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On the eve of national elections, violence continues in Iraq. Condoleezza Rice is confirmed as secretary of state, with 13 Democratic senators voting no. Senator Ted Kennedy offers a plan to withdraw U.S. Troops from Iraq by the end of 2006.

Aired January 29, 2005 - 19:00   ET


AL HUNT, GUEST HOST: Welcome to a special "Iraq Votes" edition of THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Al Hunt, with Kate O'Beirne, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson. Our guest is Democratic congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, who just returned from Iraq. Thanks for being with us, Marty.
REP. MARTIN MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It's great to be here, Al.

HUNT: It's good to have you.

On the single deadliest day for U.S. forces in Iraq, with the death toll reaching 37, President Bush expressed his optimism about Iraq's historic election.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The notion that somehow we're not making progress, I -- I just don't subscribe to. I mean, we're having elections. And I think people need to put this moment in history in proper context. That context, of course, starts with whether or not the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein in power and whether or not America would be more secure.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The president has said that it is not a timetable and it's not a numbers game, and the task is to see that the Iraqi security forces develop the capacity and the capability and the leadership so that they can assume responsibility for security in that country.


HUNT: Kate, how can the president and the defense secretary be so optimistic when the death toll for U.S. Forces keeps rising?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Well, the loss of those Marines in the helicopter crash this week was heart-breaking, and the president recognizes how discouraging that is to the public when they hear it. But he also looks at Iraq and sees what so many others also see, the kind of progress that has been made owing to those kinds of brave Marines.

Most of the country is peaceful. They are having these elections now for the first time ever. It seems those who have argued that the terrorists would not be defeated by overwhelming force, what it would take is much better intelligence and getting the politics right -- I think they can point to some recent developments. They do seem to have better intelligence now. I think more Iraqis are cooperating with respect to tracking down terrorists. They seem to have arrested some of the leading -- Zarqawi's lieutenants.

And then look at how -- how desperate Zarqawi's sounding. He's a foreign terrorist. He's not fighting against the occupation. He made it clear this week the evil principle of democracy is the enemy. All voters, all Iraqi voters he's calling infidels. He's not leading an insurgency against a dictatorship, he's leading, as a foreign terrorist, a fight against Iraqis' right to -- to self-determination, to electing their own government. He seems like a desperate man.

HUNT: Marty, you just were over there. Things getting better? Most of the country peaceful?

MEEHAN: Well, first of all, I think the election is historic, and I hope as many Iraqis vote as possible, and I'm optimistic about at least the process that's taking place. I think that's a good thing.

I would disagree, though, that things are getting better. In fact, the attacks against our troops and the Iraqi security forces are actually increasing. I think that we have a situation where the insurgency is growing. It's interesting. Over the last, well, over a year, every month, we have either killed or captured a 1,000 to 3,000 insurgents. Yet in that same period of time of over a year, the insurgency has gone to over 5,000 to over 20,000 insurgents. There's a group of 100,000 to 200,00 Iraqi citizens that are sort of coming into the insurgency, and that's where the difficulty arises.

It's clear to me that we have to make sure we get these soldiers trained and up front and get Americans in the background. That's why it's important that we not be viewed as occupiers here, and that's why we need a strategy to change the dynamic in Iraq with regard to the occupation.

HUNT: Bob, what are your sources telling you about the situation over there?

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Well, I think President Bush is in a very difficult position politically because he can't get on the tube and say, Woe is me, woe is me, we're just having a terrible time, people are dying. The president can't do that. On the other hand, it's not credible when he says things are going good because people watch the news, they watch the -- they listen to congressmen of both parties coming back and saying that it's very tough.

What my sources tell me is there are some improvements, but it's still a very difficult situation. And of course, it's going to -- the thing that we all want to do is get -- get out of there as quickly as we can consistent with leaving Iraq not a bloodbath by a -- under a controlled condition.

But I do -- I do think there is a kind of a false tone of this -- this tremendous sound of optimism, Things are getting better and better, because things are not.

HUNT: How about your sources, Margaret?

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: You know, the insurgency is growing. It's not diminishing. And the success of these elections -- Bush has determined them a success already. He's defined democracy to be whatever comes out of these elections. But whether they are successful or not will be whether the -- it slows the Sunni insurgency and they accept the election somehow, whether it changes the attitudes of ordinary Iraqis so that the insurgency can't recruit others, and whether we're going to be able to get anybody else to help us in there because as we -- as Bob suggests, you know, we do want to pull our troops down, turn it over to the Iraqis, but in this interim period, we've got to have help from some others.

HUNT: And Kate, is it your view that the election itself could well be a turning point, in the sense it'll have an effect on the -- on the terrorists, the insurgents?

O'BEIRNE: Well, I -- I think -- as Bob said, I hear the same thing. An awful lot of people close to the situation see improvements, but it remains a really difficult situation. What happens post-election, even though it's only a transitional government, the first democratically elected government ever, Iraqis -- it's far easier for them to see this as the government that they chose, which is not the case with the transitional authority currently in charge. They have a far bigger incentive now to defend their government against Zarqawi -- as I said, a foreign terrorist -- or against the Ba'athist holdovers.

They are akin to the Nazis, you know, in the first election Germany had after the war, yearning for a return of Hitler. And I think it's going to become more and more apparent to the Iraqis that the occupation is not -- it's not spurred on by America being present, it's how threatened the Ba'athists are by a pluralistic government, where they're no longer running things like they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, and by the foreign terrorists who are extremely threatened...

HUNT: Let me just ask...

O'BEIRNE: ... by democracy in that part of the world.

HUNT: Let me ask Marty one question. We're all hopeful, as you were, about the -- about the election, and that's obviously a good sign. What's the danger post-election of a civil war over there...


MEEHAN: Well, there is a danger. The key to this whole thing, in my view, is that the Sunnis get -- come to the table and be part of the drafting of the Constitution. There are constitutional scholars within the Sunni community. If the Shi'ites invite them in and they have a real role to play, then I think by the time the next election, when we approve the constitution, will be in better shape.

NOVAK: Can I say one thing? HUNT: Quick word, Bob.

NOVAK: I'm really disappointed in Margaret talking about getting other troops, other countries' boots on the ground there. They're...

CARLSON: I didn't say...


CARLSON: ... helping us train...

NOVAK: They're not coming. They're not coming there. They're just not. They wouldn't have come if John Kerry was elected. They're not coming for George Bush. So let's -- let's forget that.

MEEHAN: Well, I think they'll help us train the Iraqi soldiers...

NOVAK: Not on the ground!

CARLSON: But whatever happens in the election...

MEEHAN: In Jordan.

CARLSON: ... and let us hope that there's enough votes that the turnout's accepted, but we can't leave in part because the insurgents will win, but we can't stay because we're inflaming the insurgents.

HUNT: And on that...

CARLSON: So let's try to get some others in.

HUNT: That is the final note, Margaret, to this segment. Marty Meehan and THE GANG will be back with the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice.


HUNT: Welcome back. Condoleezza Rice was confirmed by the Senate as secretary of state with 13 senators voting no.


SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Dr. Rice was a key member of the national security team that developed and justified the rationale for war, and it's been a catastrophic failure, a continuing quagmire.

SEN. MARK DAYTON (D), MINNESOTA: ... lying to Congress, lying to our committees and lying to the American people. It's wrong. It's immoral. It's un-American. And it has to stop. It stops by not promoting top administration officials who engage in the practice.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY WHIP: It is the role of the president to set foreign policy. It's the role of the secretary of state to execute it. All foreign policy decisions ultimately rest with the president.


HUNT: After her confirmation, the new secretary of state addressed State Department employees.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a great time for America. It's a great time for the international system. We have allies who we need to unite in this great cause ahead of us, and I look forward to working with you to do that.


HUNT: Margaret, do 87 yes votes constitute a vote of confidence for our new secretary of state?

CARLSON: Well, she has the president's ear. She's his choice, and so therefore, she will be a powerful secretary of state. But it is the largest number of no votes against a secretary of state since 1825. And I think it would have been higher were she not such a, you know, brilliant, lovely person with a great story and symbolic in being the first woman -- black woman to be secretary of state.

And the reason there would have been more no votes is that there's not been any opportunity to call anybody to account for the mess in Iraq. No one. In fact, all the others have gotten to stay or been promoted, and those -- the nay-sayers, like Colin Powell, are gone. Others have been given the Medal of Honor. So this is the first time to say to anyone in this administration, This is a mess. You are responsible. And we'd like to at least have a symbolic vote to say that.

HUNT: Marty, if you'd been in the upper chamber, would you have voted for her or against her?

MEEHAN: I probably would have voted against her, only as a protest of the way this post-war Iraq has been handled, the failures with regard to intelligence, basically, being promoted for being on the wrong side of most of the issues. Colin Powell's going out the door. As he's going out the door, he said we could withdraw troops by the end of the year. I think they're promoting the wrong people at the White House. And I agree with Margaret. I think this was the only opportunity that members of the Senate have had to kind of debate Iraq policy.

You know, the Congress hasn't been involved in Iraq policy since the drafting of the resolution two-and-half years ago, and they really haven't been involved. I disagree with Mitch McConnell that it's somebody else's job. Congress had better start to hold the administration accountable when it comes to foreign policy.

HUNT: Kate, I suspect you see it differently.

O'BEIRNE: Well, people like Marty and Margaret don't think George Bush ought to be in the White House. In November, there was accountability. How do you believe this president has handled Iraq? It was a key issue in the election. He was reelected. As a reelected president, he has a right to have the secretary of state he wants. All senators do is jawbone about Iraq! A representative of the administration doesn't go up there for a hearing -- Don Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz or Colin Powell -- without hearing a bunch of senator jawboning about Iraq. They have plenty of opportunity to be talking about it.

And Senator Dayton and Senator Boxer, and thankfully, only those two, were irresponsible enough to tell a world audience in the absence of any evidence whatsoever that the new secretary of state lied. Not so! A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee found not so!

But the anger and the money is on the left side of the Democratic Party. Barbara Boxer signed a fund-raiser based on her opposition to Condi Rice, to raise money from those Democrats. And I think that's what this is all about.

HUNT: Bob, apart from the politics, did we learn anything about Condi Rice, what kind of secretary of state she may be?

NOVAK: Well, I think she's going to be very loyal secretary of state. I don't think secretaries of state are supposed to make your own foreign policy. Ask William Jennings Bryan if you think that's the case.

As a matter of fact, I'm very disappointed in Marty Meehan because I think you're a responsible person, and I really think in my heart that if you were a senator, you would not vote no, but I know you got two senators who are very partisan, Kerry and Kennedy, and it's very hard for you to get away from them.

I don't believe that you can -- you can -- you shouldn't make debates or -- or votes on foreign policy or on the policy of Iraq on the basis of a secretary of state appointment. That isn't what the confirmation process is about.

I want to say one thing else about one of the strangest votes was by Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who is very moderate. Maybe he's too moderate for the Democrats. In the spring of '03 -- that's late in the game -- he went onto the Committee to Liberate Iraq, along with Joe Lieberman and John McCain. And so I guess he's trying to get straight on this issue now. So it's -- I think the 13 guys there are either extremists or politicians who voted against her.

MEEHAN: Bob, I...


HUNT: Let me get Marty -- I would say -- Marty, do you want to get in a word about being a Kennedy and Kerry acolyte?

MEEHAN: Well, look, I -- I think, Bob -- I disagree with you -- she was the architect of the Iraq policy, and that's part of the problem here. It's not as if she was just following along with everyone else. In many ways, she was an architect of the policy, and she ought to -- people ought to be held accountable at some point. I understand we had an election, but I don't think the president's election victory necessarily means the people of America agreed with the mistakes that have been made in post-war Iraq.

NOVAK: But President Bush was the architect of that policy...

O'BEIRNE: Right.

NOVAK: ... and we had a vote on him. It was a bigger vote than 100 senators, either.

CARLSON: Listen, Rumsfeld and Cheney, I think, were more the architects than Condoleezza Rice. I think she went along with...

O'BEIRNE: Why not George Bush?

CARLSON: ... them. But listen, what her elevation tells us is that the way to prosper in the Bush administration, now that all the nay-sayers are gone, is to say to the emperor, You're wearing really nice clothes. Where'd you get them?

HUNT: Boy, for the second time in a row, Margaret Carlson gets the last word, and an interesting sartorial word that it was, Margaret.

Next on THE CAPITAL GANG, Ted Kennedy plans a homecoming for the troops.


HUNT: Welcome back. Senator Ted Kennedy delivered a major address detailing his plan for U.S. Disengagement from Iraq.


KENNEDY: At least 12,000 American troops, probably more, should leave at once to send a strong signal about our intentions and to ease the pervasive sense of occupation. America's goal should be to complete our military withdrawal as early as possible in 2006. The U.N. authorizatin for our military presence ends with the election of a permanent Iraqi government at the end of this year. The world will be our judge. We must have an exit plan in force by then. The United Nations could send a stabilization force to Iraq, if it's necessary and requested by the Iraqi government. Unlike the current force, it should not consist mostly of Americans or be led by Americans.


HUNT: Bob, is Senator Kennedy suggesting a rational plan for disengagement?

NOVAK: No, he isn't because it doesn't make any sense to make these -- these deadlines. Now, the quotes there, which give a good picture of what he's proposing, do not reflect the nasty, partisan nature of his speech, where he used all those campaign arguments attacking the war, attacking President Bush. Teddy Kennedy is a very partisan figure, a very polarizing figure. Congressman Meehan -- Marty -- came out with the -- with a withdrawal plan but without all the partisan fireworks. And it's much more rational than that.

Let me say also that Senator Kennedy and Don Rumsfeld are in total agreement that the U.S. Force is provocative, as an occupation force, and we've got to get out as soon as possible. But where I disagree with Marty is I don't think it is the place of members of Congress to be setting strategy for military operations. You had your vote to authorize this war, and it's up to the administration to fight the war.

HUNT: How does your plan differ from Senator Kennedy's?

MEEHAN: It's actually very similar. Senator Kennedy had specifics of 12,000 troops right away. What I call is for by the end of the year to withdraw half of our troops, but it's clear that we have to change the dynamic in Iraq, and I think that 12 to 18 months is enough time to get these Iraqi soldiers up and trained the way -- so that they're ready to keep security. Only the Iraqis can keep the Iraqi security. It is clear that the United States will not be able to keep the security as long as the insurgency keeps growing. And the insurgency will keep growing unless we change the dynamic and head in a different direction.

To quickly respond to Bob -- I think members of Congress do have a role to play in foreign policy. There has been mistake after mistake after mistake made in post-war Iraq. This administration won't -- they won't admit any mistakes. But worse than that, they won't correct any mistakes. And to the extend that members of Congress can offer rational plans to do so, we ought to.

HUNT: You see that as cut and run, Kate?

O'BEIRNE: First, I have a friendly suggestion for the Democratic Party. Marty. The national Democratic Party does not benefit by having the most visible members Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer and Howard Dean. Marty Meehan would be a much more effective spokesman for the national party.

Look, Senator Kennedy believes our troops are more of a problem there than part of the solution. I'd like him to go to Camp Pendleton and tell Marines that that's the case.

This is a very interesting debate, it seems to me, whether or not there ought to be a timetable. Marty Meehan and others ought to engage in it. It's an important debate. Those who believe and know that it's crucial that Iraq be successful, who want Iraq to be successful -- the reason why the -- I happen to think a timetable -- I agree with Bill Clinton -- is not a good idea. But the reason why it's an important debate is you see what the trade-offs are. You see how tough these calls are to make, which are the kind of calls that the Pentagon and the White House have been making. And it's very often not obvious what the best -- what the best route is.

HUNT: Timetable, Margaret? CARLSON: You know, the Bush dream plan is the Meehan plan. He's just not able to say it. And you're right, to correct a mistake, you have to admit a mistake, and this administration is so unwilling to own up to any mistakes in Iraq. Owning up might even bring the U.N. Or some European allies...

NOVAK: Sheesh!

CARLSON: ... into this fight.

NOVAK: Sheesh!

CARLSON: Listen, we can't leave We can't stay. It's a terrible situation to be in, and we're going to end up -- listen, in secret meetings at the White House, they're no longer talking about democracy flowering in the Middle East and a bastion for others to follow, they're saying, How are we going to get out of this with honor?

HUNT: Geez, Marty, I just want to tell you, one of my very favorite conservative columnists -- I won't name him now -- has been reporting basically the timetable you're talking about is what the administration...

NOVAK: Who was it?


MEEHAN: I think that's where they're headed...


MEEHAN: ... where they're headed. I don't have any doubt about that because we have no other choice. We have to change the dynamic. If we're viewed as occupiers, we'll never be successful.

Final point is, we can get our allies to help vis-a-vis the training of Iraqi soldiers. We absolutely can...

HUNT: Well, that is the final point...

MEEHAN: ... and we should do it.

HUNT: ... Marty, and a good one it was. Thank you so much for joining us.

MEEHAN: Thanks, Al.

HUNT: Coming up next in the second half of CAPITAL GANG, our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Rend al Rahim, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, talking about what this historic election means to her native land. We go "Beyond the Beltway" to Baghdad for a live update from CNN's Anderson Cooper. And our "Outrages of the Week," all after the break.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening live from Baghdad. I'm Anderson Cooper.

A city poised on the brink of change, a city essentially under marshal law at this hour with three and a half hours left to go before Iraqis go to the polls, if they go to the polls in great numbers.

The city is essentially under emergency shutdown. The bridges have been closed. There is no traffic on the streets. Travel is very, very limited under tight restrictions. A dusk-to-dawn curfew is in effect.

There are some 150,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq trying to ensure the security and the safety of these elections, as well as some 130,000 or so Iraqi security forces. They have put a blanket, a security blanket down on this city and many cities throughout the country of Iraq. Nevertheless, insurgent attacks have continued.

Tonight in Baghdad three polling stations were attacked by insurgent gunmen. Five Iraqi security personnel have been wounded. Also, earlier this evening a rocket attack on the heavily fortified green zone, the walled city within a city in the center of Baghdad, the site of the U.S. Embassy and the site of Prime Minister Allawi's office.

The U.S. Embassy complex was hit, part of that complex near a building part of the annex off of the U.S. Embassy. Two U.S. personnel have been killed, one civilian, one military and five U.S. personnel were wounded, though none of them seriously.

Nevertheless, the city waits to see what will happen in the next three and a half hours. When these polls open, 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning Baghdad time many Iraqis will be -- for the first time in their lives have the opportunity to vote.

How they come out, how they vote and whether they come out in big numbers is the question everyone needs an answer to. And right now the city is waiting to see what will happen when dawn breaks.

Let's go back to Al Hunt and CAPITAL GANG right now -- Al.

HUNT: Anderson, thanks for the update.

Welcome back to the second half of a special Iraq Votes edition of THE CAPITAL GANG.

Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Rend al-Rahim, the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States. Earlier this week, Kate O'Beirne spoke with Ambassador al-Rahim from Dubai.


KATE O'BEIRNE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ambassador, what are the main issues that divide the leading slates of candidates running in Sunday's elections? REND AL-RAHIM, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: These are truly contested, competitive elections and in any contested and competitive elections the political groups have different platforms and different outlooks.

All the groups are talking about the need for much greater security, in fact for greater security. They're all talking about strengthening the Iraqi forces. They all talk about reviving the economy, ending unemployment, kick-starting the trade and industry and so on and ending terrorism. All the political entities have the same platform as far as this goes.

It's very difficult to see differences in the declared platforms; however, I think there are generally the following differences. For example, some groups, some political parties have a more secular outlook and there are others that have a more religious orientation. There are some that have a more sort of Iraq-centered outlook. Others have a more Arab outlook.

O'BEIRNE: How should Americans judge whether or not the elections were successful?

AL-RAHIM: Well, I think the more important thing, by the way, is for Iraqis to feel that these elections are successful. I think the measure of success is going to be the holding of the elections themselves is a success. If people go out and vote, if these elections are held, then the mere happening of the elections is a success.

O'BEIRNE: What should be done by the newly-elected National Assembly about those who have boycotted the election?

AL-RAHIM: There's a lot of discussion already in Iraq about how to proceed after the elections. We know that some groups have been reluctant to vote and actually over the last few days there's been an interesting change in the attitudes of some of those groups because some groups that said that they're going to boycott the elections have had a change of heart and have said, "Well, we may not go to the vote. We may not hold up candidates but we are not going to deny our followers the opportunity to vote. We are not going to ask them to refrain from voting.

But in any case most of the Iraqi groups that have been expressing a view of how we should proceed have stressed the importance of national dialogue after the elections. They've stressed the importance of holding conferences, holding bilateral and multilateral talks amongst themselves in order to agree on some fundamental issues.

Don't forget that these elections are going to produce a National Assembly that is going to write a constitution and all groups in Iraq have declared very publicly that these -- that the constitution should not be written by one faction or one party or one political entity or even by a few that this constitution should be written by all.

O'BEIRNE: If a majority of Iraqis wanted the United States to leave, how is that public opinion likely to affect the newly-elected National Assembly?

AL-RAHIM: The new Iraqi government that follows after the elections can ask the multinational forces to withdraw. It has the full authority to ask them to withdraw and it also has the full authority to negotiate a status of forces.

And so, the new government is actually empowered and will be a sovereign government and will be able to say to the multinational forces whether we want them to stay, how long we want them to stay and under what conditions we want them to say or under conditions we want them to leave.

O'BEIRNE: Thank you so much, ambassador, and I wish -- I wish Iraqis good luck on Sunday.

AL-RAHIM: Thank you.


HUNT: Kate, is the ambassador suggesting that just holding the elections constitutes a success?

O'BEIRNE: I think what she reflects, Al, is that for Iraqis who lived under Saddam Hussein elections this Sunday are an amazing, unimaginable thing and I think the ambassador also reflects a real pride in the courage of Iraqis, election workers and candidates and voters who are literally risking death in order to -- in order to see a democratic Iraq, and she ought to be proud of her fellow Iraqis.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: You know if our post-war policy had been a little better, Iraqis wouldn't have to be quite so brave to vote and we may end up supporting with our own soldiers a theocracy or a semi- theocracy that the Reagan-Bush people armed Saddam Hussein to prevent. That's the irony of all of this.

NOVAK: I think it's interesting that Margaret cannot discuss this issue in one sentence without attacking the Bush administration on some way it handled this. I would say that the most interesting thing she said was that people who have been boycotting it may not be boycotting it, which would mean a much bigger turnout than had been expected.

O'BEIRNE: Exactly.

HUNT: We will see very shortly.

Coming up, THE CAPITAL GANG classic, 14 years ago rebuilding Iraq.


HUNT: Welcome back.

Fourteen years ago the first President George Bush made this declaration about post-war Iraq.


GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iraq has a big reconstruction job to do but, I'll be honest with you, at this point I don't want to see one single dime of the United States taxpayers' money go into the reconstruction of Iraq.


HUNT: The CAPITAL GANG discussed this on March 2, 1991 and our guest was Speaker of the House Tom Foley.


TOM FOLEY, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I agree with the president. It can pay the cost of its own reconstruction and contribute to those in the region. We should expect that this part of the world, which is an enormously rich one, will sort out its own problems, provide for its own economic reconstruction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their whole infrastructure is ruined and people are talking about getting blood out of this turnip. Isn't that the same thing we did, you know, after World War I, you know. You take Germany. You defeat them then hold their head down.

HUNT: That's why reparations is a bad idea. I am absolutely against reparations. I'm also against us going in and trying to take out Saddam. Let them do it. They're going to do it.


HUNT: He's going to try to kill a lot of these military commanders as scapegoats when they come back and one of them is going to get him before it's over.

PAUL GIGOT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": This is a rich country. You can sell oil for $20 a barrel. You put a tax on the pipeline coming out of Turkey for 50 cents or $1 a barrel.

SHIELDS: If we're going to talk about this country coming back, I know we can't continue to just -- to just say you're going to have to go sit in the corner, not have a chance to make a day's pay and to build, rebuild.


SHIELDS: This is a city now, Baghdad, without water, without electricity, without any infrastructure, without bridges. I mean we have reduced it to rubble.


HUNT: Bob, you weren't on that program fortuitously but was the first President Bush right to try to let Iraq clean up its own mess? NOVAK: Absolutely and Mark Shields wanted to put all the money in, how things change, it was wrong. But what was very interesting was that there was no real movement to rebuild Iraq in those days after that.

And I'll tell you there was an underlying belief at that time that Saddam Hussein's days were numbered. I know that was the CIA analysis too that he wouldn't be around long. And so, it's a good thing we're always right now because in those days we weren't always so right.

HUNT: Yes, if you think Mark Shields was wrong, look at what I said back then -- Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: The first President Bush, not one time to $200 billion, how far the acorn has fallen from the tree.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Who knew back then that there would be a corrupt Oil- for-Food program run by the U.N. that would give Saddam Hussein enough money to buy any darn thing he wanted to.

HUNT: Courtesy of the U.N.

CARLSON: Except weapons of mass destruction.

NOVAK: He was going to get those too, wasn't he?

HUNT: Well, you know, we all learn from those lessons.

Next on THE CAPITAL GANG, we'll go "Beyond the Beltway" to Baghdad where an historic election will be underway in just a few hours.


HUNT: Welcome back.

Iraqi officials are pressing citizens to go to the polls and cast their votes.


FALAH AL-NAQIB, IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): Some people are afraid to go to the voting centers. This amounts to high treason because it is the destiny of Iraq. If somebody like Zarqawi is going to frighten the Iraqis, I would be very surprised.


HUNT: The interim Iraqi president was asked when the United States should pull its forces out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GHAZI AL-YAWAR, INTERIM IRAQI PRESIDENT: When the job has been well done. That's when we have established our -- our -- the first steps toward democracy when we have enough strength within the government and when we have capable security forces.


HUNT: A Saturday night rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone killed two Americans.

Joining us now from Baghdad is CNN's Anderson Cooper. Anderson, what's the mood in Iraq just hours before this historic election?

COOPER: Yes, just a little bit more than three hours from now, Al.

You know it's a cliche to say it's a tense city but it certainly is a tense city. Iraqis I've talked to though also hopeful, guardedly hopeful about their future and curious about what the dawn will bring.

Polls open at 7:00 a.m. in the morning. I talked to one U.S. soldier the other night I was out on patrol with and he said, you know, that he felt a lot of the Iraqis in his sector were going to wake up on Sunday morning, kind of poke their heads out their window and take a reading, a temperature, if you will, of what was going on in their street, in their neighborhood to see if it was safe enough to actually come out in the polls.

A lot of people sort of sitting on the fence literally waiting to see which way the wind is blowing but if they wake up and there are not a lot of bombs going off, it could be a high voter turnout, which would certainly be a great relief to U.S. officials and Iraqi officials here.

HUNT: Bob.

NOVAK: Anderson, the rocket blast at the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone was described as a lucky shot, killed two Americans. Is that the feeling that this was not the part of a concentrated insurgent attack that's going to escalate as we begin voting? There was just some guy shooting off a rocket. Which was it do you think?

ANDERSON: Yes, I think it was -- I think it was some guy or a couple of guys shooting off a rocket. Look, you know, they -- they do this all the time and I think it's easy to overplay that story. It gets a lot of attention, of course, because this rocket did happen to hit, and I say happen to hit, a part, an annex off the U.S. Embassy but the Green Zone is a target for mortars.

It's a target for rockets. It's a walled city within the city of Baghdad itself and insurgents, you know, they can be driving in their car, and we have seen this, videos of this, get out of their car, two people set up a mortar, a little mortar, you know, yell Allah Akbar and drop a couple of mortars in there and fire some rounds into the Green Zone. They don't care where it hits, you know. It's all about, as you know in guerrilla war, it's all about fear. It's all about trying to instill intimidation in the enemy.

So, I think to say it was a lucky shot is pretty accurate but, of course, it is getting a lot of attention because it did happen just a few hours. The U.S. commander, the man in charge of security here in Baghdad, did say he feared some sort of spectacular attack either in the days leading up to this election or on Election Day.

That, of course, is the fear of a lot of Iraqis. I mean I think a lot of people are wondering is there going to be some sort of, you know, at 7:00 a.m. when polls open are we going to hear large explosions? These terrorists, these insurgents, you know, have a great sense of PR and how the media works.

And they know the world will be watching those polls at 7:00 a.m. Iraq time Sunday morning and we know, as we've seen in the past, they are very adept at trying to make a statement through the media with their violence.

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: Anderson, is Ahmed Chalabi, who was the hope of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to be the American installed leader of an Iraq that was celebrating our arrival, is he staging a comeback despite the fact that he was then abandoned by Americans? Did the kind of de- Americanization of Ahmed Chalabi make, you know -- I was surprised to see that he's up for election and is on the Sistani slate.

COOPER: Yes, the nine lives of Ahmed Chalabi. This may be like the 18th life of Ahmed Chalabi. He has sort of repositioned himself, distanced himself from the Americans, repositioned himself on the Shiite more religious ticket, not the secular ticket, sort of the religious ticket I guess sort of rediscovering his religious roots, if you will.

And he has had, you know, I guess you could say something of a resurgence. He is still around. You know there were a lot of people who kind of wrote him off a year ago. His name is on the ticket. He's one of the more well known people who is on this slate of candidates for this party.

Exactly what his role will be, if their slate, if that ticket actually does get elected that's sort of open because, as you know, people aren't necessarily voting for individual candidates. They're voting for a list or a group of parties that have allied together. But Ahmed Chalabi is still out here, still working and still a power player.

HUNT: We only have 30 seconds left -- Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Anderson, what do the American troops make of witnessing what the Iraqis are going through in order to vote? Are you hearing any of them vow never to miss their vote again? COOPER: You know, yes, I think -- I think American troops have, you know, it's as diverse though an opinion among American troops as the American population itself. Some of them could care less about it.

I mean one guy I talked to that I was on patrol with said, "Look, I don't care about this election. All I care about is going home." He was hoping to go home about a month from now, although we all know that could be extended.

But a lot of the American troops feel, look, they have invested blood here. They have invested the lives of their friends. They have been injured. They have lost limbs and they want this thing to work as much as anybody else.

And they want these Iraqis to go to the polls in the morning. They want to do everything they can to make this as safe as possible to get Iraqis to go to the polls. A lot of American troops do feel committed to this process even though, you know, just about everyone is counting the days until they can go home.

HUNT: Anderson Cooper, thanks for joining us. Be safe.

THE GANG will be back with our "Outrages of the Week."


HUNT: And now for the "Outrages of the Week."

High on the self style moral rights agenda is opposition to gay adoption, a charge that studies show these kids in such situations fare less well. Unfortunately, President Bush reinforced that myth in an interview with "The New York Times" this week. Studies show no such thing.

Moreover, the choice often is between adoption by a gay couple or a single parent or letting a kid rot in foster care. That's why the vast, vast majority of adoptions, including by a loving gay couple, are pro family.

NOVAK: Tomorrow on C-Span, a Brian Lamb conversation, George W. Bush talks about his predecessors. He calls Ronald Reagan his mentor and Abraham Lincoln the greatest president. He expresses fascination with Franklin D. Roosevelt. But he doesn't mention Calvin Coolidge, the great tax cutter and model for a modern conservative president.

Maybe President Bush ignores silent Cal because he opposed expansion of government and advocated America staying at home and not trying to reform the world. I'd like a little more Coolidge and a little less Roosevelt in George W. Bush.

HUNT: Top that, Margaret.

CARLSON: Oh, I wouldn't even try.

A former G.I. at Guantanamo has just written a book revealing that interrogators were ordered to use sex to break Muslim detainees. Sergeant Eric Sar (ph) witnessed females (UNINTELLIGIBLE) undressing, rubbing up against restrained men to arouse them and then taunting them with the obvious results of their full body lap dances. One smeared fake menstrual blood on a prisoner.

It was Alberto Gonzales who lawyered up the military so that our young women could prostitute themselves in the name of America. For this outrage, the president is promoting Gonzales to attorney general.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: In Iraq's first free election there are bound to be serious problems but what's the state of Washington's excuse? The Republican candidate for governor won the initial count and the first recount. Then liberal King County found enough new ballots to give the election to the Democrat by 129 votes. No one knows who won.

Provisional ballots were counted without being inspected. Felons and the dead voted. Hundreds used a government building as their home address. I could go on. So, should this race. Only a re-vote will restore integrity to Washington's election process.

HUNT: This is Al Hunt saying goodnight for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENT: UNDER FIRE" stories from the new Iraq.

And at 9:00 p.m., "LARRY KING LIVE," a tribute to Johnny Carson.

At 10:00 p.m. live coverage from Baghdad on the historic Iraqi elections set to begin three hours from now.

Thanks for joining us.


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