July 31, 2003 | Broadcast

CNN Live from the Headlines

Among the many problems making a U.S. exit from Iraq so tricky are the infestation of an unknown number of fighters from other countries and also the nation’s lack of experience with democracy and the fractious divisions there.

Of course, we have some fractious divisions here as well, which bring nose Washington and tonight’s guests on topic of Iraq and how long the U.S. is going to be there. How long will democracy take?

Cliff May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Julian Epstein is a Democratic strategist and former chief minority counsel for the House Judiciary Committee.

Gentlemen, appreciate you being with us.

Julian, let me start with you. Paul Bremer is now saying he thinks he might be able to bring about some sort of elections in Iraq in just about a year. Do you think that’s possible?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, I mean, you know, the administration also told us the tax cuts would stimulate the economy.

Look, this is an administration that did a good in waging a war. I think it was like waging a war against the Flintstones, as some have said. It has not done such a good job waging the peace. Look at what happened in Afghanistan now, where we’ve essentially returned to a feudal state outside of Kabul, where the Taliban is operating in full — in full operation.

Similarly, I think this administration has not taken the peace building advice that it’s gotten from its own administration. Shinseki said in February that it was going to take several hundred thousand troops to be able to control a country the size of California. I think it’s very likely that things will get slightly worse before they get better.


COOPER: Let me bring Cliff May in here, because he doesn’t like to stay to the sideline for longer than, like, 45 seconds.

Cliff, what do you think? Democracy within a year? Is that possible?

CLIFF MAY: It it’s absolutely possible.

If you look back a year, year and a half ago and think all that has happened in that time. No more Taliban and Afghanistan, no more Saddam Hussein, various important changes taking place in Lebanon and in Jordan. Things are going very fast.

Now, look, it is — I’m going to be the first to admit it is not easy, this whole idea of nation building. Nobody — not just us — nobody has great experience or models to build on.

Nonetheless, we’ve got a governing council. They are writing a constitution. We are building a militia so that Iraqis can guard museums and hospitals and schools. It is absolutely possible that we could have Bremer out within a year. I’m not saying the military will necessarily be out. Tommy Franks said the military could be there four years. Hey, we still have troops in Germany, in Japan, in South Korea, Kosovo and Bosnia.

COOPER: As you well know, a democracy, or at least a functioning one, a working one, a vibrant one, is an extraordinarily difficult thing to grow. Julian brings up — you know, basically says this is ridiculous, the idea that it’s going to happen within a year.

I guess, Julian, let me bring you in here. What do you think is behind this then? Is it politics? Is this time for election cycles?

EPSTEIN: Well, first of all I think that it’s a straw man to say that, you know, things have gotten better in the last year. I think that’s actually true and I think Cliff is also right that it’s hard to do this.

I think the point here is that the administration and conservatives, particularly the neoconservatives, have never been much big fans of nation building and waging peace here is much, much more important.

I think I would disagree with Cliff. I think there are remnants of the Taliban operating in Afghanistan because the administration has not done a good enough job in following through with its promises there.

And Bremer today was not simply talking about keeping the military there. He was just going to leave. Bremer was talking about these United States beginning to pull out a year from now.


COOPER: Cliff, is there a danger in going too fast? I mean, in trying to get some sort of elections going before the country is ready?

MAY: There is no danger in being ambitious and trying to put this on a fast track. There is danger in saying by a date certain we’re going to be out no matter what. That’s what Kofi Annan of the United Nations suggested and it’s a mistake.

COOPER: But there is a danger of having elections before the country is ready?

MAY: No, I think you’re right. It is. But we have to have the Democratic institution set up first up. Elections are what happens when you have Democratic institutions. You don’t get democratic institutions by first having elections.

Nonetheless, what Paul Bremer is trying to do is move this thing along as quickly as he can. And Julian is taking a lot of partisan shots. I’m trying not to not to take partisan shots at what happened during the 90’s when we allowed tens of thousands of terrorists to be trained in Afghanistan and did nothing about it. We tried nation building in Haiti and it didn’t work.

What we need is for Democrats and Republicans to come together and find the best ideas to help the Iraqis become free and prosperous and democratic, because it’s so important that this region of the Middle East, which is so — has so much hostility and so much violence and terrorism, that we begin to transform it and Iraq is the first important step.

EPSTEIN: All of which is right, but all of which misses the issue.

The administration got advice from a number of people, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, that the post-war effort was going to be the tough part of this equation and they ignored that advice. Shinseki came before the committee and said you need several hundred thousands…

MAY: Hold on.

EPSTEIN: And Wolfowitz came out immediately and said that they were wrong about that.

MAY: First of all — first of all nobody that I know thought it would be easy to build democracy. That’s why Republicans have been loathe to do it, is because nation building is so hard. There were people who said, by the way, that this war would mean thousands — hundreds of thousands of refugees, hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, Turkey, Israel will be involved. None of that happened.

EPSTEIN: Yes, the bigger point that I’m making…

MAY: And by the way, Shinseki…

EPSTEIN: There is a — there is a gross underestimation of the manpower that is needed. There are 60,000 troops from our allies that are available if the administration would simply work with them. The administration has chosen that they didn’t want to do that because they fear loosing control.

COOPER: All right, final though.


MAY: Very quick point. With all due respect to Shinseki, he said several hundred thousand — that’s like 300,00. We have 145, 000. We are getting troops from other countries in there. We want more. But we cannot cede authorities for this mission to the United Nations. That would be a failure.

MAY: I agree that we should take the politics out of this. But the point here is that we could be doing a lot better job than we are doing and I think the failures that we’ve had should be close to inexcusable given what’s at stake. And you and I both agree…


MAY: Stop taking pot shots and help make good, constructive criticisms.


COOPER: Thanks very much. All right.