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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Senators Lieberman, Specter; Interview With Ambassador Feisal al-Istrabadi
Aired December 31, 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, 10 a.m. in New Orleans, 4 p.m. in London, 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 senators Arlen Specter and Joe Lieberman in just a few minutes.
First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now with CNN's Fredricka Whitfield. She's joining us from the CNN Center. Fred?
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.
Less than 24 hours after his execution early Saturday morning in Iraq, Saddam Hussein was buried near his hometown of Tikrit. For all the controversy surrounding his burial and aftermath, let's turn to CNN's Aneesh Raman. Aneesh, what's been the immediate fallout?
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good morning. It was a simple burial for Saddam Hussein this morning, perhaps a bit ironic, given the pageantry that often accompanied his appearances as president.
His coffin was covered with an Iraqi flag laid in a mosque, a Sunni mosque in the home village of Saddam Hussein, Awja, just near the city of Tikrit. You see the video there. About 100 mourners surrounded the coffin. After the ceremony, he was buried close to his two sons, Uday and Qusay, who were of course killed back in 2003.
It caps a very dramatic day and a half for the people of Iraq. December 30th an immortal moment for them as they visually saw the end of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. Overnight, new video has emerged of the execution itself, shot presumably off of a cell phone. It surfaced on the Internet.
And in this video, which you're watching there, you hear the final moments of Saddam Hussein's life. With a noose around his neck, chants come from the witnesses who were there: Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada, referring to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr.
The last name, one of the last names Saddam Hussein hears is praise for Muqtada al Sadr's father-in-law, who was killed by Saddam's regime and who founded the Shia Dawa party, the same party of Iraq's current prime minister. The hope of the Shia-dominated government is of course that these images and this moment will bring closure to Iraqis.
But there is another message as well. Iraq's prime minister had promised just around the sentencing of Saddam Hussein on November 5 that the former tyrant would not live to see the new year. On Iraqi state-run television, before they broadcast the first images of Saddam Hussein's execution, quite deliberately, one can assume, they broadcast video of Nouri al Maliki.
You see him there, finally signing the death sentence for Saddam Hussein. He is a man that has been criticized for much by many in Iraq, but tonight, many Iraqis are singing his praises for bringing an end to Saddam Hussein. Wolf?
BLITZER: Aneesh, thank you. We'll be getting back to you.
As 2006 comes to a close, what's ahead for Iraq and for the region? Will Saddam Hussein's death have an effect on sectarian violence? And will President Bush's yet-to-be-announced revised strategy call for more U.S. troops in Iraq?
Joining us now, two top members of the United States Senate, both just back from trips to the Middle East. In Philadelphia, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He'll be the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee when the 110th Congress convenes in the coming days.
And here in Washington, independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. He's the incoming chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Senators, welcome back to "Late Edition." Welcome back from the region.
And Senator Specter, I'll start with you. What's your assessment? Will the execution of Saddam Hussein have any measurable impact on the violence in Iraq?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Wolf, I think that the differences which have led to the insurgency and the bloodshed and battle between the Sunnis and the Shiites involve different issues and will continue. But I think it's a very important signal that you cannot be a brutal despot like Saddam Hussein was without ultimately facing justice and paying the price. So that I think there is closure with so many of the families and so many of the tribes and people whom Saddam was brutal to.
BLITZER: Here's what President Bush, Senator Lieberman, said on Saturday: "Bringing Saddam Hussein to justice will not end the violence in Iraq, but it is an important milestone on Iraq's course to becoming a democracy that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror."
Do you agree with him?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Yeah, I totally agree. The execution of Saddam Hussein was a triumph of justice over evil, and it was justice applied according to the rule of law by the people of Iraq. And they have witnessed in the last day, in the execution of Saddam Hussein, something most of them could not have dreamed would happen in their own lifetime. It happened as a result of the courage of the American military and coalition forces in overthrowing him.
My own hope is that, having seen the end -- talk about a long nightmare, national nightmare, they had a long national nightmare under Saddam Hussein. Now he's gone, and they know he won't come back because he's dead. Hopefully they will, in reaction, see all that they have in common, which is to try to build a better, freer Iraq.
BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, did this trial and the execution meet the standards that you would have liked?
LIEBERMAN: Yes, it did. Look, it wasn't a trial according to American criminal justice, but it was a, I thought, a very fair trial. And remember here. This man was just convicted of killing 148 people out of hundreds of thousands of others that we know that he killed. I think there will be other trials coming.
But, yes, it did meet the standard. It was a triumph of justice over evil and upholding the rule of law in Iraq. And I think it will be seen as a building block by the rest of the world but also by the Iraqis as they move to try to establish their own government and their own ability to protect their security and stability.
BLITZER: What about that, Senator Specter? Was justice served the way you, as a lawyer, as a lawmaker, as the outgoing chairman of the judiciary committee, would have liked?
SPECTER: I think it was. I visited Iraq, talked to the trial judge at a time when Saddam was engaging in outbursts. There was a real question as to whether the trial judge let Saddam go too far. The trial judge told me that he wanted to be sure that every process was followed to give Saddam latitude in defending himself.
There has been criticism that the United States gathered evidence, but that's to be expected in terms of where evidence comes from and where the expertise is. But the Iraqi court tried him. The Iraqi judges were in charge. The Iraqi judges were on the appellate court.
And somebody is always going to throw stones at the United States and say that we unduly influenced it. But aside from gathering the evidence, it was an Iraq show, and I think it was done appropriately.
BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about the president of the United States and the decision he faces in the coming days, whether to deploy more U.S. troops to Iraq.
Very serious differences, Senator Lieberman, among many of your colleagues in the U.S. Senate. Listen to these two views, one in support, John McCain; one in opposition, Senator Joe Biden. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): I'd like to say that I believe conditions have improved, certainly, in Baghdad. They have not. I believe that there's still a compelling reason to have an increase in troops here in Baghdad and in Anbar province in order to bring the sectarian violence under control.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): If you notice, General Abizaid, going out, says no. The bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission came along and said more troops is not the answer. We should be doing the opposite. We should be drawing down troops gradually, forcing the Iraqis to meet their own needs, to end this civil war by a political agreement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Can you justify, right now, sending another 20,000, 30,000 American troops into that situation which so many believe is already a civil war?
LIEBERMAN: I can, and I hope it's exactly what President Bush does. And I say that based on what I saw during my trip, not only to Iraq but around the Middle East.
I think we've got to start to see what's happening in Iraq as part of a larger picture, which is a major confrontation between moderation and extremism in the Arab and Islamic world.
And it pits Al Qaida and Iran on one side, with their agents like Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Mahdi Army in Iraq, against the moderate forces that are trying to establish a better way, supported by the United States of America.
If we let Iraq get out of control, it will have a disastrous effect on the whole region. It will embolden the Iranians and Al Qaida to move forward throughout the region and embolden them to strike us again. So, yes, based on what I heard, not just from the generals, our generals I talked to, but from the colonels, we can win it in Iraq.
And winning it means creating a kind of security that allows the Iraqi politicians, then, to build a better government, and the Iraqi security forces to take over.
And we have never had enough troops in Iraq. It's time to do that, to restore security and stability in Baghdad and to help defeat Al Qaida in Anbar province. All the American soldiers I talked to said they needed help, and we can win.
BLITZER: Senator Specter, the last time you were here on "Late Edition," you said that this already is a civil war in Iraq. Can you justify deploying more U.S. troops into what you believe is a civil war? SPECTER: On this day, for the record, Wolf, I would say no. I'm inclined to support the conclusions of Jim Baker. But I'm going to await the president's plan.
I'm not going to give President Bush a blank check, but he is the president. He is the commander in chief. And I'm prepared to listen to what he has to say.
It is true that we are in a very difficult situation, with American prestige on the line, and I do not want to see an Al Qaida victory, and I do not want to see the insurgents prevail, and I do not want to see us leave Iraq in a state of instability.
But so far, there has not been a plan. When we authorized the use of force on the Senate floor, I raised the questions about the number of casualties, what would happen after Saddam was toppled. And there has never been a road map to victory.
If there is a road map to victory, then I would be prepared to listen to what the president has to say about more troops. But on this date of the record, I do not see it.
BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by, both of you, because we have a lot more to discuss. We're going to continue our conversation with Senators Specter and Lieberman. Both have just returned from the Middle East.
We're going to also get their perspective on whether the U.S. should start dealing directly with Iran and Syria.
And later, we'll take you inside the Saddam Hussein execution. Find out what the former dictator had to say just moments before his death.
We'll also speak with Iraq's deputy United Nations ambassador, Feisal al-Istrabadi.
And you're looking at these pictures of former U.S. president Gerald Ford's casket. It's lying in state at the rotunda at the U.S. capitol here in Washington; people paying their respects to the 38th president.
Much more "Late Edition" right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're continuing our conversation with Senators Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Senator Specter, you irritated the White House by going to Damascus, meeting with President Bashar al-Assad. I'll just play a little clip of what the White House press secretary, Tony Snow said. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A lot of times, you know, a member of Congress may think, well, I'm going to go there and I'm going to tell him exactly the same thing. I'm going to take a tough line. You can take a tough line all you want, but the Syrians have already won a P.R. victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Do you want to tell our viewers why you rejected a personal appeal from the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, not to go to Damascus?
SPECTER: I was in the region last December, Wolf, and I was asked not to go, and I didn't. Last August I was in the region, wanted to go talk to Assad. And I deferred to the State Department.
But now you've had the Baker commission come out and say that direct dialogue is important, and I think it is based on experience I've had. I made my first trip to Damascus in 1984. I've met with Hafez al-Assad many times and Bashar Assad about a half a dozen times. And I think that it is important to talk.
BLITZER: Well, let me press you on this point.
BLITZER: Did you hear anything that would indicate that he's open to serious discussion with the United States, as far as the situation in Iraq is concerned?
SPECTER: He said some very positive things about Iraq, for one thing. He said that he was prepared to work with the United States on tightening the border to impede insurgents from going in.
He also said something new, and that is that Syria would be willing to host an international conference with all of the conflicting parties. And he has talked to Turkey about it, would bring in the Arab countries and would try to bring the parties together.
You have a situation in the Mideast today, Wolf, which is more serious than ever during the time, 26 years, I've been in the Senate.
You've got a civil war in Iraq. You've got Hezbollah and Israel with a fragile peace. You have bloodshed between Hamas and Fatah. And they're interlinked.
Assad says that he's prepared to talk to the Israelis. They came very close to a peace agreement in the year 2000.
The conflict with Hamas and Israel is tied up with Syria, which is supporting Hamas. Hezbollah is supported by Syria. Listen, it is difficult to know whom you can trust. But I do believe this, that with dialogue, there is a chance, if people talk to each other. If there is no dialogue, there is no chance. BLITZER: Let me get Senator Lieberman to weigh in. You just went to the region yourself. You could have gone to Damascus. You obviously made the decision it was not a good idea.
LIEBERMAN: I did. With all respect to Arlen, I want to explain why I made the decision not to go to Damascus. Look, there's a general principle of, I don't think America should hesitate to think about talking to anybody. But when we talk about people who are hostile to us, who have blood on their hands like the Syrians, we have to talk to them at a time when it can benefit us, not them.
When we're in a position of strength, not to try to strengthen them. The fact is, there's ever reason to believe that Bashar Assad has started this kind of communications offensive to distract the world from holding his regime accountable for the assassination of the Lebanese leader Hariri, and more recently, of the Christian Lebanese leader Gemayel.
This regime of his in Syria has allowed al Qaida foreign fighters to go across Syria and into Iraq, where they have killed American soldiers. So I don't think that -- I think, in fact, we serve his purposes when we talk to him.
And in this case, I believe the Bush administration and Secretary Rice have it right. And when some of us in the Senate go to see Assad in Damascus, contrary to the position the administration has taken, it sends a mixed signal, and it weakens our position. And I think it leads him to achieve a public relations victory that he doesn't deserve.
BLITZER: I want to move on, but I want you to, I want you to...
SPECTER: May I give a response?
BLITZER: Senator Specter, I want you to respond. And then we'll move on.
SPECTER: OK. Well, the Congress, senators, have a very deep responsibility on foreign policy. I serve on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and foreign operations, chaired the Intelligence Committee. We vote for $8 billion a month for Iraq and Afghanistan, $500 billion a year for the military and homeland defense, and constitutionally we have a responsibility.
And senators are independent. Under our constitution, there is a separation of power. And it is true that the president has primary responsibility for foreign policy, but not exclusive responsibility.
And I respect what the administration is doing, but there are others of us who have been in the region who have studied it intently and have some useful suggestions to make. And I think that independence is the strength of our system, and I intend to exercise it.
BLITZER: I'll give you one more chance to respond, and then we'll move on. LIEBERMAN: Well, of course, senators have a right to go. I just think it was the wrong time to go to Damascus because it encourages Assad and allows him to distract from the terrible things he's done, like killing the Lebanese leaders and letting al Qaida go through his country into Iraq where they kill American soldiers. He doesn't deserve a meeting now.
BLITZER: All right, let's move on and talk about Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States. Senator Specter, I want you to listen to what he told The Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward back in 2004. It was only released this week, after his death. But listen to what he said about the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GERALD R. FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly, I don't think I would have ordered the Iraqi war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: To find another answer. That's what he said a couple of years ago. With hindsight, was President Ford right and President Bush wrong?
SPECTER: Well, if the question is to me, I think that President Ford should have been consulted. I think that he has a lot of experience. He is an independent voice. It's a lot like the independence of senators who go to Syria, and I think that it ought to be part of the input.
But I think in the final analysis, the president has to make the decision. But President Ford's insights and input and his knowledge and his experience should have been weighed in the factor.
BLITZER: A lot of officials from that era, like Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, were not very happy about this decision, based on everything we know, to go to war. You supported the president. You still support the president. Any regrets right now based on what we now know with 20/20 hindsight?
LIEBERMAN: Wolf, as you know, I've been critical of a lot of things the administration did after Saddam was overthrown. But I think particularly on this weekend, as we've watched Saddam Hussein being executed and we've listened to the parade of horrors that he visited on his own people, killing hundreds of thousands of them, invading two neighboring countries, using chemical weapons in an attempt to commit genocide against the Kurds, trying to kill former President Bush, this was an evil man.
And we did the right thing for America and for the world in overthrowing him. I hope that coming out of this weekend we'll have a better sense of that. My own feeling, looking back, is if we had continued to rely on sanctions, Saddam would still be in power. He would have broken out of the sanctions and would be rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction program.
Obviously there have been terrible problems in Iraq. It's not going the way any of us hoped it would. But the fundamental decision to overthrow Saddam was one that changed history. And I think Americans, as we watch the end of Saddam's life, should be proud of what we did and now try to make the rest work in Iraq from here on in.
BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, thanks for coming in. Senator Specter, thanks to you as well. And once again, let me wish both of you and your families a happy and a healthy new year as well.
LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Wolf. Happy new year to you.
SPECTER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you. And coming up next on "Late Edition," what did Saddam Hussein have to say only moments before he was executed? We're going to tell you. That's coming up next.
Also, following the death of the former Iraqi president, we'll speak with the Iraqi deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Feisal al Istrabadi, about his hopes for a new Iraq.
Also coming up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on today's bombing in Bangkok. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. It's been more than 36 hours since Saddam Hussein's death in Baghdad.
And until just a little while ago, images of his final moments have been limited to two pieces of silent video. But that has since changed.
Joining us now to discuss the execution and the future of the new Iraq is a special guest, from Stamford, Connecticut, Iraq's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Feisal al-Istrabadi.
Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to "Late Edition." I want to discuss Saddam Hussein's execution, but let's get some background on this new cell phone video that is just emerging. Watch this piece from CNN's Carol Lin.
CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The last moments of Saddam Hussein's life: Witnesses describe the death chamber as loud, chaotic, filled with chatter and shouting.
We now know that is true. We've seen a new video of the execution, one that's popping up on several Internet sites. You're about to see it, too. It was recorded by hand, clearly not with a professional camera, probably a cell phone. We don't know who shot it, who released it, or whether the Iraqi government approves.
You'll see and hear Hussein's executioners taunting him, chanting support for Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and a defiant Hussein repeating their taunts sarcastically. Our translators provided the subtitles.
SADDAM HUSSEIN, FMR. IRAQI DICTATOR (through translator): Prayers be upon the Prophet Mohammad and on his family. And glorify the mighty and curse his enemy.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada...
HUSSEIN: Muqtada. Is this how you show your bravery as men?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Straight to hell.
HUSSEIN: Is this the bravery of Arabs?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Long live Mohammad Baqir Sadr.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Straight to hell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, I am begging you not to. The man is being executed.
HUSSEIN: I bear witness that there is no God but God and that Mohammad is the messenger of God.
And I bear witness that there is no God but God...
LIN: We stop the video at the precise moment Saddam Hussein drops through a trap door beneath his feet and the rope around his neck tightens. There's a few more seconds of shouting and chanting, and then a closeup of Saddam Hussein's face.
Carol Lin, CNN, Atlanta.
BLITZER: Ambassador al-Istrabadi, it looks very untidy, to put it bluntly, very messy, not necessarily a professional execution according to Western standards. What do you make of this?
FEISAL AL-ISTRABADI, IRAQ'S AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Well, it's -- you have to understand the deep psychological scars that a lot of people bear. You know, I can -- I'm not going to mention names of families, but I have friends who lost 90 members of their family, killed by Saddam Hussein, 70 members of their family killed, 25 members of their families killed by Saddam Hussein.
It's -- the emotional scars that Saddam has left us with are very deep, and I unfortunately am no psychiatrist or psychologist, but I think they may well last even beyond a generation.
BLITZER: This grainy video that we just saw, apparently a cell phone video, was this authorized by the Iraqi government?
AL-ISTRABADI: I don't know. I mean, obviously, I'm in the United States and not in Iraq. I don't think so. It doesn't look like it. There was an official video, parts of which were released, as you know.
It does not appear to me -- as your piece points out, this looks like a cell phone video rather than an official -- a more professional camera. So I suspect not.
BLITZER: Because a lot of people are already suspicious, suggesting, well, they had the official video, but they really wanted to show the whole thing and get it out on the Internet.
And as a result, they didn't really check people as they were walking in to see if they came in with small cameras or cell phone cameras or anything along those lines. They clearly could have checked people's handbags who were coming in to witness this execution.
AL-ISTRABADI: Well, keep in mind you're talking about some pretty high-ranking officials, some of whom were there. So maybe they weren't as punctilious with that.
I think that the explanation you've proffered -- and I understand you're not adopting it necessarily as your own -- sounds a little bit like the Oliver Stone version. I don't think that -- I can't imagine that that's the case.
BLITZER: Here's what the national security adviser, Mowaffak al- Rubaie, of Iraq said. He was inside that room when Saddam was executed. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He was telling me, don't -- I should not be afraid of the gallow, of the execution. One thing which is really, really -- I can't sort of explain -- is that the man -- I have never seen any repentance in there, never seen any remorse there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He didn't seem to flinch, either, in those final seconds before he died. Were you surprised at how he reacted?
AL-ISTRABADI: This is one of the most monstrous, brutal dictators of the last quarter of the 20th century, and I don't know. I'm not a theologian, either, so I don't know how to explain how a man can live his life in that way and inflict so much harm and kill so many people and yet still get up the next morning and live with himself.
I suppose that there is a hardening that takes place for individuals who live that way and who have to convince themselves, in order to live with themselves, that they've done the right thing when, in fact, they've inflicted misery upon untold millions and destroyed a country.
I can't explain how Saddam Hussein lived with -- how his conscience allowed him to live with the monstrous crimes he committed. And I can't explain how in his mind he thought he was going to face his maker in the next world. I have no explanation for this.
BLITZER: I know you would hope -- and most Iraqis certainly would hope -- that this execution will have a positive impact in terms of reconciliation, reducing the level of violence, the sectarian strife. But what do you believe in the short term? What will be the fallout from this execution?
AL-ISTRABADI: Well, I think in the short term, we probably can expect and we may have already seen some indications of a kind of a spike in the violence. In the longer term -- and that will subside over a relatively short period of time.
In the long term, I really think that Saddam Hussein was sort of yesterday's news. He was not the rallying cry for any of those who are carrying out acts of violence in Iraq today. I think he's seen very much as part of our, unfortunately, grim and tragic history, but not part of the present, or obviously no longer any hope of him being a part of the future, to the extent any of those had that hope.
In the longer term, we have, however untidy these images may seem particularly to a western audience, we've done something far more important, and that is set the principle, in Iraq at least, that we will hold our leaders accountable for the crimes they commit against us when they're in power. That is a principle that will prevail, and I believe that will have an impact on future leaders in Iraq and perhaps beyond as well.
BLITZER: Well, if you say that, a lot of American officials, military and civilian, point to Muqtada al Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric. He's accused by U.S. authorities of killing Americans, killing numerous Iraqis, yet he seems to be protected by the current prime minister and the current government of Iraq. When you say that these people should be held accountable, why is Muqtada al Sadr walking around a free and powerful man in Iraq right now?
AL-ISTRABADI: Well, an accusation is one thing. Proof is another. Muqtada al Sadr is a part of the elected leadership of Iraq. He himself is not an elected -- does is not hold an elected office, but his party clearly does. And as I said, allegations are one thing. Proof is another.
BLITZER: So when U.S. generals say that this man has American blood on his hands, you don't believe them?
AL-ISTRABADI: Well, again, allegation is one thing. Proof is another. A man is innocent until he's proven guilty. That is a principle that is fundamental to the rule of law which we are attempting to establish in Iraq as well.
BLITZER: So you don't think he should be investigated, he should be arrested and seen if he is, in fact, guilty? AL-ISTRABADI: Anyone accused of a crime may well have to be investigated. That's one thing. But to say -- to make an allegation and to prove an allegation are two very different things.
BLITZER: Here's what a U.S. major, William Vorhees, was quoted as saying in The New York Times this week. He's one of the U.S. forces, U.S. military commanders training Iraqi troops. It was very depressing to hear this quote: "I have come to the conclusion," he says, "that this is no longer America's war in Iraq, but the Iraqi civil war where America is fighting."
He's on the ground. He's training Iraqi troops. He's come to the conclusion that, guess what? This is, after all, a civil war. What do you say about that?
AL-ISTRABADI: Well, this has been an ongoing discussion, particularly in the media in this country, whether Iraq is or is not in a civil war. I think there are good reasons why we are not. Your previous guests talked about Iraqi sectarian troops fighting each other. I've forgotten the exact wording. That was the idea.
In fact, that's not the case. What's happening now is we have death squads operating in Iraq, targeting the other side's civilians. We have not had, with one or two very minor exceptions, we have not had forces of one side fighting the forces of another.
And so I think that it is very -- for that reason, that's one of the basic reasons why we say that we are not, in fact, in civil war. We have death squads operating in Baghdad, and it's essential that these death squads be disarmed. And then that is one of the priorities of the government, is to disarm these death squads.
We think that we have our own obligation, of course, as Iraqis to stand up and take responsibility for security in our own country. We are doing that now very actively, but we have to do it in cooperation with our friends and allies. We are not now capable of handling security in Iraq. We need to have the support of the multinational forces, including those of the United States.
BLITZER: Ambassador al-Istrabadi, unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us once again here on "Late Edition."
AL-ISTRABADI: Thank you.
BLITZER: Ambassador Feisal al-Istrabadi. Coming up, we're going to go live to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, where millions of Muslims are making the annual hajj pilgrimage. What are their feelings about the execution of the former Iraqi dictator? Zain Verjee on the scene for us.
And as former President Gerald Ford lies in state at the U.S. Capitol here in Washington, we'll get perspective on his life and legacy, including some surprising criticism of the current president, George W. Bush. This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: And 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. President Gerald Ford's legacy was a hot topic on CBS's "Face the Nation." Former Ford White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig scoffed at the notion that there was a deal arranged between President Richard Nixon and then-Vice President Gerald Ford that in exchange for a pardon, Nixon would agree to resign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER HAIG, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There was no deal. Why would a rational man who had just heard that he's about to be president risk everything by doing something like that, doing a conditional deal? He was going to be president no matter what.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," Bob Woodward, the assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, commented on the question, did former President Nixon acknowledge guilt when he accepted Gerald Ford's pardon?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Ford literally carried in his wallet a section of the Burdick decision from the Supreme Court that said the acceptance of a pardon is an admission of guilt. And he felt that was legally sufficient.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Turning to the war in Iraq, on "Fox News Sunday," the incoming ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, warned that President Bush should expect Congressional hearings on his new Iraq plan if the Congress isn't well-briefed prior to the president's announcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN): We have an assortment of invitations, demands for subpoenas, all sorts of situations, in which administration figures, perhaps reluctantly, come to the committee or don't come to the committee or various other experts discuss...
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: You're saying this could get ugly.
LUGAR: Yes, it could, and it need not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And on ABC's "This Week," presidential candidate John Edwards criticized President Bush about the war in Iraq and took a dig at his likely competition in the 2008 race for the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This idea of surging troops, escalating the war, what Senator McCain has been talking about, what I would call, now, the McCain doctrine...
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: The McCain doctrine?
EDWARDS: The McCain doctrine. He's been the most prominent spokesman for this for some time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The general election's starting early.
EDWARDS: I'm just telling you, it's his thing. And I know John McCain very well. He and I are friends. But I think he's dead wrong about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
Still to come, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former defense secretary William Cohen. They'll discuss the effect of Saddam Hussein's execution on Iraq and the region.
This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Many Iraqis are celebrating the death of Saddam Hussein, but some neighboring countries are raising some serious objections. For more, here's CNN's Zain Verjee reporting from Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a time to celebrate: Eid al-Adha, a three-day religious feast marking the end of the Hajj pilgrimage. But on this holy day, Muslims in Mecca woke up to the news Saddam Hussein had been hanged. Many were outraged by the timing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the first day of the Hajj holiday, and it's just a celebration. It's not really a time for executing people.
SAUDI ALI QAHTANI, SAUDI ARABIAN MUSLIM: I can say only I'm so surprised about this day, this first day of Eid.
VERJEE: Some Saudis say they weren't shocked, believing the U.S. was behind the execution, even though Iraqis carried it out.
"Why would America choose to do this today," asks Saudi Ali Qahtani. "This hurts the feelings of all Muslims, and they have no excuse to execute him today, whatever Saddam did or whatever they disagreed about." The Saudi government issued a statement, also criticizing the timing, and went on to say: "Leaders of Islamic countries should show respect for this blessed occasion... and don't demean it."
It also questioned the legitimacy of Saddam Hussein's trial, saying, "It had been expected that the trial of a former president who had ruled for a considerable length of time would last longer... demonstrate more precision... and not be politicized."
Iraq's national security adviser justified the decision to execute Saddam on the dawn of Eid.
AL-RUBAIE: We thought that we'd make a day, the 30th of December 2006, as a day where Saddam and Iraq had finished from a whole era, a whole period of ruthlessness and tyranny, and we turn this page to a new stage.
VERJEE: Although many Saudis agree Saddam was a brutal dictator, many also say hanging him on a holy day is a slap in the face to all Muslims.
There is no Islamic law that prohibits execution on holy days, but traditionally, there has been a clear cultural practice in the Arab and Muslim world where Eid is regarded as a time of peace and pardon and not retribution.
Zain Verjee, CNN, Mecca.
BLITZER: And there's much more ahead on "Late Edition." Will President Bush decide to send more U.S. troops into Iraq?
We'll ask former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former defense secretary William Cohen.
Then, as many Iraqis celebrate the execution of their former dictator, how will the rest of the Arab world respond? A Middle East panel standing by for that. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
Many Iraqis celebrate the execution of Saddam Hussein. Will the dictator's death give the government a chance to secure the peace? Or will it bring yet more violence? Analysis from former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Defense Secretary William Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're making good progress toward coming up with a plan we think will help us achieve our objective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush works on a new plan for Iraq. What effect will a different U.S. strategy and Saddam's execution have? We'll get perspective from three experts: former Iraqi spokesman Laith Kubba, Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and author of "The Shia Revival," Vali Nasr.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It never went to his head that he was president. A truly remarkable man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER HAIG, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I remember most of all his thoughtfulness. He knew that loyalty is a two-way street.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And the world remembers the life and legacy of President Gerald Ford. Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News and Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," discuss the former president's time in office.
Welcome back to "Late Edition." It's noon here in Washington on this New Year's Eve, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 8 p.m. in Baghdad, and it's midnight in Indonesia and other parts of southeast Asia right now.
We'll get to our interview with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen in just a moment. First, though, more now on New Year's Eve around the world.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. Early this morning in Iraq, Saddam Hussein was buried near his hometown of Tikrit. But there are still new developments surrounding his execution and his burial. For all the latest on the controversy that's still unfolding, let's turn to CNN's Aneesh Raman. He's joining us once again from Baghdad. Aneesh?
RAMAN: Wolf, good afternoon. It was a simple burial for a man who as president was addicted to extravagance. Saddam Hussein lay in a coffin that was draped with an Iraqi flag. You see the images there inside a mosque in Saddam's home village of Awja, just near the city of Tikrit.
A sole picture of the former dictator stood next to the coffin. He was buried close to his two sons, Uday and Qusay, who were killed back in 2003 during a shootout with U.S. forces. It caps what has been a momentous period for Iraqis, to see visually the end of Saddam Hussein.
Adding to that is new video that has surfaced overnight from Saddam Hussein's execution. It seems to have been shot on a cell phone. What we don't know is who shot the video and whether or not the government sanctioned its release. It was leaked out over the Internet.
You see the video there. You can hear Saddam Hussein's final moments. The noose around his neck. Some of the last words he heard: Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada. Chants for Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr followed by chants for Sadr's father-in-law, who was a founder of the Shia Dawa Party, the same party as Iraq's prime minister.
So, sectarian taunts inside the government. Of course, though, hopes that the closure that comes with Saddam Hussein's execution will in some way help the situation on the ground. In a small sense, it pushes things forward a bit. Iraq's prime minister, Wolf, in early November said he expected Saddam Hussein to be killed by the end of the year. That has now happened.
So, for a man who has been criticized by so many for so much, some Iraqis tonight are singing his praises. That is the first video you see there that Iraqi TV broadcast before any video of the execution. A deliberate, perhaps, move showing Nouri al Maliki signing the death sentence for Saddam Hussein. Wolf?
BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad, doing excellent reporting for us as usual. Thank you, Aneesh, for that.
Joining us now to talk about this story as well as the death of an American president, Gerald Ford, two distinguished guests, the former national security adviser under former President Jimmy Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the former Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton, William Cohen.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in. Dr. Brzezinski, I'll start with you. What's the fallout, do you believe, in Iraq and the region from the execution of Saddam Hussein?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I wish he had been executed after our troops had left Iraq. With 150,000 American soldiers in Iraq, it looks like an execution undertaken under the U.S. sponsorship. And I think this in the long run can backfire.
I also think the circumstances, the demeaning circumstances of the execution in particular, showing it on television, are unfortunate. I think the fact that he's now been buried in his hometown creates the potential of a shrine in the future, a kind of a shrine to a martyr.
So I think it wasn't handled well, it wasn't thought through well. Admittedly, justice was done because he deserved to be dead. But I think the United States essentially mishandled the circumstances.
BLITZER: Do you agree, Secretary Cohen? WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I've indicated before I thought that the sentence should have been carried out much later to give an opportunity to see whether or not the civil war or the chaos on the ground, whatever you wish to call it, could be subsided before we saw the execution of Saddam. I think that we'll see an obvious spike in violence. And I think it's not just Saddam loyalists but I think there will be many Sunnis who will see this as the handwriting of the future that we're going to see this kind of action taken by the Shia against them.
BLITZER: So it will be revenge, payback time. The Shia, who were repressed by Saddam Hussein, will be seen as now having their moment?
COHEN: It could be. And I think we'll have to wait and see how it unfolds. But that was the situation I had hoped we might avoid. It may be inevitable in any event. But I think by doing it now, we will see whether or not that spike is going to take place and how long it will last.
BLITZER: Here's what the national security adviser of Iraq, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said only moments after the execution. Let me read it to you: "The execution procedure was Iraqi from A to Z. Americans had nothing to do with it. And they stayed outside the building. It was carried out by Iraqi forces with no foreign presence."
BRZEZINSKI: We had Saddam in our hands until an hour before the execution.
BLITZER: He was in U.S. military custody.
BRZEZINSKI: Exactly. And we are occupying the country. So we can't escape some degree of responsibility for what happened. And I just -- I would hate to see him emerge as a great martyr to Arab nationalism.
But having said this, I think the finality of what has happened creates two opportunities that should be exploited. First, we ought to apply maximum pressure on the Iraqi politicians to offer a comprehensive amnesty to sort of say the past is the past. We look forward. Now is the moment for reconciliation. Let's see if we can capitalize and create that opportunity.
And secondly we should make it publicly known that we're talking to the Iraqi leaders about a joint decision regarding a jointly set date for American departure, thereby to reassure the Iraqis but also other Arabs that we're not planning to stay indefinitely.
BLITZER: So what I hear you saying, Dr. Brzezinski, is that you don't want any so-called surge, increase in U.S. troops that the president is now considering, perhaps 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 additional troops sent in to try to deal with the violence in Baghdad and the Anbar province?
BRZEZINSKI; I think a surge on that scale is not going to change the political context. If we are really determined to prevail militarily by crushing all opposition and imposing an iron-will type of stability, we ought to put in 300, 400,000 troops. And we just can't do it, and we won't, and the public doesn't want it.
BLITZER: What about that, Mr. Secretary?
COHEN: Well, first, I think we should go to Secretary Gates. He's been on the job now for just a couple of weeks. And I think we need to understand what his feeling is about the Iraqi situation. He was a part of the Iraq Study Group.
Did he agree with the process? Did he agree with the conclusions of the Iraqi study group? If he did, is he now willing to support that, or does he see something different? If it's something different, then what? We have to ask the question, to what end will you have this increase in troops? To do what, precisely?
BLITZER: What about the basic point that Dr. Brzezinski makes that 20 or 30 or 40,000 troops really won't make the difference a few hundred thousand more troops might.
COHEN: The question is, to do what? What is the mission that you will have for the 10, 20, 30,000, or 40,000 troops? Is it to secure the border? Is it to go in and take on the Muqtada al Sadr, the Mahdi Army to dismantle it or demilitarize it? What is the mission? If the mission is take on the army, the Muqtada al Sadr army, does that have the support of the prime minister? These questions have to be asked before you have any consideration of putting troops in.
I would agree with Dr. Brzezinski. If you're really talking about going in and imposing iron will to control the country, the bowl that has been broken, to try to hold it together, you need a lot more than 20 or 30 or 40,000. You need a much larger force.
BLITZER: Here's what one U.S. soldier told the secretary -- the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, when he made that brief visit to Iraq within the past week or so. I want you to listen to what Specialist Jason Glenn, U.S. Army, said to Gates.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
U.S. ARMY SPECIALIST JASON GLENN: I really think we need more troops here. I really think we need more troops in Iraq. I'm just thinking that maybe more presence on the ground, more troops, might be able to hold them off long enough to where we can actually get some of the Iraqis trained up strong so they can hold it themselves.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: You heard -- I don't know if you could understand what he was saying, but he basically said that if there were more troops it would help train the Iraqis and maybe they could stand up a little bit more quickly.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, sure. And this is a soldier who is in a battalion. It would be nice to have more American soldiers around his battalion. But what about all the other American battalions? How many more do you need to put in? And for what purpose?
As Bill rightly said, you have to have a strategic objective. And the problem here as I see it is this: Bill mentioned Secretary Gates. And he's absolutely right. That is a fresh face.
But you remember the pictures the other day. There was the president standing in front, and behind him Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, General Pace.
BLITZER: The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. There isn't a single person there who is not responsible for wrong decisions taken over the last three years, with the exception of Gates. He's alone.
Think of the following: Every living American president until a week ago, all four of them, one way or another have been skeptical about the war in Iraq, and some have been flatly against it. The problem is, the narrow decision-making group embedded in its own past errors, concerned about its reputations, sticking to its fanaticism, is now making decisions about a change of course. That's not very promising.
BLITZER: That's a pretty harsh indictment, Mr. Secretary.
COHEN: Well, it comes back to me, at least the issue prior to Mr. Gates taking over as secretary of defense, the allegations were that Secretary Rumsfeld had the generals and the military in a chokehold. Well, now the chokehold has been released. They were calling apparently for more troops at that time.
Now that the chokehold has been released, you have the generals saying, the generals, the commanders saying, we don't need more troops. And yet there are allegations that there's more pressure being put on them to say we need more troops. I think this needs to really be clarified before any more troops are introduced.
It would be nice to have more troops to provide some relief to the young men and women who are doing their second and third tours. They need relief. But the notion that you're going to send in 30 or 40,000 more, again, to do what? You've got to define the mission. Is the mission feasible? Desirable? Is it winnable as such? And at what price, in both in blood and treasure?
BLITZER: And we're told the president is now weighing all those options, and presumably in the coming days he'll make his major announcement on his new strategy. Gentlemen, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about.
Coming up, we'll ask our guests also about the legacy of now the late President Gerald Ford. How did the 38th president of the United States fare in the public eye? Also joining in our discussion, journalist Tom DeFrank, the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," Howard Kurtz. They'll weigh in as well. And Saddam's end. Our panel of experts from the Middle East talk about possible repercussions across the Arab world. Stay with us. More "Late Edition" right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're talking with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Defense Secretary William Cohen.
We had an interesting discussion in the last hour here on "Late Edition" about whether or not Senator Specter, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, should have gone to Damascus. Other members of the Senate went as well to meet Bashar al Assad, the president of Syria, despite the strong opposition from Condoleezza Rice and the president and the White House.
Condoleezza Rice saying, "If the Iranians and the Syrians want to act to stabilize Iraq, they can do that without talking to us. Perhaps the reason that they would perhaps rather do it by talking to us is that they can then exact a price for cooperation in Iraq, and those are prices we're not willing to pay."
Is this freelance diplomacy on the part of these U.S. senators, whether Chris Dodd or John Kerry or Arlen Specter, Bill Nelson of Florida, going to Damascus, overriding the objections of the Bush administration?
BRZEZINSKI: You know, in my previous incarnation, if you were to ask me that, I probably would have objected to them doing it.
BLITZER: When you were the national security adviser to Jimmy Carter?
BRZEZINSKI: Exactly. Because I do believe that the executive branch is responsible for the conduct of foreign policy. But, but, but at some point, if the policy of the executive branch is so misguided, so one-sided, so locked into sloganeering that it runs the risk of losing touch with reality, then perhaps it is necessary to do what these senators are doing.
Because our position on negotiating with parties that are there, that can affect the outcome is so unreasonable and so irrational. We say we'll only negotiate with them if they meet certain preconditions that we set. Doesn't that invite them to set preconditions for negotiating with us? And therefore, we get locked and stalemated. So I think they're rendering a public service, much as I regret having to say it.
BLITZER: You were a Republican senator from the state of Maine for a long time before you became defense secretary under Bill Clinton. Where do you stand in this debate about freelance diplomacy, U.S. senators going off and meeting with world leaders over the objections of the sitting president?
COHEN: I agree with Dr. Brzezinski. I think as a general rule one should not engage in that sort of activity. But keep in mind the senators do not negotiate. They are able to have discussions. They are able to gather information. But they are not charged and do not have the authority to negotiate on behalf of this country.
That's only -- the president can do that and his executive branch designees. In this particular case, I think Senator Specter made it clear, he probably would not have gone but for the fact of the Baker- Hamilton report, which was very bipartisan, given by statesmen of some note. And I think that freed him, so to speak, to ignore the warnings, or the advice coming out of the administration.
So I think he looked at it very carefully. He mentioned that he'd refused to go in the past based upon their position. But as of the Baker report, he felt he had an obligation to at least listen to what they had to say, but not to negotiate.
BLITZER: With hindsight, you were the national security adviser to then-candidate Jimmy Carter in '76 when he beat Gerald Ford, when he was running for president. With hindsight, give us your bottom- line assessment of Gerald Ford as president of the United States in dealing with post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, the international crises that he faced.
BRZEZINSKI: I thought he was a very good man, a very good president. He established, reinforced standards of decency that needed to be buttressed.
He gave the American people confidence. He had good judgment. We defeated him in part because he was a little sloppy with his language and he said some things about the Cold War and Eastern Europe that made him look uninformed. And we admittedly exploited that because that's what...
BLITZER: During the campaign when he spoke about Poland...
BRZEZINSKI: Exactly -- being not under the Soviet tutelage but being free, when, obviously, it wasn't free.
But I think he goes down in history as a person who helped to re- establish the legitimacy of the Constitution and of the presidency.
BLITZER: You were in the House of Representatives on the Watergate Special Committee, the investigation involving Richard Nixon. You wanted, eventually, unless he resigned -- I assume you thought he should have been impeached.
COHEN: I helped draft the articles of impeachment on the House Judiciary Committee.
BLITZER: That's right. Did Gerald Ford do the right thing within weeks of taking office, in granting him this unconditional pardon?
COHEN: At the time, I didn't think so. I was very much involved in having drafted one of the articles of impeachment, while sitting on the House Judiciary Committee. And I felt that, absent some open admission of guilt and complicity on his part of what he had done, that it was premature.
In retrospect, I think it's very clear President Ford did the absolute right thing. He did it for the right reasons. He was a man of great honor and honesty and also humility. And that's something that -- those characteristics we want to see brought back to our politics again.
BLITZER: Thirty years afterwards, did he do the right thing?
BRZEZINSKI: He did the right thing. And he also said the right thing, several years ago, when he was commenting about our decision to go with Iraq. And I hope the American people listened to him. And I hope the administration listens to former President Ford.
BLITZER: We have to leave it right there, Dr. Brzezinski. Thanks as usual for coming in, Secretary Cohen. Thanks to both of you. Happy New Year, healthy New Year to both of you and your families as well.
BRZEZINSKI: Thank you.
COHEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up on "Late Edition," will Saddam Hussein's death spark yet more violence in Iraq? Iraq's neighbors nervously waiting to see what happens next. We'll talk about it with a panel of experts.
Up next, though, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest public statement from the ailing Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Reaction to the execution of Saddam Hussein is mixed across the Middle East.
Many Arab governments criticized Iraqi authorities for hanging the former dictator only hours before the start of an important holiday on the Islamic calendar.
But others welcomed the news of his death, including comments from Iran and Kuwait. Saddam Hussein had launched wars against both of those countries, as many of you will remember.
Joining us now to talk about all of this are three experts. In London, the former Iraqi government spokesman, Laith Kubba. In Salt Lake City, Utah, Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations. He's the author of the important book, "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future." And here in Washington with me, Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.
Laith Kubba, I'll start with you. The execution of Saddam Hussein: What's the immediate fallout in Iraq?
LAITH KUBBA, FORMER IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, it might not have a serious impact on the insurgency. I think the insurgency has a life of its own. In fact, if anything, there are opportunities.
So long as Saddam was there, I think the Baathist faction of the insurgency could have not negotiated at all. Saddam is seen as a leader.
Now he's out of the scene. They're in a better position to negotiate. Also, for the Iraqi government, Mr. Maliki, he could have not negotiated at all with the Baathists so long as Saddam was alive.
I think people fear Saddam. They hate him. And to get him out of the scene had also paved the way, maybe, for potential political settlement.
So, I think, in the long term, medium, long term, it can give us opportunity. In the short term, it will have very little impact on the insurgency.
BLITZER: Shibley Telhami, what's your assessment?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Well, in Iraq, I think it will have practically no impact at all. If anything, it will fuel sectarianism a little bit more. In the rest of the Arab world, it's certainly more negative.
I think, by and large, the fire is very hot in the region and this will add just a little more fuel to the fire. And Jordan is actually -- I worry more than even in Iraq. , I think, frankly there's a momentum that is separate from Saddam. It's been there for a while.
In places like Jordan, I think there's been a lot of sympathy for Iraqis, particularly for Sunni Iraqis.
In November, in a poll I did, Saddam Hussein was still the most popular leader outside of Jordan in Jordan itself. And clearly, the vast majority of people thought that his execution would lead to more sectarianism.
So I think, in the region, it will only intensify the anger. But in the end, that's not going to be the...
BLITZER: But are you suggesting this poses a threat to King Abdullah and his moderate regime in Jordan?
TELHAMI: I don't say "threat." I think the king has serious challenges. He's been a very strong supporter of American foreign policy. He's a friend of the United States. He stuck his neck out. He's paid a heavy I price for that. His public opinion was decidedly against the war. They're frustrated with the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. They've been sympathetic with Saddam Hussein. And I think all of that clearly is intensifying the danger. And it may not really endanger the king, but remember how difficult it is for him to open up politically, if that's what we want him to do.
What happens in a situation like that is, when you're telling the king, open up politically, democratically, and he's threatened, what is he going to do if he thinks that people are going to be plotting against him in an environment like this? He's not going to open up.
BLITZER: All right. Vali Nasr, what's your assessment on the execution of Saddam Hussein?
VALI NASR, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: Well, I agree with what Shibley was saying and also with what Laith was saying. I think, in some ways, it will not have an impact in the sense that it will not change the course of events in Iraq, but I think it will make it much more difficult for a reconciliation in the critical short-term period, which the Bush administration is focused on.
Maybe in four or five months, people will forget Saddam, but in the critical next month coming forward, I think two things are pretty bad, the way they happened.
One is that Saddam was not executed on the charges of killing Sunnis, and particularly the Kurds, but on the charges of killing Shias.
Secondly is that he was killed during Hajj. It's true that he wasn't killed during the Eid period, but nevertheless he was killed during Hajj, which is a taboo in Muslim culture.
And I think it was a colossal mistake on the part of the Iraqi government to do so. And it will make the execution of Saddam, rather than his crimes, more of a point of contention between Shias and Sunnis.
And when we are hearing things such as Saudi clerics denouncing Shias as heretics, at a time like this, at a time of heightened sectarianism, this wasn't done in a right manner at the right time.
And in many ways, I think Saddam's execution may divide not only Iraqis but people across the Middle East, across -- over a variety of issues.
If you look at what Saddam said before his execution of "Long live the Palestinians" and "Death to the Persians," it goes to the heart of the critical divides that are happening all the way from Lebanon through Iraq to Saudi-Iranian rivalry. And we're going to see this add to the tensions that are on the ground.
BLITZER: What about that, Laith Kubba, the timing of the execution, coming at this very sensitive moment on the Islamic calendar, and also the spectacle that has now been seen with this video that has been released on the Internet, showing a rather, you know, messy kind of situation in that execution, not very distinguished or very seemly, if you will? What do you make of the way the Iraqi government authorized this?
KUBBA: I think, in terms of P.R., a lot of criticism can be laid about how it was done. Surely, it could have been done in a better way. And within the context of a sensational issue such as the execution of Saddam, coming at a time when the country really is more or less in chaos, of course this is going to add fuel to the fire.
But the reality is, whichever way you've done, it bottom line, there is a crowd, a big, big crowd in Iraq, many Shias and Kurds who are absolutely joyful and celebrate his death.
And there is a crowd out there also remembering the old days, feeling sentimental about it, feeling sorry for what happened to Iraq, maybe associate stability with Saddam Hussein. And they feel they have been humiliated, Iraq has been hurt, and they feel sorry for it.
But in the short term, these emotions are very important. And in a few months from now, I think everybody, Sunnis and Baathists and the rest, will go down to hard interests. They need all to live in this country. They need to have a formula. And I think hard negotiations can take place on political issues.
BLITZER: Shibley Telhami, you know the Middle East about as well as anyone. You've studied it throughout your career.
Look at these numbers: 110 American troops killed in December. Now, as of this moment, 2,999 Americans have died since the start of the war, approaching 3,000, could happen momentarily.
Right now, look ahead to 2007. Will this number begin to go down?
Would an increase in the U.S. troops, 30,000 surge, whatever it's being called, would that really make a difference, or is it too late for Iraq?
TELHAMI: It's too late. It's way too late. I think I agree with Dr. Brzezinski. I heard him say on this show that, in order to make a real difference, you need something like 300,000 troops. That's not going to happen. No American public is going to approve that.
So 30,000, 40,000 isn't going to make a difference. I think the issue is gone on this. I don't think the United States can turn this issue into a military victory.
I think the question is, how do you deal with it politically?
I think the likelihood is there will be, even, intensification in the short term, unfortunately, in the military fight and maybe more casualties. So it's a bleak New Year's, I think, when you look at it militarily on the ground for American troops.
BLITZER: Vali Nasr, do you agree that 2007 looks like it's going to be a very bloody year once again, not only for Americans but for Iraqis?
NASR: Yes, I think it's going to be a very bloody year for Iraqis. I, unfortunately, don't think that even the biggest battles between the different communities in Iraq have actually yet taken place.
We might be in for a much rougher ride before things get better. As far as the Americans are concerned, everything really depends on what the new American strategy is.
I somewhat worry about this surge idea because I think part of the surge idea is to take on Muqtada al-Sadr and his, about, 50,000- strong Mahdi army.
And two scenarios are likely. Either the Mahdi army will dissolve at the appearance of additional U.S. troops, which means that we have to just stay there for a very long period of time because, if we withdraw, the Mahdi army will be back, or otherwise we're going to engage the Mahdi army and we run the risk of inciting a Shia insurgency in southern Iraq.
We've already faced a Sunni insurgency in western Iraq. We haven't faced, really, the wrath of the Shiites in the South. The Mahdi army still has not been fighting against the United States.
If we go to battle with the Mahdi army, we may see a much broader spectrum of violence and anti-American insurgency in Iraq that crosses not only the Sunni insurgency but the Shia insurgency. And that will mean staying in Iraq much longer, having many more surges on top of this one to gain control, and many more U.S. casualties.
BLITZER: Laith Kubba, we're almost out of time, but a final thought from you. It looks, based on what I'm hearing, not only from these experts but from a lot of others, that 2007 could be a whole, whole lot worse than 2006 was. And 2006, we all know, was horrible.
KUBBA: Well, yes. I think, even if we do the right thing, 2007 is going to be rough and is going to be terrible.
But what is important: Is it going to end well?
I think everybody is posed to see this rough ride. The most important thing -- we must get a plan in shape to get us out of this mess.
Without having a political plan, a very clear political plan that is workable, that is rooted in Iraq and in the region, simply adding troops will not solve the security issue. The insecurity in Iraq is the outcome of the lack of political planning and vision. It is not the cause of it.
BLITZER: We have to leave it there. Laith Kubba, thanks very much for coming in. Vali Nasr, thanks to you as well. Shibley Telhami, always appreciate all of you on this program.
And despite the gloomy assessment for 2007, let me wish you all, your families a happy new year as well.
Coming up on "Late Edition," the decision to show you the pictures of Saddam Hussein's execution. How much is too much?
And in a nation at mourning right now, the life and legacy of President Gerald Ford. I'll be joined by two prominent journalists, CNN's Howard Kurtz, the New York Daily News' Tom DeFrank. We'll talk about these stories and more.
And don't forget to join me Tuesday for our live coverage of President Ford's state funeral. That begins here on CNN, 9:00 a.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Saddam Hussein was buried today near his hometown of Tikrit, in Iraq. His execution this week in a Baghdad suburb was videotaped by witnesses.
Joining us now to talk about that, also Gerald Ford's relationship with the public and the press, are two prominent journalists: the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post, and from the New York Daily News, Tom DeFrank.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in. Howie, let's talk a little bit about this official video released by the Iraqi government and shock, shock, within 24 hours there is this unofficial video that pops you on the Internet, grainy video we've been showing you of the actual hanging of Saddam Hussein. What's appropriate for American journalistic standards to put on the air?
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES: First of all, this is the latest manifestation of the YouTube culture. Somebody apparently with a cell phone camera taking that footage. We don't know whether its leak was authorized by the Iraqi government or not. But you know, I don't have any great problem. It's a taste issue for every network.
I understand the cable networks have mostly used that video and the broadcast networks have opted to use stills showing the aftermath of the Saddam hanging. And look, this was a brutal dictator who killed tens of thousands of people. I don't have any problem with that stuff being used.
BLITZER: What do you think, Tom?
THOMAS DEFRANK, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Well, I mean, it's a judgment call for every news organization. That's why when people say the media did this, well, there's no such thing as the media. We're all an assortment of fiefdoms, each with our different views of what constitutes news and what's appropriate.
One network once ran autopsy photos of President Kennedy's autopsy. I wouldn't have done that, but they made a judgment call. These are judgment calls. I agree with Howard that given the notoriety of Saddam Hussein in a situation like this, I think probably more is appropriate than less. But I was glad not to see him literally dropping through the trap door.
BLITZER: Because here in the United States when someone is executed, lethal injection or electric chair in Texas or California or anyplace else, we don't show that on television. The state doesn't allow the videotape. That's not appropriate. But it is appropriate you're suggesting in this kind of a situation?
KURTZ: Well, it's newsworthy. And the question is what do you want to inflict on your viewers, and your readers if you're deciding what picture to put on the front page? And this was a hugely newsworthy event. I don't think anyone wanted to be ghoulish about it.
What I found ghoulish, Wolf, was on Friday the constant cable chatter about -- these headlines on the bottom of the screen, "Saddam could be executed by tomorrow," "Saddam execution imminent," "Saddam executed by 10 p.m." Fox News had a headline, they called it date with death.
It almost seemed like everyone was eagerly anticipating the moment. Of course it's a huge news story, but you don't want to seem to be enjoying the process.
BLITZER: How do you deal responsibly with a situation like this when authorities in Baghdad are saying, you know what, it's going to happen, it's going to happen within 24 hours, it's going to happen within the next hour. Do you not report that?
DEFRANK: No, you have to report it. And this is a situation, Wolf, where it's easier for you if you're a daily newspaper as opposed to a cable network...
BLITZER: Although daily newspapers now have web pages, and they're publishing at any moment too.
DEFRANK: You've got to do what the three of us know we always do and our critics don't believe it. You make the best call you can using your best professional judgment at the moment you've got to make a decision, and you hope you get it right.
KURTZ: Where I also think we've seen restraint, Wolf, is not so much in the dealing with the run-up to the hanging and the pictures of the hanging, but in not having this huge kind of euphoria that we saw three years ago when Saddam was captured about a big impact on the war.
Clearly, so much has happened that it's not going to have a big impact on the war. That was a mistake the media made three years ago, thinking the capture might be this huge turning point. The mistake was not repeated this time.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We're going to talk a little more about this and some other subjects as well. A nation honors its 38th president. As former President Gerald Ford lies in state at the rotunda in the U.S. Capitol, these are live pictures you're seeing right now. When we come back, we'll talk about his life and his legacy. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're continuing our conversation with Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," and Tom DeFrank from the New York Daily News.
I want to talk, Howie, first of all about Gerald Ford. All of us were watching the death this week. The legacy of this 38th president of the United States. Give us some background on how the media handled it here in the United States.
KURTZ: Wolf, Gerald Ford was only president for 2.5 years, but to hear leading journalists talk about him in the days since his death, he was an American hero.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: In all my years as a reporter, Gerald Ford was the nicest and most decent public figure I ever covered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: He was the man who assumed the presidency in some of its darkest days and brought it into the light.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: He had no demons, and he had no agenda. I think that's very important for a president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What's striking about these accolades is that this accidental president didn't receive terribly good coverage during his White House years. At least once the press got over that photo op of him making his own English muffins. At his first news conference, many of the questions were about the man who had just resigned in Watergate disgrace, Richard Nixon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: Would you use your pardon authority if necessary?
GERALD R. FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had hoped that our former president, who brought peace to millions, would find it for himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The media turned on Ford with a vengeance when he pardoned Nixon. The one-time college football player was often portrayed as a bumbler, and not just by Chevy Chase on "Saturday Night Live."
The New York Daily News depicted the 38th president as callous. Who could ever forget this headline, when he initially opposed a bailout deal for the financially ailing city? And then there was this Cold War gaffe in a 1976 debate against Jimmy Carter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORD: There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The press hammered him for appearing out of touch with reality. And Ford narrowly lost to Carter. The ex-president kept a low profile over the next three decades, preferring golf to public debates. But he did stay in touch with a number of journalists, including Bob Woodward, who spoke to him two years ago under very strict ground rules.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: This was an embargoed interview, something that wasn't to come out until I did a book on him or Ford died.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: In that interview, Ford had this to say about Iraq.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
FORD: I don't think if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly, I don't think I would have ordered the Iraqi war.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: Ford never went public with that criticism, showing loyalty to his party till the end. But over the years, many journalists came to think more highly of the Ford presidency and especially the Nixon pardon. Maybe Ford was right 32 years ago, they say, in trying to heal the country's wounds. Wolf?
BLITZER: Do you have a problem, Howie, with a president like Gerald Ford granting interviews to journalists like Bob Woodward or Tom DeFrank or others on an embargoed basis to be released only after their death?
KURTZ: I understand the journalists. And Tom DeFrank was among them, talking to a former president off the record if that's the best deal they could get. What I find hard to understand is that Ford, you know, had some strong views about the Republican Party moving to the right, about the Iraq war. Why he didn't choose to go public at any point but did choose to confide in his journalistic friends.
BLITZER: What do you think, because, Tom, you were part of that elite journalistic group that did have a chance to hear from this president, but you promised that you wouldn't release the actual interview until after the death.
DEFRANK: Well, I have to say to you, Wolf, that this was my idea with him, not the other way around. He thought he might be able to be more candid. It's a tricky situation. But it was my proposal.
When I was at Newsweek, as Howard knows, we had this problem with the Newsweek election edition every year, where you asked people to talk with you off the record so that you could publish the day after the election of the inside story. So it's not a new ethical...
BLITZER: So you were thinking of that experience when you went to Gerald Ford and said, I want to get your thoughts but I promise -- did you come up with the idea that you would only publish it after his death?
DEFRANK: This was my idea, yes.
KURTZ: Don't you think, Tom, since Ford did this with a number of journalists, that he was also interested in shaping his legacy, that he was looking ahead? He was obviously in his 90s already by the end of these interviews, that he wanted to shape the way history would remember him?
DEFRANK: This was part of it. But you know, Howard, Ford was a man without guile. I mean, he was really not a calculating sort of fellow. And I think there's probably a piece of that to him, but that was probably just a very small piece.
BLITZER: Why wouldn't he want these views to come out before his death?
DEFRANK: Because he is an extremely loyal guy. He's one of these, if you don't have anything nice to say about somebody, don't say it. He's gentle. He was gentle and kind and decent and extremely loyal to the Republican Party and to his friends, like Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. It's very consistent with his personality and his style that he would be muted about this.
KURTZ: What's also interesting, Wolf, is how many journalists have revised their opinion of the Ford presidency, particularly on the pardon where many journalists condemned it. Roger Wilkins was an editorial writer for The New York Times, blasted the pardon in 1974. He's now decided Ford was right. He wrote Ford a letter saying...
DEFRANK: Ted Kennedy decided the same thing.
KURTZ: Public figures, William Cohen earlier on your show, said the same thing. And I think also that some of Jerry Ford's virtues, which did not seem like virtues at the time, he was a very plain- spoken straightforward guy, look very different now in an era of political polarization.
Here was Ford, a guy who believed in bipartisan cooperation, who played golf with Tip O'Neill shortly before taking office. So, sometimes the passage of time makes even brilliant journalists who have so much confidence in their analysis take a second look. And in Ford's case, I think we were seeing that over the last week.
BLITZER: You agree with that?
DEFRANK: Absolutely. I mean, Ford was an old-fashioned guy, and I think it was good, not bad. When he was vice president, every time he'd go out, he'd have a press conference. And these were not softball questions, should Nixon resign, why are you supporting him, shouldn't he turn over the tapes.
But ford, I asked him about that much, and he said, "I have a sense of public accountability." And I think in the days -- in these days of message discipline and control freaks and controlling the message, him going out there and doing that is something that I didn't appreciate at the time, but I do appreciate it and respect it a lot more today.
BLITZER: You know, he really wasn't clumsy. He was a good athlete, and he really wasn't intellectually stupid or anything. Or lazy. He was very intelligent. But you know, he sort of played along at one point with the self-deprecating -- the jokes that came out.
And since then, it's almost become a tradition among politicians, especially at those Washington dinners like the White House Correspondents Association dinners or the Radio-TV Correspondent dinners. He started that process going.
KURTZ: But it wasn't just Chevy Chase portraying him as a stumblebum. I mean, New York magazine ran a cover depicting him as Bozo the clown. I mean, he was kind of seen -- I guess because he was such an ordinary guy who hadn't aspired to the presidency and through an accident of history was in the Oval Office, he was kind of seen as a man of limited gifts.
But kind of the way that historians have revised their view of Harry Truman, for example, decades later, I think now journalists, who were very critical at the time, have learned to appreciate some of the virtues of the Ford presidency.
BLITZER: And those myths became very powerful. In fact, the perception almost became the reality.
DEFRANK: Absolutely right. But there are several myths. There was the Nixon myth about his friendship. Not true. There was a myth about how close he and Reagan were. Not true. The clumsy myth. The lightweight myth. All myths.
BLITZER: All myths. A good president, a good man. And you know, we're going to miss him. Jerry Ford. Thanks, guys, very much for coming in. These are live pictures that we're showing our viewers. His body lying in state in that casket in the rotunda at the U.S. Capitol right now.
That's it for this "Late Edition" for this Sunday, December 31st. New Year's Eve. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
Also, if you missed any of our program today, you can download a video podcast of the entire two hours. Just go to cnn.com/podcast. Click on the link for "Late Edition."
Remember, Howard Kurtz and "Reliable Sources" returns next Sunday, 10 a.m. Eastern, every Sunday just before "Late Edition." This also I want to point out. We're in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, then another hour at 7 p.m.
Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
For our North American viewers a special "Anderson Cooper 360," "300 Million, Melting Pot or Meltdown?" just ahead. Happy new year.
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