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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Samir Sumaidaie

Aired April 16, 2006 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington and here in New York, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:30 p.m. in Tehran and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll get to my interview with Iraq's new ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie, in just a few minutes. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now. Fredricka standing by. Fredricka?
(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: And we begin in Iraq, where there's been yet another setback in efforts to try to form a national unity government. CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad. He's joining us now live with details. Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good morning. In just the past few minutes, Iraqi leaders announcing that a planned session of parliament set for tomorrow has now been postponed by a few days. It is the latest sign that the political crisis that has gripped the country is showing no sign of ending.

Now, at issue is who will be the country's prime minister. Weeks ago the Shia alliance nominated Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the current prime minister, to retain his post, but Sunni and Kurdish blocs have said they will not work with Jaafari to form a unity government. They've criticized him for being too weak as Iraq's transitional prime minister.

Well, I recently sat down with Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and I asked him if he has full confidence that he will emerge as the country's next prime minister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IBRAHIM AL-JAAFARI, PRIME MINISTER, IRAQ (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The Shia alliance made their choice. I don't bet my position on the acceptance of a certain list or on a certain personality. Instead I depend on what the people chose, through the democratic political process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAMAN: Now, Wolf, Jaafari's point essentially is that in a majority, the Iraqis in December voted his alliance into the parliament. That alliance in turn voted him as their candidate, so it is his democratic right to try and form a government. But the United Iraqi Alliance, as is everyone here, is aware that a unity government is the only way for Iraq to try and find stability.

And with the Kurdish and Sunni blocs saying they will not work with Jaafari, the alliance might be forced to find someone new. Now, I spoke as well to Adnan Pachachi, the acting speaker of Iraq's parliament today. He warned me that, with this delay, it could mean the political process could now take more than a month for the government to form.

In a reminder of the stakes just today, two car bombs in and around the capital have killed at least 12 Iraqis in north of Baghdad in Baquba. Unknown gunmen targeted a minibus. That attack killed five civilians. Wolf?

BLITZER: Aneesh, thank you very much. Aneesh Raman in Baghdad. And joining us now here in New York is Iraq's new ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie. Mr. Ambassador, welcome to "Late Edition." Good to have you back on the program. You're giving up your position as ambassador of Iraq to the United Nations to move to Washington. When do you officially take over?

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE, IRAQ'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, I've already officially taken over, but I actually travel to Washington tomorrow, after I hand over to my successor in New York.

BLITZER: So you're leaving New York, moving to Washington. This is your first interview as the Iraqi ambassador to the United States.

SUMAIDAIE: That's correct.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this impasse. You heard Aneesh Raman report that it could take maybe even another month. It looks like the impasse is getting even worse as Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the interim prime minister, holds on to his -- tries to hold on to that slot.

SUMAIDAIE: I don't believe it will take as long as Aneesh has suggested. I have good reason for optimism. First, there is total consensus that whatever government emerges will be a national unity government. By definition, this means that the government that everybody has a stake in and everybody supports.

In this process, it is complicated, of course, and there is a lot at stake. As we talk now, people I know are huddled together to put the final touches on a compromise that is emerging.

BLITZER: But the compromise, a lot of Kurdish leaders have told me in recent weeks they don't want Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be the prime minister. A lot of the Sunni leaders have said the same thing. And even now some of the Shiite political factions have said they think someone else would be better suited to be the prime minister of this new Iraq. Is this compromise that you're talking about a compromise that would eliminate Ibrahim al-Jaafari as the prime minister?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, it's a compromise which will give the Shiite bloc which has won the greatest number of seats in parliament, will give them -- will keep with them the right to appoint or nominate the prime minister. And I believe there is intensive consultation within that bloc to come up with a solution that will satisfy all the other blocs as well as keep their unity together.

BLITZER: Does that compromise mean someone else other than Ibrahim al-Jaafari?

SUMAIDAIE: It is likely that this will happen. And I think we can expect within the next day or two some move in that direction.

BLITZER: Who would be -- give us a name or two.

SUMAIDAIE: A number of names have been mentioned. But leading amongst them is Ali al Adib, who is from al-Jaafari's own party.

BLITZER: And so he is someone -- give us a little background because he's a new name, relatively speaking, to our viewers in the United States and around the world. What's his background?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, really I don't know very much about him because he's pretty well a new name for me. I met him in a cursory manner in Baghdad when I was member of the governing council. But I never dealt with him on a working context. We'll have to find out in the coming days.

BLITZER: Is he someone who is more secular or more traditional in terms of Islamic faith?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, being a member of the Dawa party, he is in a sense a non-entity because...

BLITZER: That's the same party as Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

SUMAIDAIE: Exactly. And he would stand for the same things that al Jaafari stands for.

BLITZER: Because some of the other Shiite political leaders who have been mentioned are more secular, but they're from a different Shiite political party.

SUMAIDAIE: That's right.

BLITZER: Adel Abdul Mahdi, for example.

SUMAIDAIE: That's right. Adel Abdul Mahdi is part of the, of course, SCIRI, which is the other part of the alliance. And he's had an extensive background, highly educated, speaks several languages and...

BLITZER: Do you think this new person would be acceptable to the Kurds and to the Sunnis?

SUMAIDAIE: I believe that whoever is put forward and will be agreed upon will have to be acceptable to all. And I believe that we are now close to a solution which is acceptable to all.

The important thing, Wolf, is that whatever government, even if it takes a little longer, and I know there is a lot of suffering, there is a lot of frustration. But the government that will take over for the next four years has to be acceptable to all communities in Iraq. And I believe we are close to that.

BLITZER: Here's what Adnan Pachachi said. And you know he's a Sunni leader in Iraq, a former foreign minister, the speaker of the parliament. "It would be a genuine effective partnership between all the political forces in the country. It would not necessarily be based on the results of the election, which we do not think reflected the voters' will, anyway."

He was proposing, in the past 24 hours, an emergency government be put together to resolve this political crisis once and for all.

SUMAIDAIE: There have been calls for an emergency government, but I think what we'll have to arrive at is a compromise between the emergency requirements of the country and the electoral results.

The electoral results could not be ignored totally. Otherwise, you know, that will put our Democratic experiment in jeopardy. But at the same time, allowance has to be made to make sure that everybody's on board.

BLITZER: Here's what Ibrahim Al Jaafari said a few weeks ago, quoted in the New York Times as saying, "There's concern among the Iraqi people that the democratic process is being threatened. The source of this is that some American figures have made statements that interfere with the results of the democratic process."

He clearly feels he's being put in a corner, Ibrahim Al Jaafari. And I think, if you read between the lines, he, sort of, blames the United States ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw who came in.

I believe he senses that they want someone else to be the prime minister. And it looks like it's going to move in that direction.

SUMAIDAIE: Well, Wolf, what the Americans and the British want, and they have said so, is for the Iraqis to agree quickly on someone. And the Iraqis -- and this process that's going on, although it is being helped and facilitated by our American and British friends, is totally Iraqi.

BLITZER: Is it interference in domestic Iraqi politics, improper interference?

SUMAIDAIE: I don't believe it could be described as improper interference. The United States and Britain have invested a great deal in this project in Iraq.

They've invested blood and treasure. And they have a right to have a say. But that's not undermining the democratic process. The democratic process is going on. And consultations are intensive between the Iraqi players. And that is what's going to produce the result.

BLITZER: The Sunni leader, Saleh Al-Mutlak, said this on Wednesday. He said, "the formation of the government should take place within the next few days; otherwise, Iraq will drown in a river of blood...

People are being slaughtered on the streets while politicians are busy looking for posts. Those are strong words from a man you know.

SUMAIDAIE: Indeed. And there is far too much blood has been flowing and continues to flow. And Iraq is bleeding as a country. But we are bleeding mainly through the blows dealt by the terrorists, not by people who are trying to solve the Iraqi political process.

But I believe that this overdramatic characterization is not going to be the one which is important to listen to. What's going to be important to listen to is the outcome of consultations which are intensive and ongoing as we speak.

And I believe they will produce a result in the coming days and will produce a result that is broadly acceptable to all communities.

Well, if you think that was overly dramatic, listen to what the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, said on April 8 to Al-Arabiya. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOSNI MUBARAK, PRESIDENT, EGYPT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It's on the doorstep. Civil war has almost started among Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and those who are coming from Asia.

The situation is uneasy. And I don't know how Iraq will be brought together. At the moment, Iraq is almost close to destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Those are very dramatic words from President Mubarak.

SUMAIDAIE: Absolutely. I watched that interview, Wolf, and I also watched the reactions by Iraqis to that interview. And since then, the Egyptians were trying to back-pedal and trying to repair the damage of that interview.

The reality of the situation is that the Iraqis are themselves in charge of the process and they are doing their absolute best. And we have to remember we are learning this process.

We have not done too badly so far. OK, there has been a long delay since the election, but we are learning how to reach compromises. We are learning how to accept each other and give concessions. And the process is now very serious and intensive. And I do believe it will produce results soon.

BLITZER: What he was especially alarmed at, President Mubarak, and many in the Arab world are alarmed at -- in the Arab world, most of the leaders, most of the people are Sunnis. In Iraq the majority are Shiite.

And what he's concerned about is this emerging alliance between the Shiites in Iraq and the Shiites that rule, of course, neighboring Iran. Listen to President Mubarak.

I'll read it to you. We don't have the clip, but I'll read it to you.

"Definitely, Iran has influence on Shiites. Shiites are 65 percent of the Iraqis. Most of the Shiites are loyal to Iran and not to the countries they are living in."

SUMAIDAIE: Well, these comments were totally out of order. And there were loud protests from Shiites, not only in Iraq but in other countries in the Arab world.

BLITZER: Because it makes it sound like these Shiite Arabs in Iraq and in other Arab countries are loyal to Iran, not to their own countries.

SUMAIDAIE: Absolutely untrue. Nobody can doubt or cast any suspicion over the patriotism of Iraqi Shiites.

BLITZER: But why do you think President Mubarak would say that?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, he's either misinformed or misguided. This is wrong, plainly wrong. And he was told this was wrong.

And Iraq boycotted the meeting in Cairo of the Arab League as a result of these comments. And we had clarifications from the Egyptian government to try and repair this damage.

This was a very unfortunate statement. Iraqis reject it totally. All Sunnis and Shias reject this characterization of Iraqi Shiites.

Iraqi Shiites are as patriotic as anybody else, as Arab as anybody else, as they proved to be during the Iran-Iraq war for eight years, and they fought hard, they gave blood to protect every inch of Iraqi soil. Nobody can cast doubt over that.

BLITZER: How much influence, though, does Iran have on the political situation in Iraq?

SUMAIDAIE: All our neighbors would like to have some say in the outcome of the political process in Iraq. This is understandable. But it's for us, for us Iraqis to ensure that our interests are served first by our political process.

BLITZER: The key, a lot of U.S. military and political leaders say, is the disbandment of the militias, the various ethnic militias in Iraq, so you have one cohesive police force and one cohesive military force.

And all these militias, Shiite militias, Kurdish militias, Sunni militias running around have to be broken up. Is that doable?

SUMAIDAIE: It is absolutely essential if Iraq is to be kept in a secure unity. It is, of course, stipulated by our constitution, by our new constitution. And the new government will be mandated to do that as soon as possible. BLITZER: Samir Sumaidaie is the new Iraqi ambassador to the United States. Thanks for joining us for your first interview since getting this important appointment.

SUMAIDAIE: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: And good luck to you.

SUMAIDAIE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And just ahead, Donald Rumsfeld under fire from former members of the U.S. military brass. Two leading members of the United States Congress weigh in on whether the president's defense secretary should resign.

Plus: perspective on Secretary Rumsfeld's conduct of the war in Iraq from three retired U.S. military generals.

Also, insight from an elder statesman: the former U.S. secretary of state, Henry Kissinger on the critical diplomatic challenges facing Iraq and its neighbor, Iran.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important for Americans to understand the stakes in Iraq. A free Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush trying to reassure an uneasy American public about the overall U.S. mission in Iraq. Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now, two key members of the United States Congress. In San Francisco, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, and in Boise, Idaho, the Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter of California.

Good to have both of you back on "Late Edition." Thanks very much for joining us. I want to get to Iraq, Iran, immigration, lots of other issues. But first, let's talk about the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Senator Feinstein, there's increasing calls on him from some retired U.S. military officers for the secretary to resign. Do you think he should?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes, I do. I think the nation and this president would be well-served if there were a change of team. I think the problem with Mr. Rumsfeld is that he is very stubborn. He is very determined. I don't see the flexibility that a change of circumstances in Iraq which has been happening following the first three weeks of the military operation. I think there have been so many mistakes made. Too few troops, borders not enforced, infrastructure not protected, security not guaranteed for the people. And now what we see is a tremendous uprising of sectarian violence. I was just reading the daily clips. Virtually all over the country.

And you see reports where six out of the 18 provinces are now critically unstable. So I think the country is on the verge of civil war. I think the president would be well-served and the nation well- served with a new team.

BLITZER: Let's bring in the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter. I suspect, Mr. Chairman, you have a different perspective.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: You know, Wolf, I can recall when we were driving up to Baghdad with the 1st Marines and with various elements of the United States Army, and we were on a number of shows, literally those shows in which retired generals were criticizing Secretary Rumsfeld for not attacking Baghdad with, quote, enough troops.

Those shows were interrupted with news flashes that Tommy Franks had taken yet another stronghold of Saddam Hussein, and he took -- we took Baghdad and won the offensive part of that campaign with a small number of casualties. And Secretary Rumsfeld was given many accolades for doing that.

Now, all of these occupations wear in a most difficult manner on two parties -- the occupied country and secondly, the occupier. And the fact that we're in a -- that this is a tough time and a tough point in this progress toward a free Iraq doesn't mean that you change horses because you're in a tough ball game and there's lots of difficulties.

And you know, Dianne said this is a secretary of defense who is determined. That is a quality that you need at this time, Wolf. You don't change horses to simply give a cosmetic appeal to a situation which is a long, difficult, and tough campaign by any standards.

BLITZER: Most of the criticism aimed at the defense secretary, Mr. Chairman, is that he didn't have enough troops prepared for the post-invasion, for the takeover of Iraq, a huge country, nearly 30 million people. Listen to what retired U.S. Major General John Batiste, the former commander of the 1st Infantry Division that went into Iraq. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: When decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision-making, sound planning, then we're bound to make mistakes. When we violate the principles of war with mass and unity of command and unity of effort, we do that at our own peril.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: General Batiste wants Rumsfeld to resign. He says he's not a good secretary of defense, didn't prepare the troops and didn't prepare the country for what was going to ensue after the collapse of Saddam Hussein. Do you think, Mr. Chairman, Rumsfeld should resign?

HUNTER: Well, Wolf, no. And the general is a retired general, and this is one of the great assets of this country is to have retired generals come out on stage and basically give their unfettered views of operations. I think that is value-added.

But I like the value added by people like former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dick Myers, who thinks that Secretary Rumsfeld has done a superb job, and many other generals. So you know, with a community of about 5,000 retired generals, to have six of them come out against you from a politician's point of view ain't bad. You know, we have lots of people that want to remove us on a regular basis. We just try to keep it under 50 percent.

BLITZER: But Mr. Chairman, a couple of these generals were directly involved in moving into Baghdad, like General Batiste with the 1st Infantry Division. These are not generals sitting at the Pentagon, sitting at home, sitting in retired locations in Florida or elsewhere. These were generals who were intimately involved in that operation.

HUNTER: Well, but Wolf, again, if you look at the statistics on the very low number of casualties that we took in the offensive part of this campaign, where we went up against a military that...

BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt, Mr. Chairman. Let me interrupt, Mr. Chairman. They're not criticizing the move into Iraq. They're criticizing the lack of planning for what happened after the downfall of Saddam Hussein, the 2,400 U.S. troops, the thousands of others who have been injured, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent. That could have been avoided if they would have had a better plan, and they're blaming Rumsfeld directly for responsibility.

HUNTER: And I disagree with the basis of what I've seen as the basis of the criticism by the several generals that have criticized him. Number one, Wolf, having more convoys on those roads when the primary inflicter of casualties of American troops has been IEDs is, I think, not a good idea. Having more humvees, more trucks on those roads has not been a good idea.

Secondly, having more troops in those areas of operation when we're trying to put an Iraqi face on this operation, having more troops on the street corners and more troops on the roads is not necessarily the way to accomplish that. And lastly, the casualties that we've been taking have not been taken as a result of not having enough troops. They've mainly been taken as a result of IEDs and of terrorist operations, insurgent operations in an asymmetric style.

BLITZER: Let me bring back Senator Feinstein into this conversation. The chairman of the House armed services committee makes the point there are a lot of other generals, thousands of generals, who haven't called on Rumsfeld to resign, and the secretary of defense responded in a similar way earlier this week. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I intend to serve the president at his pleasure. And the fact that two or three or four retired people have different views, I respect their views, but obviously, if out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry go-round effect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Senator Feinstein. You want to respond to that?

FEINSTEIN: I'd like to respond. In the first place, the military operations I think were over very quickly. I think the problem is that the strategy set up by Mr. Rumsfeld has been deeply flawed and has created a major problem in Iraq. And that problem is the absence of any kind of follow-on force. The wrong directives. I remember people saying when the looting started, oh, well, you know, that's natural. It isn't natural.

The absence of enough people to protect the infrastructure. Sewage still on the streets to this day. Electricity not on 24-7. People being kidnapped, assassinated.

I think this: I believe very strongly that the time has come to transition the American mission.

It's been four months since the Iraqi election. The Iraqis aren't able to stand up a government. They have just canceled the meeting of parliament scheduled for tomorrow.

No one knows who is going to be the new prime minister, the new president, the new speaker.

There is this rising sectarian violence. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in this. The time has come to take a look at what we're doing and see how we can change to do things better. And I...

BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt, Senator Feinstein. Do you agree with Senator Kerry that there should be a May 15 deadline imposed on the Iraqis by which they will either have a national unity government or the U.S. pulls out?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I can't comment on May 15. I think there should be a deadline. I think the Iraqis have to put it together.

And I think this is what the challenge is. I'm not sure that it can be put together. I'm not sure that you can make a unity government in a country with so much sectarian difference.

You have 60 percent Shia; you have 20 percent Kurd; 20 percent Sunni. So you have a 60-40 split on virtually anything. And you have people, now, that are being dispossessed.

I believe some 26,000 people have had to leave their home because, if they were Sunni, they were unacceptable in a Shia area; if they were Shia, they were unacceptable in a Sunni area.

And the kind of barbarism -- I mean, to walk out and kill, you know, somebody delivering ice because ice wasn't in the ninth century is a kind of ethic that is so antithetical to any kind of reason.

And I'm very worried about the development of a civil war and our inability to handle it and our people getting caught in the middle of it.

BLITZER: We're going to ask Senator Feinstein and Congressman Hunter to stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more questions to talk about, including Iran.

What should the U.S. strategy be in dealing with a potentially nuclear Iran?

Also coming up next: what's in the news right now, including new deadly car bombings today in Iraq. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. We're talking with California Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, and the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, also of California.

Mr. Chairman, listen to what the president said this week on the possibility of Iran moving toward the development of a nuclear bomb.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We do not want the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon, the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, or the knowledge as to how to make a nuclear weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: They announced this week, Mr. Chairman that they've learned the business of enriching uranium, which is a key step in the development of a nuclear bomb, potentially, although they deny that is their intention.

What should the U.S. do about this?

HUNTER: Well, obviously, Wolf, we've got to keep all options on the table, including the military option.

The Iranians have stated that they're going to have 3,000 centrifuges working by the end of the year. That's probably enough capability in the minds of most experts to produce at least one or two nuclear devices. And so this is the dawning of this new age in which terrorists and those that support terrorists are coming together with high technology, and it's going to be a very dangerous time for the United States and the rest of the free world, and the president clearly has to keep that military option on the table.

It appears now that the Iranians have telegraphed their punches in that they are not going to acquiesce to sanctions or to international diplomatic pressure.

BLITZER: If necessary, Mr. Chairman, should the U.S. consider destroying Iran's nuclear facilities by using tactical nuclear weapons?

HUNTER: I don't think you have to use tactical nukes, Wolf. You know, the Israelis destroyed, of course, the Osirak reactor in the 1980s using a conventional air strike. The real problem here...

BLITZER: But let me interrupt, let me interrupt for that, Mr. Chairman. As you know, the Iranians have learned the lessons of Osirak. They're building their facilities deep underground, heavily reinforced concrete, and some of the conventional bombs, some U.S. experts believe, wouldn't necessarily get the job done. Only a certain specific tactical nuclear bomb could potentially, at least, destroy those facilities. If necessary -- let me repeat the question -- would you think the U.S. should consider that?

HUNTER: Wolf, first, I think that the Iranians don't understand American capabilities. I would just say that and let it go at that. And that we have the ability conventionally to take out parts of the complex which we know about. Now, if you have underground or hidden centrifuge activities taking place in other parts of Iran that we don't know about, it doesn't matter what you go after them with because you don't know where they're at.

And targeting is the key to American precision strikes. But this is the real problem that we have here, Wolf, is bringing together the rest of the free world. And that includes formerly reluctant players like Germany and France to assist the United States in this. This should not be a United States go-it-alone operation if we have to take military action, and that's the real challenge.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, you wrote a piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times in which you said that any use of tactical nuclear weapons to deal with Iran's nuclear program would be not only dangerous but extremely unwise. You said, "This would be a disastrous tragedy. First use of nuclear weapons by the United States should be unthinkable. A preemptive nuclear attack violates a central tenet of the 'just war' and the U.S. military traditions."

You think that that simply should be removed from the agenda, from the table.

FEINSTEIN: Oh, I believe this to my core. I think a first use of nuclear weapons would put this nation in an immoral position, and one we would regret for decades to come. We just don't seem to learn our lessons. And I am very worried about the rumors that are going around about some tactical nuclear use. In the first place, it takes some time to weaponize uranium. And the estimate is from three to five years. We know our intelligence in these areas is not good. And the whole theory of preemption has to be based on good intelligence. We do not have good intelligence in these countries. And, therefore, to begin talking about using a nuclear weapon I think is just sheer folly.

And I just can't believe it's my government that's doing this. If you look at the different way that North Korea is being treated, and we know North Korea has weaponized fissile materials and the way Iran is being treated, the United States has to step up into the tough diplomatic world.

The United States, which our government has so castigated the United Nations, has to remember that the United Nations must play a very central role now in this and this is the time to step up.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Senator Feinstein. Let me interrupt on that point. Senator Lugar, among others, saying the U.S. should engage in direct talks with the Iranians on the issue of its nuclear program. Would you support that?

FEINSTEIN: I would absolutely support Senator Lugar. As the chairman of the foreign relations committee, I think this is a skilled man in these areas. He is absolutely right. I don't know why we would even talk about using tactical nuclear weapons when we haven't directly spoken with the Iranians. It doesn't make any sense. It doesn't compute.

BLITZER: Let me ask the chairman. Do you think the U.S. should engage in direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program?

HUNTER: Well, Wolf, I think that's up to the president. And I think that's his call. But the point is that the Iranians, to engage in talks that are meaningful, you need to have a receptive audience, and the Iranians have preemptively said very strongly that they are going to continue the construction of these centrifuges.

But Wolf, the only people I've heard talking about tactical nuclear weapons to this degree is my good friend Senator Feinstein and members of the press. All of a sudden the debate, following the Iranian statement that they are going to upgrade this weapons material and get these 3,000 centrifuges started, this has now changed or morphed into an American debate over whether we should use nuclear weapons.

I haven't heard people in the Pentagon saying we're going to use nuclear weapons. I don't think the senator has, either.

BLITZER: I think it all started with the article last week by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker magazine.

HUNTER: Yeah, I think it started with an article by a left-wing media guy who at one point at one of our debates I think called the United States the Third Reich. I think his credibility is in question. BLITZER: Well, I'm not so sure about that quote. But go ahead, Senator Feinstein.

FEINSTEIN: Yeah, let me respond to that.

HUNTER: It was on your show.

FEINSTEIN: It did start, I think, to some extent with Seymour Hersh. However, there are other newsprint -- news out today about a planning effort. I don't know whether that's true or not. We do know that we have tactical nuclear weapons. We do know that the Iranian -- excuse me, that the nuclear facilities in Iran are underground.

And we do know that the administration for several years now has tried to develop two programs, one called advanced weapons concepts, which were low-yield nuclear weapons, and the other a robust nuclear earth penetrator, substantial kilotons, going up to 100 or more kilotons. That has just been financially killed by the Congress. So there has been a lot of nuclear discussion going on.

HUNTER: Wolf, name me one. I would ask you or Senator Feinstein, name one Pentagon official who said we're going to use nuclear weapons in Iran. One.

BLITZER: There hasn't been anyone who has said that, certainly not publicly, and they've played down that notion, the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, all of them.

HUNTER: Then why are we allowing Seymour Hersh, a left-wing media figure, to start this major debate over the United States using nuclear weapons?

BLITZER: They haven't exactly flatly ruled it out, either, Mr. Chairman. They've played it down, but I haven't heard a flat-out denial...

HUNTER: That's a pretty weak straw.

BLITZER: I haven't heard any flat-out denials saying that there's been absolutely no consideration and will be no consideration of nuclear weapons being used if necessary, as a last resort to deal with Iran's nuclear program. I guess that's giving this story, as we say in this business, some legs.

But you make some good points. Both of you make good points. Unfortunately, we have to leave it there because we're out of time, but we promise to continue this conversation down the road. The chairman of the armed services committee in the House, Duncan Hunter, and Senator Dianne Feinstein of the Senate intelligence committee.

Coming up next in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On ABC's "This Week," the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired General Richard Myers, defended embattled defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD MYERS, FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: One of the things about Secretary Rumsfeld, in working for him, is you have tremendous access and you can present your arguments. But in our system, when it's all said and done, in our system, the civilian control of the military means that civilians make the decisions.

The commander in chief makes the decision; the secretary of defense makes the decisions; and we live by those decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On CBS's "Face the Nation," New Mexico Democratic Governor Bill Richardson called for a concrete timetable for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Early next year, I believe, we fix a date certain for the start of an American withdrawal because, right now, our policy is just not working. And the civil war is getting worse.

What I would do is call a Mideast conference, a summit, of Muslim countries to help with training the Iraqi security forces along with us; and then, secondly, a real reconstruction effort among other Arab countries, wealthy countries, to deal with the reconstruction of Iraq.

But our policy is not working. And we have to change course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on "Fox News Sunday," the former House Republican leader, Newt Gingrich, warned his party could be in big trouble in this year's congressional elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You have to respect the right of the American people to say they want change. And the question for the Republicans in the next 90 days is: Are they going to become the party of real change and are they going to learn some lessons and get their act together or are they going to try to go into the fall campaign, focusing one district at a time, hoping that somehow incumbency will survive public anger?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Highlights from some of the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

Don't forget our Web question of the week: "What's the best way to handle Iran's nuclear program: Diplomacy, sanctions, or military action? You can log on to CNN.com/lateedition to cast your vote.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll talk with the former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now. CNN's Fredricka Whitfield standing by with that. Fred?

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. From a tenuous political and dangerous security situation in Iraq to escalating tensions in Iran and calls for the resignation of the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush administration is facing some critical challenges to its foreign policy. Joining us now to talk about that and more is the former secretary of state of the United States, Henry Kissinger. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "Late Edition."

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Nice to talk to you.

BLITZER: What do you make of these retired generals, six now, calling for Donald Rumsfeld to resign?

KISSINGER: I think Donald Rumsfeld is a distinguished public servant. I had my own difficulties when we were both serving in the Ford administration. But he's a distinguished public servant who has done an outstanding job as secretary of defense.

The debate is about one decision that was made at the end of the Iraqi war, how to govern Iraq and whether there were enough troops allocated to this. That's an important debate. It was not simply a defense department issue, and it cannot be dealt with now, three years afterwards, by the resignation of the secretary of defense.

BLITZER: Well, you say it was dealt with at the time. The debate was apparently going on even before the U.S. began the invasion of Iraq. The former Army chief of staff, Eric Shinseki said several hundred thousand troops were needed.

Rumsfeld, the argument goes, wanted to do it supposedly on the cheap. And U.S. troops are dying now. U.S. funds are being used up in Iraq to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars because of that initial decision by Rumsfeld to go in, as they say, on the cheap as opposed to having a much more robust force.

KISSINGER: The initial decision had the correct allocation of forces. The initial decision dealt with how to win the war. The next key decision was whether we should undertake a military government of Iraq on the model of the occupations of Germany of Japan and bring the people to democracy through a process of occupation. That required...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Mr. Secretary. Don't you think that given the fact that the U.S. knew it could defeat the Republican Guard of Saddam Hussein, that these decisions should have been made long in advance, what would happen in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's downfall?

KISSINGER: I think everybody agrees, probably including Secretary Rumsfeld, that the immediate aftermath of the war, that some mistakes were made. The president had said it. He has said it. The issue now is whether you can -- whether in order to deal with a decision made three years ago, one should undertake the bloodletting that these generals are asking for. In addition to the issue raised about civil, military...

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, on the specific point, throughout the '90s, there were extensive planning procedures underway at the Pentagon that stipulated that to really occupy Iraq, you need at least 380,000 troops in place. Which was a number that was even less than what the U.S. deployed to liberate Kuwait in 1991. A half a million U.S. troops were deployed to liberate a much smaller country with only a couple three million people, a very small geographic area.

And that Rumsfeld said 380,000 troops, way too many, 150,000, 160,000 was more in his liking. And argument that has been made by these retired generals is that he browbeat the military into going with this much smaller force.

KISSINGER: Well, I don't know how you browbeat generals who have direct access to the president. The line of command comes from the chairman of the joint chiefs to the president so that I would think that generals ought to have direct access to the president. Still, I would say the distinction is as follows.

I believe that the general view was that after the Iraqi forces were defeated, that then one could undertake an occupation against very little resistance. That was a misjudgment that had nothing to do with the number of forces. If one had -- one did not match the number of forces one needed for the occupation to the political objectives that were sent, if one wanted to stay to occupy, then one needed more forces. And this was undoubtedly a mistake in judgment.

BLITZER: Here's the criticism, Mr. Secretary, of Rumsfeld, and I want to move on and talk about Iran and some other issues in Iraq. But the criticism is that he went in on the cheap, too few troops. Obviously, the decision to go ahead and disband the 400,000-member Iraqi military, most experts now agree that was a blunder. And that all of these decisions should have been well thought out in advance.

KISSINGER: Well, from what I've observed of Rumsfeld, his decisions are carefully thought out. It is possible sometimes you get to a strategic point, and you make the wrong decision. And there's no doubt that there was an underestimation of what it would take to occupy the country, not what it would take to defeat the country. And, but the decision to occupy the whole country and to make it part -- to make America alone responsible for the political evolution, that was not Rumsfeld's alone.

BLITZER: Here's what Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, who was involved months earlier in the manning for the takeover of Iraq wrote in Time magazine last week. He said, "the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions -- or bury the results." What a stinging criticism from a retired U.S. Army officer of the defense secretary.

KISSINGER: You're talking about something that may or may not have happened three years ago. The key problem we now face is that we are in a very difficult situation throughout the Middle East. And the question is whether you deal with it best by the sort of dramatic changes in leadership structure and the implication that everything can be changed in an administration that has only two and a half years more to go and only two years before the electoral process starts.

I believe that it is better for Rumsfeld to stay, and that I think on key issues like transformation, and also getting the force ready to go in, there was this one window where I have personally disagreed from the beginning, but that was not simply a force decision.

That was a decision on what one wanted to achieve and that may have been over-optimistic.

BLITZER: Here's what Rumsfeld, this week, said about Iran and these reports that the U.S. is considering a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, including that report in the New Yorker magazine that Seymour Hersh wrote that the U.S. is even considering a tactical nuclear strike.

Listen to what the defense secretary said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There is obviously concern about Iran. It's a country that supports terrorists. It's a country that has indicated an interest in having weapons of mass destruction.

So obviously, the president has indicated his concern about the country. But it is just simply not useful to get into fantasy land.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is it too early, Mr. Secretary, to start thinking of military options, maybe even a nuclear option, to destroy Iran's nuclear ambitions?

KISSINGER: It is not too early for the Pentagon to start planning for contingencies. It is too early for the administration to use this as a principal threat, but it's not too early for the Defense Department to prepare for a contingency, which it may be asked to execute, however unlike the contingency is.

BLITZER: What about the military -- the nuclear option?

KISSINGER: Look, nobody can possibly want another war. Using nuclear weapons is an even greater hurdle. And that is not the debate that should take place now.

The debate that should take place now is: Can we -- can the world live in a proliferated world, especially when the proliferator is a country that has so severely challenged the environment in which it lives?

When I was in office, the most painful decisions that we faced in that time was the threat of nuclear war. But that was in a two-power world. And even there, we knew the horrendous casualties that this would involve.

Now, if you imagine a world of 30 nuclear powers each conducting a balance of terror with each other, it's part of an overall balance of terror with us.

You have to -- we will, as a government, have to decide and as a united people, at what point we draw the line. That is the debate that should take place.

It will be enormously difficult to use military force. And I am not saying we should use military force. But we also cannot say we cannot consider the use of military force.

And it is not an issue that concerns us alone. Every other country that is affected by this should discuss this, not simply from the point of view of their short-term politics but from the point of view of whether we can live in a world in which the sort of thing we saw in Madrid and New York and London kills 100,000 people instead of a few hundred people and all public services are stopped.

This is the issue on which we need a very important national debate. Nobody will want to use nuclear weapons and nobody will want to go to war, but the Pentagon would be remiss in its duty if it didn't prepare for these contingencies. But I don't know whether they're preparing to use nuclear weapons. I'd be amazed.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but I just want to press you on this point. Would it be appropriate to even think about using a nuclear option to deal with Iran?

KISSINGER: It would be absolutely at the very end of the considerations that I would consider. And I am not prepared to make that as a recommendation now.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, we have to leave it there. As usual, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

And coming up, with Iraq's double threat of insurgency and sectarian violence, what are the next steps for U.S. and Iraqi troops?

We'll speak with our panel of retired U.S. military generals. They'll also weigh in on Donald Rumsfeld and his future. And preaching politics: We'll get perspective on the role of religion in political life. The Reverend Jerry Falwell -- he just patched up his relationship with Senator John McCain.

Will he support him if he runs for the presidency? "Late Edition" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York this Sunday.

Earlier on "Late Edition," the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, suggested that Seymour Hersh, the author of the New Yorker article, the controversial article over the past week or so -- that this author had earlier made a comparison between the United States and the Third Reich.

We went back on "Late Edition," almost exactly two years ago. This was the exchange I had with Seymour Hersh on an article he wrote on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, breaking that story in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEYMOUR HERSH, THE NEW YORKER: You're seeing two attack dogs, German Shepherds, snarling. You know, it's a scene from -- we know what, you know, Third Reich; you name it -- it's snarling at a prisoner cowering in fear inside a prison, with a few people standing around watching, sort of calmly.

BLITZER: Well, when you say "Third Reich," you're getting into very, very sensitive areas right now.

Be more specific what exactly you mean.

HERSH: I mean that the idea of using dogs on civilians and detainees is really extraordinary. It's a really unusual thing. It's against Army policy. I quote an Army major general, a former head of military police, a general named Heinz, saying that if I'd done anything like that -- he was 28 years in the business of military police -- I would have been run out of the Army, essentially, he's saying. That's just simply something we do not do in the U.S. Army.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was the exchange I had with Seymour Hersh almost exactly two years ago. We wanted to give that context so viewers would know precisely the reference Duncan Hunter was referring to when he made that suggestion in the first hour of "Late Edition."

Other news we're following, a fresh vote of confidence this week from President Bush for Donald Rumsfeld, despite a firestorm of criticism over his conduct in the war in Iraq from six retired U.S. generals.

Should Rumsfeld resign? For insight on that and more, we're joined by military analysts. In Phoenix, Arizona, retired U.S. Air Force Major General Don Shepperd. In Oak Brook, Illinois, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General David Grange and in Washington, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks.

Generals, welcome back to "Late Edition." General Marks, let me start with you since you actually served during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. You were there, involved in U.S. Military intelligence, the planning, the operation. You went in. What do you make of Donald Rumsfeld? Was your experience with him positive or negative?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, Wolf, my experience was layered. It's probably the best way to talk about it. I never worked directly for the secretary. I worked for Dave McKiernan, who was the land component commander as we got ready to go to Iraq, and then we invaded Iraq in March of '03.

So I experienced Secretary Rumsfeld from a distance is probably the best way to describe it. I must tell you at the time, I kind of had the impression that his mind and those around him had been made up in terms of what we were going to do and how we were going to go about doing it. There were many planning sessions that took place, and there were requests for forces that were denied. Although the military commanders on the ground certainly saw it a little bit differently than the decision that was made at the highest levels.

BLITZER: Well, General McKiernan, one of the top U.S. military commanders in Iraq. What was, based on your firsthand observations, the kind of relationship that Rumsfeld had with General McKiernan?

MARKS: Again, Wolf, this was layered through General Franks, who was the Central Command commander, and was, frankly, the senior and the single portal through which all dealings took place with the secretary. So General McKiernan's personal experience with Secretary Rumsfeld I can't comment.

I wasn't present when he had some one-on-one time with the secretary. All I do know is that Dave McKiernan did an absolutely magnificent job commanding and -- planning for and commanding that very, very difficult time as we got into Baghdad back in spring of '03.

BLITZER: But -- I want to bring our other generals in in a moment. But based on your firsthand observations, your firsthand knowledge, General Marks, did the defense secretary reject recommendations from military commanders for more troops?

MARKS: Sure. Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's been documented if you read General Franks' book, and the current book, "Cobra II," indicates very, very clearly, and in fact, that is in fact what happened. We requested the 1st Cavalry Division. That was denied. At a very critical point in the war, I might say.

The metric that was established then was success against the Republican Guard and Saddam's forces when clearly the desired end state was what's going to happen after the forces have been dealt with, and what do you do when you've got this military presence in Iraq. Clearly, the presence of more combat forces on the ground would have been needed.

BLITZER: General Grange, I want you to listen to what General Charles Swannack, who was the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division that moved into Iraq, as you well know, what he said this past week in defending his recommendation that Rumsfeld step down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. CHARLES SWANNACK, JR. (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I feel that he has micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces there to achieve our strategic objective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you make of this chorus that's now developing of these former commanders saying Rumsfeld should resign?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: It's nothing near a revolt. It's the comments from actually a small number of general officers, and some are very credible. I've served with many of these people that are making these comments. The micromanage remarks that are being made are being made by retired brigadier major generals and a three-star, except for the exception of General Zinni, who did not serve with Secretary Rumsfeld during this particular time.

None of them have commented on micromanagement. And I would think that the dialogue would be between four-stars and the secretary of defense.

BLITZER: What kind of relationship, General Grange, do you have with the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld?

GRANGE: Very little. Being a philanthropist here in Chicago, the only time I have a relationship is when military analysts have the opportunity to go to Washington and discuss with the staff and Department of Defense and occasionally the secretary of defense.

BLITZER: Based on everything...

GRANGE: During those meetings...

BLITZER: I was going to say...

GRANGE: He was very cordial during those meetings.

BLITZER: Based on everything you know about this defense secretary, based on everything you know about these military officers who want him to step down, others who say he should stay on, what do you think, General Grange?

GRANGE: Well, I think it would be inappropriate to step down right now. The secretary -- and I say that because, one, we have comments from a small number of retired general officers. It's not the duty of general officer corps, though they have the right to say what they want to say with the first amendment, obviously, especially when you're retired. They don't dictate who the secretary of defense is. That's done by the administration and then of course, Congress.

But I would think right now, my concern with the whole dialogue that's going on is the morale of the force, and we have a mission to accomplish. And the focus best be on getting this mission accomplished.

BLITZER: General Shepperd, earlier this year on February 19, U.S. Army Major General Paul Eaton retired, who recently has come out for Rumsfeld to resign, a former Pentagon planner. He said this on "Late Edition." Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. PAUL EATON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: From the very beginning, we did not put enough boots on the ground to prosecute phase four as this -- of this war. And we still have not awarded the appropriate resources to the men and women charged with assisting Iraq rebuild its security forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He blames Rumsfeld. Is Rumsfeld derelict in his responsibilities, General Shepperd, based on what you know?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Not derelict in his responsibilities, Wolf. On the other hand, there were clearly some misjudgments made about the difficulty of the stabilization process in Iraq. It is also clear, we did not have the number of troops to go and to maintain that security and to stay there a long time.

The question is, are we going to do that, or is it better to train the Iraqis to do that. I think it's an open question. The thing that troubles me very much about these assertive statements made by the retired generals is that it's a question not of do they have the right to do it, it's a question of propriety.

It steps over, in my opinion, the line of the role of military general officers, active or retired, calling for the resignation of a duly appointed representative of the government by a duly elected government. That's the problem I have with all of this. And it's hard to have a rational discussion because you quickly get into, is the war going well or not, do we or do we not have enough troops, when the question is one of propriety about these statements.

BLITZER: But if a defense secretary, General Shepperd, is what the critics are saying, derelict, and U.S. troops are dying and they're being injured, taxpayer funds are being squandered to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars because of miscalculations, shouldn't retired U.S. military officers stand up and say enough is enough?

SHEPPERD: No. They ought to stand up and they ought to criticize the strategy to go with it, state their opinion, but shouldn't be calling for the resignation of the defense secretary during a time of war when that defense secretary is trying to lead the troops.

We're in a really tough situation in Iraq. And the question is, are we going to be able to pull this off or not. That is the real question. Lots of things have gone wrong, and there's lots of blame to go around, to the state department, to Congress, to the military, as well some of these people making the charges, Wolf.

BLITZER: General Marks, do you agree with General Shepperd?

MARKS: I do, Wolf. It's not a matter of asking for the secretary's resignation. Again, it's not the place of retired general officers or anyone to make that statement. It is perfectly within the right to make an observation, objective observations as to whether this is effective or efficient management versus effective leadership. That's the question that comes into play.

And I completely concur that during periods of in extremis, the country's at war. You need to rally around those doing their best to prosecute it.

BLITZER: Even if that defense secretary is not necessarily doing a good job, would you agree with that?

MARKS: Well, the observation is, is he doing a good job or not? Personal opinion is, I don't think efficient management equals effective leadership. That's my beef with the whole thing.

BLITZER: What does that mean? Explain that, General Marks.

MARKS: Well, the efficiency of going into Iraq when we did with a very thin force, again, going back three years is not effective at this point. But the leadership of inclusive leadership, seeking the input from the general officers, routinely seeking the input, seeking their counsel, allowing dissent to occur.

The comments made by General Shinseki that was mentioned earlier -- he was then dismissed out of hand by the inner circle of both the secretary and the deputy secretary -- is inappropriate.

But as you look forward, how do you rally around those that are in charge and those that have the mission to make this right? The secretary has the trust and has the confidence of the president. And I think that's important.

BLITZER: All right, General, stand by. I want to take a quick break, but I want to continue this conversation, get some more perspective, unique perspective from our panel of CNN military analysts.

Up next, though, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including Iran's plans to aid the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority. There are new developments on this front.

Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late edition." We're talking about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who's coming under increasing fire for his handling of the Iraq war.

Joining us, our CNN military analysts, retired U.S. Air Force Major General Don Shepperd, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General David Grange and retired U.S. Army Brigadier General James Marks.

General Marks, you're not calling on Rumsfeld to resign, but when you resigned, when you stepped down and decided to retire from the U.S. army, what motivated you?

MARKS: Several things, Wolf. One of them was, I had just left Iraq. And I felt, at that point that I had achieved everything that I was going to achieve and wanted to, both personally and professionally, in uniform.

I also turned down the opportunity for promotion, turned down the three-star interview, or the orals, as we call them with the sec def and made a personal and professional choice to get on with other aspects of my life.

BLITZER: Why?

MARKS: It was good timing. Again, a lot of personal stuff involved with the family, but primarily, at the time, coming out of Iraq, I had personally seen -- and I'll, kind of, open a little bit of scar tissue here -- I had personally seen the way that the sec def and his inner circle had handled both Dave McKiernan and the General Eric Shinseki, the former chief of staff of the Army.

And both of those gentlemen are magnificent Americans, true patriots. General Shinseki, now retired, retired in the summer of '03. And General Dave McKiernan continues to serve today in uniform and I know Dave Grange knows him exceptionally well.

And I absolutely, professionally, love both of those guys. And I thought, in the case of the current leadership and management in the secretary of defense's office, there was a dismissive attitude toward both of those gentlemen. And that's, kind of, the extent that I'll get into.

BLITZER: General Grange, listen to what retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, the co-author of the book "Cobra 2" told me the other day about the defense secretary's style. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): The defense secretary had a unique management arrangement. He would just bear down on people, keep asking them questions, sometimes unrelated to the issue at hand.

And I think, essentially, he wore down General Franks. He wore down everybody. But I will say this. I think the military, given their knowledge, should have pushed back harder against some of the decisions that Rumsfeld made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: General Grange, a lot of that kind of talk -- we're hearing, increasingly, that talk from respected retired military officers. And you just heard your colleague, General Marks, say he was not happy with the way he felt Rumsfeld was treating some senior military officers.

What do you make of this?

GRANGE: Well, I make of it that it's a communications problem. There's no doubt about it. Look at who's complaining right now, that's retired. You have two division commanders, retired, that served in Iraq.

BLITZER: The commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, the commander of the 1st Infantry Division, which are two of the most important?

GRANGE: Yes, the Big Red One and again, the 82nd airborne, two fine divisions.

And to be commander of those divisions is not an easy selection process. But anyway, plus the J3, who is the head operations general officer that has very in-depth knowledge of what's going on with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary.

BLITZER: That's General Eaton?

GRANGE: No, no, Eaton was in charge of the training for the Iraqi forces in Iraq. I'm talking about the marine lieutenant general, Newbold, in the Pentagon.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

GRANGE: Yes, so you have some credibility here with these type of general officers that are making these comments. So I do believe that there is a communications challenge between the secretary of defense and the general officer ranks.

And any organization, be it military or civilian, must have efficient communications. And that's more than just having meetings. That means communications that establish trust and confidence, which then allows the loyalty, both up and down. And that needs to be fixed.

So, of all the stuff that we're talking about, I would get on that immediately and get that fixed, whatever it takes, both from the secretary of defense and the subordinate general officers, so we can get on with the war because that's the mission at hand.

BLITZER: General Zinni, Anthony Zinni, General Shepperd, was on CNN this past week, and he made this specific criticism of Rumsfeld.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI, FMR. CENTCOM CMDR.: I think the biggest mistake was throwing away 10 years' worth of planning, plans that had taken into account what we would face in an occupation of Iraq. And it had to be an occupation. We couldn't do it on the cheap with too few troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That sounds like an extraordinarily severe charge, General Shepperd. I want you to respond.

SHEPPERD: Yes, I wasn't privy to all the planning that went into the 10 years that General Zinni was talking about. But it's very clear that we did not plan for the occupation and a long stay in Iraq. We simply did not.

If you read "Cobra II," General Trainor's book, basically, what it said was there was confusion over who was in charge of the stabilization. Was it the State Department or was it the Department of Defense?

And the Department of Defense took charge of that stabilization process late in the process.

There were some severe mistakes made, no question about it. We're living with the results. The question is: Should the secretary be held responsible?

I say they are being held responsible. We have two elections, a midterm and a presidential election coming up. That's the appropriate way to exercise the opinion of the American people, as opposed to retired generals calling for resignations in the middle of a conflict, Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's what General Peter Pace, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said this past week. And I want General Marks to respond. Listen what he said in defending the secretary of Defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We had then and have now every opportunity to speak our minds. And if we do not, shame on us because the opportunity is there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was the opportunity there, based on everything you know, General Marks?

MARKS: Wolf, to go back to Dave Grange's comment about communications. Communications is not one single direction. It's both directions. It's all-inclusive. Absolutely, there is always a chance, and every one of the general officers on your show today and every one of the general officers that's out there both in uniform and that are retired -- every one of those great Americans has the opportunity to speak up.

And we are charged with speaking up. It's whether it's received and whether action is taken upon those recommendations.

BLITZER: Bottom line, right now, and I'll let General Grange wrap this conversation up, bottom line right now, how dangerous, how sensitive is this military-civilian relationship that is emerged as a result of this debate right now?

GRANGE: It can be very dangerous if we allow it to become so. And I think right now, like I said earlier, I believe it's the responsibility of the secretary of Defense to correct any communication shortfalls that those may recommend to him or he realizes himself, and as well, the general officer corps to do the same because this is distracting from accomplishing this mission.

And this mission must be accomplished with trained Iraqis. And hopefully, if we need more people on the ground, at least, at the time being, to get this insurgency under wraps, controlled and win this thing, so be it.

It must be the focus. So the communication problems, this trust and confidence must be resolved, even if it's directed by the president of the United States.

BLITZER: I want to thank all three of our CNN military analysts for joining us: General Grange, General Shepperd and General Marks, three of the best in the business. We appreciate their contribution to CNN --certainly appreciate their contribution to the United States over the years.

Coming up next, we'll discuss faith in politics with the Reverend Jerry Falwell. You're watching "Late Edition." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." With a little more than six months till the November elections, the role of Christian conservatives here in the United States, already heating up.

Joining us now to talk about the role of religious faith in public life is the Reverend Jerry Falwell. He's the founder and chancellor of Liberty University. He's also a key voice in American politics.

He's joining us now from Lynchburg, Virginia. Reverend Falwell, happy Easter to you. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

REV. JERRY FALWELL, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: Thank you.

BLITZER: A lot of interest, as you well know, in this patched-up relationship you've now developed with John McCain, one of the frontrunners, potentially, for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Listen to what he said about you in 2000. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R) ARIZONA: Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether this they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the Left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Strong words about you. What do you make of that, given the fact that you've now invited him to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University next month?

FALWELL: Those words were spoken six years ago when I was very strongly involved, very personally involved in George Bush's primary race in South Carolina and some other places and those were political words.

Mr. McCain lost at that particular juncture not because I didn't think he was a good candidate. I have always been a Bush supporter, dad and son. And Mr. Bush can't run again.

Last September, I called the senator and asked if I might have a few moments with him.

He readily agreed. I went up. We spent a good part of the afternoon Sept. 20. By five minutes in, we'd gotten all the old stuff behind us and the air all cleared. And we talked issues.

And you know, John McCain is a strong conservative. He's pro- life. He's strong national defense. He's a national hero. His view on family is just where most conservative Christians' views are. It's just that we had another champion back then. And he and I are friends now. And he is speaking May 13.

We have 23,000 students here. We have a long line of convocation speakers like Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and so forth. Karl Rove two years ago. Sean Hannity last year. And now he's our speaker this year.

BLITZER: So he's in good company. He also said that was then, this is now. Listen to what he said the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I had strong differences with Rev. Falwell and some on the religious right in the year 2000. Rev. Falwell came into my office and said, I want to put aside our differences, knowing that we will still have disagreements. And I want you to speak at my university.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Looks like he's gotten over some of the bad blood as well. Is he someone that you could support for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008?

FALWELL: Well, of course, it's far too early to endorse anybody. But the question you asked, the question is yes. I know no reason why I could not support him. I don't know where we'll come down to. We have a senator here in Virginia who's thinking the same thoughts like George Allen.

And of course, there's a lot of other good guys out there. But it appears that Senator McCain is, if there is a frontrunner in the Republican camp, he is that guy right now. And if he remains so...

BLITZER: The only one who gets close and sometimes even surpasses him among registered Republicans in the polls is the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who supports abortion rights for women, who supports gay rights, supports affirmative action. Is Rudy Giuliani someone you could support?

FALWELL: Well, everybody admires him. And I'll never forget the great things he did on 9/11 and following. But of course, we have, as conservative Christians who take the Bible seriously, we have probably irreconcilable differences on life and family and that kind of thing. I'll never speak an ill word about him because he means so much to America. But yes, you're right. I couldn't support him for president.

BLITZER: Listen to what Bill Clinton said the other day on the whole issue of the Democratic Party and religion and faith. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats make a terrible mistake if we act like it's illegitimate to be a values voter. Let me just say, every one of you is a values voter. If you weren't a values voter, you'd be at a Republican dinner tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's making a big issue of Democrats finding religion, if you will. So is his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, the junior senator from New York. Do you think Democrats are going to reach into your base?

FALWELL: They certainly will try that. And I don't think there's any question that Senator Clinton will have the nomination if she wants it. But I don't think it's possible as long as the party is pro-choice, supports at least or at least doesn't oppose gay marriage. As long as the party is not supportive of the anti- terrorism and the war efforts of George Bush, I would think they will have a hard time getting 80 million evangelicals in their camp. BLITZER: I'll leave you Easter Sunday with the results of this Harvard Institute of Politics poll of college students: How important is religion in your life? Look at this. Thirty-six percent said very important. Thirty-four percent said fairly important. Only 19 percent said not very important. Ten percent not at all important. I suspect those numbers are consistent with the college students that you know.

FALWELL: No question about it. Here at Liberty with 23,000 students from 50 states and 80 countries, it's about 97 percent would say or 98 percent would say yes on that one and very strongly so.

BLITZER: Let me wish you once again a happy Easter, Rev. Falwell.

FALWELL: Happy Easter to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us.

FALWELL: God bless you.

BLITZER: And up next, we'll be back with some more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here are the results of our web question of the week. Take a look. Remember though, it's not a scientific poll. That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. Stay with CNN.

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