May 14, 2004 | Broadcast



BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Of course, President Bush and John Kerry differ over Iraq, don’t they? Well, Kerry says the president went to war in the wrong way. Too few allies, misleading the voters about those weapons of mass destruction. But in terms of what do you do now, they’re not so different.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States strongly supports the efforts of U.N. Security Generals Special Adviser Brahimi to work with Iraqis to develop an interim government.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To do this right, we have to truly internationalize both politically and militarily. We cannot depend on a U.S.-only presence.

ROBIN WRIGHT, “WASHINGTON POST”: President Bush and John Kerry have, in fact, quite similar positions in general about how to get out of Iraq, and that’s calling on the international community, including the NATO military alliance and the United Nations to play key roles after the hand over of sovereignty on June 30.

MORTON: They follow different roads. Bush has a messianic view of America bringing democracy to the world.

BUSH: Freedom is the almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in this world.

MORTON: Kerry seems less committed to such a world mission. But he and the president do agree on the need for international help.

KERRY: The president must also go to NATO members and others to contribute the additional military forces and go to NATO to take on an organizing role.

MORTON: The trouble is NATO and other countries may not want to help.

WRIGHT: The United States will probably have to bear the burden. And I think events over the past two weeks will probably also make it more difficult for the United States, even to keep the coalition together in part, because it will be difficult for many of these nations to justify renewing their mandates after June 30. It’s not very popular to side with what is perceived as a loser.

MORTON: So Bush and Kerry more or less agree on an exit strategy, international help to keep things calm until Iraq holds elections. But getting to the exit may be very hard.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: So how does the U.S. exit strategy in Iraq without a country to sending into civil war and chaos? To help answer that, we’re joined by Spencer Ackerman of “The New Republic” and Cliff May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Good to see both of you, gentlemen.


WHITFIELD: Still no definitive leaders in case in handover is to take place June 30. So, Cliff, how much pressure do you suppose the Bush administration is applying to try toed a here to a June 30 deadline? Certainly the administration has a lot to lose if they have to change that handover date.

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: I don’t think they’re going to change that date. I think that’s very firm. What you may have after that handover I think is a caretaker government of some form until you get the elections.

Then the question is, do you speed up the schedule for elections, as some people, Robert Cagan, Bill Krystol and others, have suggested. You do partly so you really have Iraqis pretty soon controlling their own destiny and partly because you get Iraqis really involved in a political process. That would be an important thing to do.

Then you have a campaign and you have polls. I think it’s worth it to say to the Germans and French and others, wouldn’t you come here at least to guard the polling places when the Iraqis are voting for the first time in 30 years?

WHITFIELD: Sorry, Cliff. I need to interrupt you for a moment. We need to go to U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft who is talking now about Nick Berg, the American who was beheaded.


WHITFIELD: You’ve been listening to the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft out of Washington try to clarify the chronology of events leading up to the decapitation of Nick Berg, the American who was killed earlier in the week.

Attorney General Ashcroft said that Berg was told by the U.S. of the dangers and they encouraged him to leave with the coalition provision authority’s help once he was released by Iraqi police on April 6, but that Berg refused that.

Now we were talking just moments before going to the U.S. attorney general to Cliff May and Spencer Ackerman. Talking about the U.S. exit strategy in Iraq. I want to bring you gentlemen back into the picture and perhaps pick up a little bit on this and how quickly the Bush administration is putting forth its cabinet members to try to clarify what has been an incredibly emotional week for much of America, witnessing these accounts of the beheading of Nick Berg.

And, Spencer, let me ask you. The importance of the Bush administration trying to distance itself from having a cavalier attitude about the disposition of Nick Berg while he was in Iraq.

SPENCER ACKERMAN, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”: Well, I think it’s very important. His family has taken what’s happened to him with every justification absolutely seriously. And it’s an unbelievably emotional time, you’re absolutely right to say that.

I think the best thing that can happen out of this horror that’s been inflicted on Nick Berg is we come back with a sense of national purpose and focus and think very seriously and implement in a very serious way how to win this war.

MAY: Actually, I got to say I quite agree with what Spencer is saying here. The people we saw slicing the head off Nick Berg, I’ve watched the entire video of that, particularly Zarqawi and the others, they’ve been in Iraq for sometime. They are the people to whom we would be abandoning Iraq were we to simply have a quick exit strategy.

I don’t think we can talk in terms of an exit strategy. We have to talk in terms of a transition that allows Iraqis have to a stable and fee free and democratic country without people like Zarqawi, a foreigner, threatening them.

Zarqawi is associated with al Qaeda. He was in Iraq under Saddam Hussein working at the al-Ansar terrorist training camp. Saddam knew that.

We cannot abandon that country to these people for our sake as well as the Iraqis’ sake.

WHITFIELD: Which brings us then to the concern that perhaps a handover taking place too soon without any identifiable leaders in this transitional government may certainly lay the groundwork for perfect percolating point for a civil war.

Spencer, is it your concern that June 30 might be too soon and that perhaps immediately following the June 30 handover that we certainly do have conditions for a civil war brewing?

ACKERMAN: If not a civil war, increased instability and no end in sight to that instability. It’s been my concern for a very long time that ever since November, the Bush administration has fetishized the handover of power occurring on June 30 at the expense of the substance to which the handover will be valid, to which the handover will make sense.

Originally you’ll recall the June 30 handover was predicated on the idea that there was a process in place to hand over sovereignty in a responsible way. There was the caucus plan. But because we had not treated one of the most important people in Iraq, the Shi’a Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani with the gravity that he deserved, he rejected that plan.

And ever since, we’ve just vacillated on what exactly our handover will be in terms of substance at the expense of saying it will simply occur.


MAY: This is difficult, we don’t know how to do this, we haven’t done it before. How do you allow Iraqis to take responsibility until you give them responsibility.

And I think the June 30 deadline is an opportunity to begin giving substantial responsibility to Iraqis for their future. But this is not easy. We should be very willing to make mid-course corrections, changes because what we have to understand is that if we do not succeed in this, if we fail, if we are defeated, Zarqawi wins and the Ba’athist remnants loyal to Saddam Hussein, they win.

And that is not an outcome that we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) although we should imagine what it would were that to happen. That’s not saying no mistakes have been made. A lot of mistakes have been made and will be made. But how do we allow Iraqis good pro-democracy to take responsibility for their own country and govern themselves which is what they and we want them to do.

WHITFIELD: Cliff May and Spencer Ackerman, thank you for joining us.

We’ll be right back.