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THIS WEEK AT WAR
Week's War-Related Events Reviewed
Aired October 7, 2007 - 13:00 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: In Iraq, the number of military and civilian deaths is down again. Is this a turning point or just the lull before another storm? What effect is the war having on the presidential campaign? And for weeks we've been seeing images of repression on the streets of (INAUDIBLE), but there is another war, a brutal genocide hidden deep in the jungles of Myanmar. THIS WEEK AT WAR right after a look at what's in the news right now.
TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. Here's what's happening now in the news. We hear about Iraqi insurgent attacks often, but rarely do we get to see one as close as it happened. But this apparent assassination attempt on Baghdad's governor was caught on tape by a videographer as - with the Associated Press. Now the governor and his security force were not hurt.
Showing solidarity with pro-democracy demonstrators in Myanmar, demonstrators across the world rallied today in an international day of action against the Myanmar's military junta. Activists blasted the junta for killing, detaining and threatening protesters over the last several weeks. I'm Tony Harris. More news at the half hour. Now back to Tom Foreman and THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: Here is where we stand in THIS WEEK AT WAR. As the government of Myanmar clamps down on the big cities, evidence mounts of other atrocities committed by the military regime.
It's a positive step for U.S. defenses as anti-missile systems go online. As more facts come out, new black eyes for Blackwater. And an entire army of soldiers for hire. On the campaign trial, candidates are saying they don't know if U.S. troops will be out of Iraq in the next five years. And in Iraq, an up arrow as fewer soldiers and civilians are dying there. OK. That's the status report and here is where we will be going to find out what's next.
Dan Rivers has been in the jungles of Burma investigating Myanmar's other war. Is the world standing by while thousands are being killed? Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is in Colorado Springs, home to NORAD, where they may be looking at the beginnings of a new cold war. But first we'll go to Baghdad where CNN International's Jim Clancy has been reporting on the progress of the war. We'll ask if this drop-off in fatalities is just a statistical blip or is this a sign of real progress we've all waited so long for. All coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR.
Numbers really shouldn't be the way we measure death. Every death results in an unimaginable amount of grief and loss to family and friends, but it's one of the few ways we have to measure progress in the long and bloody war in Iraq. Last month, those numbers were down. Fewer U.S. troops and fewer Iraqi civilians died than the month before. So is this real progress or is it just a mirage? CNN International anchor Jim Clancy is in Baghdad joining us now. With me in Washington, Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor who writes on questions of military tactics and transformation. Jim, let me start with you on the ground there. Is there a sense of progress?
JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a sense of progress from the top down on the U.S. side. From the Iraqi side, a little less uncertain. I can tell you that coming back into this city and seeing it with fresh eyes after some two years, this is the best I've seen Baghdad in a while. I sat down and talked with U.S. troops. They also see a distinct improvement here. But when you talk to Iraqis, they're a little bit afraid about those numbers. Only 300 Iraqi bodies found on the streets of Baghdad. A lot of people number one, don't buy the number. They still feel that they're afraid to go to their homes. So how is it going? It depends on who you ask, but there's a general trend here. Looking at those numbers, they tell a story that something is working. No single reason why, though, Tom.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at some of those numbers. This is a chart of the U.S. troops killed in Iraq from the beginning. You can see it's up and down, big spikes, some valleys here and there. In 2006, we look at this number, 65. Remember that. That was in August. Then we can look at 112 in December, the highest number for that year. As we move into this year, February was down to about 81. From there, it went up again to 126. But then, this is where we are now, 66. Remember the 65? That's how far back you have to go to find a number like that. I also want to look very briefly now at the civilian casualties. We have to mention that as well. In July, there were about 1,700 of those. In August, almost 2,000 of those. In September, 988. Colonel, is this progress or not?
COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (RET), MILITARY ANALYST: Well if we start with the U.S. casualties, I think one month's data is not evidence for a dramatic trend or turning point of any kind. One of the things that we do have to take into consideration is that Anbar province is now relatively pacific compared with what it was. We took over the last four years between 10 and 20 percent of our casualties in Anbar. The arrangements we've made there to allow the people to stand up their own police, their own security forces and we are paying them handsomely in hard cash not to shoot at us have made a profound difference. That may account to some extent for this reduction. But we don't know. It's just too difficult to say. But to suggest at this point, as you pointed out earlier, we were at 65 in August and then we had a sudden upsurge. We could have another upsurge. It's very difficult to predict these things because we don't necessarily control how many casualties we take.
FOREMAN: OK. Even if it's difficult to predict, Michael, does that make it meaningless to look at these numbers or do we just have to take them with a certain grain of salt?
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Grain of salt. I agree with Colonel Macgregor. One month or even a couple of months of a trend line on the U.S. fatalities is too soon to read much from that. However, the Iraqi fatality numbers are I think substantially down throughout the course of the year. That is good news about the trend line. It is not good news about the absolute level we're at now. Iraq is still as violent as it was in 2005. So I think we can say in some sense, the strategy is making progress, but we're nowhere near a sustainable stability yet.
FOREMAN: And Jim Clancy, is that the general sense there as well?
CLANCY: Yeah. It's not even our strategy. A lot of this is coming about because the Sunnis that were allied with al Qaeda have come to the realization -- al Qaeda telling them we're at war until victory. We're going ahead. We're going to throw out the infidels, take over the country. And they see it's not going to be possible. They see the Shia taking up their positions in government. They see it as a fait accompli, happening before their eyes and they're saying no, we've got to get in on this. Al Qaeda is taking us in the wrong direction. They've made the change there. What the U.S. gets credit for is really adapting to that, picking it up and saying, we will facilitate that. And I think that should be reflected in the numbers going ahead. But, you know, as our other guests are saying, there's no way to predict any of this. And we all know that al Qaeda is trying to plan, trying to carry out some kind of a spectacular attack that could really skew all the numbers. Iraq is a situation we're going to have to play it week by week, day by day, month by month.
FOREMAN: I want to keep moving quickly through this, because one of the things that seems to me is underestimated in this is what the Iraqis are doing. There does seem to be sort of a broad approach in Iraq right now saying we don't want al Qaeda here. We may want to fight with each other, but we don't want al Qaeda to be part of it. What are you thoughts?
MACGREGOR: Well first of all, I think you would find if you went back to 2003, that the Sunni Muslim population of central Iraq, which is what we've occupied, never wanted al Qaeda in the country to begin it. Al Qaeda found a home because we occupied the place and we started a rebellion against ourselves through some very stupid policies and behaviors. The population continues to hate us. If you look at the polling data, 79 percent of people polled in Iraq in August said that they disapproved on the U.S. presence. More than 50 percent, almost 60 percent approved of attacks against us.
FOREMAN: Will that change, though, if it gets quiet, if this goes beyond the month to a month to a month?
MACGREGOR: I don't think so because when you stop and consider something, all right? Iraq is now a fiction. This country is divided largely into three regions. We've had a civil war for two years. It's almost over. It's happened on our watch. The north is Kurdish. The center is Sunni. The south is Shia. They no longer have as many mixed neighborhoods, mixed villages in places where they can meet and kill each other.
FOREMAN: I want to get Michael in here on this. Do you generally agree with that or do you think there is as some Iraqis say, still some over arching sense of Iraq as a nation that can work?
O'HANLON: Well, I favor soft (ph) partition, myself where enhanced Federalism, if you want to use Senator Biden's term, but I do think we're about halfway towards that logically tragic outcome of complete ethnic separation. So I don't totally agree with the colonel on where things would be likely to go if we were not part of the picture. We have suppressed this. It would be a lot worse right now if we weren't doing the surge. However, we haven't yet answered the question, what will happen as we draw down and I'm not sure that we found any kind of a sustainable stability yet. In fact, I'm quite sure we haven't. The question is can we do so in the next one to two years.
FOREMAN: Very briefly, sort of a one-word answer here, a few months ago everybody seemed to say, gosh, it's just getting worse and worse and worse. Is it still that way or is it now positive or is it an I don't know?
O'HANLON: It's getting better, but it's not nearly good enough.
MACGREGOR: I don't think on the Iraqi side that we're seeing any improvement. What we're seeing are the coalescing of these forces in their regions. They're going to build themselves up. They're going to take whatever assistance we provide and be prepared for the fight that will ensue when we leave, whether we leave tomorrow, a year from now, two years from now or five years from now.
FOREMAN: And Jim, last word to you, getting better? Betting worse or not known?
CLANCY: Tom, right now tonight, it's a little bit better. I'll take that for what it is. But I've got to warn you, don't just look for Sunni versus Shia versus Kurd in all of this. Right now tonight, the Shia are fighting the Shia down in Basra. The Sunni are fighting the Sunni across Anbar. There's a lot more conflict ahead and it not necessarily along this tri-partite line that's being drawn in Washington.
FOREMAN: We have to cover an awful lot more of what's happening within the Shia. As we come back in coming weeks we certainly will. Jim, thanks for being here, Colonel, Michael as well, good conversation.
Later, we'll tell you about a war where the numbers are going very much the other way, where it is getting much worse and not better.
And straight ahead, are private contractors in Iraq outside the law, any law. We'll take a hard look at that. But first, as we always do, let's pause for THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Sergeant Donnie Dixon of Miami was killed last week in Balur (ph), Iraq when insurgents attacked his unit. Dixon was a member of the third brigade combat team, first cavalry division out of Ft. Hood, Texas. His sister Valencia recalls what she loved most about her brother.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VALENCIA DIXON, SISTER: He had a very strong personality, fun- loving, always saying something to make you laugh.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Sergeant Dixon was a career soldier. He enlisted in the army on his 18th birthday. And last week, he was 37 years old.
FOREMAN: On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki said in a press conference that Blackwater bodyguards should not be allowed to work in Iraq after that September 16th shoot-out where 11 Iraqis were killed. On the same day, the Polish ambassador to Iraq had his convoy hit by three IEDs and then attacked with small arms fire. A Polish bodyguard and an Iraqi were killed. The ambassador was seriously injured and how do they solve it? Blackwater was called in to send helicopters and guards into that chaos and air lift the ambassador to the hospital. You can see it's a complex situation in a complex war. Peter Singer joins us from the Brookings Institution where he's a senior fellow and with me in the studio, Zain Verjee, CNN State Department correspondent. Peter, is the role of these private contractors who are the armed contractors over there, the same as the role of our troops?
PETER SINGER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think one thing people need to wake up to is a massive presence of these security forces on the ground, these private security forces. By the head of their own trade association, they say there's about 48,000 of them in these armed tactical roles. Now, the problem is that they are meeting their contracts. Their contract is often different from the wider mission. So in the hearings we recently heard from the head of the company, Blackwater, talk about how their job, as he put it, was to get the principle off the "X," to get them out of the ambush site. And as some other contractors said, if that means, quote, pissing off the Iraqis along the way, then that's -- so be it. The challenge for soldiers is wider. They're part of an operation. They're part of a mission and so they also have to think about things like, you know, how do I win hearts and minds along the way? How do I gather intelligence? So even when civilians aren't hurt, you can still have divergent results from them. And then you get into the incidents where there's abuse, where people break the rules and where contractors often haven't been held accountable for it.
FOREMAN: Let's take a look at what we think happened in this incident. It's all based on a lot of differing testimony, some of it contradictory, but this is (INAUDIBLE) square, where this allegedly happened, something happened. We're trying to figure out exactly what. Blackwater was coming up this way in a convoy. And they set up security for another convoy that was coming that way. Something like this. According to the best testimony we can find, a car was headed this way. And there were shots fired from this way between Blackwater and this car. The car kept coming, and then broader fire broke out and it spread out for about 20 minutes throughout this area, a lot of different views as to who exactly fired first and why. We do know the results weren't good. Zain, this would seem to speak to exactly what Peter said. The mission here was to get a convoy through the square safely and if it didn't look safe, to open fire to make it safe, very different than an awful lot of diplomatic missions, an awful lot of our military missions over there.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. That's exactly right. Now, this particular incident really was the jumping-off point for the investigations that are currently underway. There was one that the State Department had an initial review of and basically, what we're hearing from the State Department that, as you know, had to move very fast and has been under an enormous amount of pressure and taking some serious heat. This review basically said three things. The first thing was that State Department employees, diplomatic security, are now going to go along with every Blackwater convoy going out of the green zone. So they're going to function kind of like chaperons, in a way, to wherever they go as a protecting diplomat.
The second thing is that they're going to mount cameras in vehicles. They're going to have radio transmissions recorded and electronic tracking systems, all in case of another incident.
FOREMAN: Precisely what happened...
VERJEE: So then they -- yeah. There's an easy way to go back and go, hey, here's what's happened. And the third thing that they want to do is improve the -- the communications with the U.S. military units in the area.
FOREMAN: Peter, what do you think? Will that make it any better?
SINGER: It's sort of like we woke up to the fact that the emperor had no clothes on and now we're saying, OK, so let's ask him a wear a scarf. It's not the complete solution. It's a slight improvement. But those kind of measures that they're taking, you can obviously see the problems with it. First, that State Department official who is going to be traveling with all these convoys, I think, you know, it was put well. They're essentially a chaperon. Funny enough, they're going to be a chaperon who's paid between $3 to $500 less a day than what the people that they're supposed to be chaperoning are paid. And what's going to be their authority over them? The same thing with the improved video. That's great, but what do you do with that video? Where is the legal accountability if someone violates the law? At least so far we haven't seen anybody held accountable.
And in the final part, great, you improved radio transmission, but Secretary Gates over on the Pentagon side said that at least 30 percent of the time when they're asked to come and rescue some of these convoys, they didn't even know they were out there. You have better coordination, but still the contractors' fundamental issue here is the contractors are carrying out contracts which at least our research shows the end effect of them, while they're valuable missions, the end effect of them still is undermining the efforts of the soldiers to do their counter insurgency mission. And then you have the other question which is, should the contractors even be in that role in the first place? FOREMAN: Well, let me bring up very quickly what the oversight Chairman Henry Waxman, said about that very thing this week. Listen to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D) HOUSE OVERSIGHT CHAIRMAN: If Blackwater and other companies are really providing better service as a lower cost, the experiment of privatizing is working. But if the costs are higher and performance is worse, then I don't understand why we're doing this. It makes no sense to pay more for less.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Zain, very quickly, at the State Department, do they understand why we're doing this or are they saying, maybe we ought to get these guys out of there altogether?
VERJEE: Diplomats that we've spoken to both in the building at the State Department, but also on the ground in Iraq have said, look. OK, here's the issue. Yes, we are paying Blackwater at least, you know, over the past years a billion dollars, but we really need these guys. And the reason is, we won't be able to do our jobs, they told me, without them. They say the military is stretched. Diplomatic security doesn't have the experience or the qualifications to provide that kind of security in a dangerous war zone. But one diplomat, though in Iraq that we did speak to though said to me, yeah, OK, maybe there are a few trigger-happy cowboys in this really stressful and dangerous area, but by and large, they're well-disciplined and they allow us to conduct our foreign policy.
FOREMAN: And I'm afraid with that we're out of time, Peter and Zain, thank you both. A lot more to talk about on this and I'm sure we'll wind up doing just that.
Next we're going to turn from a war that you've sadly know far too well to a hidden conflict that you probably never heard of, a war that has been going on for 60 years. Imagine that. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
FOREMAN: When the British left Burma in 1948, control of that country fell to the Burmans, the ethnic group that makes up 60 to 70 percent of the population. Now let's turn to the map because immediately after that, conflict broke out with many other groups, one of the largest being the Karen, about three million people with their own language and alphabet by many people called a country within a country down here by the Thai border. It's been called the longest- running civil war in the world, but in the past few years, the military junta that runs Myanmar has turned to increasingly brutal tactics against the Karen. CNN International correspondent Dan Rivers has visited the Karen region several times. He joins us from Islamabad, where he's covering the election in Pakistan. And in San Diego, Dustin Kinney who got together a group of friends and decided to make a documentary on this hidden war. Dustin, exactly what is happening as the authorities there have cracked down on the Karen? DUSTIN KINNEY, FILMMAKER: Well, over the past few years, after Britain left Burma, they left it between these ethnic groups to just basically annihilate each other. So you have the Burmese, like you said, (INAUDIBLE) biggest population, took over the central government and told the other ethnic groups including the Karen people, if you want your freedom, you're going to have to fight for it because we're going to kill all of you and they've been doing that systematically over the past few decades and the Karen are losing the war.
FOREMAN: The tactics are pretty astonishing. Let's take a look at these very quickly. Forced labor is very widespread. There are about 70,000 child soldiers involved in this on the -- the entire dispute. Thousands of villages have been burned. Rape is used as a military tactic, 1.5 million refugees. Dan, one of the questions here though, is also geographically where the Karen are. Not only do they represent a political force that the government doesn't like, but they're also clustered around a river where there's hydroelectric power to be taken. They're around forests, all sorts of things that the government wants economic access and control.
DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, yeah. They sit on the -- on this river that we journeyed up when we visited one of the villages on the border. It was pretty shocking it must be said when we visited. There was a small collection of bamboo huts with, I guess, about -- a couple of thousand people living there, a lot of them in incredible suffering, incredible poverty. There were a lot of people there suffering from malaria, malnutrition. We saw land mine victims. The Myanmar army has set land mines across a lot of the territory there. A lot of people have had limbs blown off, their arms blown off.
FOREMAN: The simple fact is, we can show you our viewers precisely what happened. Look at these. These are satellite images from December 2000 to December 2006. Look at this. In this one, you can see a Karen village over here. That's what these little shapes are. These are the houses. This is the same area just a few years later and you can see that it's been simply wiped clean. The houses are gone, the people are gone, everything gone.
Here's another example from just a - roughly around the same time. These are Karen huts. People gathered here, homes in this area in December of 2000. December 2006, another pass, same area, once again wiped clean. There's no sign of those people still living there because of precisely what Dan was describing there. And now look at this. On the Thailand side where many of these refugees go, this was a refugee camp in November of 2002. It's a little small compound here, not that big, same camp, February 2005, three years later. Look at this, hard to make them out. But hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dwellings here and roads cutting all through it. Enormous swelling of the refugees running from this place. Dustin, is there really any place for these people to run to?
KINNEY: It seems like there's not. I mean up until about six years ago, Thailand cut off the borders to Burma. They actually said no more refugees. As a country, they just couldn't take any more. Now those people that are coming into these refugee camps are having to sneak over. So there isn't this comfortable place for them to come. For them to get any kind of safety, they have to escape and I've visited these refugee camps just like you've mentioned. There are thousands of people there. There are some people that have lived in these refugee camps for their whole life. This war has been going on for almost 60 years. Some of these kids that are my age have never seen their home country. They've lived in these refugee camps and there's nowhere for them to go.
FOREMAN: It seems like, Dan, there is also not much international support for doing anything about this, right? Thailand would like to have the electrical power from the river there. China's got its own concerns. Russia has got its own concerns. Is somebody on the side of the Karen?
RIVERS: It's simply not on the agenda. Now it is, thankfully, because of what's going on in Myanmar, the terrible crack-down on dissidents. But it's been very difficult to get any sort of focus on this issue, to get anything achieved on the ground.
FOREMAN: Dustin, does the government of Myanmar show any inclination to be concerned about this though, because even though there's some attention focused, there is no giant international political outcry. And even when there is an outcry over what happened in the streets of (INAUDIBLE), they turned off the Internet and they did what they wanted, it seems.
KINNEY: Exactly. That's what they've done for the last 60 years. The last uprising was in 1988. At that time, there was no widespread Internet or access like that like we have now. But at that time, they just - they don't care what the international community says. They're going to continue to kill all these people just like they promised to do almost 60 years ago and they're not letting up. They're relentless in this war.
FOREMAN: I hate to say it, Dan, but in a few years will there even be any Karen around?
RIVERS: Well, there's about 120,000 of them in about nine different refugee camps up and down the Thai border. But, I mean, you're right. This is really ethnic cleansing. There's no other way to describe it. They're being targeted because of their tribe, because of who they are. They are being forced out of Myanmar by the army. There is a resistance group, the -- the Karen national liberation army. We filmed with them as well, but they are a pretty rag tag bunch. They've got pretty poor weapons, very poor training, a lot of the soldiers in their 50s and 60s and have been fighting for decades. They don't stand a chance against the Myanmar army which is armed by China and India, has the latest weapons. They've covered this territory with land mines. It's a very, very sad and harrowing situation.
FOREMAN: And no sign of the cavalry coming to the rescue. Thank you, Dustin. Thank you, Dan.
In just a moment, we will turn to the 2008 political campaign. Some rather surprising statements on U.S. troops in Iraq. But first, we want to have a final salute to some of those who fell in this week at war.
TONY HARRIS, CNN, ANCHOR: Hello, again everyone. I'm Tony Harris. More of "This Week at War" in a moment. First, here's what's happening.
Pakistani President and U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf wins reelection by a landslide, but the ultimate say rests with Pakistan's Supreme Court, which is considering a challenge to General Musharraf's eligibility. That leaves the country in political limbo until court proceedings resume later this month.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown defies speculation saying he won't call early elections to seek a broader mandate. Britain's opposition conservatives call the decision a humiliating retreat prompted by signs of growing conservative strength.
Sad news for House Republicans today. Virginia Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis has died. Davis was the first woman ever elected by the state of Virginia to Congress. Today, Davis lost her two-year battle with breast cancer. She was 57.
I'm Tony Harris in Atlanta. Now back to Tom Foreman and "This Week at War."
FOREMAN: Last week at a debate sponsored by MS-NBC, the three leading democratic candidates gave a surprising answer to the same question. Will you commit to getting all U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2013?
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I cannot make that commitment.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's hard to project four years from now and I think it would be irresponsible, we don't know what contingency will be out there.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting. We do not know walking into the White House in January 2009 what we're going to find.
FOREMAN: With the mood in the country, can Democrats really not promise to get the troops out? Help me explore how Iraq is shaping the presidential race. Mike Allen, chief political writer of politico.com from their offices in Virginia and with me in the studio, my colleague on the campaign trail, CNN Chief National Correspondent, John King.
John, was that sound I heard democratic jaws all over the country hitting the floor when they heard their top contenders all say, no, we're not sure we can end the war in our first term.
JOHN KING, CNN, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, all of the energy in the Democratic Party right now is to the anti-war left that wants this war over yesterday, not by 2013, by yesterday. But what we're seeing from the democratic candidates, the leading candidates, there's a bit more reality. They all know they will inherit, maybe 130,000 troops, maybe 100,000 troops. Whoever the next president of the United States is, they have no idea what the security position on the ground will be. So, they want to appease the left by saying I want to end this war and get the troops out, but they also need to remember one of them will be in a general election in a few months in which the Republican candidate will be saying, you can't pull all of the troops out, even if you wanted to, even if I wanted to. It would cause a disaster if you did. So, a bit more reality in the campaign that will make the base angry.
FOREMAN: Well, Mike, all of the democrats I've been talking to in the past few weeks out in the country have just said they're not appeased at all by this. They're just flabbergasted. They feel like the democrats are moving to the right of the Republicans on the war.
MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO.COM, CHIEF POLITICAL WRITER: Which is tough to do, but, Tom, I see two reasons for this. One is John talked a little bit about the reality. And they recognized that they are going to have to, if they win, are going to have to live with what they say and they have realized with the Congress, the danger of setting expectations that you're not going to be able to meet. So, there is that reality factor that John mentioned. Second, and this is especially true on the democratic side of the contest, they want to pass the commander in chief test. They want to look serious and look like they are not pandering even though that doesn't stop them often enough.
FOREMAN: Well, they got hit right in the chops by Mike Gravel in the middle of all of this, who is the Salvador Dali of this election. Listen to what he said they ought to be doing.
(BEING VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE GRAVEL (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the house at noon every single day, you vote to override the president's veto and in 40 days the American people will have weighed in, put the pressure on those. You tell me that the votes aren't there. You go get them by the scruff of the neck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Public opinion has been so much against staying in this war, John. Why don't the Democrats do something like that? If you're anti-war, isn't that what you're asking them to do? Say, hey look suspend your campaigns for 40 days and make some real movement on this.
KING: If you ask the foreign policy experts in both parties, and these candidates privately, the leading candidates privately, they'll tell you that they understand, look, it's Collin Powell calling the Pottery Barn rule. We broke it, we need to fix it. Would they like to get to troops out of Iraq immediately? Of course, they would. But what would happen if you did that? Call all the Jordanian governments, call the Saudi government, even call the Syrian government and the Iranian government and they will tell you that there will be great instability in the region and a possibility not only of an open civil war in Iraq but that war spilling past its border. We have a key U.S. ally there in Israel. And John McCain, the democrats would agree that when he makes the statement that if you pull out too fast, if you cause this to blow up, then you'll have to send in even more. The next president of the United States has to think about that every time he or she, as a candidate, talks about when they'll get the troops out.
FOREMAN: Mike, it seems to me if I'm a Republican candidate what I'm going to say right now is, yeah, listen to the democrats. They're finally admitting what we've said all along. This is tough. It takes commitment and it takes time.
ALLEN: Right, it definitely is easier to talk about than to do. That's why John Edwards has a notably different position, which is that he would put the troops over the horizon in, for instance, Kuwait. So they would, he would guard the embassy, but everybody else would be gone, but they'd be close enough to deal with, as John points out, or prevent a situation where things blow up. But, you're right, Republicans can enjoy and believe me they don't have much to enjoy these days, can enjoy Democrats having to step away from the very voters that they are going to depend on in three months from now.
FOREMAN: John, you talked to John McCain earlier this week and he was talking about the difficulties of this war, something which seems to be playing a little bit to his hand now. Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sure. We should have listened to General ((inaudible)). We should have listened to all of those people in the military and if I may say, a bit egotistically, to me. I came back in August of 2003 and gave a speech that we don't have enough boots on the ground, we don't. And we're going to fail. And we need more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: When you listen to that kind of talk, John, I can't help but think six months ago the Democrats were clearly thinking the war will propel us into the White House. Now it's certainly seems like as an issue, a political issue, it's getting somewhere closer to back in the middle ground between the two parties.
KING: It still helps the Democrats greatly on the big picture, which is people are mad about this war. It began in a Republican administration. It was supported by a then Republican congress. If you want change, the Democrats message is you need to throw all of the Republicans out, including of the White House. So, it still helps the Democrats greatly in that account.
FOREMAN: But they still have to say they're going to change and right now they're kind of not. KING: Remember Bill Clinton ran against the butchers in Beijing and the dictators in Damascus. He came to the White House. He had very positive relationships with China and a strong, constant bilateral conversations, not a good relationship but constant conversation with Syria. Running for president and being president are very different enterprises.
FOREMAN: All right. Thanks so much John and Mike as well. We'll be talking about this so much more in the next 14 months, I'm afraid.
Now we're going to turn to our dispatches segment. Where we try and bring you the personal side of "This Week at War," far from the politics. Chief Master Sergeant Stephen Bush is with the Air Force serving in Balad, Iraq. Here's the i-Report he sent back to the home front.
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STEPHEN BUSH, AIR FORCE: Mom, Steve from Iraq, greetings. I just want to let you know I miss you and love you very much and I'm always thinking of you. Please keep us in your prayers as the months and days go by. Thank you for all that you've done to support me while I'm out here and all the great letters. I love you and miss you very much. Take care.
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FOREMAN: There's so many families conversing like this right now. We couldn't leave it there. We reached out to Steven's mother for her response as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARIE BUSH, STEPHEN BUSH'S MOTHER: Hi, Steve. I love you and miss you. We're praying for you and all of the military and armed forces and god bless all of you. Love you.
FOREMAN: Good luck to that family. Don't forget we want to see the war from your perspective, too. From the battlefront or the home front. Go to cnn.com/thisweekatwar and click on the i-Report link.
Straight ahead, as Russian bombers buzz the U.S. border, are we returning to the battle days of the cold war? Believe it or not. Stick with us.
FOREMAN: It's like something out of Dr. Strangelove. A big propeller-driven Russian bomber cruising just outside U.S. airspace. These pictures were taken from one of two U.S. F-15s that scrambled up to intercept it. It looks like the battle days of the 1960s, but it was just last month. And it's not the first time. It's the eighth time in the past three months. CNN military correspondent Barbara Starr covered this story and has been talking to military personnel at Norad in Colorado Springs and she joins us now from Denver. Barbara, what are the Russians up to? BARBARA STARR, CNN, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question, Tom. U.S. officials don't think it's really the cold war that we all knew and loved back in the 1950s and '60s. This is something else. This is the Russians making a fashion statement. Saying to their own people, their own military and the world, we're back out there. We have a presence. We're flying. We're moving around. Take notice of us. Treat us like we are the super power we used to be. And the U.S. knows that that's pretty much the game. So, still, they are responding to it. They're sending up fighters. They don't want the Russians entering U.S. airspace. They're doing a little bit of a tit for tat, but nobody thinks this is an invasion about to happen.
FOREMAN: Well, let's take a look at the map and get a sense of what we're talking about. There's Russia, there's Alaska, Canada. This is where the flights have been spotted here, we light them up there. All along the coast here down, working its way even down toward Vancouver and Seattle down here. Obviously it's being taken seriously. Listen to what the commander of Norad said to Barbara just a few days ago.
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GEN. GENE RENUART, U.S. NORTHCOM NORAD COMMANDER: We can't afford to have to have an unidentified aircraft replicate what we saw in 9/11. And so in the issue of long-range aviation, these aircraft launched and are flying out in regions that are not on, they're not on flight plan. They're not following a traditional air traffic route.
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FOREMAN: Are these planes actually over flying U.S. airspace or just getting close to it now, Barbara?
STARR: Well, you know, that's a key point, Tom. They are not entering official U.S. airspace. They're sort of buzzing it, if you will. And General Renuart is making the point that he's not going to tolerate, you know, unidentified aircraft getting close to the United States, but underneath all of this, underneath this sort of polite to and fro, there is a much more serious military issue. As the Russians reenter the world stage, if you will, there is a lot of concern about what they're doing underneath the public demeanor. Where are they selling arms, supporting states and governments that the U.S. would rather they didn't? What are their relations with the North Koreans, with the Syrians, with the Chinese, with the Iranians? That's the kind of thing that the U.S. is worried about when it comes to the Russians and also, of course, with Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice about to go to Russia to discuss missile defense that's another issue on the table between both sides.
FOREMAN: You bring up missile defense. I want to go back to the map and talk about as we move down here the new missile defense system that the United States was touting this week. Jamie McIntyre described a little bit about what this thing might be capable of doing.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN, SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Streaking into the California sky, this interceptor missile quickly reaches a closing speed of more than 10,000 miles per hour. What happens next, the Pentagon argues, could be what someday saves a major American city from nuclear destruction.
LT. GEN. TREY OBERING, DIRECTOR, MISSILE DEFENSE AGENCY: It's a major step forward in being able to show that we have a system that does work.
FOREMAN: So Barbara, it seems that we've been hearing about this kind of system forever. And the question has always been whether was it really politically practical and would it actually work? Is this new system a real step forward?
STARR: Well, you know, that's the question. You're absolutely right. We all remember Star Wars back in the Reagan administration. How many years ago was that? They've spent billions of dollars on this thing. They're finally having some tests that do work, at least the tests do. But, again, the Russians are a bit of a wrench in the works on all of this. The Russians are saying that they consider this a very aggressive move by the United States. This whole missile defense program - they're very concerned about it. And they're making a lot of statements that they are going to oppose it and that's something the Bush administration really doesn't want to see happen. Does it work? It works if there is a missile fired right at the trajectory that the U.S. can launch its interceptors and defend against. But, you know, years from now, who else out there is going to have ballistic missiles? Who else might have a capability to launch missiles against the U.S., against Europe? And there's a lot of uncertainty about that future, Tom.
FOREMAN: Always good to get your thoughts, Barbara. Thanks for joining us out in Denver.
In a moment, army football. Definitely, not the way they play it at West Point. Stick with us.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mission complete. Dismissed.
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FOREMAN: The end of a tough mission. On Monday, 42 members of the 399th combat support hospital team arrived in Maine after spending more than a year treating the injured in Iraq. Major Sherry Kempton, a nurse practitioner, her celebrated her 60th birthday in Iraq was welcomed home by her mother.
MADELINE BARNES, MOTHER OF MAJOR SHERRY KEMPTON: I've had a candle burning in the window every night like they did during the civil war. Tonight I'll take it out.
FOREMAN: During their tour, the 399th established the army's first combat support hospital in Anbar province. Such important work.
Now let's take a look at the work of combat photographers as we do each week, to find the still images in the midst of all that chaos. This photo by (Hate Massou) shows his fellow photographer, (Mohamad Salem) collapsing after being shot by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza strip. Salem was covering the release of Palestinian prisoners and was wounded when the Israeli army fired to control family members rushing to greet their loved ones. His wounds were not serious.
In South Burlington, Vermont, (Aldin Halet) caught this moment of joy as Kyle Jillson joins his father, National Guard specialist Brian Jillson, in a homecoming formation with the rest of the 131st engineer company. Stewart Price was in the Darfur region of Sudan last week when wounded peacekeepers headed to a Medevac helicopter after their camp was overrun by militia forces. At least ten soldiers of the African Union contingent were killed in that attack. And this is definitely not the NFL. Soldiers from the first cavalry division played football in a cloud of dust. PFC Kirby Ryder caught these men relaxing after an operation in the (Katun) region, northeast of Baghdad.
Quick question -- What do Rush Limbaugh and Al Gore have in common? We'll tell you when we come back.
FOREMAN: At the top of this program, we reported on how the numbers are looking much better in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the numbers are much, much worse. The United Nations reports that 2007 is the most violent year since the U.S.-led invasion. One U.S. unit, however, reported a 60% decrease in combat operations. And according to the "New York Times," it may be due to their new human terrain team. Human terrain team is a classic example of military double speak. Completely understandable. Nevertheless, understanding is what it's all about. The teams are made up of anthropologists and other social scientists who study the people who live in the battle zone. And it seems to be working. The army just decided to put a team with every combat brigade. There are critics all of this, of course, but it seems ((inaudible)) simply shooting people hasn't always worked out that well in those areas and maybe it's time talk and listen just a bit more. It seems to be working slowly.
Turning now to some of the stories we'll be following in the next "This Week at War," on Tuesday, a court marshal was scheduled for Lt. Aaron (Watada) for refusing to deploy to Iraq. On Friday, however, an appeal to a federal court resulted in a stay.
And on Friday, the winner of the Nobel Peace prize will be announced. Among those nominated, former Vice-President Al Gore and radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Thanks for joining us on "This Week at War." I'm Tom Foreman. Straight ahead, CNN's Special Investigations Unit "Narco State: The Poppy Jihad."
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