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U.S.-Led Troops Push Closer to Iraq Hours Away from War; Interview with Hans Blix

Aired March 19, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: On the road to war. U.S.-led troops push closer to Iraq knowing the order to strike could be just hours away.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have just a short amount of time to go before the deadline. We have not received, unfortunately, any indication from Saddam Hussein that he intends to leave the country.

ANNOUNCER: Dust up in the desert. Will the weather delay the first shots of the war?

What will victory look like? Will Americans be satisfied if Saddam Hussein goes on the lam like Osama bin Laden?

War stories. Veterans remember what it was like to be young and scared, but still brave on the battlefield.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't stop. You keep moving and you keep moving. You keep focused on what you're doing because then it becomes a sense of survival.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

We begin with the last-minute scramble, the anxiety and the anticipation as much of the world waits for bombs to drop on Iraq.

In this "NewsCycle," more U.S.-led forces in Kuwait have been driving north toward the Iraqi border. Just four hours before the deadline set by President Bush, U.S. officials say the troops could get the go order as early as this evening. But they say there may be a tactical advantage in waiting a bit.

Even before any combat, U.S. Central Command says that 17 Iraqi soldiers have surrendered to American forces in northern Kuwait. But in Baghdad, Iraq's Republican Guard units reportedly are disbursing around the city in what seems to be a defensive move. The king of Bahrain says that he has offered safe exile to Saddam Hussein in the hopes of avoiding war, but he has not heard back from the Iraqi president.

Iraq's national assembly, meantime, vowed today to defend their leader, as officials in Baghdad warned of definite death for U.S. forces invading under orders of President Bush.


TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQ DEP. PRIME MINISTER: This will not be a picnic for him. It will be a bloody war, and it will take a long time.


WOODRUFF: Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz went before the cameras today to deny rumors that he had defected or had been shot.

Now we turn to the United Nations where our Richard Roth has an exclusive interview with the chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Judy, he was the man of the moment for four months and now, well, a little bit of a different moment here. Chief inspector Hans Blix with me. What do you think invading forces, if there is a war, will face regarding chemical, biological weapons from Iraq?

HANS BLIX, CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, if they have any still, and that's a big if, I would doubt that they would use it, because a lot of countries and people in the world are negative to the idea of waging war. And if the Iraqis were to use any chemical weapons then, I think, the public opinion around the world will immediately turn against the Iraqis. And they would say that, well, you see the invasion was justified.

ROTH: But their lives may be at risk. The leadership may have nothing to lose. I know yesterday you said somebody who might even be willing to die still wants to protect their reputation.

BLIX: I think that matters very much for them. As you watch the leadership of Iraq, they are very proud. And I think that Saddam Hussein has certainly figured himself to be the sort of emperor of Mesopotamia, leader of the Arab world. So, I think he very likely cares much about his reputation.

ROTH: You said you're going to be watching closely. But do you think the U.S., if they go in, will find any WMD, weapons of mass destruction?

BLIX: Well, after 12 years during which we have seen some weapons of mass destruction and some being destroyed before 1994, at any rate, but still a lot of question marks. I'm among the people who are the most curious to know whether they will find any or not. And for the U.S. to send in 250,000 men, I think that should also be something very interesting to know. ROTH: Will you be called on? Do you want to be called on to help verify any U.S. claims that they have found something?

BLIX: I think there are many in the Security Council who felt that the Iraqi affairs remains one that the Security Council should be linked to, and that we would want to have an international verification, not only a verification by the U.S. But I am in the hands of the Security Council, I do not decide these things on my own.

ROTH: What are your feeling now that war is imminent, maybe just hours away, and your job has been interrupted?

BLIX: Well, it's a sad moment. I think, first of all, it's sad because the war is horrible. And, secondly, because I think that we were there for three and a half months and we had better conditions for inspection than UNSCOM ever did. The Iraqis, after all, allowed us to get in everywhere. We were also fully occupied with destroying a lot of missiles that we had judged were violated the rules. So I think we were moving. And then, of course, sad do leave after such a short time.

ROTH: You say they did not give you enough cooperation, right?

BLIX: Well, they gave cooperation on process, what we term process. That's to say access. Well, lately, I would say from sometime in early February, they gave more cooperation and substance. They showered us with letters trying to explain this or that. But as I said in the council, one has to look at these things with a silver eye. And when we analyze it we find relatively new, little new material in it.

ROTH: Do you think that with a military force still out there you would have gotten what you wanted in months? You said you needed months more.

BLIX: Well, I can't imagine that you could have a stronger pressure upon the country outside, and you did with 200,000 men. So, if they were scared of that, they should have revealed what they had.

ROTH: You said, I think, to me, maybe to others or to yourself that maybe Saddam Hussein and the leadership was the problem. The scientists you dealt with, you thought they understood the urgency. Is that correct?

BLIX: They did. But, you know, there was only one truth at any given time in a country like Iraq, and that's the truth that the leader decides on. And I remember well in 1991 when I was there and I sat in a car. And the leader of their Atomic Energy Commission said to me, Mr. Blix, we have no enrichment of uranium. And only a month or two months later, we discovered in the IAEA that they were indeed working several different ways of enrichment. And he was a sincere man, but had he not towed the line that the president had set, well, he wouldn't have existed any longer.

ROTH: Chief inspector Hans Blix. Chief inspector still at your post here, watching with everyone else what is, indeed, going to happen, either later tonight or in the next few days to come. Thank you very much.

That's it from the United Nations. Back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Richard.

And still he has an acute interest in the outcome there in Iraq of course.

Well, now we have live reports from our correspondents at the White House, the Pentagon and in Kuwait City. First, let's turn to our White House correspondent John King. John, with just a few hours to go before the president's deadline, what is the sense there? What's the mood at the White House?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, a great sense of urgency here at the White House reflected in the fact that just moments ago the president's national security team led by Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Meyers returned to the White House for their second meeting today.

They were here early this morning as well for a full meeting of the National Security Council. Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Powell, sitting in on those discussions as well. We are told, the president has been told the troops are ready, awaiting his orders.

Mr. Bush is waiting for further information about weather conditions, about further the forward deployment of troops up to the Iraqi border before issuing the final orders. We are told it could come as early as tonight, or the president might choose to wait if military commanders in the field tell him they would prefer a little more time. No question of what is to come, though. Mr. Bush formally notifying the Congress that he intends to use the authority it gave him back in October to use military force.

Mr. Bush saying in a letter to Congress, quote, "I determined that reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone will neither adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq, nor likely lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.

As the president faces this momentous decision, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer telling us Mr. Bush hopes the war is as precise and as short as possible. But he also says the American people need to prepare for the inevitable loss of human life.


FLEISCHER: The American people clearly have seen what has been developing for months and months and months as a result of the diplomatic endeavors that the president tried while making plain and certain to the American people and to Iraq that if Iraq did not disarm, force would be used. And the American people understand that if force is used, lives may be lost, indeed. I think there's no question the country understands that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, the president's go orders could come as early as 8:00 tonight, although senior officials here say the president might wait if that's what the commanders want him to do. As one official put it, the president sees no harm in having the Iraqi military, quote, "stare up at the sky for a little bit" -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, on the question of domestic security, homeland security, the president had some meetings in that regard too. The mayor of New York City was there?

WOODRUFF: He did. And that meeting reinforced that not only will there be a human cost to this war but an escalating financial cost as well. Mayor Michael Bloomberg coming to a meeting in the Oval Office along with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. They briefed the president on preparations to protect citizens here against the threat of domestic terrorist attacks.

But Mayor Bloomberg also made clear that such a strain on city budgets, not only in New York but elsewhere, that more money was needed. Tom Ridge emerged from that meeting to say that when the president sends up his supplemental, his emergency budget to pay for the war, there will be even more money to pay for the increased homeland security costs here at home.

We are told that legislation could be ready as early as sometime next week. The price tag will exceed $75 billion. Some officials believe it could go as high as $100 billion -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Some numbers people have been waiting for. All right, John King, thanks very much.

Well, even as U.S. forces brace for war, some already are seeing action. Let's check in with our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre now. Jamie, tell us about this the latest action.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, even though the war hasn't started that doesn't mean a lot of things aren't happening. There have been more aggressive strikes in the southern no-fly zone. In particular, targeting 10 artillery pieces in and around the Basra area and then the al-Fal (ph) Peninsula.

These were those artillery pieces that the U.S. said were in range of the 130,000 troops amassed in Kuwait and could, in theory, launch chemical weapons. So, they were struck along with a surface to air missile launcher that was also seen as a potential threat to U.S. troops.

In addition, the Pentagon is dropping millions and another 2 million today leaflets as part of this psychological campaign to try to convince the Iraqi military to surrender. The leaflets dropped today included specific surrender instructions, telling Iraqi forces that if they wanted to avoid destruction they should park their vehicles in squares no larger than a battalion size, stow artillery and air defense systems in travel configuration, display white flags on their vehicles, don't brandish any portable air defenses.

The personnel they are told must gather in groups, a minimum of a kilometer away from their vehicles. Officers are going to be allowed to retain their side arms but other soldiers have to disarm. They are telling the soldiers, don't approach the U.S. or coalition forces and just wait where they are, away from their vehicles, for further instructions.

Now so far, there has already been 17 Iraqi soldiers who apparently have surrendered, crossing the border into Kuwait and surrendering to U.S. forces. They were turned over to Kuwaiti authorities. It's not known whether they were responding to the leaflets or just deciding it was time to give up in advance of the invasion -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, we heard John at the White House say the president has been told that the military is ready. But would they prefer more time? Are they saying at the Pentagon?

MCINTYRE: Well, you can always be more ready. But they're definitely ready to go now. They are using this time, as I said, to drop the leaflets, to continue to strike targets in the south to prepare the battlefield. Probably one factor would be the sandstorms that we saw reported earlier today. We heard they are dying down.

If they can wait for slightly better weather, that would particularly help the helicopters that have to fly in the sand. That's probably the most difficult challenge. So the military will take all the factors together, make a recommendation to the president. You'll note the president said that the U.S. would attack at a time of its choosing.

WOODRUFF: We did notice. All right, Jamie, at the Pentagon. Thanks very much.

Well, it is just after midnight in the Persian Gulf region. This is a live picture we're showing you from Baghdad in the quiet of the night. But the scene, of course, could change very soon. My colleague Wolf Blitzer is in Kuwait City, following the final preparations for war. Obviously, it is getting to be the middle of the night there, Wolf. But tell us the latest.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the middle of the night actually happens to be a good time for the U.S. military. They have significant advantages in terms of fighting capabilities at night, both as far as ground troops as well as air power concerned. As far as those sandstorms, I was out and about today. Those sandstorms are pretty serious. And as Jamie McIntyre reports, they certainly could affect helicopters and ground forces.

But as far as precision-guided bombs, especially those satellite- guided bombs, the so-called J-Dams, the sandstorms have no effect, no serious effect on that. And the U.S. could drop significant quantities of bombs even in the middle of sandstorms. The sandstorms, by the way, all the local experts say are expected to end completely by the 1st of April. So that's a problem right now, but won't necessarily be a problem much longer.

The other problem that will emerge, of course, as well know, is the heat. Here in Kuwait City, people are prepared. They are getting ready. They are anxious. I spoke a little while ago with the minister of state for Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammed al-Sabah. He says that he wouldn't even rule out the possibility that Saddam Hussein, even at this late moment to save his own life, might yet go into exile, might seek some sort of deal. Although most of the experts don't believe Saddam is going to do that.

And one of the indications we're getting are he has any such plans to do so. There's understandable nervousness on the streets, but Kuwaitis who strongly support the United States are convinced this is going to be a short war, that the U.S. is going to win decisively and it's not going to take very long before, in their words, Baghdad is liberated -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Wolf, just back on the Kuwaiti minister. What does he base that on, his view that it's possible that Saddam Hussein could go into exile?

BLITZER: Well, remember, Judy, the Kuwaitis hate Saddam Hussein. They remember what happened here a dozen years ago when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait and occupied this country. They say they committed brutal war crimes against the Kuwaiti people. He wants a war crimes tribunal to go in effect. So, he says Saddam Hussein is a coward and, in the end, if Saddam Hussein sees that the options are either die in Baghdad or live some place else, he thinks Saddam might in the end, do that.

Although, as I say, there's no indication that's going to happen. We've received no indications whatsoever that any such talk is even considered. Although, as you reported earlier, the King of Bahrain is, even at this late moment, suggesting that if Saddam Hussein wants to avoid a war and move to Bahrain, he'll get asylum. He'll get some sort of sanctuary there.

WOODRUFF: A lot of theories on both sides. All right, Wolf in Kuwait City, thanks very much.

And, of course, Wolf will be back live from Kuwait at the top of the hour. Among his guests, Kuwait's minister of foreign affairs, the gentlemen he just referred to.

Now to appeals around the world in the hours before war. Turkey's new government is asking lawmakers to let U.S. warplanes fly over the country. A parliament vote is expected tomorrow. But Turkey still does not want U.S. forces to use its bases to attack Iraq.

At the United Nations, some members of the Security Council criticize looming war with Iraq. The French and German foreign ministers insisted a peaceful solution to the crisis still is possible. In a televised statement, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that Iraq bears full responsibility for the current crisis in the Middle East. And Pope John Paul II appealed again for peace in the final hours before President Bush's deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave or face war.

There is much more ahead in this hour, including the fallout from a desert storm. We'll get an update on that blowing sand in the Gulf region and whether it may slow the start of war.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider in Washington. Many Americans have rallied behind a pending war with Iraq. But will they see eye to eye with President Bush on what constitutes victory?

WOODRUFF: Also ahead, the ranking Democrat on the Senate foreign relation committee, Senator Joe Biden on the war at hand and what comes after that.

Plus ...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am more concerned about the safety of our food supply than anything else related to bioterrorism, chemicals ...


WOODRUFF: How vulnerable is America's food supply to a terrorist attack. And what are federal officials doing to keep us safe?


WOODRUFF: Oil prices are falling fast, but does that mean you'll soon be paying less for gas? We'll go live to Wall Street to find out.

INSIDE POLITICS back in a moment.


WOODRUFF: Visibility in Northern Kuwait dropped to just a few meters today as another sandstorm blew through the area. The storms are not uncommon and they could have an effect on U.S. troop movements. With me now from Atlanta, more on all this, meteorologist Orelon Sidney. Hello, Orelon.

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Judy, thanks a lot. I wanted to tell you what a sandstorm is, as defined by the weather and climate glossary. That's a strong, turbulent wind that carries sand through the air. Usually it's between 10 to 50 feet above ground level.

It's kind of rare to get it above that. Once you get above that, you generally have dust. It does reduce horizontal visibility to less than 5/8s of a mile, but not less than 5/16ths of a mile. At 5/16ths of a mile, that is considered a severe sandstorm.

This is what causes tem. We've got a big area of low pressure generally off to the West. The dry southwesterly winds are called khamsins. Those, generally, come for the south. But these come from thunderstorms. We've seen these winds, too. Haboob winds are the problem there.

Now, it seems like this time of year what you usually get is scenario number one. And on a satellite picture, it looks something like this. We have a picture from spring 2002. Persian Gulf there, right in the center of the screen. Head into the north you'll see that kind of almost looks like a gray or kind of a beige color air mass moving through. That is the sand heading towards the Persian Gulf.

This is the forecast for tomorrow. Does that look familiar? This is what blew through over the past 24 hours and caused all the sand problems. Tomorrow, Iraq is going to be in a northeasterly, northwesterly flow, cool temperatures. And winds are expected to be about 5 to 10 miles an hour -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So it's changing.

SIDNEY: It looks a lot better.

WOODRUFF: All right, Orelon. Thanks very much.

And for more now on how a sandstorm might affect battle plans, let's turn to CNN military analyst retired General Wesley Clark. These sandstorms look pretty vicious. Could they have a delaying effect on the military's plans?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they would impact the rate of movement. And, I guess, if you hadn't started the operation and it was a big enough sandstorm, you might say, let's wait a day. But I'd be surprised. These are storms that normally pass in a few hours, and they do make it difficult to move. And they do make it difficult to maintain ...

WOODRUFF: Because the visibility is horrible.

CLARK: It's horrible, but you're going to work your way through it. You may have to just slow down.

WOODRUFF: Are the troops trained to deal with this? And how would they train?

CLARK: Well, I think you'd say acclimatized. And so, they have got to be on the ground. They got to have lived through it a couple of times. And when they went over there, they were told cover your machine guns or make sure your rifles aren't exposed to this, because the dust and the grit gets into the actions (ph), and it makes machinery not work well. But they learn how to do that and they adapt.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something else. There was a report in the "New York Times" today, General, that the Pentagon now has something called mobile exploitation teams. They are called METs that are tasked with going in and searching for these chemical and biological weapons that the United States government has insisted that Saddam Hussein has.

How is this operation going to be different from what the U.N. -- earlier this hour at the U.N. we had Richard Roth interviewing Hans Blix -- how is it different from what the U.N. was doing?

CLARK: Well, I think, maybe three things. Number one is, the idea is that we're going to operate on intelligence, and it's not going to be consensual with the Iraqi regime. We're just going to go in. If a door is locked and they can't find a key, I'm sure we're not going to wait for them to find a key.

Number two, because the Iraqi regime won't be in power, there won't be the active concealment program that's been frustrated the United Nations. And number three, because this is our own team, we are going to give it the very best intelligence, even if we know that the intelligence is perishable.

WOODRUFF: But, at the same time, the Iraqis have to assume the U.S. military is going to be looking for this. If these units or the mobile units that are carrying the weapons around are small enough, can't they hide them somewhere?

CLARK: Well, they might be able ...

WOODRUFF: They've been able to hide them for years?

CLARK: I think by the time we do this, Judy, I think the Iraqi chain of command will be broken. These aren't teams that are going to go in in advance of the battle. They're teams that will go in with or behind the elimination of major enemy resistance. So, you're going to be dealing with a broken, fractured Iraqi chain of command.

WOODRUFF: This is a question that you and others have been asked over and over again. And, obviously, it's unknowable unless you know what's in the mind of Saddam Hussein, but do you expect that he will or have his forces use chemical or biological weapons?

CLARK: He probably hasn't made a decision himself right now. But we have to be careful when we are asking ourselves that question, not to look at it strictly through our own lenses.

You know, if you were going to ask us, we'd say, well, no, of course he shouldn't do this because then France will turn against him. Rumors were the Russians were going to be against him. The whole world is going to be against him. But sometimes people when they're inside the battle don't see it that way.

In 1999, when we were fighting Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo, we didn't expect that he was going to expel as many Albanians as he could in an effort to destabilize Macedonia. We would have said, well, that's totally irrational. When he does that, the whole world will turn against him. He did it. It was irrational. The whole world turned against him. It made NATO's success possible.

But he made a miscalculation. And Saddam, in the center of this box, knowing it's the end of his regime, knowing that even if he has, you know, world opinion that's sort of with him, they are not going to save him. He may decide to throw all the dice.

WOODRUFF: The question everybody wants the answer to. All right, General Wesley Clark. Good to see you.

CLARK: Good to see you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much. Going to see a lot of you in the days to come.

WOODRUFF: What constitutes victory in the Gulf? Saddam Hussein under arrest or in exile? Coming up, the end game in Iraq.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is this great flushing through of every sensibility you have, of more feelings you ever had in your life, and probably will ever have.


WOODRUFF: As America is on the eve of another battle, war stories from those who served and now serve in Congress -- that's coming up.

But, first, this "News Alert."


WOODRUFF: Beyond the month-long debate over the use of force against Iraq lies an unanswered question about this likely conflict. At what point can the U.S. declare victory? Unlike past wars, the answer is not so obvious.

More from our Bill Schneider.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Is it conquest? President Bush is clear about the fact that the United States does not seek to conquer Iraq and turn it into an American territory.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll remain in Iraq as long as necessary and not a day more.

SCHNEIDER: The president points to U.S. occupation policy in Germany and Japan after World War II as a model.

BUSH: After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies. We left constitutions and parliaments.

SCHNEIDER: Is the U.S. seeking justice for Saddam Hussein? The American people seem to think so. Most Americans say it would not be a victory if the U.S. removes Saddam Hussein from power, but does not capture or kill him.

But notice something. The Bush administration always talks about bringing Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization to justice.

BUSH: Wanted, dead or alive. All I want and America wants, him brought to justice. That's what we want.

SCHNEIDER: The president pointedly does not adopt the same tone when he talks about Saddam Hussein.

BUSH: I hear a lot of talk from different nations around, where Saddam Hussein might be exiled. That would be fine with me.

SCHNEIDER: What about bringing Saddam Hussein to justice? The United States has put the Iraqi dictator's name on a list of senior Iraqi officials who could be charged with war crimes. It was a message to Saddam: You can choose exile or prosecution. The Bush administration's real objective is no secret.

BUSH: Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament.

SCHNEIDER: But Saddam Hussein has refused to disarm voluntarily. So, for the Bush administration, that leaves only one option.

BUSH: If we go to war, there will be a regime change.

SCHNEIDER: The minute Saddam Hussein is forced out of power, the U.S. has won, disarmament to follow.


SCHNEIDER: To claim victory, the United States will have to show proof of two things: one, habeas corpus, proof that Saddam Hussein is out of power, that he's been eliminated or is under U.S. control; and, two, habeas arma, proof that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the U.S. now has them -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: For me, Bill, that's a new Latin term. Thanks very much. I'll think about that some more.

With me now to talk more about the expected U.S. military action, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.


WOODRUFF: Senator, going into the Gulf War 12 years ago, the United States had 30-some countries, 34 nations supporting us, 30-some countries giving us military support. This time, we have got 30 countries, the state Department says, but only two countries, Great Britain and Australia, are giving us significant military support. Is that significant?

BIDEN: It's not significant in whether or not we win and how quickly we win, in my view. It is significant in how well we win the peace, whether we are able to hold Iraq together after Saddam is down and whether we're able to share the burden and responsibility of doing that. That's where it's very important.

WOODRUFF: So, in terms of the aftermath?

BIDEN: In terms of the aftermath, it's critical.

Look, in each of the cases, whether we talk about what happened in the first Gulf War or in Kosovo or in Bosnia or in Afghanistan, we were able to, when the shooting stopped and we began to try to rebuild the country, or at least put together a government that was able to govern each of those countries, we had the support of the international community. And that is very important, for two reasons.

One, we don't want to be the target of every malcontent in the world, looking like we've gone from liberator to occupier. We don't want to be the one making the decision of whether or not a Kurdish family can come back to Kirkuk and kick out an Arab family, etcetera. We want that to be a burden shared by the world. And we don't want to have to carry the entire financial responsibility of this, which will be multibillions of dollars. I predict, before it's over, a couple hundred billion dollars. And so...

WOODRUFF: So the U.S. needs that multi-nation...

BIDEN: I think the U.S. needs it. We can do anything alone, but the question is whether we do it easy or we do it hard, whether we do it to our best interests or our least interests. And so that's why I hope we begin a new round of diplomacy on, what after Saddam. Who is going to be in there with us?

WOODRUFF: For the time being, though, let me ask you about Democratic voices about this war. Yesterday and the day before, your leader in the Senate, Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle, heavily criticized for his comments, in effect saying he regrets the idea that one life will be lost because President Bush failed at diplomacy.

Did he go over the line when he said that?

BIDEN: No, I think what you saw is a sense of frustration. There's a lot of us who voted for giving the president the authority to take down Saddam Hussein if he didn't disarm. And there are those who believe, at the end of the day, even though it wasn't handled all that well, we still have to take him down.

But what you are sensing from some Democrats, as well as Republicans, is a frustration relating to the lost opportunities of maybe being able to do this with others, maybe, if we had others with us, not even having to go to war. So I don't think it's anything other than a frustration.

But I think it's time we stop all that. We have one single focus. And that is, we're about to send our women and men to war. The president is the commander in chief. We voted to give him the authority to wage that war. We should step back and be supportive. WOODRUFF: I hear you. But, yesterday, again, Senator Daschle, and over in the House, the leader of the Democrats in the House, Nancy Pelosi, said, hey, we support the troops, but we reserve the right to criticize this administration when appropriate. Do you see that distinction?

BIDEN: The answer is, generically, yes, specifically, no. We should not do what the Republicans used to do. Remember what they used to do? They would say: We support our troops in Bosnia, but not that president.

I support the president. I support the troops. We should make no distinction. We should have one voice going out to the whole world that we're together. There's plenty to criticize this president for. Let's get this war done.

WOODRUFF: So, is your leadership going to come around to your point of view, do you think?

BIDEN: Well, I'm not sure they're not...

WOODRUFF: You were just telling me there was a caucus meeting today.

BIDEN: Well, my initiative at the caucus -- initiative -- my suggestion at the caucus meeting was to send a message to the leader, Republican leader Frist, to get off this budget fight and, to send a message to our caucus that, when that first tank crosses that line, we should be on the floor of the United States Senate and every capital in the world hear one voice from both parties, saying, we support the troops. We support the president. And this is the single most important thing we do, and show it by our actions.

WOODRUFF: And we'll see if that what happens.

BIDEN: I hope it will, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Senator Joe Biden, thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it. Good to see you.

BIDEN: Thank you for having me.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

With war looming and the homeland on alert, will terrorists strike and what might be their target? Up next, we'll tell you what the government is doing to try to test the food we eat.


WOODRUFF: On the home front, the threat of war and the return to a code orange terror alert have prompted a new wave of security measures across the nation. In addition to airports, U.S. borders, and America's biggest cities, officials are focusing now on the nation's food supply.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the realm of possible terrorist threats, there is one that stands out to the secretary of health and human services.

TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I am more concerned about the safety of our food supply than anything else relating to bioterrorism, chemical or radiological.

MESERVE: There is no intelligence to indicate that terrorists are targeting the food supply. But its vulnerability has been amply documented in reports from the National Research Council, the General According Office and the Agriculture Department's inspector-general. Because cooking kills some biological agents, there is more concern about some foods than others.

THOMPSON: Liquid foods like water, bottled water, milks and soda pops. Baby foods are another one that we're very concerned about.

MESERVE: Right now, only about 2 percent of imported food is inspected. Under threat level orange, the Food and Drug Administration is trying to boost that number and test imports for agents like botulinum toxin, ricin, cyanide, and chlorine. The Department of Agriculture is working on domestic sources of food.

ANN VENEMAN, AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT SECRETARY: We are stepping up inspections in our meat plants. We are working with farmers and ranchers on watching for things on the farms.

MESERVE: The Food and Drug Administration is suggesting that food processors do employee background checks and ban personal items like purses from food storage areas.

RHONA APPLEBAUM, NATIONAL FOOD PROCESSORS ASSOCIATION: Know who your supplier is. Confirm that they have a security procedure in place. Do periodic checks in terms of, not only the quality, but the safety of those ingredients.


MESERVE: Food safety advocates applaud the Bush administration for taking the issue seriously. But because 98 percent of imported food is still not inspected and because more than a dozen federal agencies play a part in the food safety system, what we eat, they say, is still at risk -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: One more thing for us to worry about.

All right, Jeanne, thank you.

When we return: service men and women on the brink of war. As U.S. troops move into position, Washington officials who experienced combat talk about their experiences.


WOODRUFF: Military combat is the subject of countless books and movies, but only those who experience it firsthand can truly understand the mix of fear and bravery that go along with experience in battle.

Our Candy Crowley talked with some Washington leaders who are also combat veterans.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are young and armed and maybe only hours from war.

REP. RANDY CUNNINGHAM (R), CALIFORNIA: It was about 2:00 in the morning and I couldn't sleep. And I got up and I walked out onto the carrier rim, where you can stand outside, with the ocean breeze hitting you in the face. And I remember looking off at Vietnam thinking, well, what's going to happen tomorrow? I'm going to be tested.

CROWLEY: Do these moments of waiting suspend time or quicken it? Yes.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: It is this great flushing- through of every sensibility you have, of more feelings than you've ever had in your life and probably will ever have.

CROWLEY: Do they know why they are there or do they question it? Yes.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: We had no idea where Korea was. We didn't even know what a police action was all about. And the more we learned, the more frightened we became.

CROWLEY: Surely, they wonder, "Will I die here?" as surely as they believe they will not.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You know in your heart of hearts you're coming back. At least that's what you try to tell you, but you're never sure.

CROWLEY: It was after landing in Korea and passing a truck loaded with bodies stacked like cordwood that Charlie Rangel first thought about dying.

RANGEL: And then they told us, those that were driving the truck, that, from here to the front, not to trust anyone, because the enemy had changed clothes and was in the rice field dressed in whites. And I guess it was then and only then that a group of 19- and 20-year- old men realized that our lives were in jeopardy.

CROWLEY: Tom Ridge arrived in Vietnam feeling well-trained, well-equipped, ready, and afraid for the people who weren't there.

RIDGE: There will be more people losing sleep at night in this country worrying about the soldiers than I think most of the soldiers will, because they know why they are there. They've trained. They have got confidence in their comrades. That's just not something you can transfer to your parents or your spouse or your kids.

CROWLEY: It must be so strange standing on the edge of war and, in the waiting moments, finding that, sometimes, the first person you fight with is yourself.

CUNNINGHAM: I remember thinking, I said, if I really get in trouble, am I going to cut and run? Am I going to -- am I going to stand my ground if the odds are against us?

CROWLEY: California Congressman Duke Cunningham was one of the most highly decorated pilots of the Vietnam War. New York Congressman Charlie Rangel won the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in Korea. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge also earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam. And Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel received two Purple Hearts, also in Vietnam.

They all began at the same place. Once, they were young and armed and waiting for war.

HAGEL: A sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride, a sense of bravado, a sense of fearlessness, a sense of being scared, a sense of the reality of what you are doing.

But you just -- you keep moving forward. You can't stop. You keep moving and you keep moving. You keep focused on what you're doing, because then it becomes a sense of survival. And most everybody who has been through this understands that. The one predominant factor is survival.


WOODRUFF: Truly, only if you've been in it can you even begin to understand it. That was CNN's Crowley in the first on our multipart series on combat veterans who are now public servants here in the nation's capital.

Still ahead: Emotions are running high on Capitol Hill. We'll look at the latest political wrangling with America on the brink of war.


WOODRUFF: Even as the president faces a final decision on war with Iraq, he is facing political challenges here at home on Capitol Hill.

Let's check in with our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl.

So, Jon, some domestic worries for the president?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It's a sign that even a popular wartime president doesn't necessarily get what he wants in terms of domestic priorities from the Congress.

The Senate has rejected the president's plan to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The vote was 52-48 to strip the provision from the president's budget. It's a significant blow. Republicans worked very hard to get this through, but did not succeed in the end.

Now the Congress goes on and talks about the question of his $726 billion tax cut. And that is provoking some real passions here, especially among Democrats, who say that it's inappropriate for the Congress to be talking about tax cuts at all while the nation is on the eve of war.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Candidly, in my view, this week, we ought to be recessing here. I think we ought to be going home and stopping the process right now and go back and be in our states.

Here, to be engaging in this debate and discussion, when the attention of our entire country, if not the world, is focused on the brink of war, and trying to get the attention of our colleagues and others about a budget like this is outrageous, that we're doing it now.


KARL: But Republicans are determined to go forward, having critical votes on the budget, finishing it this week, even if the war has already started.

Now, Democrats had hoped to cut that tax cut in half to $350 billion. They had hoped to do that in a vote today, possibly tomorrow. But they have got a significant problem. That problem is that many liberal Democrats will be joining, or at least look to be joining with conservative Republicans in voting against that amendment. The conservative Republicans don't like it because it's too low a tax cut. The liberal Democrats don't like it because it's too high a tax cut.

So, Judy, as the rest of the nation looks to the possibility of war starting within the next few hours, what you have going on up here on Capitol Hill are some very serious backroom negotiations that will, in large part, determine the fate of many of the president's top domestic policies for the rest of the year. These votes will be happening, as I said, it looks like, even if we are in the middle of war by the end of the week.

WOODRUFF: And not getting nearly as much attention as they normally would.

KARL: No way.

WOODRUFF: All right, but the Republicans are keeping it in session, right? KARL: Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl at the Capitol.

Just ahead: a mystery solved, a rare copy of the Bill of Rights commissioned by George Washington himself recovered by the FBI.


WOODRUFF: An amazing story: A handwritten copy of the Bill of Rights, missing since the end of the Civil War, has been recovered by the FBI.

The document, made up of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, is one of just 14 copies commissioned by then President George Washington. The FBI recovered it yesterday in an undercover operation when its most recent owner tried to sell it for a lot of money. Good news.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. We're celebrating here. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us.


Interview with Hans Blix>

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