December 6, 2004 | Broadcast

Wolf Blitzer Reports

CLIFF MAY, FDN. FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: At least we know what kind of enemy we’re facing which we didn’t know earlier. We didn’t know that these people had been trained and they knew how to kill in vast numbers. They’re not taking over radio station or airport, they’re just killing loads of people. It’s a kind of communication strategy. We have to defeat these people and whatever it takes to do, has to be done. We cannot afford to lose to this kind of enemy.

BLITZER: But will you acknowledge that the situation on the ground practically for Americans in Iraq is worse today than a year ago?

MAY: Absolutely true. One of the things we did wrong was we let Falluja go much too long. We didn’t have the intelligence to see that this insurgency was gathering or that the jihadis led by Zarqawi who is the al Qaeda chief in Iraq, what he was able to do and organize. We were not prepared for this. That’s because for years and years and years we did not understand the enemy we’re now facing in the world and Iraq and elsewhere.

BLITZER: Peter, do you want to weigh in?

PETER BEINART, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”: We know there were people at the State Department and CIA and the military, from outside the government who did put down exactly what would happen. Who said, look, this will be harder than you recognize. The planning we know was poor for this war. We have to win now. There’s no question. But it didn’t need to get this bad. The decision to disband the military was a bad decision…

BLITZER: The Iraqi military, the Saddam Hussein military? The Republican Guard?

BEINART: Yes, the people who know about peacekeeping, we did a lot of it in the 1990s all say the first days are critical after you topple the regime, that you create security. We didn’t have enough troops in Baghdad and the rest of the country to do that and they didn’t protect the ministries. That was a terrible mistake.

BLITZER: Whose fault is that?

BEINART: I don’t know who in the administration but what does disturb me is that while there is concern about what the U.N. did before the war and that should be investigated there is no interest in this administration in investigating who made those critical faulty decisions that have cost the United States so dearly. MAY: There’s a different between making mistakes in war and all wars that I can think of mistakes have been made for good and honest reasons. The Baathists who were controlling the military were seen as people you had to put aside. So Bremer made the decision to disband the military. In retrospect, he may be right. Maybe it wasn’t a great decision. That’s different from the corruption that is taking place at the U.N. On a financial level, the rapes and the other things that have taken place in the Congo. These are very separate things. We have made mistakes in Iraq. There’s no question about it. Winston Churchill made mistakes in World War II.

BEINART: But it’s not just a question of mistakes. When you have people from outside the government and inside the government giving you advice that people with the best experience. General Shinseki had led peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia and he said we needed more troops, you shoot them down. You have people like Paul Wolfowitz saying Iraq’s reconstruction will pay for itself when the experts are saying that’s not true. These are not just honest mistakes. This was a real arrogance and negligence and it has cost us.

MAY: I think the big mistake we made — I think is this, and we can all have our own views of it. We should have gone in there and there should have been Iraqis leading every single march into every single town. We should have had an provisional government in, an interim government, not a year later, but immediately.

We knew who Iraqis were who were on our side, who were pro- freedom, who were pro-democracy. We should have empowered them. But you know what, this is all Monday morning quarterbacking. At this point what we know is Zarqawi, who heads al Qaeda, is killing people, cutting their heads off, putting up videotapes. We have a fight to win. Let’s go ahead and win it.

BLITZER: When you say he heads al Qaeda, you mean in Iraq.

MAY: He heads al Qaeda in Iraq.

BLITZER: You think he’s directly working with Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al Qaeda leadership? Is there a direct connection between them and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

MAY: Zarqawi has declared himself the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. And I think there’s every reason to believe — look, the way al Qaeda is organized, particularly today when it has been disrupted as much as it is has, is it’s sort of independent franchises in various places. It’s probably pretty hard for Osama bin Laden, wherever he is, probably along the Afghani-Pakistan border, to get out very — you know, he can’t just pick up his cell phone and say hey, Zarqawi, here’s what I want you to do today.

But yes, there is no question — by the way, not only do we have al Qaeda in Iraq, we also have Iranian agents, probably by the thousands, Hezbollah, we have Syrian agents and we have Saudis who have come up here, not on the behest of the government, but because they are Wahhabis to take part in this. BEINART: We didn’t have troops to protect the borders. The point I would make is this: I recognize that occupation is a very difficult effort. The thing that astonishes me about the Bush administration is the decision to basically promote the people who have made the biggest mistakes.

The Pentagon is basically the group which has gone totally unscathed in the cabinet reshuffle. And they were the people who were given the ball here. They were put in charge of post-war planning, they are the people at whom the responsibility should lie and yet Donald Rumsfeld comes out as the survivor in this when the State Department and CIA, who were much more concerned, much more cautious, shut out — are the people where heads are rolling. I don’t understand this.

MAY: I think you’re wrong in what happened. Actually, what — as I understand it, what happened is, there were various fights between CIA and between Pentagon and between the State Department and in some cases, the State Department…


MAY: No, no, no, it wasn’t as clear as that, in terms of what happened with Bremmer. I think if anything, you can fault the administration for — is they didn’t settle decisively the various disputes that rose up between the departments and say OK, we’re going this way, everybody get on board.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a minute because we’re going to take a break. But we’re going to continue this conversation and talk about intelligence reform and other issues, as well. Stay with us. You’re watching news from CNN.

BLITZER: Welcome back. Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, a very bloody weekend in Iraq. Here at home, a political fire storm over 9-11 intelligence reform. We’re continuing our conversation with our two guests, Cliff May, the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Peter Beinart, the editor of “The New Republic.” Peter, you think this legislation that’s on the verge of being passed to reform the nation’s intelligence community should be passed?

BEINART: Yes. Look, it has lots of things in it, but the basic idea is that if you’re going to have someone in charge of intelligence, they should control the budget. It’s a pretty simple idea. Right now we have a CIA director who controls twelve percent of the intelligence budget. That doesn’t make any sense. You’ve got to give one guy responsibility and authority. And so I think it is a good idea.

I think the problem is that basically Republicans, including in the Bush administration, have never liked the 9/11 Commission. They have never liked its report. Bush committed to it because he had to during the election campaign for political reasons and now they’re trying to backtrack on it because they know that the politics are against them but they’ve actually wanted to take power away from the Pentagon.

MAY: I think when you’ve got concerns being expressed by the head of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, he’s been 24 years in Congress, he was a decorated ranger in Vietnam, his son is a marine lieutenant on his second tour, I think you take that seriously. George Tenet, I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, but he’s expressed concern. John Warner.

I think what’s going on now is talk of finding ways to address concerns. That’s going to make a better bill out of it rather than a worse bill. It is good to have debate, it is good to have dissension. A few weeks ago we were all talking about there’s not enough dissension in the Bush administration. Here there is some.

If the bill comes out today, it will be better. If it has to go over ’til next year, so be it. Don’t forget, you have Chuck Robb, the former Democratic senator, he’s on a commission looking at intelligence reform with Lawrence Silverman, a Republican. Their report’s not finished yet. So, look, this is a hard thing to figure out.

BLITZER: The point that Duncan Hunter makes, James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and others. What’s the rush? If it’s that important and it’s going to take — it’s been taking decades, 50 years plus, to reform the nation’s intelligence community, take a deep breath, spend a few months on it, instead of rushing into action.

BEINART: We’ve taken a long breath. The 9/11 Commission started late because the Bush administration opposed it tooth and nail. It’s taken a very long time. It’s interviewed hundreds and hundreds of witnesses and had many, many intelligence experts who were part of that committee and they came up with a report.

This the best way of doing government reform. We’ve done that. Now you’re going to say that a couple of committee chairmen, who have a particular interest in keeping control of the Pentagon because that gives them more power as committee chairmen, are going undo that? We did it the right way. And I think this is the right report.

MAY: You’re right and you’re wrong. The 9/11 Commission spent 18 months, but Congress hasn’t spent 18 months looking at the results. And it shouldn’t be that you have a commission and Congress simply salutes and says whatever you say, we’ll do.

Most of the recommendations are in this. There are a few controversial. They’re a matter of life and death, such things as chain of command, which means that if you’ve got soldiers on the ground in Falluja, do they have primary access to satellite intelligence or does somebody else? Duncan Hunter has a right to say I’m concerned about this, will you address my concerns before I vote for it.

BEINART: He has a right to say it. But when we know that a majority of the House and Senate support this bill, they have a right to vote on it and not be blocked by one or two men. And this intelligence thing, the satellite thing, is a red herring because it’s always been clear that military will have control over tactical intelligence. That has never been a dispute, that’s been repeated over and over and over. And now the joint chiefs of staff himself has said — he’s finaled it, so what is Duncan Hunter’s problem on this?

MAY: You know, again, and Duncan Hunter has a son who’s a marine.

BEINART: So does Joe Biden. That is not a statement about whether it is right or wrong.

MAY: Peter, I’m not questioning Joe Biden’s motives. You’re questioning Duncan Hunter’s motives and that…

BEINART: I’m saying that one person should not be able to stand up — when a majority of Congress wants this, the president wants this, the Joint Chiefs of Staff want it, and we’ve had 18 months of the 9/11 Commission, it is time to vote.

MAY: The Joint Chiefs of Staff was against it until just recently. And now their concerns have been addressed and that’s a good thing. That’s what comes out of debate. This idea that the Congress, a co-equal branch of government, should simply salute and say, OK, if that’s what the commission says, we will do it, is wrong. Take a little time to have the debate and address the concerns of serious people.

BLITZER: Will there be a deal in the next day or so?

MAY: It sounds like from what you guys and Ed Henry have been reporting that it is very, very close and there’s a real possibility. I’m more optimistic now than I was a week ago.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BEINART: It needs to get done. If we go next year, we’ll have to start all the way from scratch at the beginning. Who knows where we’ll get. It has to be done this session.

BLITZER: Let’s switch gears because we only have a few moments left. In Ohio, the election is over, 120,000 or so vote — he won — Bush over John Kerry by 120,000 votes. What is the issue? Why, as far as you can understand, are people still questioning the presidential contest in Ohio and there are all sorts of lawsuits under way right now.

BEINART: I don’t know to be honest. What I do know is that it makes sense to count these provisional ballots. That makes sense.

BLITZER: They counted them.

BEINART: That’s right. And once you’ve done — if there are legitimate concerns, obviously they should be addressed. Obviously the Democrats and the Kerry campaign are not challenging this election. It is over. If there are reasonable issues, judges can sort them out but it basically is an afterthought now, I think. MAY: But you know, I think that those who are just picking at this, there are those who just cannot give up the idea that they were able to redefeat Bush, as they said. That’s what this is about. And it is time to move on from this pretty soon because this election was won. It was won fair and square. And we even know some of the reasons based on Democratic polls in Ohio, most of the Democrats there who voted for Bush believed that he was right, that Iraq was part of the war on terrorism and that’s why he actually (ph) won.

BLITZER: Do you think the Democrats — a lot of Democrats, Kerry supporters are kicking themselves? One hundred and twenty thousand — 119,000 vote difference in Ohio, relatively small number. Had they spent some more money, and Kerry did emerge from this with, what, $10 million unspent that he could have spent in Ohio, for example, that even though they would have lost the popular vote he would have carried the Electoral College if he would’ve gotten another 60,000, 70,000 votes in Ohio.

BEINART: Absolutely. You know, it is really remarkable that they left the end of this campaign without spending that money given how close a race it was. And I think it is one symptom, at least, of a campaign that was not managed and run as well as the Bush campaign, no question about it.

MAY: But there was a problem with this campaign from a messaging point of view. And the best authority I know of on this is Peter Beinart who is current issue of “The New Republic” has a masterful article by him saying what was wrong with the Kerry campaign and what’s wrong with the Democratic Party when it comes to national security. And I agree with most of it. And people should read the article.

BLITZER: Cliff May, sucking up to “The New Republic”…

BEINART: I was going to say.


BLITZER: You better come back next week and do something nice for…

BEINART: You write some great things, too.

BLITZER: Peter Beinart, Cliff May, thanks very much.