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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Sound-Off: Does Victory Give President a Mandate to Wage War Against Iraq?

Aired November 7, 2002 - 12:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And back to the Republicans overwhelming victory in Tuesday's election. Does it give the president a mandate to wage war against Iraq? Sounding off today, in Washington, Armstrong Williams, he's the radio talk show host and syndicated columnist. And in Atlanta, the syndicated columnist and author, Julianne Malveaux, a regular panelist on CNN's "LATE EDITION's" final round. Thanks to both of you for joining us.
Julianne, a big win for the Republicans. Will it be translated into greater authority, to greater opportunity the president might have to get tough with Saddam Hussein?

JULIANNE MALVEAUX, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: First of all, congratulations, Armstrong. Your side did a good job. You prevailed.

However, I don't think this means a mandate at all. It means that the president worked very hard, Wolf, to get these senatorial seats at a razor-thin margin. It does not mean let's go to war tomorrow. Let's be clear, what the American people did in the wake of 9/11, the first election after 9/11, is gave this president some confidence. They wanted the world to know he is our president. But beyond that, I don't think there's any eagerness for war. I think there's a fair amount of war anxiety, as CNN's own Bill Schneider has said so many times. People don't want to go to war, but they want to make a firm statement about the fact that on matters of terrorism, there is some unity.

BLITZER: All right, Armstrong Williams, I'm picking up on the point. I have an e-mail from Sandra in Homestead, Florida. She writes this, "President Bush is working with the U.N. to get the inspectors back with some teeth. A war is a long way off, and perhaps even avoidable all together. There is no mandate to attack now."

What do you say to Sandra?

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: First, let me thank Julianne for her congrats. The president is not rushing to war. The president realizes we shouldn't lose any more American lives in this war on terrorism, or even a war against Saddam Hussein. I think the president has bent over backwards to work with the U.N., to work with the coalition that General Powell has built. War would be a last resort. A few months ago, people assumed it would be a sort of wag the dog that we'd be at war before the election. And that did not happen.

I think the president is doing exactly what Sandra said in e- mails. He's taking his time. He's cautious. Again, he's showing the leadership. I think the American people said, in the recent elections is the president, the issues were about life and death after 9/11. We appreciate your leadership. You have our confidence. And we're sending a message to the international community, that we are together as Americans.

BLITZER: On that specific point, let me read an e-mail to you, Julianne from Gary in Columbus, Ohio. "I believe that the underlying reason the Republicans did so well is that there is a fear that Democrats do not have the stomach for dealing strongly with Iraq. We need a strong party to lead us through this crisis."

Julianne, what do you say to Gary?

MALVEAUX: I think Gary's wrong. The Democratic Party is a strong party. The problem is that this party did not articulate its message well. The Democratic Party, unfortunately, has been divided on the matter of Iraq, and we came out all over the place on Tuesday night. And when you come out all over the place in response to a president that's focused, I mean, basically, you've got to step back.

But let's be clear, this president cannot take the trust that the American people have vested in him and rush to war. Not only can he not rush to war, but I think he'll have to listen to those minority members of the Senate who have other things to say.

This is a very critical moment in our nation's history. It's been very rare that we've seen a -- not since FDR have both Houses of Congress -- and this is an awesome responsibility. If, indeed, we rush to war and there is a debacle, President Bush will have nobody to blame but himself and his party.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Armstrong, reply.

WILLIAMS: You know, you continue to imply, Julianne, that this president is rushing to war. That is not the case. The president understands what's at stake. War will be a last resort.

But if it's necessary for this president to commit ground troops and air and sea to this mission in Iraq, if that is necessary, the American people realize that there's a possibility that we could see other Americans coming back in body bags. I think the American people have also prepared themselves for this. But they're saying to the president, let this be a last resort, and the president has said, I hear you, and that's exactly what will take place.

MALVEAUX: Armstrong, there's very little sentiment.

WILLIAMS: Until we have no other recourse.

MALVEAUX: There's very little national sentiment for a war. And when you start talking about casualties, the sentiment changes completely. The American people may have given this president a vote of confidence, but when you start asking questions, using public opinion polls about actual war and actual body bags, that sentiment disappears completely. WILLIAMS: That question has been asked by news broadcasts, including CNN, were they prepared to see Americans come back in body bags? American people say -- here's the thing...

MALVEAUX: The answer is no.

WILLIAMS: You still don't give the American people enough credit. I think what many people need to do, especially like yourself, is really come out of denial and realize what a thumping the Democrats -- and a wake-up call they got in this last election.

MALVEAUX: Armstrong, I acknowledged that up front. But it's not a mandate, Armstrong. Is not a mandate. We got beat. We didn't get a mandate.

BLITZER: All right, Julianne and Armstrong, unfortunately, we're going to leave it right there, but we're going to want both of you to come back, continue this debate. We'll have you back.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Armstrong and Julianne.

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