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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

President Bush's Problems

Aired August 20, 2003 - 20:27   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: When President Bush gets back from vacation, some new and old problems will be waiting on the front burner: terrorism in Iraq, terrorism threatening the Middle East peace process, and, of course, our new awareness of problems with the U.S. power grid. How will he handle them?
We are going to get some insights tonight from a couple of guests. Stanley Crouch is a columnist for "The New York Daily News."

Welcome.

Also here tonight is "New York Observer" columnist and author Joe Conason. His latest book is called "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth."

Did you just give Stanley a free copy of that? Is that what you just handed him?

JOE CONASON, AUTHOR, "BIG LIES": I did just give Stanley a free copy. He's an old...

ZAHN: A peace offering before we start debating here. That's not fair, Joe.

CONASON: Well, I think he needs to read it. He needs to read it. It would be very educational for Stanley. I haven't given up on Stanley for 25 years. And I just think we could make some real progress if he reads and studies, yes.

ZAHN: Well, you're going to have to work on him tonight.

CONASON: Yes.

ZAHN: Let's talk about the status of the Bush administration's postwar plan in Iraq. Is it a failure, Stanley?

STANLEY CROUCH, "THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": No, it's not a failure. He's in the middle of a very difficult thing.

Everybody always seems to think that everybody knows before they go into something exactly what's going to happen. And normally, in the world of battle, just like boxing or anything else, the opposition helps to give you your strategy. And I don't think that -- I think it's been a very difficult situation and also that it's now becoming a situation in which terrorists are going to try to show to the world that they can do to the United States what they did to Afghanistan with the Russians, except that they're not going to have help like the Russians had from us -- or that they're not going to have help against us, like we gave the bin Laden and those people who were fighting

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But you would concede, mistakes have been made. Even Brent Scowcroft came on tonight and repeated a little bit of what John McCain had said about estimates being off. Are you comfortable with the fact the United States may be in Iraq for as many as 10 years?

CROUCH: Well, I don't know that we're going to be there that long. But I think that it is going to be like Reconstruction was after the Civil War. The idea of getting rid of slavery was good, but it was a very big job dealing with the problem of black people who had been slaves for a long time after the Civil War was over.

Now, I'm sure that there were people -- in fact, we know that there were people a few months into the period after the Civil War who thought that there were far too many mistakes being made and that it might not even really have been a good idea. But I just think that it's very difficult thing. And it's going to be determined by how well we improvise in that situation.

ZAHN: What kind of improvisation do you see coming?

CONASON: Well, I'll tell you what I would liked to have seen coming. I don't know what they're going to do now, because they have a problem and they don't want to face up to the real solution.

The real solution is to do what they should have done in the first place. If they're going to have this war, to do what the president's father did before him, which was to create a real international coalition in the first place that would have provided with the kind of support and the number of troops on the ground that we needed.

Unfortunately, the president listened to civilian advisers in the Pentagon who had no idea how many troops we really needed, who ignored the generals told them, that we needed many more troops on the ground. And when they had an easy victory over the Iraqi army, they boasted, Oh, you see. We were right.

Well, now we're finding out they weren't right. We need much more support internationally, and what I wish they would do is go back to the U.N. and say, Look, we want to start over again with you to do what we all know needs to be done in Iraq. Whether you agreed or didn't agree with the war, we now have -- a bad situation there is getting worse. These elements are attacking the civilized world. We need everyone together and we want to negotiate a new kind of arrangement with our longtime partners.

ZAHN: Senator McCain, in an earlier conversation said -- pointed to some of the failures -- Bosnia at the U.N. And I guess what I want to know is what evidence that, in fact, the U.N. would be a panacea for what's going on.

CONASON: I don't know if it's a panacea, Paula. But it's had a lot of successes too. Look at East Timor, where American power against the Indonesian military -- not military power, diplomatic power, and a longterm U.N. project, run by Sergio Viera de Mello, who was killed, tragically -- was a tremendous success in East Timor. A really important success for that part of the world.

And -- so to say, well, the U.N. can't do anything right, this -- you know, Senator McCain knows better than that, and so do most of the people in authority in Washington. Their reluctance to involve the U.N. is ideologically, and it's not helping us now.

ZAHN: I'm going to give you both about 20 seconds a piece. Not that we can solve what went on in Jerusalem yesterday in 20 seconds. But do you think the peace process is all but over? We spoke with an ambassador to the U.N. from Israel last night, and he is very disheartened.

CROUCH: Yes, but is over based on what?

I mean -- look, the terrorists have one card that they play, which is murder over and over and over. They don't have a policy. They don't have a plan. All they want to do is prove, whatever they decide that they want, that they can prove it. That no one controls us. We do what we want to do, and that we kill people when we want to kill people. That's all they have.

You know, Israel is in a very funny -- is in a very difficult place, because it actually has almost a civil rights kind of a burden put upon it at this particular moment. That is to say that Israel has to negotiate. Abbas to negotiate. They only -- the only way out for either the Palestinians or the Israelis is to negotiate. Now if everything has to be shattered by the moment that terrorists do what they've always done. They've never -- I mean, we haven't had a moment in which they said, OK. We're going to negotiate with you all for five years or so. That's not what they do.

ZAHN: Brent Scowcroft in a piece today -- and he just repeated this on the air a couple of minutes ago saying it will really be up to the United States and the United States is the only country capable of breaking this deadlock.

CONASON: It's been up to the United States from the beginning, and for a long time the responsibility was abdicated under this administration, which was tragic.

The other thing that happened that was a problem was that the Israeli government decided to basically destroy the Palestinian Authority, both in its resources and its headquarters, and now expects them to police the Palestinian territory and create order there, when they've wrecked any possibility of the Palestinian authority doing that. Meanwhile, Hamas was allowed to grow, and Hezbollah, and so it was all done backwards. And unfortunately, the Bush administration allowed that situation to occur. It came in with the road map, and that -- I think that was positive, that they finally engaged. But it looks like it was too late.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, we got to leave it there. So you going to read Mr. Conason's book? It's a freebie. He brought it on the set tonight.

CROUCH: I'll read it in two or three years.

ZAHN: Stanley Crouch, Joe Conason -- at least it's an honest answer, Joe.

CONASON: He'll be reading it tonight. All night. I guarantee you.

ZAHN: Oh, I don't think so.

CONASON: Once he starts he won't be able to stop.

CROUCH: Oh, well, it's very short, isn't it?

CONASON: 250 pages. I made it for people like you.

ZAHN: We'll let him start in the commercial break.

Gentlemen, again, thanks for joining us.

CROUCH: Thanks.

CONASON: Thanks, Paula.

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