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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Jay Carney On Operations In Iraq

Aired July 2, 2003 - 20:13   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Turning now to Iraq. Just today another U.S. marine was killed and three others wounded when they were clearing mines south Baghdad. Despite the casualties, President Bush insists his administration's resolve to stay in Iraq will not be shaken.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Sixty-Seven U.S. troops have now died in Iraq since the president declared an end to the major combat on May 1. Plus the U.S. still hasn't found any evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. When you consider these fact, is the Bush Administration on the hot seat? I am joined tonight in Washington by Jay Carney. He is "TIME" magazine's deputy bureau chief in Washington. Jay, good evening.

JAY CARNEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF: Hi, Paula. How are you?

ZAHN: I'm fine, thanks. So in your judgment what is potentially more damaging to the president, the continuing loss of American life in Iraq or the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

CARNEY: There's no question that loss of life is a bigger problem for the president, as it should be, because that's his most important job is to protect Americans and when he sends soldiers into harm's way, any loss of life is a serious issue.

As a political matter, it's a more important problem because it is the continuing problem in Iraq. The chaos there, the sense that the United States is not in control and is not pacifying the country that makes the WMD story, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction more serious. Without -- if they were able to calm the situation down in Iraq, if they were able to reduce or eliminate the number of U.S. casualties we've been seeing, the WMD story might fizzle out, because most Americans still believe that it was right to go to war. The numbers are becoming for the president because of the U.S. casualties.

ZAHN: Let's also look at statistics now that I'd like you to analyze. Yesterday a CNN/USA Today poll, Gallup poll, showed that 56 percent of people thought the occupation of Iraq was going well versus 86 percent from the first week in May. Now would those numbers change if Saddam Hussein is found dead or alive?

CARNEY: I think they would. I think the failure to find Saddam Hussein is part of the problem. All these things have begun to coalesce together. The failure to find Osama bin Laden, the unraveling situation or the continued problems in Afghanistan. The failure to find Saddam. The failure to find WMD and the chaotic situation in Iraq. All these things contribute to the sense that Americans have a growing sense that these victories are not complete and that there are still problems out there that are very worrisome.

ZAHN: And against the backdrop, of course, you have the Senate launching a committee investigation into whether Bush administration officials either exaggerated or made up some of these statistics about weapons of mass destruction. Where do you expect that investigation to go and how serious are the stakes here?

CARNEY: The stakes are very high. Obviously, the president made a very strong and compelling case in arguing for war, that the reason, the primary reason was that Saddam Hussein, because of his weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to the United States. The failure to find any of those weapons in any significant form undermines that argument and if the problems in Iraq continue, if the country dissolves into chaos, if more U.S. soldiers are killed, more questions will be asked about why we went into war in the first place and that becomes a political problem for the president.

You can tell that the White House is worried about this. After largely staying silent on the day to day story of U.S. soldiers being under attack in Iraq, the president has now spoken out two days straight trying to combat the perception that things are out of control and I'll tell you, White House advisers must have -- must wish that the president could take back what he said tonight. I think saying bring them on to the potential attackers of U.S. soldiers is probably not the best language for the president to use. If you're a mother or father of a soldier over there, the invitation to attack is probably not what you want to hear.

ZAHN: Is that the kind of reaction you heard around Washington today? oops?

CARNEY: Oops. The president, obviously, can be very emotional and this was clearly an off-the-cuff response that he gave and it's not the kind of thing you want to say right now when, as you mentioned at the top of this segment, that another soldier died, I think, one of the ones that was attacked yesterday died also today. So that's two more.

We are now at a situation where the same number of soldiers died before Baghdad fell as after and the White House official told me two weeks ago that the biggest political problem the president faces right now in foreign policy is the mounting death toll of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

ZAHN: Well, good of you to spend time with us this evening. James Carney, the "TIME" magazine's Washington bureau chief.

CARNEY: Thanks very much.

ZAHN: We'll see you soon.

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