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THE SITUATION ROOM

Congressman Calls for Pullout From Iraq; Interview With John Kerry

Aired November 17, 2005 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving from South Korea all the way to Cuba. Standing by, CNN reporters across the U.S. and around the world, to bring you the day's top stories.
Happening now, it's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington, where it's all- out war over the war in Iraq. We'll hear from a key U.S. congressman, wounded in earlier combat, who wants the troops home now. And I'll speak with Senator John Kerry, who says he won't run from this fight. But will he run again for president?

The shock waves reach South Korea, where it's 9:00 a.m. President Bush lashing out at his critics, saying they are irresponsible and just playing politics. Is he playing defense or offense?

And it's 8:00 p.m. in Havana. We told you about the intelligence report on the Cuban president's failing health. Is Fidel Castro now trying to show that he's fit?

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, Americans who want the troops to come home from Iraq immediately have a somewhat surprising new ally. He's one of the more hawkish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, a military veteran who voted for the war. Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania was passionate today in his appeal for a quick withdrawal from Iraq, at times even choking back tears.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We're charged, Congress is charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle. And it is our responsibility, our obligation to speak out for them. That's why I'm speaking out.

Our military's done everything that's been asked of them. U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some Republicans also are passionate in their belief that a quick pullout from Iraq would amount to cutting and running, including the vice president, Dick Cheney. You heard him here live in THE SITUATION ROOM last night, blasting Democrats who accuse the president of misleading the nation about pre-war intelligence. But Congressman Murtha says Cheney's argument doesn't hold weight with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURTHA: I like guys who have never been there to criticize us who have been there. I like that. I like guys that got five deferments and never been there and sent people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.

I resent the fact on Veterans Day, he criticized Democrats for criticizing them. This is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.

The American public knows it. And lashing out at critics doesn't help a bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You can bet those verbal shots flying here in Washington are very much on President Bush's radar even as he presses on with his tour of Asia. Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is joining us now live. She's covering the president's trip -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, clearly at this time of political turmoil, the pictures the White House wants you to see is President Bush at a place of peace and tranquility, South Korea's oldest Buddhist temple, but of course, those questions keep coming about pre-war intelligence, as well as U.S. troops, and the White House is hitting back very hard. Dan Bartlett, White House counselor, today saying -- taking issue with Congressman Murtha's comments, saying we strongly disagree with his position, because we believe it will hurt national security. He went on to talk about those specific personal attacks to the vice president and the president, calling them unfair, saying there were many presidents in the past without military experience who have performed nobly when it comes to wartime efforts.

As well, we've also heard from Speaker Denny Hastert. He released a statement today, saying: "Representative Murtha and other Democrats want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world. It is unfortunate that all of this is politics, all of the time."

And of course, Wolf, what does this mean? South Korea has the third largest contingency of troops in Iraq. I spoke with a Korean family yesterday who said they want their troops to come home, as well. But I also spoke with a White House official who said, look, the South Koreans, the Japanese, Mongolians, all of them who have troops inside Iraq, they understand politics. They say they have their troops in for strategic reasons, and that all of this bluster is not going to change that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux is with the president in South Korea. Suzanne, thank you very much. For days now, the president has been honing his lines of defense against critics of his Iraq policy and pre-war intelligence. Our national security correspondent David Ensor is joining us now live with a fact check -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you say, the president and his aides have been on the offensive in recent days against critics of their use of pre-war -- of intelligence. But there may be some problems with some of what they are saying.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ENSOR (voice-over): The president and his aides have counter- attacked against critics with two major arguments. The key one, Congress and the administration had access to the same intelligence.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Leaders in my administration and members of the United States Congress from both political parties looked at the same intelligence on Iraq, and reached the same conclusion. Saddam Hussein was a threat.

ENSOR: In a general sense, that is true. U.S. intelligence believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and said so in a National Intelligence Estimate Congress had access to before the war.

But it is not accurate to say Congress and the administration looked at all the same intelligence. The White House had access to far more than lawmakers did. Presidential daily briefs on intelligence are never given to Congress.

Some intelligence available to the White House but not to Congress gave reason to doubt some of the president's blunt pre-war assertions, for example that Iraq had helped al Qaeda on weapons.

BUSH: We have learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb making, in poisons and deadly gasses.

ENSOR: The president said that in October 2002. Yet eight months earlier, the Defense Intelligence Agency questioned the reliability of the captured al Qaeda operative who was the source of that assertion, in a document delivered to the White House. It was recently declassified at the insistence of Democratic Senator Carl Levin.

Speaking of Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, the DIA said, quote: "It is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers."

Pentagon spokesman called the release of the DIA document, quote, "irresponsible" and "out of context."

The next major argument from the White House, independent reviews have already determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence before the war. STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: They were looked at by the Silberman-Robb Commission, they were looked at by the Senate Intelligence community -- Committee. Both of them concluded that there was no manipulation of intelligence.

ENSOR: But in fact, no commission or committee has yet spoken on whether the White House misrepresented pre-war intelligence. The Senate Intelligence Committee, under pressure from Democrats, is working on it. The orders to the Silberman Commission from the White House specifically left it out.

LAURENCE SILBERMAN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, IRAQ WMD COMMISSION: Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policy makers, and all of us were agreed that that was not part of our inquiry.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR: There is, however, plenty of blame to go around. Congress may have voted on Iraq without doing its homework. Members could read the 92-page National Intelligence Estimate by signing in at a reading room to do so. "The Washington Post" reported that no more than six senators and a handful of House members took time to read beyond the five-page executive summary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How are intelligence officials -- and you speak with these guys, these analysts, these officers all the time, current and former, how are they reacting to this battle that is now raging in Washington over pre-war intelligence?

ENSOR: Well, they are shaking their heads rather, Wolf, and they are really wishing to get on with collecting intelligence on the threats that are out there. A certain amount of time has to be taken by officials over at the CIA and other agencies, collecting information to help the politicians with their arguments and their debates in the commissions and the committees. And really, they'd rather have those people out working on the war on terror. So they don't like it that much. They would rather get back to their day job -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David Ensor, reporting for us, good work. Thank you very much.

Let's go to the CNN Center in Atlanta. Zain Verjee is standing by with a closer look at some other stories making news -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Air Force is announcing a successful missile test off the coast of Hawaii. It says an Aegis ballistic missile intercepted a target, and for the first time, that target included a mock warhead that had separated from its booster rocket. Officials say that this was the sixth successful test in a series of seven that began in 2002.

Pope Benedict XVII attended a screening at the Vatican of an upcoming mini-series about the life of his predecessor, John Paul II. Among the hundreds of people also previewing the film, actor Jon Voight, who portrays John Paul during his papacy. The mini-series is going to air on CBS in this country, as well as the Italian network RAI.

And seven employees at this Southern California Kaiser Permanente facility are splitting the second-largest single ticket lottery jackpot in U.S. history. Now, six lab workers and a secretary had the winning numbers in Tuesday's drawing. The prize was $350 million, and a spokeswoman says that they all came to work the next day anyway. And what did they do? Jack, Wolf, they bought lunch for the entire staff.

And I'm just wondering, guys, I mean, if you won, would you be back at work the next day? I mean, I love THE SITUATION ROOM, but bye-bye, boys. Bye-bye! Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Amen. Out of here yesterday.

BLITZER: You buy tickets, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Do I? No.

BLITZER: No. I don't either.

CAFFERTY: It's a bad bet.

VERJEE: I never win anything.

CAFFERTY: It's a bad bet.

VERJEE: I never won a raffle.

CAFFERTY: You're better to go to Vegas and put your paycheck on red on the roulette wheel.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Hit us up with your question for the hour.

CAFFERTY: Hit you up. OK, New Jersey's looking for a new state slogan. They're trying to boost its image. I can't imagine why they'd want to do that. I shouldn't say that, I live in New Jersey.

They asked for suggestions from the public and they got 6,000 of them. Here are a few. Sold to Corzine, he's the millionaire investment banker who was just elected governor.

New Jersey, we can always use another relative on the payroll.

Come to New Jersey, it's not as bad as it smells.

Why should death end your voting rights?

And New Jersey, hey, at least it's not West Virginia.

They're going to narrow down some of the submissions over the new few weeks and let the public vote on them. My guess is none of these will be in the final running. But we think that every state should have a motto. So, here's the question. What should your state's motto be?

Caffertyfile@CNN.com is the e-mail address.

BLITZER: We'll see how clever our viewers are, Jack. I suspect they're going to be very clever. Thanks very much.

Coming up, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, he's here in Washington. We'll show you what he says he needs from the U.S. Congress to rebuild his city.

Also, the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Out and about just one day after a new report raised serious concerns about his health. We'll have a live update from Havana.

Plus, Senator John Kerry on why he voted for the war in Iraq and his response to the administration offensive against its critics. My revealing interview with John Kerry, that's coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mayor Ray Nagin comes to Washington and wants FEMA to show him the money. The New Orleans mayor is asking for more money to continue recovery efforts in the city, so badly devastated by Hurricane Katrina. But FEMA says the well is running dry. Let's check in with our Tom Foreman. He's joining us now live with more. Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is exactly what the mayor of New Orleans, and many people in New Orleans have feared. That maybe there will not be enough support to let them go through this long, long process of rebuilding.

That's why the mayor in Washington these days is a familiar face.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): The mayor says he's visiting Washington once a week now, trying to fight off Katrina fatigue in Congress. Rebuilding his city will cost, by some estimates, a quarter trillion dollars. But Nagin says he wants lawmakers to consider it one step at a time.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS: I'm not up here talking about whether you should give me $250 billion or not. I'm saying, give me three things. Build my levees, help me with housing and create the right environment for both businesses and people to come back. And we'll take it from there.

FOREMAN: Today, Nagin was discussing a bill to keep people from losing their homes to bank forecloses. Many people are struggling financially after losing jobs and relocating.

Nagin's job is up for grabs in February. And the widely- scattered voters of New Orleans will decide if he will remain their mayor. (END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (on camera): The mayor is so busy these days because he knows what he's up against. There's worry about war here, there's a CIA leak scandal, there are the various problems about bird flu. There's all these things he's taking on. He knows that it's like comedy, hurricane evacuation or asking money from Washington. It's all about the timing. And his timing isn't so good right now. But, he's got to do the job. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right Tom, thanks very much. Tom Foreman reporting.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a new CIA report says he may be seriously ill. Now, Cuba's president Fidel Castro trying to prove that report wrong. Our Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman is standing by live with the latest.

Plus, the administration is lashing out at him and other critics of the war in Iraq. Now, Senator John Kerry answers back. My full interview with the former Democratic presidential nominee. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with CNN's Anderson Cooper for a preview of what's coming up on his program. Hi, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf. Yes, on 360 tonight, keeping them honest. Right now, hundreds of Katrina victims are still unidentified. I.D.'ing the bodies has been slow-going, to say the least. And costly.

The question is, who's going to pay the bill. Last night, Health and Human Services said they'd take care of it. Today, the story has changed again. You won't believe what they're saying now.

And Wolf, here's a question. How many times a day do you think the average American lies?

BLITZER: Ten?

COOPER: No, oh Wolf, maybe this is more revealing about you. The average American lies at least once a day.

BLITZER: That's all?

COOPER: That's it. Tonight we're going to take a look at why people lie. All that on "360" tonight at 10:00.

BLITZER: You got to realize, Anderson, I deal with Washington officials on a daily basis. You understand what I'm saying?

COOPER: I got you.

BLITZER: Anderson Cooper comes up, 10:00 Eastern here on CNN. Let's check in in our "Around The World" segment. There's fallout today from the report we told you about yesterday, indicating that the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, might be ailing. Let's check in with CNN's Zain Verjee. She's standing by at the CNN Center -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, as we reported yesterday, as you said, a new CIA assessment says Fidel Castro is likely suffering from Parkinson's Disease. But today, Mr. Castro was out to disprove that. He's giving a speech right now. These are live picture. Our Havana bureau chief, Lucia Newman, is on the phone with us. Lucia, how does Fidel Castro seem to you? Does he look sick?

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Zain, he started off almost two hours ago, very slowly, very philosophically. But the more he talks, the faster he's talking, and the more and more energetic he's becoming. In fact, he's firing verbal cannonballs one after another at the United States, at capitalism, at the Iraq war, and at the same time, of course, saying that Communist Cuba is becoming the world's most just country. Not a word though yet about his health, Zain.

VERJEE: In the parts that I watched, Lucia, he seems to be taking one of his hands and sort of sliding it into his shirt and sort of going like this. Why?

NEWMAN: Yes. That's right. As you know, about a year ago, he took a very famous -- a very nasty fall. He shattered his knee, but he also hurt his shoulder, and ever since then, he's been sort of putting his hand inside his shirt. He appears to be rubbing it. So, although it's never been commented on publicly, it appears, or certainly the speculation is, that it still bothers him occasionally. So he rubs it all the time, Zain.

VERJEE: Does he ever delegate his duties, even in recent years when we hear consistent reports of his apparent ill health? Does he get other people to do even menial things?

NEWMAN: Well, Zain, he certainly says he delegates tasks of government, but I can tell you that he micromanages and oversees everything from Cuba's mosquito extermination campaign to the current campaign to stop the sale of black market gasoline. This is a man who sleeps very, very little by his own account. In fact, three hours a night, by -- from what he told me once is a lot of sleep, Zain.

VERJEE: Our Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman on Fidel Castro. Thanks, Lucia. Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lucia. If he does have Parkinson's, he's not showing signs of shaking or anything, at least not yet.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Senator John Kerry says the Bush administration wanted to rush to war. The senator also says the president's Veterans Day speech on Iraq was not honest and Kerry says Mr. Bush should, quote, "level with the American people." I'll have more with my interview with John Kerry. That's coming up. And in the rush to protect against bird flu, what are some businesses doing right now to protect? We'll tell you how fears of a possible pandemic are forcing small businesses to act. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Last year, President Bush and Senator John Kerry went head-to-head on Iraq, and on Election Day, Mr. Bush won. A year later, the two are at odds over Iraq once again. I sat down with the former Democratic presidential nominee in his Senate office earlier today, to talk at length about Iraq, the administration's handling of the war and Kerry's own White House ambitions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Kerry, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D) MASSACHUSETTS: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Let's get to what the president said last Friday, and he quoted specifically something you said on the eve of the war. He said "many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: 'When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security.'"

You firmly believed that, going into the war; that's why you voted for that resolution.

KERRY: Providing he had those weapons, and providing -- which the president didn't quote, as he distorted again to America our position and the truth -- providing that he did the other things, which are: a follow-through on the inspections; not go unilaterally; build a legitimate coalition; plan carefully and go as a last resort. All of which the president said he would do; none of which he did do.

The record is now clear. So I said in that very same speech, which the president did not quote, that if you proceeded too rapidly, if you didn't do the things I just described, you could make a volatile region more dangerous, you could attract more terrorists and you would make America less secure, not more.

The president needs to stop being selective, and he needs to start to level with the American people. That speech on Friday, on Veterans Day -- a sacred day for veterans, which was a political attack day for the president -- was not an honest speech.

BLITZER: But going into the war, based on the intelligence that you received, you had no doubt that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

KERRY: I believed that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles, and I believed Saddam Hussein wanted to get more weapons. But I also believed that -- as did many of my colleagues, that the intelligent way to try to deal with that was to do the inspections. I wrote an op-ed in the "New York Times" in which I suggested that you needed to go do them.

Now, Dick Cheney -- Vice President Cheney -- opposed those inspections. And the very cabal that the former chief of staff to Secretary Powell talked about taking over the policy didn't want to even do the inspections. They wanted to rush to this confrontation and to war.

Even two days before, three days before the president decided to pull the trigger and launch the war, there were offers by Security Council members for further diplomatic efforts to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. And I said at that very time I believed those should have been pursued and it was disappointing they weren't.

BLITZER: According to the Congressional Record on October 9, 2002, you said, "The Iraqi regime's record over the decade leaves little doubt that Saddam Hussein wants to retain his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and obviously, as we have said, grow it. These weapons represent an unacceptable threat."

KERRY: Correct. And I ...

BLITZER: And then you went on to say, "There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop nuclear weapons."

The question is this: On the intelligence that you saw, you came to those conclusions; on the intelligence the president saw, which he says is the same intelligence that you saw, he came to the conclusions that WMD existed.

KERRY: First of all -- first of all, we did not see the same intelligence. Once again, the administration is not telling the truth.

BLITZER: I'm referring to the national intelligence estimate...

KERRY: Beyond the National Intelligence Estimate, yes. There were things that were not in the National Intelligence Estimate that the president put out that were not accurate.

Moreover, on several different occasions the president said things beyond the national intelligence estimate, about Iraq, about Saddam Hussein, about nuclear weapons, about deadly gases and poisons, about launch time and 45 minutes of delivery, which were not accurate, which his own intelligence people had told him were not accurate.

Let me be very specific. When the president stood up in front of America and said that Saddam Hussein was trying to get nuclear weapons and nuclear fissionable material from Africa, that was not accurate. And the White House had been told three times in writing, three times verbally by the CIA not to use that intelligence. They did anyway.

They told America that Saddam Hussein could deliver these weapons in under 45 minutes -- about 45 minutes, under an hour. That meant something to me. What he did not say was that the National Intelligence Agency -- or the CIA, I forgot which it is -- disagreed with that. That they didn't believe that.

Moreover, he said -- Vice President Cheney stood up and said that Iraq had, in fact, had meetings, that there were meeting between Iraq and the hijackers of the 9/11 aircraft. That was denied by the 9/11 commission. That never took place, and there people who doubted that at the time. We weren't told that. We weren't told about these other doubts.

So for the president to suggest -- I mean, I went to Pentagon briefings, I went to the Mideast, I went to Great Britain and met with the defense and foreign secretary of Great Britain.

BLITZER: They all believed he had weapons of mass destruction, too?

KERRY: So did we. Wolf, that's not the misleading. We believed that he had some weapons left over and that he wanted to get the nuclear. What we were given was a picture that drew an immediacy of threat that was well beyond containing some of those weapons and trying, ultimately, to build a nuclear facility.

Now beyond that, what I voted for I made very clear on the floor of the Senate. Every word of it is laid out in my statement on the Senate floor.

BLITZER: Let me ask you if you agree with your former running mate, John Edwards, wrote in "The Washington Post" on Sunday. He wrote this: "I was wrong. It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake. While we can't change the past, we need to accept responsibility because a key part of the story in America is moral leadership and acknowledging when we've made mistakes or have been proven wrong."

Do you agree with Senator Edwards on that?

KERRY: I said that before Senator Edwards wrote that.

BLITZER: You said you were wrong to vote for that...

KERRY: I would not have voted for that resolution given what we know today. We wouldn't have even had a vote, given what we know today. There would have been no vote. The reason that vote took place in the United States Senate and Congress is because they built up the immediacy of the threat.

And what many of us felt we were giving the president was the authority to use force as a last resort if -- if, he had fulfilled his promises, gone as a last resort, built up a true coalition, done the inspections to the greatest degree possible to contain...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You regret voting for that resolution? KERRY: I think anybody worth their salt ought to see the mistakes and incompetence of this administration. And how could you possibly say you're going to vote that you'll have this incompetent administration go out and be incompetent again? Of course I wouldn't do that. But we didn't know that at the time.

BLITZER: Well, there were some senators like Senator Levin, Senator Graham, who didn't vote for the resolution, who thought it was a mistake. And clearly, from your perspective, with hindsight, they were right.

KERRY: Well, they were prescient. And they saw things that others of us who took the president at his value at his word and shouldn't have. I mean, my regret is also is that I believed the president. And I'm sorry, that the president of the United States leaves members of the United States Senate not able to believe what he says.

BLITZER: Let me press you on just one point, though. Was the president the victim of the same bad intelligence you were the victim of? Or was there something more sinister there? Because, as you know, in that Bob Woodward book, there is a conversation described between him and the then-director of the CIA, George Tenet. And the president seems to be wavering a little bit, according to Woodward's book, "Are you sure about this?" And Tenet says, "It's a slam dunk, Mr. President. It's a slam dunk there are weapons of mass destruction."

KERRY: I can't tell you because we haven't had the full investigation that was promised over a year and a half ago for the Intelligence Committee, which is why we Democrats had to shut the Senate activities down and go into secret session to force people to do what they said they were going to do a year and a half ago.

Now the answer to that question lies in that investigation. But I'll tell you what I believe, the president of the United States went before the Congress and used information that the White House had been told three times, verbally and in writing, did not happen. The president and vice president both, in their speeches, linked Saddam Hussein and Iraq to terrorism and to the war on terror, and put it into the whole basket of 9/11.

How else does 70 percent of America come to the belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Up next, more of my conversation with Senator John Kerry. He says the Bush administration is trying to scare the country into maintaining support for the war.

And you won't want to miss what he says when I ask him if he's going to run for president again in 2008.

And two new bird flu cases in Indonesia, further fanning bird flu fears. We'll tell you how some global businesses are preparing for a possible pandemic. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Like many other Democrats, Senator John Kerry is sharpening his attacks on President Bush and on the war in Iraq. But in Kerry's case, it could also be a preview of the 2008 presidential campaign. More now of my interview with Senator Kerry on Iraq and presidential politics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let me read to you what the vice president said last night: "What we're hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war. The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out."

The theme that's coming from the vice president, the president, the secretary of defense, the president's national security advisor is that your criticism -- not just yours, but other Democrats -- your criticism is A, undermining the troops, endangering the troops, and B, emboldening or encouraging the insurgency.

KERRY: And that is exactly the kind of disgraceful fear tactic, scare tactic, exploitation that this administration has continually delved into in pursuit of this war. They did it all through the election last year where they tried to scare America and did, in many cases. And they're still doing it.

And I'm not going to listen to this vice president of the United States tell me that when they send troops without armor, when they send troops in inadequate numbers, when they send troops without the support structure that they need to be able to conduct the missions they're conducting, when they make the misjudgment that those troops are going to be welcomed as liberators with flowers strewn at their feet in parade, when they make the misjudgment not even to block and secure ammo dumps, the ammo which is now being used against our troops, when they make the misjudgment about disbanding the military and the civilian structure of Iraq and they turn around and say to us, who all the time were saying don't do those things, that we're somehow putting the troops in jeopardy, I'm going to stand up and fight.

Those troops deserve leadership that's equal to their sacrifice, and I think this administration has lost lives and put troops at greater risk than they needed to be because they didn't do the things necessary to support the troops. I'm fighting for the troops. I'm fighting for the people that are on those front lines.

I've been over to Iraq, I met with them. They deserve our support. And the way they get our support is to have a policy that begins to have a sensible approach to what kind of missions they're being sent on, and that begins to turn the responsibility over to Iraqis. Iraqis should go into Iraqi homes, Iraqis should police Iraqi streets. BLITZER: Let's talk about a proposal that was put out today by Congressman John Murtha, who's very involved in the Armed Services Committee. He says there should be an immediate withdrawal over the next six months of all U.S. troops from Iraq. Good idea?

KERRY: I respectfully disagree with John Murtha. And I laid out a plan which is, I think, a good plan, a solid plan. It builds consistently on everything I said throughout the campaign last year of what you need to do to be successful. And I believe my plan supports the troops in the right way.

General Casey has said very clearly that the large presence of our troops in Iraq is part of the problem. It attracts terrorists. Former Secretary Melvin Laird, secretary of Defense for Richard Nixon, has written the same thing, that it's our presence of troops that's part of the problem and we need to reduce that presence.

BLITZER: But you don't want a timetable or a hard and fast deadline?

KERRY: I have laid out a plan where we could withdraw some 20,000 troops around the holidays, based on the fact -- not as a rigid timetable -- linked to the success of the election. We have about 160,000 troops in Iraq today, Wolf. We had 138,000 -- it went up for the purpose of making Iraq safer for the referendum and the elections.

My benchmark is, if you have a successful election after having had a successful referendum, we've done our part with those extra troops; they should come home, taking us back to the level that we were at before that.

Then you set a target for the taking over of security responsibilities in Baghdad and in other provinces and Syria (ph), in a sort of step by step basis. You set out a timetable, not for withdrawal, but for success, that allows you to withdraw. And I believe if you do the right things, and I've laid out what they are, we can bring the bulk of our combat troops home over the course of next year.

BLITZER: Do you wake up -- it's a year since you were defeated -- do you wake up every day and relive some of the campaign, what you could have done, what you should have done, that may have turned things around a year ago? Do you think about that a lot?

KERRY: No, I don't relive that. I'll tell you what I obviously think about is, the different choices that I would be making today, and the difference I think there could be for the country on a number of issues.

Look at what they're doing on energy independence: more dependency on oil, not moving America to be energy-independent. That affects our security and our foreign policy. We can do better than that. Look at what we're doing on health care: Americans are just crunched under the costs of health care, more and more people losing it. They have no plan at all.

BLITZER: But do you sometimes think about, you know ...

KERRY: I had a plan, and I think about what we could be doing to make life better for Americans in health care.

Obviously in Iraq, I know we could be doing a better job of bringing countries to the table and we could, I think, save lives and restore America's honor and strength in the world. And we can do better there.

BLITZER: But do you ever think, if only I had responded better to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against you? Do you ever go back and think about some of those kinds of things?

KERRY: Look, inevitably, you think about some of the mistakes we might have made or not made, but I'm not dwelling on them. I mean, I know what they are. And you got to go forward. Americans don't want to hear about the past. They want to know what we're going to do to make lives better for people today.

And I think there are a lot of things we can do to do better for Americans.

BLITZER: Let's go forward, to 2008.

(CROSS TALK)

BLITZER: But what about 2008 -- do you want to run for president again?

KERRY: It is honestly too early to tell. I'm focused ...

BLITZER: Why is it too early?

KERRY: Because it's just too early. I mean, would I like to be president? Yes, obviously. I ran for the job. I think I would have made a good president for America, a strong president. I would have had us in a very different place than we are today.

But that's in the back. Now my job is to help us provide alternatives for the country ...

BLITZER: Do you think ...

KERRY: ... in 2006. And that is what I am really focused on, is helping senators, helping congressmen, helping mayors. I was out campaigning -- helping governors; I was campaigning in New Jersey, helping Tim Kaine in Virginia. We need to do all we can to make 2006 the choice that I think people really want to make and need to make in light of what's happening in our country. And then we'll see where we are.

BLITZER: We're out of time, so a final question: do you think you can beat Hillary Clinton in a Democratic primary?

KERRY: Well, I don't know if Hillary's running or not running. Who knows who's running or not running. I'm not running yet. We need to see where we're at.

I'll tell you this: If I decide to run and I get into the race -- and it won't depend on who else is running -- my decision will not depend on who is running. But if I get in that race, having learned what I've learned, and the experience I had last year, I think I know how to do what I need to do and I will run to win. And that's what I'll do if I decide to run.

BLITZER: When will you make that decision?

KERRY: Oh, some time after next year's elections, you know, when we've all had a chance to let the dust settle a little and see where we are.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it.

KERRY: Good to be with you. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we're getting this just in from the White House. A statement from the White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, traveling with the president in Korea. Let me read the statement as it's written.

"Congressmen John Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who what a record of supporting a strong America, so it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists. After seeing his statement, we remain baffled," McClellan says. "Nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer." Strong words from the White House. The war of words continuing even at this hour, halfway around the world.

Up next, governments around the world are preparing for a possible pandemic, but what are businesses doing to brace for bird flu? We'll get the bottom line from Ali Velshi. He's standing by.

Plus, from the capital, to the cities, to the countryside, what motto captures the essence of your state? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mails. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The World Health Organization is confirming two more cases of blue flu in humans in Indonesia, both fatal. Making a total of 11 cases and seven deaths there.

And in this country, money that President Bush requested to fight a pandemic was dropped from a health care bill over concerns about how to pay for it. The government isn't alone in its concern about bird flu. Businesses also making plans right now.

CNN's Ali Velshi joining us live from New York with more. He's got the "Bottom Line." Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Wolf.

This is not, apparently, like September 11, it's not even like the hurricanes. This is a different sort of business planning that businesses have to undertake. And I talked to some experts who say its a lot more like SARS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI (voice-over): SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome. It got as close as the U.S. border in 2003. Forty-three of the 774 SARS deaths occurred in Canada.

Close to home and costly, the World Heath Organization says SARS cost the world $60 billion. SARS wasn't a pandemic. Nor is avian or bird flu. But if bird flu starts spreading between humans, it could spread fast, and it could $800 billion. In costs like drugs, medical care, lost business and lost staff.

DR. MYLES DRUCKMAN, INTERNATIONAL SOS: Communication is very important and having a plan and a strategy. How are you going to organize your meetings? Should people work from home? How do you organize anything travel?

VELSHI: Many companies are hesitant to publicize their plans beyond their employees, preferring to play the threat down, rather than encourage panic.

DRUCKMAN: Most organizations have a good strategy for events that occur quickly and then they manage the aftermath. I think the challenge here is that a pandemic is a long-distance run. It's not a sudden bomb going off. It's going to evolve over days, and months and even years.

VELSHI: Microsoft has reported to have plans for staff to work from home. It's also dispensing hand sanitizer, something health experts say might have limited the spread of SARS.

Airlines will get hit if fears of contagion spreads. The appeal of being in a contained space, sharing air with other people could wane quickly.

Hotels are preparing not only for business slowdowns, but for travelers who want to stay as healthy as possible. Face masks are selling fast to hotels and to restaurants. Rubber gloves are selling too.

And one of the only drugs known to reduce the symptoms of bird flu, Tamiflu. Tamiflu's not a cure, but companies have been stocking up on it for months.

And those shrines to America's favorite past-time, shopping malls could find themselves and their tenants in trouble if bird flu arrives in the United States. If it does, American retailers can only hope it's only in the next six weeks. It's the most lucrative time of the year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Now we don't want to be glib about it by talking about money and selling while this is going on. It's just to say that businesses are perhaps being smart about this by thinking ahead and not worrying about the fact that it's on top of us before they start making plans, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ali, thank you very much. Ali Velshi reporting.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour, Paula Zahn standing by. Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf. Coming at you in about six minutes from now, we're going to pick up the debate over why the U.S. want to went to war in Iraq. And whether U.S. troops should come home now. We will have a pretty hot debate for you on that.

We're also going to do something you've never seen much on television. We are going to tell you about a medical procedure that's now considered barbaric. But, it was performed on thousands of Americans. Tonight, you are going to meet a man who had a lobotomy. He's going to tell us what it did to his life.

And the most stunning thing about this story, Wolf, is that he was taken to doctors when was 12 years old because his stepmother complained that he was in these bad moods. And that he was reluctant to bathe. And that this young man, even though many other doctors didn't think it was the right thing to do, ended up having a lobotomy. It's really tragic.

BLITZER: Shocking. All right, Paula, thanks very much. We'll be watching.

Still ahead, your answers to our question of the hour. What should your state motto be? Jack Cafferty has been going through your e-mail. Some creative slogans coming in. You'll want to hear it. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is in New York. He's got some good e- mail he's been reading. Have you been chuckling, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, we'll see if the viewers chuckle. That's the object here. New Jersey asked the public for suggestions for a new state slogan, 6,000 people responded.

Most of the stuff is totally tasteless, such as sold to Corzine. New Jersey, we can use another relative on the payroll. Come to New Jersey, it's not as bad as it smells, yada, yada, yada. Eventually, they'll narrow down this 6,000 submission list and let the public vote on the finals.

So, the question this hour was, what do you think your state's motto ought to be?

Hal writes, North Carolina, where tobacco is a vegetable.

Joy writes, Alabama, want more religion in your government? Check us out first.

J.P. in Dublin, Ohio. Ohio, where we decide your next president.

Donna writes, Texas, the Dixie Chicks were right.

Sandra from Biloxi. Mississippi, it's shaped like Bart Simpson's head.

Darren in Fairbanks. Alaska, giving Texas an inferiority complex since 1959.

Ed writes, California, where anyone can be the governor.

Dee, writes from Loudoun. Tennessee, where Baptists pretend not to know each other at the liquor store.

Suzanne in Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia gets two mentions. Georgia, thank god for Mississippi. And Georgia, we put the fun in fundamentalist extremism.

Phil writes from Arlington, Virginia. Virginia is for lovers, unless you're gay, non-white, here illegally, or otherwise anywhere left of conservative. Unless you live in northern Virginia, which really isn't Virginia anyway.

And the last one was Pennsylvania. Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle.

BLITZER: Ali, you got any slogans for New York? You live in New York state now.

VELSHI: Yes. It always works better somewhere else.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

VELSHI: We're always stuck in those -- look, I think it's beautiful that people can come up and have such interesting things to say about the places where they live.

BLITZER: Six thousand e-mail in only a few minutes, Jack. That's pretty good.

VELSHI: That's a sign of democracy.

CAFFERTY: No, no, no. The 6,000 e-mails were -- the suggestions were for what the state slogan of New Jersey ought to be.

One other one I remember. Hey, it's not West Virginia. But, they're very sensitive in West Virginia about that stuff.

BLITZER: I'll see you guys tomorrow. Thanks, very much. Let's go to New York. "PAULA ZAHN NOW" standing now. Paula?

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