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NEWS FROM CNN

Surprise Trip for Donald Rumsfeld; Interview With Brigadier General James Marks; Christian in Iraq

Aired December 24, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Betty Nguyen here in Atlanta. Thanks for joining us today. Here's the NEWS FROM CNN.
Rumsfeld on the frontlines. The embattled defense secretary makes a surprise Christmas Eve visit to Iraq. We are live on the story from Baghdad.

Here at home, south of the North Pole, the race to the finish in time for Christmas. Hour Allan Chernoff reins in some last-minute shoppers.

Also, a holiday message worth remembering from an old St. Nick forever young to wartime gifts not forgotten.

A busy hour ahead. First, though, some other headlines "Now in the News."

A single arrest in Honduras tied to a shocking assault. Reported gang members opened fire on a bus, killing 28 people or more. The assailants left a note that claimed a political motive, but authorities say the suspect belongs to one of the a country's pervasive criminal gangs.

In southern California, police shot a suspected car jacker in a crowded casino owned by Larry Flynt. Police say the suspect had taken and leased one hostage, then took a second hostage when he was shot in the head. The man is in critical condition. No one else was hurt.

Still slow-going on Midwest highways after this week's snow storm. Take a look at these pictures.

Now Interstate 64 is open, and authorities in Indiana are working to clear hundreds of vehicles from the roadway. The snow has moved on, but from the Midwest to eastward, Christmas Day, well, it is likely to be on the chilly side.

First this hour, Christmas Eve in Iraq with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Barely two weeks after his testy encounters with U.S. troops in Kuwait, the Pentagon chief made an unannounced tour of Iraq's most volatile hotspots. Our coverage of the trip begins in Baghdad with CNN's Karl Penhaul.

Karl, how big a surprise was this today for troops?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Betty. Well, it certainly was a trip to Iraq's hottest hotspots. He was first in Mosul, arriving there under cover of darkness, and visited the camp where that lethal explosion went off on Tuesday. And then it was off to Tikrit, to Saddam Hussein's home town there. He talked with soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division.

Across from there to see the Marines in Falluja, the site of that November offensive on the city there. And then into Baghdad to Camp Victory, one of the biggest camps in Baghdad, to meet more U.S. troops there.

The message, though, it was largely a morale-boosting trips for the troops. Also, one might suggest that for Mr. Rumsfeld himself it served his political image, given that he's come under fire of late both for stewardship of the war in Iraq and also for certain other issues such as the auto pen signing of condolence letters, as well as the issue of armored Humvees and such like.

But it was -- certainly, he was well received by the troops from what we have seen, received gifts on some occasions from them. A lot of handshaking, a lot of smiles there.

They're also talking about the much more serious issue of getting Iraqi security forces to build up and to stand alone so that they eventually could defend their country and coalition troops could finally leave this country. He was talking on that subject to General Petraeus. This is what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The coalition forces can't provide security for the Iraqis. The Iraqis are going to have to provide security for the Iraqis and -- in the last analysis. And our task is to get those folks trained up and equipped and organized and give them that responsibility. So we have to put an enormous focus on that piece of it, and that is the only way it will work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PENHAUL: In Mosul, while he was there, Mr. Rumsfeld did visit the combat support hospital there, visiting some of the wounded soldiers and awarding one of them a Purple Heart. Not clear whether this soldier, in fact, was one of those wounded in Tuesday's bombing. Some of the walking wounded have, in fact, returned to active duty in Mosul and the surrounding area. Others, of course, were flown out to Germany and back on to the United States -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Karl, aside from Rumsfeld's visit today, what's being done there in Iraq to keep up the spirits on this Christmas Eve?

PENHAUL: Sorry, Betty. Can you say that again? What's being done...

NGUYEN: Yes. I was saying, besides Rumsfeld's surprise visit today, anything else being done to keep up troop spirits on this Christmas Eve? PENHAUL: Well, certainly, given the level of violence that there's been across Iraq in recent days, the troops will very much be on their guard. One of the focal points of this seasonal period would be the chance for troops to get together in the mess halls and have a traditional Christmas dinner, depending on their working pattern (ph) and depending what kind of patrols they're on.

But obviously, given the bombing of that mess hall in Mosul earlier this week, then I'm sure military commanders in many bases will be looking to make sure that troops don't gather in too large a number just to make sure there are no copycat attacks which U.S. military commanders are warning of at this stage -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Although a holiday just another reminder it's a very dangerous time there in Iraq. CNN's Karl Penhaul in Baghdad. Thank you, Karl.

Well, with critics amassed against him, Rumsfeld received an endorsement this week from his boss, President Bush. Now, that aside, and not to depart from the holiday spirit, but some might see some damage control in today's trip to Iraq. To talk about Rumsfeld's image, CNN national security correspondent David Ensor, live from Washington.

Hi, David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Betty.

Well, Rumsfeld flew into Iraq at dawn on Christmas Eve on a visit that was designed to boost troop morale. And despite the recent revelation that until recently he was not personally signing condolence letters to dead soldiers' families, he was warmly received in Mosul, scene of the recent large attack against the mess hall tent, and in Tikrit and in Falluja. For his part, he told the soldiers their sacrifice will be worth it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: And the thought of turning over this country to the people who behead people on television and videos, to the people who consciously, purposefully kill innocent men, women and children, would turn this part of the world and this country back to darkness. And we simply can't let that happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ENSOR: Rumsfeld posed for photos with quite a few soldiers, one of whom surprised the defense secretary by presenting him with a cigar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is for you, sir. I don't know if you smoke or not. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) came out of Saddam Hussein's stash (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He's not going to be smoking anymore for awhile.

RUMSFELD: I love it. All right. Let's get a picture here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ENSOR: On his trip there were no tough questions from the soldiers. One did ask, "How do we win the war in the media?" Rumsfeld said -- you guessed that quote -- "What's news has to be bad news in order to get into the press," adding that the question did not sound to him as if it was planted by the press.

That was in reference to a tough question he got last time in Iraq, a question about why not all U.S. forces have the best armor available for the vehicles. A reporter later claimed to have planted that question with a soldier, though the soldier has since insisted in print that the question was his own.

Anyway, this trip was a chance for the defense secretary to try to show that he really does care about the troops in Iraq at a time when some critics, including some Republicans in this town, have suggested otherwise -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Yes, David, for those who suggest today's trip was just a PR stunt, Rumsfeld today said that he had originally planned a trip to Mosul before that bombing on Tuesday. Do you know why the delay?

ENSOR: The plans I'm told were made before the bombing. But for security reasons, the plans were not revealed until -- until the trip was already well under way. And those who were traveling with the secretary, who did know in advance, obviously, were sworn to secrecy for these security reasons -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. CNN's David Ensor in Washington. Thank you, David.

Well, let's get another perspective now. That of a former military man. Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks served in Iraq as senior intelligence officer for coalition land forces. He recently retired as commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center.

We appreciate you joining us today.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Sure Betty. Merry Christmas to you.

NGUYEN: Well, let's talk about -- yes, Merry Christmas to you. Let's talk about Rumsfeld's trip, if we would. Was it a surprise trip just as a PR stunt for Rumsfeld, or was it a morale boost for the troops?

MARKS: I'd have to say it was a morale boost for the troops. They were buoyed by his presence. And you're talking to a former military guy about PR stunts.

You're in the media. I wouldn't even venture an answer to that one. I think honestly the secretary of defense made the absolute right decision. He's with the soldiers and the Marines who are in harm's way. And it is great for them, and it is certainly good for the secretary of defense, as well. I know he was encouraged by their presence, and he felt good by being around them.

NGUYEN: Also, politically it has to -- has to have been a good move because Rumsfeld has been taking a lot of heat lately for his handling of war in Iraq, wouldn't you agree?

MARKS: Oh, absolutely. I would tell you, if you venture down that path about whether it was good or whether it was a calculated decision on his part to do some image adjustment or modifications, I would tell you certainly. But from a perspective of a former soldier and from those soldiers on the ground, it was just great for them to see their civilian leadership there with them.

NGUYEN: And the timing, too, on the heels of that bombing in Mosul. We want to look now at some video of Rumsfeld dining with some of the troops today during this surprise visit.

One of our producers noticed that right there in this video you don't see many of the troops wearing flak jackets. Now, that was of certain following this Mosul suicide bombing at a dining hall there. Is that a concern there today as you watch this video?

MARKS: Well, I think that -- well, the commanders on the ground are making a determination of what the threat level is and how well they can control it. If you'll recall, the forward operating base, Marez, where the suicide bomber conducted his operations the other day, that was a coalition base where Iraqi forces and U.S. forces routinely co-mingle.

The images you see today are exclusively coalition or U.S.-only facilities. So I think the determination was made on the ground that it is OK not to wear both the body armor and the helmets.

NGUYEN: We're also learning today in "The Washington Post" that following the November election Colin Powell met with President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, suggesting there weren't enough troops on the ground. Now, following that meeting, some three weeks later the Pentagon announced that it will up the troop level to 150,000 troops. Is that a smart move?

MARKS: I think it's a -- it's a great move. And clearly our civilian and military leadership concur that it's the right thing to do. Whether it's a temporary solution or not remains to be seen depending on how the run-up to the elections goes and how after the election things are stabilized.

NGUYEN: Should they have upped the troop level long before now? Why the long-running debate?

MARKS: Well, I think the concern that you have is that, in order to dominate the terrain, which is a Marine and Army mission, to own the ground and to make sure that you got sufficient force to control the enemies' movements, clearly the determination has been that there was sufficient force on the ground. Obviously, the insurgents and the terrorists and their activities have been emboldened, and the requirement is we're going to need more.

Now, the real question is, is the aggregate total of the Army and the Marine Corps, the ground forces that are available for routine rotations into theater sufficient? And I think that will be debated and discussed over the weeks and months to come.

NGUYEN: Now, would this increase be necessary if the Iraqi security forces were ready to go? And what's the delay there?

MARKS: Well, that's a two-part question. Clearly, the number of ground forces required needs to be a mix of Iraqi -- indigenous Iraqi forces and coalition and other partners. So it just doesn't have to be a U.S. solution, nor should it be, and no one has ever argued that it must be.

In fact, the going in solution has always been let's spread this around, get as many contributors as we can. But you have to have an aggregate total that gives you the security on the ground. That's the first part of your question.

The second part is, how long has it taken? Clearly, there are is just as great difficulty in getting Iraqis to raise their hands and to be patriots and to put themselves and their families at risk. But that's going on, and it's going to increase in pace. And it should.

NGUYEN: Do you think it's going to increase to a level that it needs to be by election time?

MARKS: Oh, I don't think that we're going to be there by then. And that's why the decision has been made to increase the U.S. presence.

NGUYEN: All right. Let's move on to troops on the ground now, U.S. troops on the ground. This obviously a holiday season, a difficult time for them. How do you deal with that? How do you boost morale?

MARKS: Well, having been there over holidays many times myself in deployed locations, and Iraq just a couple years ago, first of all, there really are -- there are multiple elements. But primarily, you have incredibly trained leaders who focus in on their soldiers and their Marines to ensure that they maintain a focus on the mission and that they maintain their camaraderie.

That's primary. And the leaders are trained to ensure that that happens.

Also, there has been a tremendous increase in capabilities for the soldiers and the Marines and all service members that are deployed to communicate with their families. That happens quite frequently now as well.

Plus, there's an outpouring of support from the U.S. in all forms of giving. And so the soldiers and the Marines and everybody on the ground understands that. And so there is ample opportunity, one, to stay focused on the mission, leaders to keep them focused, and the support of the nation.

NGUYEN: All right. General Spider Marks, we appreciate your insight today. Have a great holiday.

MARKS: Thank you. And you.

NGUYEN: On the subject of Iraq and Christmas, it has been a season of trial, even danger for the very few Iraqis who practice Christianity. With that story, here's CNN's Chris Lawrence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time ever, Christmas services in Iraq are being cut back or canceled. And Iraqis say some Christians are being persecuted for going public.

REV. AKRAN HAKEEM, IRAQI PRIEST (through translator): It is a catastrophe.

LAWRENCE: Father Akran Hakeem has 12 years in the priesthood but has never seen it this bad. There are fewer than a million Christians in Iraq. Numbers so small they were never seen as a threat to Saddam Hussein.

But now insurgents associate any Christians with the military coalition. Extremists have killed or wounded dozens, attacking churches with rockets and bombs. For this priest and his parish it has been a true taste of faith.

HAKEEM (through translator): We came to an understanding that if I'm going to die anyway, I would rather die in a church.

LAWRENCE: But church leaders say about 50,000 Christians have already left the country, and even this church keeps its celebration simple.

(on camera): They used to have lavish productions outside here in the courtyard and celebrate midnight mass at midnight.

(voice-over): Now the decorations are kept indoors. The faithful sent home early.

Despite the danger, Father Hakeem can still joke about his future.

HAKEEM (through translator): In two years we'll celebrate the church's 50-year anniversary if they haven't blown it up.

LAWRENCE: So his only wish this Christmas is for a truly silent night.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE) NGUYEN: On another subject, how is the retail world faring this day before Christmas? We'll get an update on the last-minute surge in sales.

Also ahead...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were very unhappy because St. Nicholas Day was coming and the children -- they had nothing for the children. One of us said, "Why don't we have a Christmas party for these kids?" So that sounded like a good idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: A Christmas tale that began 60 years ago at a time of war. You won't want to miss this story later on "News from CNN."

We'll be back in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Airport delays are often the downside of holiday travel, but one Philadelphia grandmother didn't get mad, she got creative. Her son and 2-year-old grandson were stuck on a flight from San Diego. Some three hours after it landed in Philadelphia, the plane was still on the tarmac. Now, this waiting grandma says she worked the phones to work a little magic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CATHERINE LAMBROS, MEETING FAMILY AT AIRPORT: They were flying from San Diego on flight 100. It landed at 9:30. At 12:30, they were still on the tarmac with 23 planes ahead of them. And they weren't moving.

And so I asked people, "Can you help me? What's going on?" And they said. "Well, try the courtesy phone. Well, I'm sorry, the courtesy phones are broken."

And "We don't work for the airport. We can't tell you anything. I work for TSA. I work for something else. I work for something else."

Nobody could answer anything. So I overheard somebody say the name of the guy who is the manager. And so I called 411 and I got his phone number. And I called him at home.

And I said, "You've got to do something. I've got a 2-year-old on that plane." And, you know, they don't even give out peanuts or nuts or pillows anymore. You know? You know, the kid just can't sit there all night.

And so within 10 minutes he had them getting off the plane. Well then, since then -- now that's about 12:30. Since then, we've been waiting for the luggage. Nothing has been moving. Nothing. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: Maybe she needs to make another phone call for that one. All right.

Well, Christmas carols, eggnog and a trip to the mall, that is how some last-minute shoppers are spending the day. Our Allan Chernoff joins me now from a mall in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Allan, have you done all of your shopping just yet?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: I am all set, Betty. But plenty of people behind me are not.

As you can see, the mall here is packed. The last-minute shopping season well under way. But for retailers this is not the end of the holiday season.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: It's down to the wire for holiday shoppers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I usually try to have everything done before Thanksgiving. But this year I missed that target and so I'm out last minute shopping.

CHERNOFF: But for retailers, the holiday season is not nearly finished, not even close. A growing number of shoppers are planning to spend heavily after Christmas, over 20 percent of their holiday budget, according to one survey. The quest is to get more for their money.

SCOTT KRUGMAN, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: Post-Christmas shopping now is more important than it's ever been in the history of retail. The main factor here is gift cards.

CHERNOFF: Gift cards, an easy solution at the last minute, are extending the shopping season. No longer perceived as the lazy man's gift, Americans are buying a record number of gift cards. It's especially important for retailers, since gift cards don't count as sales until they're cashed in.

TARA WEINER, DELOITTE & TOUCHE: A significant percentage, up to 30 percent, spend twice the face value of the gift card, a tremendous opportunity for retailers to focus on.

CHERNOFF: It's a second chance for retailers, many of whom have had a challenging holiday season, discounters in particular. Wal-Mart has said it expects sales in December may rise only 1 percent from the year ago period. Some of the money shoppers might have spent on gifts this year instead has gone to fill the gas tank -- 20 percent more expensive than last year.

KEN HICKS, PRESIDENT, J.C. PENNEY: It could take as much as $10 out of each customer's pocket per week for every car that they have. And that has an impact on what their available -- what they have available to spend for Christmas gifts.

CHERNOFF: J.C. Penney is doing better than most department stores, some of which have been struggling to meet modest sales targets of gains in the low single digits. But upscale stores like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Sak's, whose customers barely feel the pinch of higher gas prices, are filled with the cheer of ringing cash registers.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CHERNOFF: Today may be one of the busiest days of the entire holiday shopping season partly because of an American tradition: procrastination -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. Allan Chernoff, thank you for that.

All right. Well, if you're flying, driving or just staying put today, CNN meteorologist Orelon Sidney has the forecast, and she joins me now from the CNN Weather Center.

What a day -- Orelon.

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's not a good day for you if you're on the roadways, especially if you're trying to get through the Midwest.

(WEATHER REPORT)

NGUYEN: OK. Orelon Sidney, thank you.

SIDNEY: You're welcome.

NGUYEN: Well, up next, hope is where the heart is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning and merry Christmas you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning. Merry Christmas, Vincent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you hear us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, good morning. And Merry Christmas to you all, too. Yes, ma'am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: We'll have more on that.

And the holy land prepares for a holy holiday, Christmas in Bethlehem, when the "NEWS FROM CNN" returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: A new spirit of optimism is burning brightly in Bethlehem this Christmas. Israel is allowing free travel to the West Bank City, even handing out candy to Palestinians and pilgrims at roadblocks.

CNN's John Vause is live in Bethlehem with much more on this.

Hi there, John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Betty.

It is a cold and rainy Christmas Eve here in Bethlehem. Still, the faithful have been gathering all day long in mangers, but they're not too many out there right now. Listen to the choirs. But we are told that there are pilgrims here this year, a few thousand by some estimates, and the numbers are way up on the last few years. That's good news for the people of Bethlehem. Their economy has been struggling for the last few years. This is a city which relies on tourists, and they have not been coming, and their numbers are still way down when you compare it 1999, before the outbreak of violence, when tens of thousands of people would be here on Christmas Eve.

Nevertheless, there is that spirit of hope that maybe, just maybe, the Israelis and the Palestinians are moving toward some kind of lasting peace negotiations just perhaps.

And in fact, one significant factor in all of this, there will be no empty chair this year in the front row at midnight mass in a few hours from now. For the last three years, that seat has been left empty for Yasser Arafat because he was confined in his West Bank compound, but this year, Mahmoud Abbas, the man who is likely to be the next president of the Palestinian Authority will be attending those services. But all of this of course is tempered, Palestinians say, by the wall which Israel is building around this city, a barrier which Israel says is necessary to stop the suicide bombers and other militant attacks, but Palestinians say it is simply strangling this city, and that is one of the factors which is keeping the optimism -- not really boosting the optimism, if you like, Betty.

NGUYEN: Yes, CNN's John Vause in Bethlehem. Have a merry Christmas, John.

News around the world now. The campaign in Ukraine is nearing its end ahead of Sunday's presidential revote. Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko is demanding the government ensure free and fair elections, and he warns it will be a colossal mistake if, quote, "even one drop of blood is shed." The newly elected president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, swore in his new cabinet today. Mr. Karzai has pledged to bring more professionalism to the government, and to leave behind the tribal divisions that have long marked Afghan history. An unmanned Russian spaceship blasted into space today, carrying badly needed supplies for the crew of the International Space Station. The spaceship is scheduled to reach the station Sunday. The two-member U.S.-Russia crew has been forced to ration dwindling supplies of food and water until help arrives.

Well, the Secretary of Defense comes through for U.S. troops in Iraq. Will Donald Rumsfeld's Christmas Eve visit to the warfront pacify those at home who consider him a Pentagon grinch? I'll talk about that and plenty more with my guests. There they are, talkshow hosts Stephanie Miller and Darrell Ankarlo next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Donald Rumsfeld's surprise visit to Iraq is designed to lift holiday morale among the troops, and perhaps boost the defense secretary's sagging image here at home. Joining me to talk about that and other hot topics today, Stephanie Miller is a nationally syndicated talkshow host with the Jones radio network. And Darrell Ankarlo is a talk show host on Dallas' KLIF Radio, and the author of "What Went Wrong with America, and How to Fix It." We appreciate boat both of you joining us on this Christmas Eve.

Darrell, let's start with you, Rumsfeld's surprise visit to Iraq, morale boost or P.R. move?

DARRELL ANKARLO, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It was P.R. Boost, but at the same time, this is exactly what Rumsfeld needed to do in this story. His numbers have been lacking. We've had trouble with him. I've had personal trouble with him as a father of a U.S. Marine.

But when you stop and look at this, here's a guy who is not doing the condolence letters via computer any longer. He's jumping on a plane and he's going into Iraq. It's a boost; it's a good job.

NGUYEN: Stephanie, will this take the heat off Rumsfeld any?

STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Oh, I hope not. It is amazing to me. I think these troops deserve more than photo ops. They deserve more than a plastic turkey at Thanksgiving that the president brought, and it's such a blatant publicity move, I just think, unless he brought body armor as a gift to armor up the Humvees, then I'm not sure why he bothered.

NGUYEN: Darrell, you want to respond to that.

ANKARLO: Low blow. Yes, low blow. We understand that that very planted story was completely wrong. It was inaccurate.

Rumsfeld has his problems. The Pentagon has its problems. But we're trying our darndest to take care of these guys and equip them. Yes, it was P.R. move, but it was a morale booster for Christmas, exactly what your leader at the Pentagon needs to do.

NGUYEN: Darrell, was the response of the troops planted, as well, when they responded to the question that the soldier asked Rumsfeld?

ANKARLO: Yes, how do you like that? As far as the response a couple weeks ago, I believe that they were right in doing the applause, or the hoo-wa, as they did, but that's what soldiers do. It was that select group of people. Across Iraq, the people who are serving us are serving us proudly, and they're being taken care of.

NGUYEN: Well, and today, Rumsfeld took questions as well. Those questions, one of them directed at how do troops win the war with the media. How do they win the media war, because all of the news, that according to this one soldier, all of the news coming out of Iraq is bad news. Your response to that, Stephanie?

MILLER: Yes, I'm not sure there is any other kind of news, unfortunately, coming out of Iraq. That's why I say, you know, that I think we need some concrete better planning. We don't need any more photo ops with banners, you know. I just think that it is amazing. We liberals are the ones that are always painted as hating the troops, and not supporting the troops and hating the military. It seems to me that, you know, we're the ones talking about why these humvees are not armored this far into the war. It's a disgrace if you ask me.

NGUYEN: All right, Darrell, we're going to shift gears right now and talk about this The Washington Post report today that mentioned Colin Powell meeting with President Bush and Tony Blair after the November election, and there in that meeting, he discussed the fact that he didn't believe there were enough troops on the ground. Do you believe that an increase in troop level is necessary, was necessary?

ANKARLO: Yes, absolutely, Betty, it is. I think that Powell is exactly right on this. I have been calling for more troops in Iraq, 50,000 or 60,000 more boots on the ground there for the last year, year and a half. What we did was, we went in and we thought we would have help from some of our allies. We noticed that they backed off. We didn't follow up by adding additional firepower, the additional manpower on the ground there. I think that we need to take care of business there.

Falluja, look at that city. It starting to see insurgency or the terrorists attacks again, because the Iraqi Governing Council, they're allowing people of Falluja to return to the city. Keep them out of the city. Let our guys get in there with the number of people that we need to get the job done or else this is going to be a long, long, long, long war.

NGUYEN: Stephanie, boots on the ground going to be enough to win this war?

MILLER: Well, you know, Betty, I wish he had listened -- the president had listened to Colin Powell when he told him about the Pottery Barn rule, that, you know, if you break it, you're going own it because I just think it's a tragic situation in Iraq.

I don't know how we're going to get out of it. I wish he had listened to many people that told him that we would need more troops in the first place. It was just poor planning all around. Even if you agree with the war, you have to agree that our planning was disastrous.

NGUYEN: So Darrel, as we head into 2004 how -- or 2005, how crucial of a year is this going to be for the situation in Iraq and for the Bush administration?

ANKARLO: I think the president needs to stay focused. It's not a war in Iraq or on Iraq, it's a war on terrorism. We need to remember they attacked us, they being the Islamic extremists, the fundamentalist extremists, who, by the way, had some...

MILLER: The ones that weren't in Iraq?

ANKARLO: ... they had training grounds in Iraq...

MILLER: The ones that weren't in Iraq until we attacked them?

ANKARLO: Hey, do you know a guy by the name of al Zarqawi? He had training grounds in Iraq the entire time. Come on, Stephanie, get with the program.

MILLER: Oh, please, Darrell, you know that's not true.

NGUYEN: How crucial of a year is it going to be in your eyes?

MILLER: We have created exactly what we said we went in there to stop. We created a terrorist haven. It was not a terrorist haven until we went in there.

ANKARLO: Hang on a second. Stephanie, my son, who is a marine right now, is in a place called Camp Falluja. He's serving in Falluja right now. But just outside of Camp Falluja is an area that al Zarqawi headed up personally. Our marines have control of it today. That's not second or thirdhand knowledge, that's firsthand knowledge from boots on the ground there.

NGUYEN: We want to take a look at some new tape that we're getting in. I want you guys to look at it, as well. We're getting it from Camp Victory today. Rumsfeld there with the troops. Now we mentioned his surprise trip and what a morale boost this is going to be. But Stephanie, I'll going to direct a question to you, as I did Darrell. As we look at the new year, how crucial is this going to be for the Bush administration?

MILLER: I'm sorry, is that me? I'm sorry. I thought you said Darrell. I'm sorry, I'm just looking at this video and shaking my head. We have the president in a flight suit and Donald Rumsfeld in some other little outfit. I just -- you know, the photo ops, I think, if you really love America and you love our troops, you want better for them than that.

NGUYEN: Darrell, I'm going to give you the last word here. Because you have a son serving in Falluja, a son in the marines. Is this a bittersweet holiday season for you or are you optimistic about the new year?

ANKARLO: Yes, you know, I'm optimistic. The one thing I've learned about being a military dad, every time the doorbell rings, every time somebody knocks at the door, my heart jumps. And it's like my goodness, it's not going to be that kind of information, it's not going to be that news. That's what 150,000 men and women are going through today, parents in America who have people serving over there. I want my son home. I want them all home. So let's be resolved to get the job done, fight the war, win and bring them home.

NGUYEN: All right, Darrell Ankarlo and Stephanie Miller. We thank you both for your insight today.

MILLER: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Separated but not apart for the holidays.

(BEGIN CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to tell my family back in Charleston and my daughter in Pensacola, Florida, that I love you all. No need to worry. I'll going to be safe. I have the faith.

(END CLIP)

NGUYEN: A holiday reunion when the news from CNN returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Here's some new tape that we are getting into CNN right now. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in Baghdad, now at Camp Victory in this video now. Rumsfeld has since left Iraq, we understand. But he did make a surprise visit this morning to the troops there in Iraq on this Christmas eve.

And for the past several weeks, CNN has been arranging live holiday reunions between U.S. troops in Iraq with families here at home. The reunions you'll see only on CNN. Now, earlier today, CNN's Daryn Kagan was on hand when Staff Sergeant Vincent McClellan talked with family members in Charleston, South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning and Merry Christmas to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning. Merry Christmas, Vincent. Can you hear me?

STAFF SERGEANT VINCENT MCCLELLAN, TASK FORCE OLYMPIA: Hey, good morning. And Merry Christmas to you all, too. Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you.

MCCLELLAN: I love you, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for the Christmas card. And I love the letter that was inside of it. T.J. wants to tell you Merry Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merry Christmas, Uncle Vincent.

MCCLELLAN: Hey, Merry Christmas, T.J.

Sergeant, such a key week and such an important week to talk to you. First of all, with what happened at your base on Tuesday with the suicide bomber, were you anywhere near that mess tent when the explosion took place? MCCLELLAN: No, ma'am. I was nowhere near that mess tent, but I felt it in my heart because it was my fellow comrades. And it was a very tragic event that happened. You know, we are going to get over it and we're going to drive on with this mission and see this mission through.

KAGAN: Absolutely. And if you can tell us about the mood and morale at your base now since that has happened?

MCCLELLAN: Well, right now, the mood is like a still mood, you know, thinking about the families, the ones who just got injured, or who lost their lives during this tragic event that happened a few days ago. We want to get over that. Everybody is going to get back up to their high morale. But we're going on with the mission.

KAGAN: Thank you so much. Let's bring mom back in. Ms. Clancy, have you had a chance to speak to your son before now since Tuesday's event?

MARY CLANCY, MOTHER: No, this is my -- I spoke with him that Tuesday morning. And that bombing happened that afternoon. And I haven't heard from him until this morning before I came over here to do this.

KAGAN: Well, our satellite window is getting short. So anything else you have to say to your son or your uncle or your brother, go ahead and get it in from Charleston.

CLANCY: Vincent, explain to me now where you'll be going for the next three years -- Vincent?

MCCLELLAN: Yes, ma'am. I said I guess I'm lucky from the great job I'm doing over here -- I've been V.A. selected for a NATO assignment in Belgium.

CLANCY: Very good.

HARRIS: Very good.

KAGAN: Any final words you want to get into your family before our satellite time closes?

MCCLELLAN: Yes, ma'am. I just want to tell my family back in Charleston and my daughter in Pensacola, Florida, that I love you all. No need to worry. I'm going to be safe. I have the faith. Love you and enjoy your holidays.

CLANCY: And we wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I do the same. And we miss you, love.

CLANCY: Love you. Bye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bye, Uncle Vincent. I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Say I love you. MCCLELLAN: I love you all.

NGUYEN: So nice to see. Be sure to watch a special Christmas day addition of military family reunions. The injured and heroes from the Mosul attack talk with their families. That's tomorrow morning at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.

Reflecting on a Christmas past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I come here and I respect and care. And it gets me every time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: How one man recalls a town he left behind but didn't forget some 60 years ago. That story when the news from CNN returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Finally today, a reminder that the true spirit of Christmas lives on, CNN's Tom Foreman has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the little country of Luxembourg on Germany's western border, a big parade rolls along. Candy for the good children, switches for bad parents and a miracle in the middle. For 60 years American Dick Brookins has been St. Nicholas here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's great. It is really great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My grandparents, they saw the same Santa Claus and now I'm here to see same Santa Claus again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's the America we love so much.

FOREMAN: It all started in December, 1944 as Allied soldiers pushed the German army toward Berlin and the end of World War II. Dick Brookins' unit liberated the tiny town of Wiltz, Luxembourg.

DICK BROOKINS, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: People here were delighted and happy to be free but they were very unhappy because St. Nicholas Day was coming and the children -- they had nothing for the children. One of us said, why don't we have a Christmas party for these kids? So that sounded like a good idea.

FOREMAN: The soldiers collected all of the candy, gum and cookies sent from home. Dick Brookins went to a local church where nuns dressed him in the bishop's robes to play St. Nick and this film from so long ago shows what happened next.

BROOKINS: I was driven to a public school and they brought children out into the outdoor yard and then they lined the kids up and gave them some of this candy and cookies. There was no ability to converse because there was no English understood, but somehow we managed to get the feel for what was going on.

And those kids didn't know this was an American soldier who was St. Nicholas. OK? The youngest kids. Some of those children had not even had a St. Nicholas Day because they were like 3, 4 years old and it hasn't occurred for almost five years.

FOREMAN: That joy did not last. Within days the soldiers were swept into the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive of the war. The Americans suffered 80,000 casualties. In the gun fire, Christmas was forgotten.

But not in Wiltz, 30 years after the war, Dick Brookins received a call at his home in the States. Was he the man who played St. Nick, could he come do it again?

BROOKINS: Just as many butterflies now as I had the first time.

FOREMAN: Because in Wiltz, every year since the war's end, the town had marked the day and remembered the long lost American St. Nick.

BROOKINS: Hearing about this after 30 years, I was just dumbfounded.

FOREMAN: Brookins did go back and has returned again and again to lead the parade, hand out the candy.

BROOKINS: Well, as it turned out, this was one of the greatest things that had happened to them. It represented their freedom, liberation and restoration of their life.

FOREMAN: As it was in the war, the celebration is colored with sadness. Some of the soldiers who brought Christmas back to Wiltz are here forever. Dick Brookins comes to the American cemetery every time.

BROOKINS: I think it is the next one.

FOREMAN: To the grave of his best friend, Eddie Stein (ph).

BROOKINS: I come here out of respect and care. And it gets me every time. I'm still alive and he's gone. These are the heroes, 5,000 of them in this cemetery.

FOREMAN: But mostly his trips here are happy affairs. Time for awards from a grateful town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I hope we will put this fire in the hearts of our children and so these festivities and St. Nick will come to Wiltz for years and years and years.

FOREMAN: Time to meet the children of long ago. Grandparents now. And time to greet the children of today.

BROOKINS: What's this one's name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

FOREMAN: And it seems there is always time enough, Dick Brookins is in his 80's but St. Nick is timeless and forever loved in the streets of Wiltz.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: We want to go back now to that video that we're just getting in from Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq, a surprise visit, he is at Camp Victory here in Baghdad in this video speaking to soldiers in the mess hall. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And to change that way of living, would strike at the very essence of our country.

And I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon, the people who cut off peoples' heads on television to intimidate, to frighten -- indeed the word "terrorized" is just that. Its purpose is to terrorize, to alter behavior, to make people be something other than that which they want to be.

And that is exactly what we cannot allow to happen.

The American people recognize the importance of your mission: that you're here for a purpose, and that purpose is not to run the country of Iraq. That's for the Iraqi people. It's not to find an American solution for Iraq.

Indeed, it is to be here, to try to help train and equip and organize and assist the Iraqi security forces so that they, over time, will be able to take on responsibility for their country. And this country will find a solution that will be uniquely Iraqi.

If you think about what's happened in Afghanistan, three years ago it was the training ground for terrorists. It was the place that the attacks against the United States were hatched and launched. And today they've elected their first popularly elected president in the history of the country. They are moving toward parliamentary elections in April. They have established a democratic system that's respectful of all of the various diverse elements in that country.

Women are voting for the first time. They're able to go outside by themselves without being accompanied. Young children can fly a kite, can sing and dance, which they were not allowed to do under the Taliban. The soccer stadium in Kabul is being used for soccer instead of beheading people.

So the accomplishment in Afghanistan was a truly breathtaking experience. I was there for the inauguration. And President Karzai, from the bottom of his heart, thanked the American people and said that without that help they would not be a free society, they would not have been able to what they are doing, that people would not be going to school.

Here's a country that doesn't have any of the capabilities that this country does. It doesn't have the water, it doesn't have the oil, it doesn't have the population that is as well-educated as Iraq. This country has every chance in the world to make it.

And it's in an important location. It will have a big affect on this region. They've made good progress. If you think about it, they've gone from an Iraqi Governing Council to an interim government, moving toward elections at the end of next month, moving toward then the development of a constitution.

I've lived a few years -- a lot of years. And I have seen fascism rise and fall. I've seen communism rise and fall. We've seen the Berlin Wall get built and get torn down. And if you think about the message in all of that, we've seen Afghanistan go from a terrorist training ground to a democracy.

Now, what does that say? It says that the great sweep of human history is for freedom. And that is the side we're on. And that's the side you're on.

Just a few weeks ago, Falluja was controlled by assassins and today it's a free city. Something like 140,000 refugees have come to this country from other countries, Iraqis. Why do they do that? Why do they get up one morning and say to themselves, "I'm going to leave where I am that's safer to be sure, and I'm going to go back to Iraq"?

They are voting with their feet. They are convinced that life is going to be good here, that there is a chance of making it, and that people do need to pitch in and see that it happens.

I must say, as a personal message, before I come out and shake hands and have a chance to tell you how much we appreciate your service, let me just say that we know that you sacrifice. We certainly know your families do. And they certainly serve, just as you do. And they are strong.

I get a chance to see them in Bethesda and Walter Reed and other hospitals. And I meet the families of people who have been wounded, your colleagues, people who have been here and gone back and are recuperating. And I must say, the families are the most amazing thing. They are truly extraordinary.

They are proud of what their sons and daughters do. They have strength and courage. And I don't think anyone can come away from being with them without gaining inspiration for the tough tasks ahead.

Now, it's Christmas Eve. And I don't want to, in any way, paint a picture that's pretty, because it isn't pretty. This is a tough part of the world. This is a tough country. Your friends and your associates are at risk, as you are. And I wish I could stand here and say that the incidents of violence were going to calm down between now and the elections.

I wish I could stand here and say that the incidents of violence will calm down after the elections. I can't say that.

The people that we're up against have a lot to lose, a lot to lose. They also have brains. And they watch what we do, and they adjust to what we do. And they're determined.

But so are we. We are in a test of wills. There isn't a battle anyone could bring against you that you couldn't win. You're not going to be faced with battles. You're going to be faced in the shadows, in the side streets and with people who are using every conceivable time, task and way of attacking you where you're most vulnerable.

And that's what we face.

So there isn't any way that foreign troops, our troops, coalition troops or any other troops from any country can provide security in this country.

What we can do is contribute to security. What we can do is help to train the Iraqis and mentor the Iraqis, and see that the Iraqis develop the capability, the equipment, the training, the organization, the chain of command, the experience, the rib cage, the officer leadership, the non-com leadership, the experience to take over responsibility for their own security.

And that's our task. That's what we have to do. That's what is being done. And we've got wonderful people working on it, and I'm here to simply to look you in the eye and say, "Thank you, every one of you. God bless you."

(APPLAUSE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, recorded within the past couple of hours at a place called Camp Victory near Baghdad at a mess hall in the wake of that Mosul bombing. Let's listen back in, he's saying a few more things.

RUMSFELD: But I did today. And I'm glad I did.

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: What you missed was the secretary of defense said he doesn't do hats. Apparently he was offered one of the unit hats there. In any case, giving a speech which was pretty much almost word for word what he has said at several previous locations on his whirlwind Christmas Eve visit to buck up the troops there in Iraq, particularly in the wake of the Mosul suicide bombing.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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