June 2, 2004 | Broadcast

CNN with Wolf Blitzer

Here to talk about that and other hot topics, two guests. David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation magazine. He’s also the author of “The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.” It’s out in paperback right now.

And Cliff May is the Founder of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He’s also, I believe, the president of that organization as well.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

You think this policy, this strategy outlined by the president, David, is going to work in terms of getting full sovereignty to the Iraqis, bringing some sort of interim government there, setting the stage for a democratic elections in January?

DAVID CORN, AUTHOR, “THE LIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH”: Well, I hope it all works out in the end. Right now, they don’t have full sovereignty. It’s not part of the plan.

BLITZER: The president says they will get full sovereignty.

CORN: Well, he says, but that’s what he said the other day. But full sovereignty means that you have control of the security of their country, which they won’t have. And there’s going to be some sort of odd arrangement between the government and the U.S. military, which will still be there…

BLITZER: But the president points out, and another administration officials point out, that that you can have full sovereignty as in Bosnia, for example, or Kosovo, or Japan or Germany, for that matter, and still have U.S. troops there.

CORN: Well, also, it’s in The Times today — actually, not today. It came out on the Web. They also go over issues involving the control of the oil flow, whether you can prosecute Americans who are in Iraq. There are issues that are yet to be negotiated.

BLITZER: Well, those are fair points.

CORN: And so I hope that they’re negotiated well.

BLITZER: If the U.S. is going to control the flow of oil from Iraq after June 30th, that would certainly undermine the notion of full sovereignty for the Iraqis.

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, we’ve been seeing lately, Wolf — and I think it’s something to be optimistic about — is Iraqi leaders are actually exercising leadership. They’re taking responsibility. In some cases, they are challenging the Americans, they’re challenging the U.N.

They’re saying, we want to do this ourselves. That’s a very good sign. And when that happens, we should encourage that to happen and not be upset about it.

Sovereignty and the transfer of sovereignty, listen, it’s going to be a process. Right now, it’s a difficult situation there. Why? We call it the security situation. You have terrorists continuing to kill innocent Iraqis, innocent Americans if they can.

Look, you’ve got terrorists killing people in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as well. What we’re seeing is the beginnings. We’re stumbling towards some kind of a better society in Iraq. And it’s good news.

BLITZER: We’re also seeing a dramatic change on the part of the Bush administration in recent weeks as far as the United Nations is concerned.

MAY: Yes, good. And you know what? No battle plans survive contact with the enemy, and the same for political plans. I would hate for the Bush administration to say, here’s our plan, and there will be no midcourse corrections no matter what.

Democrats, John Kerry, not the least among them, said we need to bring the U.N. in. And Bush said, you know what, we are going to bring in the U.N. as much as we can.

Brahimi has also heard from the council — from the Iraqi Governing Council, look, thanks for your recommendations, we will do it our way. This is all good news. What you’re seeing is a dynamic developing. You’re seeing politic.

BLITZER: So you’re seeing a flexible George W. Bush dealing with Iraq the way it should be dealt with. And if that means change strategy as far as the U.N. is concerned, that’s good.

CORN: Changing strategy is good. And I think — because they had a terrible strategy for over a year now. The question is whether this government actually does reflect the Iraqi people.

The last poll that was taken of the Iraqi people that can be trusted said that 57 percent of them said they want the Americans out immediately. Now, how is this government to deal with the popular will of that sort and deal with the Americans?

I mean, there’s been a lot of talk before the hand-off that if they said we want you out or we don’t want the troops there, that we will abide by that. Will we? And if so, what does it mean in terms of the strategic interest?

BLITZER: Let Cliff respond.

Go ahead.

MAY: The basic strategy is this: the basic strategy is the same. The strategy is over time to build a decent society in Iraq run by Iraqis. But tactics have changed.

What you have right now is the most representative government that Iraq has ever had and a more representative government than you have in most of the region. You have a Shiite for the first time who is the prime minister. You have a Sunni who is the president. You have a Kurd who is the minister of defense. You have various tribal people.

People are being represented. And now is a process of saying, OK, what does this mean, democracy? It doesn’t just mean…


CORN: It’s not a representative government until the people pick the representatives.

MAY: You’re right. We agree. And the faster we can get to elections, the better. And if it’s January, it’s January. If we can do it sooner than that, that’s great. By the way, when that happens, it will be, except for Turkey and Israel, the only one in that area that has a government popularly elected by the people.

BLITZER: But that’s a huge “if” still.

MAY: But listen, this is a huge project. The project we are undertaking in Iraq — and we all agree on this — is unprecedented. It is historic. And the president is right, if it works, it will change the course of world history.

CORN: It also would have been nice if there had been some planning for this.

MAY: There was a lot of planning. You just said they’re changing the plan. You can’t change your plan unless you have a plan.

CORN: There was no planning in terms of the political transition.


MAY: Make up your mind.

CORN: No, I am saying there was no planning for the political transition when we went into the war. And the war was fought for weapons of mass destruction primarily. That turned out to be false. And now we’re trying to — we put in a democracy. And listen, I hope it works.

MAY: Let’s agree on this, the…


BLITZER: All right. We’re going to take a quick break, but we’re going to continue this conversation. So stay with us. Don’t get lost. We’re going to come right back with David Corn and Cliff May.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Threats against the United States. Both President Bush and Democratic challenger, John Kerry, focusing on those threats today.

The president expected to talk about the war on terror, national security, Iraq, and more during commencement speeches at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Kerry is in the battleground state of Florida today, talking about the dangers of bioterrorism.

I’m talking about the race for the White House with my guests. David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation magazine. Cliff May is the founder for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Why aren’t the Iraqi people more grateful to the United States for liberating their country, for getting rid of Saddam Hussein? With the exception of the Kurds, Cliff, I haven’t seen much gratitude from the Iraqis.

MAY: You’re right. The Kurds are our best friends, one of our most valuable and reliable allies. And they expressed it effusively.

I think I know a lot of Iraqis. I’ve worked with Iraqis for a number of years now. And they actually are very grateful for the liberation. And you don’t hear it as much as you should.

And I would recommend that they do say it more because they are grateful to be liberated. But let me say this, there is a taint of shame that we liberated them, that they did not liberate themselves. And one of the mistakes I think we made is we should have Iraqis in the first tank, the way…

CORN: Cliff, if you would have had your way, the person leading that would have been Ahmad Chalabi. So I don’t think that would have done too well with the Iraqi people just now.

BLITZER: They did fly in Chalabi and his group.

CORN: They did, of course.

BLITZER: A few hundred of them into southern Iraq.

CORN: And that was the Iraqi of choice to lead the troops in from a lot of the neo-cons. I think the issue is, it’s not that they’re not grateful necessarily for the liberation, but they look at the lack of security for the past year and they think the Americans came in on their own and botched the job. And if you look the at president, the new president of this interim government, he gave a speech yesterday in which he blasted America for not doing the job.

BLITZER: He thanked the United Nations but he made no reference thanking the United States. And look, this is a country, the United States, that has already lost more than 800 troops in Iraq, spent, what, close to $200 if not more billion dollars this adventure trying to liberate Iraq. And you don’t see the Sunni or the Shiite leaders expressing much gratitude.

CORN: Well, it’s politics, too. As I mentioned earlier, 57 percent of Iraqis say they want the Americans to leave. You know, right now, security is terrible in that country. Even reporters do not get outside of the Green Zone, and there is a lot of lawlessness. So there’s a lot of resentment because the Americans, while they came in and liberated the country, they didn’t come in and bring jobs or security.

BLITZER: All right. We don’t have a lot time. But how is this going to play out in November, specifically between Kerry and Bush?

MAY: Well, I think it depends a lot what the situation in Iraq is in November. A couple of weeks ago, it was looking very bad. I think now it is looking much more optimistic.

BLITZER: Optimistic for Bush you mean?

MAY: For Bush I mean, yes. I think if you saw him yesterday, as I know you did, at the press conference, he’s feeling very optimistic about the future. I think the people see that Iraq is on its feet and is going to be the linchpin of the new democratic and reform movement within the Middle East. And obviously it will be very good for Bush. If all Americans want is to get the heck out of Iraq, well, then they’re probably going to look to John Kerry.

CORN: Listen, what happened yesterday is a step forward, but it doesn’t change the reality on the ground whatsoever. Just a few weeks ago, we saw one of the Iraqi leaders be assassinated right outside the Green Zone. So while this is good for Bush and gives him something positive to talk about for the first time in months, it doesn’t mean that the situation in Iraq is going to improve or get better between now and November when it comes to the security situation, which is the prime mover in terms of how the public looks at this.

MAY: It’s not a security situation. It is a war against terrorism, and that’s the main front. And I give John Kerry credit because he has been clear, even as Al Gore and Ted Kennedy haven’t, that he understands we have to win this war against the terrorists, against Zarqawi, for example, who is al-Qaeda connected in Iraq. We cannot just say it’s a security situation.

BLITZER: All right.

CORN: Let me blow your mind for one second and encourage you to read the cover story, not in my magazine, but Harper’s, in which a guy went and talked to some of the resistance fighters in Iraq. And actually, they’re not connected to outside terrorists or even Ba’athists.

These are the people who believe it is their Muslim duty to get rid of the occupiers. So it really has nothing to them to do in terms of terrorism. In fact, they don’t like Osama bin Laden. They say he’s a bad Muslim. So it’s not as simple as you portray it.

BLITZER: Gentlemen, hold your horses. We’ve got to leave it right there. Unfortunately, we are all out of time.

Cliff May, as usual, thanks very much for joining us. David Corn has the book “The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception” out in paperback right now.

Congratulations to you.

CORN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks to both of you.

MAY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Looking back at a snapshot in time. Straight ahead, a special discussion with two veteran photographers who captured some of the most dramatic scenes from World War II.