is end this war yesterday. And the candidates have to respond to that. That is one of the factors in why Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, both of whom have said they would never vote to cut off funding for the troops, voted against funding the troops because there was no timeline for President Bush to get the troops out.
They now said they had to send a signal to the president. The delicate balancing act for the Democrats is most independent voters also have turned against the war. So you can be against the war in Iraq. You can say get the troops home as soon as possible. The Democrats then have to in the next breath though, thinking about the general election say that doesn't mean I wouldn't have gone into Afghanistan, that doesn't mean I won't look for Osama bin Laden, that doesn't mean I'm afraid to use military force when necessary to combat terrorism. They need to make that distinction. FOREMAN: Let's look at where the Republican candidates are stacking up. Almost all of them are in favor of some continuation of the Bush plan, McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Gilmore, Huckabee, Thompson, Hunter. Opposing the Bush plan, Brownback and Tancredo and Hall.
What do you do if you're a Republican, Bill Schneider? You're looking at this election and saying, this is our war, in effect?
SCHNEIDER: It is, indeed and Republicans are getting nervous about it even though the amazing thing is they have stood pretty solidly behind the president, voting almost unanimously in Congress to support funding for this war. But they're very nervous. They're nervous, because as John said, most of the country, not just Democrats, but most of the country, including independents have turned against the war and about a third of Republicans now have, too.
What Republicans are saying is we'll continue to support this but September is kind of a deadline. You keep hearing that here in Washington. They're saying we're supporting not so much the Bush plan as what they call the Petraeus plan because they trust him and his leadership. But if things don't turn around by September and Petraeus is not promising they will, then Republicans are saying we may not be able to hold on much longer.
FOREMAN: Candy, how actively do you think we can expect or will it happen that Republicans will really start running hard away from the war and away from the war policy and away from the White House?
CROWLEY: Well, the fact of the matter is they're already stepping away from it. If you go out with some of these candidates, what you hear is, it was really great we got rid of Saddam Hussein but by the way this war hasn't been run well since then. There's been a problem with the carry-out of the war. So you hear that from McCain, you hear that from Mitt Romney, you hear that from Rudy Giuliani. So they're already trying to get some distance.
Listen, the closer this election comes, the further away these Republicans are going to get from the Bush administration and this war.
FOREMAN: John, what happens if things change? What if the summer starts trending up? We've seen the movement called the awakening in part of the country over there where the tribal leaders are saying, we want to get al Qaeda out of here and we quiet things down. Is that going to throw everything up in the air for both sides if by fall or, say, Christmas things are better?
KING: Well, it is a point worth making and making over and over again because we're having a conversation in June 2007 and we'll pick a president in November 2008. But the primary campaign decisions will be made before and based on the situation on the ground.
But yes, if the so-called troop surge starts to work, well then guess what, John McCain is going the say; I was for it a long time before George W. Bush was for it. I helped push him into it. I should get some credit, no doubt about it. If things get worse between now and September when General Petraeus will give that report to Congress, there will be pressure, as Candy just noted, for the Republicans to not only break away from the president, to be much more clear about what they would do next.
The Republican answer right now is what would you do in Iraq is we have to wait until September. As you get closer and closer not only to September, but when voters make decisions, you can demand, and these debates are a good test for it this week, to say you want to be president of the United States, you don't get to wait, you don't get to pass the buck, answer the decision, what would you do.
FOREMAN: Do you think all of you, let me throw it out to you right now, when you look at terrorism and when you look at the war right now, do you think that any candidate wants to be very explicit about what they want to do with this or do you think at this point thy they need to stay a little squishy on their plans?
KING: Tom, I think everybody needs to be careful on this issue because you will have somebody like a Rudy Giuliani who will say you never know when this is coming so you have to be prepared and you have to be tough and you have to be ready to leave. But you don't know what you're going to deal with. I didn't know those buildings were going to collapse. I didn't know what I was going to get.
So they will say a lot of this is just -- you can't answer certain questions because you don't know what form the next attack might take. So what they want to say is I will be tough, I will not repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration.
Candy noted how the Republicans say it is good that Saddam is gone. Most of the Republicans running for president say it's also good that Donald Rumsfeld is gone and I would have done it a lot sooner than this president.
FOREMAN: And Candy, how closely are all of these campaigns monitoring the week-to-week events over that precisely because of this?
CROWLEY: Absolutely they have to. And as John says, and it's absolutely true, it's like terrorism. The war in Iraq can turn on a dime. It can change, although the Democrats are banking that it won't change. They're sort of in deeper than the Republicans who have been kind of weighing what's going to happen here in the next couple of months.
FOREMAN: And a lot of weird twists happen in politics, Bill. When we look at something as volatile as terrorism and as volatile as war, do you think right now that anybody really knows what the right position would be to have by election time?
SCHNEIDER: By election time, no. We don't know what's going to be the case is going to be next year. Everything could look much better. Everything could be tragically worse. We just don't know. All they can do is try to persuade Americans, I'm in a position to lead, you can trust me, I have credentials. And that means really two rather different things: I will figure out a way out of Iraq for Americans to stop Americans and Iraqis from getting killed and I will protect the nation against the terrorist threat. So they have these sorts of two different faces at the same time.
FOREMAN: Difficult challenge for both sides in this. We'll see how it works out.
Bill, Candy, John, thank you all so much for being here.
FOREMAN: Remember, the presidential candidates go head-to-head in the first real battleground state, New Hampshire, right here on CNN. The Democrats battle on Sunday and the Republicans face off on Tuesday live at 7:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN. You don't want to miss it. Important questions and important answers that really matter to our nation now.
And straight ahead, the senior class president returns to his old school. It's a story that you don't want to miss on THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: Now a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. On Tuesday, the town of Tipton, Ohio paid its final respects to Army Specialist David Behrle. Twelve hundred friends and family packed into a school gymnasium to remember Tipton High School's senior class president and commencement speaker, killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on May 19th. One former teacher shared his stories and spoke about what David meant to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE WADE, FORMER TEACHER AND COACH: David is gone, but I can't help but feel that he is still pushing us to be our best and will do so for the rest of our lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Specialist Behrle was just 20 years old.
In just a moment, Italy tries to put what they say are CIA agents on trial. We'll have that story, but first, a final look at others who fell in THIS WEEK AT WAR
FOREMAN: I said at the beginning of this program that we often treat presidential politics as a game, but 2008 will be a war-time election. It's a certainty that at least some of the U.S. troops will still be in Iraq when the new president places his or her hand on the Bible on that cold January morning and swears to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.
In wartime, an election is an extremely important event. It proves the resilience of our democracy, that we can vigorously debate policy while our troops are in the field. It also represents a national decision on how to make war. Yes, politicians always make promises they can't or won't keep. But as citizens, we are tasked with deciding who has the right stuff to lead us in dangerous times.
So, please, listen to the upcoming debates, analyze the positions, ask the tough questions. It is the least that those of us who sit at home can do for all of our fellow citizens we have sent into harm's way.
Turning now to some of the stories we'll be following in the next week at war. Monday, a military hearing begins for Staff Sergeant Frank Woolrich accused of 13 counts of unpremeditated murder of Iraqi civilians in Haditha. And Friday, a trial is scheduled to begin in Milan for five Italians and 26 Americans on charges of kidnapping a radical Egyptian cleric. The Italian prosecutor claims that most of the Americans are CIA agents. However, none of them have been extradited to Italy.
Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR, I'm Tom Foreman.
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