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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With General Wesley Clark

Aired July 16, 2003 - 20:16   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Another U.S. soldier was killed today in Iraq, bringing the number of American battle deaths to 148, the same number of hostile deaths the U.S. suffered back in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Today, on the eve of the recently-banned holiday marking Saddam Hussein's rise to power, we asked, how far has the occupation come and are American troops showing signs of strain?
Earlier tonight, I spoke with CNN military analyst General Wesley Clark.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: General Clark, always good see you. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

RET. GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY: Thank you, Paula.

I want to get started tonight by sharing with our audience part of an interview that was done with a soldier in the field in Iraq which is beginning to reflect the mind-set of many American soldiers over there.

Let's listen together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. ERIC WRIGHT, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: Some of them hope that they would get wounded, so that they could go home (INAUDIBLE) Hey, shoot me. I want to go home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: As a general, how disturbing is that to hear?

CLARK: Well, people say things when they're unhappy. You have got some unhappy soldiers over there. You have got some unhappy families back here.

I think the first question you have to ask is, does this affect the performance of the troops? And I think the answer is no. They're doing a great job over there. But it is a clear message of warning to the leadership. This is a leadership problem. It has to be worked at all levels.

ZAHN: All right, so, as attacks on American soldiers increase in number and sophistication, what is the message these soldiers are sending when you talk about what leadership needs to communicate to them? Are they saying they're exhausted or are they saying that they've been misled in some way and that their deployment is longer than they had expected?

CLARK: Well, I think some of the units are obviously more fatigued than others. And fatigue is cumulative. And a lot of the troops are out there in some very, very austere and environmentally hostile conditions.

But the real message is that they can soldier through that. But what they want is, they want a date certain, the assurance that, on that date, they will be headed home. We have got to make a promise to the troops and stay with it.

ZAHN: You are considering a run for president. If you were president tonight, what would you be doing differently that would make these U.S. troops feel any more secure in this very dangerous environment?

CLARK: Well, I think the president has to look at the overall requirements. He has got to listen to the commanders in the field. But in the broader sense, Paula, we have got to recognize the truth about this mission.

We're in there without the kind of legitimacy we need. We need top cover. We need top cover from the U.N. And we need to get other international-based forces in with us to help carry the burden that we're shouldering almost alone in Iraq.

ZAHN: Now that we have some of your political baggage out in the open, I'm sure some people in the audience are wondering, how much of what you shared with us tonight is colored by the fact that you could be running for president of the United States down the road?

CLARK: Well, actually, I'll be very honest with you. None of it is colored by that.

I want the United States to be totally successful at home and abroad. I want the economy to improve. I want our soldiers safe. And I want this mission in Iraq to be successful. But from the beginning, I have had my doubts about this mission, Paula. And I have shared them previously on CNN. I never could connect the dots between the fact that Saddam Hussein was a bad guy and had aspirations for weapons of mass destruction with the urgency of putting U.S. troops in there in that mission

There was a hunger in some quarters to go after this fight. It was as though using force was a reward in itself, that, by putting our forces in there and showing our power, we would somehow solve our problems in the international environment. And I think the opposite is the truth. I think you should use force only as a last resort.

ZAHN: But, certainly, sir, you would have to acknowledge, some people listening tonight will say, he certainly sounds more and more like a man running for political office. Do you want to give us any hints as to where you are in your decision-making? CLARK: Well, I am seriously considering it. But I'll make that decision based on where I think I can best serve the country and my family. And it will -- I'm not a politician. And I'm going to say and do the things I believe are right for this country.

ZAHN: So will you come back and let us know when you've made up your mind?

CLARK: I will.

ZAHN: General Wesley Clark. Thank you, sir, for your time this evening.

CLARK: Thank you, Paula.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And we're going to hold him to that, our former military analyst.

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