FTN - 3/30-03, Part II

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BOB SCHIEFFER, Chief Washington Correspondent: You're watching a special edition of Face The Nation: America At War.

And welcome back to our special one-hour edition of Face The Nation. It has been fairly quiet overnight in Baghdad, but we want to talk now to some of the reporters who are covering this war. We talked just a little while ago with "New York Times foreign correspondent John Burns."

You'll remember, he has been in Baghdad throughout all of this. We asked him this morning about what Iraqi officials are now telling him about this new Iraqi threat of widespread suicide attacks.

JOHN BURNS, "The New York Times": Well, the most sobering encounter of all that we have had, and that was with Taha Yassin Ramadan, the vice president, the number three or arguably even the number two man to Saddam Hussein, who came to the hotel last night in his uniform, the green uniform that the Iraqi leaders wear, and spoke at great length with great anger and great conviction about how Iraq was now fully embracing the notion of what we would call suicide bombers. Of course they call it martyrs. How the soldier, the non-commissioned officer, as he called him, al-Namani, who killed four American soldiers at a checkpoint outside Najaf yesterday while posing as a taxi driver, how he had been awarded two posthumous medals by Saddam Hussein, and how there were many, many more people, including many Arabs arriving from the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, who were going to form battalions of suicide bombers.

It was quite disturbing to hear this put in this way, and also to be justified by Mr. Ramadan. He said, `To us they aren't suicide bombers. They are in a dignified and ancient Islamic tradition of martyrdom.' I think you can take a back reading from all of this, and that is -- in fact, you didn't even have to take a back reading. He said that they know that this is a war which on a conventional basis, they have no hope of winning. He says -- I'm paraphrasing, but these are almost exactly his words: `Look, you know, the B-52s, they can fly over here and kill 500 people at any moment. What are we to do? Are we to wait until we have our own B-52s and we have our own bombs? No. We'll do what we can now, and what we can do,' he said, `for every 500 they kill with a B-52, we can kill 5,000.'

SCHIEFFER: John, do you get any sense -- you say that this is the most wired war of all, and I certainly agree with that. But do you get any sense that the citizens of Baghdad are preparing now for a siege?

BURNS: Oh, absolutely. As a matter of fact, another thing that is visible today, we were taken out to two of the bombing sites overnight, two telephone exchanges. Interesting in themselves because these bombs, very big bombs, that were dropped on these telephone exchanges, which tend to be in residential neighborhoods, in one case right next to the biggest cardiac hospital in Iraq, utterly devastated the telephone exchanges and caused nothing other than minor collateral damage to buildings which were as little as 50 feet away.

But in the course of those trips today, I noticed for the first time the evidence of paramilitaries all over the city in the form of white pickup trucks -- white Nissan pickup trucks with red slashes on the side, which were being imported -- I spoke with Dan Rather about this last night -- they were being imported in the hundreds, I would say thousands last autumn. And we were told at the time, because we could see them at the border coming in from Jordan, that these brand-new vehicles were gifts from Saddam Hussein on the occasion of his re-election as president to the people of Iraq.

But we now know what they were. These are the combat vehicles of the new Iraqi army. These are the vehicles in which the Fedayeen, the martyrs of God, ride around. Some of them are now being -- have mud caked all over them. Many of them, brand new, now have machine guns on the back of them. You can see them lurking in various parts of the city, and in far greater numbers than we've ever seen them before. One of them today beside a highway on our way out to Adamiya, the suburb where one of the telephone exchanges was destroyed. I could see beside the road they'd taken palm fronds, 15-, 20-foot palm fronds and laid them all along the sides of the vehicles to disguise them obviously from air attack.

SCHIEFFER: John, obviously you're in the enemy capital. Everything you say is being monitored. When you speak to me, you're clearly aware of that. But do you get the feeling that the Iraqi people believe that Saddam Hussein is in control now?

BURNS: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I think one thing we've learned, and this may explain exactly why the generals in the Pentagon, the White House and I have to be honest the correspondent of The New York Times in Iraq, myself, over the last few months now believe that's still the likely cause of this war.

I think we all thought that it was likely to be brief because we all thought that this was a government that had long since exhausted its popular support. What we should have done is taken more seriously our own estimation of Saddam Hussein; that is to say as a leader who has the tightest possible grip on this society and who has engendered in his people the deepest possible anxiety and fear.

And as a result of this, although the government has been progressively degraded physically by bombing, most of the government ministries are empty, most of the civil servants have fled, the mechanisms by which this society is controlled -- and I'm talking now about the agencies we don't see; we're talking about the intelligence and security agencies -- those agencies clearly are operating still and they are enough to inhibit any kind of popular uprising, anything but the most total compliance.

So I think that if the United States is going to win this war, it's going to have to do it with its allies of Great Britain and Australia, and it cannot hope, in my view, to be assisted in any degree by the Iraqi people themselves.

SCHIEFFER: John, you're a brave man. I want to thank you for being with us today. Keep up the good work.

And that was John Burns, the correspondent for "The New York Times" who's been in Baghdad throughout all of this.

We want to go now to CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod. He is with the 3rd Infantry near Najaf. Now he's with the division where those four Americans were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a taxi filled with explosives. We asked him what the impact of that attack has had on the troops there.

JIM AXELROD, CBS News: : Well, I guess you could describe the impact as divided into sort of two categories. A lot of 18-, 19- 20-year-old soldiers here; this is their first time in combat, and frankly, the reaction was anger. However, the officers, to a man, have said it's their job to temper the anger and to make sure that it doesn't spill over.

What this comes down to, essentially, is a very delicate act of making sure that the Iraqis who are not involved in this battle, the regular, everyday Iraqi not involved in any way in the war, that their life can be lived as relatively unimpeded as possible.

However, that has to be weighed against the safety and security of the troops. In other words, they've now taken these checkpoints and made them into roadblocks. There's no passing through anymore.

There's a sign up there that says, `Turn around or you will be shot.' That means, for instance, water can't get into some of these villages. That means the people can't leave to go to work outside these villages, but because the safety and security of the troops is at issue, those are the kinds of decisions that are being made. That's the kind of balancing act that the commanders here are trying to get right. Bob.

SCHIEFFER: What do you think is ahead for your troops there, Jim? What happens next?

AXELROD: Well, they are in a sort of holding pattern, as I'm sure you've been hearing. Much of the military is kind of making sure that the supply route will be relatively safe and secure, and so while that happens, the members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team are taking care of lots of the sort of maintenance issues, making sure they're ready for the next push. When that comes, of course, we can't say, but they are sitting here making sure that when the order does come, they are ready to move and move quickly, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: OK. Thank you, buddy. Keep up the good work.

And that was Jim Axelrod. We want to go next to our CBS News White House Correspondent, John Roberts. He, of course, these days is with the 1st Marine Division north of An Nasiriyah. They've been busy the last couple of days trying to distribute humanitarian aid, and we asked him about that.

JOHN ROBERTS, CBS News: The last couple of days, and for the next few days, or in the days ahead, at least, there seems to be a focus on humanitarian assistance.

We went out to a couple of villages today where the Marines were delivering humanitarian daily rations, getting to know some of the local folks, and this really works on a couple of levels. It helps that the locals, who have had a difficult time getting supplies because of interruptions from the war, and it also sort of builds a friendship between the Marines and the locals, because there is still a lot of pockets of Iraqi resistance here, a lot of Ba'ath Party leaders who are trying to convince the Shiites, under threat of death, some of them, to take on the Americans.

The zone that we're in continues to be hostile, though, Bob. As a matter of fact, just a few minutes ago we were handed a pick and a shovel and told to dig a fighting hole just on the perchance that maybe there are some hostile forces out there that want to take a shot at the Marines and the position that we're in.

SCHIEFFER: Well, I don't want to hold you up from that, John, but as you're going out and seeing these local folks, what kind of reception are the Marines getting now?

ROBERTS: Well, for the most part, Bob -- and you don't know if they're just saying what the Marines want to hea r- -but for the most part, we get the idea that they're pretty happy to see the Marines there, that they are happy that they're taking on Saddam.

But the one thing that we get from everybody is in 1991, the United States helped unleash a revolution in this southern part of Iraq, mostly Shiites section of Iraq, against the Ba'ath regime and Saddam Hussein, and then they just left them to their own devices.

The one thing that we get today, in this war, is that if the United States is here to depose Saddam, it needs to depose Saddam. It can't let the Shiites out there twisting in the wind again as it did 12 years ago.

SCHIEFFER: OK. John, we'll let you get to dig in your hole there. Thanks so much.

And with us now two men who know something about digging a hole and getting in it.

Former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, Navy secretary during the Reagan administration, but during Vietnam, a US Marine. And Mike Vickers, a former Special Forces officer.

Joining in the questioning here Dana Priest of "The Washington Post."

Mr. Webb, let me start with you. You have heard what was said here, and I would also point out that your hawk credentials are pretty substantial. I don't think anybody ever accused you of being anything but pretty much a military hawk all the way back to Vietnam. But you've been dubious from the beginning about this whole enterprise. Why?

JAMES WEBB, Former Navy Secretary: I think I have to go back to the time when I covered the Marines in Beirut 20 years ago for "MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour."

I left Beirut right before the bombing occurred and I came back with three very strong feelings about this particular region, that the United States has to be extremely careful in this region.

The first was that we have to deal with international terrorism. We have to deal with it aggressively. And it took us a long time to begin doing that. And in many ways, this sort of thing, it tends to work against what we are wanting to do in international terrorism.

You see even yesterday the idea that now we have al Qaeda inside Iraq. They have fixed targets now that they can go after in the region.

The second feeling that I came away from that experience with, which sustained me during the crisis when I was secretary of the Navy and afterwards, is that we must address the Palestinian situation. And the failure to have done that in a positive way over the years has encouraged a lot of activity against us and may continue to do so.

The third feeling that I had that I feel very strongly about and I've written about is that we should not be occupying territory in that region for long periods of time. It sets us up and it also detracts from our ability to do things in other parts of the world strategically. So I've been very worried about the way this has progressed as much looking at the aftermath as the war itself.

SCHIEFFER: All right. We're there. All of the above noted, but we are there now. What do we do next?

WEBB: Well, I think that it's very important to let the military commanders fight the fight, and after that, hopefully, to get out as soon as we can. You know, I -- the idea of having a-- I wrote in a piece for "The Washington Post" last September that -- that when people were talking about this so-called McCartharian Regency in Baghdad that would be imposed, that putting our people there is going to end up leaving us with 50,000 terrorist targets. We now also see the possibility of a renewed round.

You're going to see something actually on "60 Minutes" tonight I noticed from the Atayollah Hakeem, the leader of the Shia resistance who has already warned that if we stay after Saddam Hussein is deposed, that he will encourage the Shia in the south here to actively work against us.

The other thing that I would hope that we could be doing now rather than later is vocally and openly addressing the need for a resolution of the Palestinian situation which may take the sting out of some of the resistance that we are seeing.

DANA PRIEST, "The Washington Post": You've been listening to the casualty figures coming from Central Command as we have. Do they ring accurate to you, any issues that you want to address?

WEBB: I'm having a little trouble figuring this out, and I think people who have been on that kind of a battlefield, the anti-guerrilla, day-to-day sustained operations battlefield, tend to know what to look for. And my first reaction was maybe the reporters out there were sort of over-reporting the nature of the contact. I tend not to think so. I'm wondering whether or not th -- particularly the number of woundeds are being underreported.

There are ways to do that with semantics. It was done during Vietnam. For instance, when they separated out wounded in action evac from a wounded in action nonevac but you could blur the definition of what an evac or a non-evac was, then the wounded numbers seemed to be very low. Generally, you're going to see about eight to one in this type of combat; eight wounded to one killed.

PRIEST: Why would anybody underreport such a thing?

WEBB: I don't know. I just think the best thing to do is to ask the Pentagon for a complete breakdown of killed; killed in action, killed by other causes, wounded in action, wounded in action, evaced, non-evaced, where they are. I think it's important for us to understand the war.

SCHIEFFER: Let's let's bring Mike Vickers into this. I guess the question I would ask you -- I mean, you've been in some tight spots. You're a former Special Forces guy. You were in the CIA. Is this unfolding the way you thought it was gonna unfold?
And I guess I would ask, are you as gloomy about us being there as Secretary Webb seems to be?

MIKE VICKERS, Military Analyst; Former Special Forces Officer: Well, I think, number one, the initial CENTCOM plan, developed a year ago, forecasted that we would be in -- 60 miles from Baghdad in 4 to 7 days. We reached that in four days. There were talk about Saddam doing a scorched earth policy of a lot of the oil fields. That hasn't happened. There haven't been Scud attacks on Israel.

There have been as you know, a number of attacks on the rear with Saddam's Fedayeen, but in a way it's better to fight them now, have them come out in the open, and charge our positions, in some cases, with trucks, where they've been slaughtered by the bushelful, than to fight them later in the occupation.

PRIEST: Now on the other hand, haven't they been a little bit surprised by the Fedayeen and unconventional tactics? How do you think our troops -- how would you expect our troops to be better adapting to that sort of force?

VICKERS: Well, I think we're having to shore up rear areas of security and a couple of brigades have recently gone in to do that, the 82nd and a brigade of the 101st.

And my understanding is the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment is due to be in theater shortly. Also the seizing of airfields in southern Iraq where you can fly A-10s out of or you can have AC-130s and attack helicopters up along the supply line would help pretty substantially. And so this problem may abate.

We've also bombed a lot of Ba'ath Party headquarters recently.

PRIEST: But is it likely you'll get into urban -- really, the worst-case scenario, urban fighting, house-to-house type thing? We've already seen some of that. Do you think that'll...

VICKERS: Well, a lot of the cities have been bypassed and it's something we're trying to avoid because there have been, you know, tanks in hospitals and mosques and, you know, military equipment in mosques and schools and, you know, it conflicts with the strategy. Of course, we could have some of that in Baghdad, but Saddam seems to have done us a huge favor by making his main conventional defense outside of Baghdad, 50 miles south and 50 miles north.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask both of you, what do you make of this criticism we're hearing, both on the record and off the record, from generals on active duty who seem to be saying that the secretary of Defense has been meddling in military matters, that the military people -- decisions they ought to be making -- that he has tried to send too small a force in there. Mike, why do you think we're hearing all of this?

VICKERS: Well, I think there's some unhappiness with the plan, and there's been some tension between, particularly, between the Army and the civilian leadership for quite a while, going back to the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, the cancellation of the Crusader artillery system.

It's interesting in a sense that you hear less complaints coming out of the Marines who have borne the brunt of the guerrilla fighting to date than you have from Army people back here in Washington. I'm an ex-Army officer, but it perplexes me.

The other thing that I think is odd is that the deployment hasn't changed.

It -- you know, if you really had a problem with (unintelligible) security, we could fly in more troops. We're not doing that. And so that suggests a fairly high level of confidence at CENTCOM.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me ask Jim Webb. You were both a military man, you were in the Marines, later you were a civilian official in the Pentagon. Has the secretary of Defense meddled where he should not have?

WEBB: Well, I think perhaps in the next few days you'll get more information on that from the people who are actually involved.

I do know that for the last year I've heard from people who I have a great deal of regard for, military uniformed people who love their country, that they've had some frustrations on that level. But I'm not the one to really answer that.

One thing that I think should be said, however, though, is that this administration has allowed people like Richard Perle who for decades has shown a disdain for the uniformed military to go out and use their titles, these quasi-titles, and in a way be speaking for the administration and in a sense stirring up the public optimism that that shouldn't have been there for a very quick war. And they never tamped him down. So they have to accept the responsibility in some sense for those sorts of acts.

SCHIEFFER: Gentlemen, thank you very much. That adds a lot of perspective, I think, to what we're seeing. We're going to continue with this expanded edition of FACE THE NATION after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHIEFFER: We continue our discussion now of the war on Iraq with CBS News Middle East expert Fouad Ajami, a man we often turn to when there's trouble in that part of the world; in fact, in any part of the world.

Fouad, let's start with the Arab reaction. How do you judge the way the rest of the Arab world seems to be viewing this right now?

FOUAD AJAMI, Johns Hopkins University; CBS News Middle East Analyst: Well, Bob, there is really no surprise in the Arab response. We went into the Arab world in the deep grip of anti-Americanism. We were never going to be heralded and welcomed and we were never going to be sanctioned in terms of what we were doing in Iraq in the wider Arab world.

But let's not forget one thing. Look at this war. This war is being waged out of the Arab world. Invading army, our forces are coming from Kuwait, from the south. Our Special Forces are operating in western Iraq because they were in Jordan. The Central Command is in Doha. Our supplies were sent through the Suez Canal, through Egyptian territory. Our Tomahawk missiles are being fired through Saudi airspace. So there is a split between the enmity we see on the street and the real cooperation we're getting from the Arab governments.

That is a persistent Arab feature and a persistent Arab problem.

PRIEST: what do you think the U.S. could do now to mitigate the split that you talk about and the boiling over of sentiment in the Arab street among the population?

AJAMI: Well, Ms. Priest, that's a good question. I think fundamentally we have to win this war fast. I mean, there is -- I've talked to many Arabs quietly who will tell you, `Look, the--the ferocity of this war is less important than the duration of the war.'

The longer Saddam Hussein hangs around, the more dangerous it is for his neighbors. So really it's basically we have to live with this anti-Americanism. It's the congenital condition of the Arab world and we have to discount a good deal of it as we press on with the task of liberating the Iraqis. And fundamentally it will be the Iraqis who will one--when it matters and when they're fully liberated and when they believe it's safe to tell us what they think who will vindicate our campaign in the eyes of other Arabs.

SCHIEFFER: Well, as--as you well know, Fouad, we kept hearing before all of this that once we got into Iraq, that the Iraqi citizens would be out throwing rose petals in the paths of our soldiers as they came in.

AJAMI: Right.

SCHIEFFER: And clearly that has not happened. You just heard General Myers say that one reason that has not happened is simply because of fear of Saddam Hussein.

Should we have expected that kind of a reaction?

AJAMI: Well, Bob, we're really going into our ownmemories, if you will. What we did to the Iraqis a dozen years ago when we called upon the Shia and the Kurds to rebel, they rebelled and we left them high and dry. And we left them to the tender mercy of Saddam Hussein.

I genuinely believe and still believe when we have that seminal moment, when the Iraqis are really convinced that Saddam has been killed, that the regime has been decapitated, then we will see the Iraqis tell us what they genuinely think of our campaign. It would be good in the long run.

But given what we did to the Iraqis and given the death squads that still are in their midst and given the fact that southern Iraq, which is Shiia country for the most part, is occupied country and that these people fear the Republican Guard and the enforcers of the Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein, these results and this silence, if you will, the sounds of silence in southern Iraq are easy to understand and sympathize with.

SCHIEFFER: You have watched Saddam Hussein for a long time. What do you think his reaction will be when we make this final push on Baghdad?

AJAMI: Well, that's the big speculation, if you will, trying to understand the mind of this man.

I generally believe his strategy has been the same, which is to make this war a lengthy war, to make this war a costly war. This man genuinely believes that we have no stomach for this campaign. So I think he just thinks by hanging around, by making sure that there are demonstrations in the Arab street and demonstrations in Berlin and Paris and Milan, that somehow or another we will spare him as we spared him a decade ago. He has no other strategy. It is just the past which is hopefully that we will lose interest in him and we will not be willing to pay the price that we have to pay to unseat him.

SCHIEFFER: About 30 seconds. Dana.

PRIEST: U.S. forces met their first suicide bomber yesterday.

AJAMI: Yes.

PRIEST: Do you think they'll meet more, and will they be Iraqis and non-Iraqis as well?

AJAMI: Well, I am a child of Beirut, and the seminal moment that Secretary Webb talked about, the Marine barracks -- I think we will meet these incidents. It's the price of this campaign. It's written into this campaign.

SCHIEFFER: Fouad, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

AJAMI: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: We're going to continue this expanded edition of Face The Nation, and I'll have a final comment after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHIEFFER: Finally today, the kindest way to put it is to say the White House got caught last week with its talking points down. All week, officials told reporters the president had not been keeping up with the war on television. That's standard practice in a political campaign. Image makers never want us to believe their man keeps up with news coverage. Admit that and they have to admit he's aware of what the critics
are saying, and they would have you believe he's above all that.

But now we know, courtesy of Elizabeth Buemeller of "The New York Times," the president has been watching TV. One of the president's oldest friends told her the president, as any intelligent person would, checks television frequently to get war updates and that he laughed when he heard a reporter quote White House officials who said he didn't watch TV.

Now that's small stuff, but it's another indication that the government's official spokesmen, military and civilian, are too often putting out political spin instead of information.

I believe we had no choice but to disarm Saddam, but rallying public support with all that spin in the beginning about how easy it would be worried me from the start. That's why it bothered me when the Army's top ground commander in Iraq said the enemy was not reacting the way we expected and official spokesmen dismissed his comments as if he were a campaign operative who had gotten off message. One official spokesman even suggested the general didn't have the big picture. Excuse me? The top ground commander didn't have the big picture?

If the administration wants to be believed, and that will be necessary to hold public support, the message it needs to stay on is to forget the spin, acknowledge mistakes, stick to the truth, then get on with winning the war.

This is a war, not a campaign, and Americans know the difference.

That's it for us. We'll see you next week right here on Face The Nation.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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