BOB SCHIEFFER, Chief Washington Correspondent: Today on Face The Nation, where are the weapons of mass destruction? Did the Bush administration hype intelligence reports? Did the government overplay the existence of huge amounts of weapons in Iraq? And given the deaths of nine Americans there last week, is the war really over? We'll ask Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Then we'll turn to the Democratic Party itself. Where does it go from here? What's the message and where's the unity? We'll talk with Mark Warner, governor of Virginia, former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta, and writer E.J. Dionne, who's writing a book about the Democrats.
I'll have a final word on obituaries. But first, Iraq and Senator Joe Biden on Face The Nation.
ANNOUNCER: Face The Nation with CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.
And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.
SCHIEFFER: Good morning again.
And with us now from his home state in Wilmington, Delaware, Senator Joe Biden. Senator Biden, let's get right to it.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, D-DE, Ranking Member, Foreign Relations Committee: Ok, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: I'm sure you would agree with me and I think most people would say that the world is probably better off without Saddam Hussein. But...
SCHIEFFER: ...that is not the justification that this administration used for going into Iraq. It was not the justification that they used when they asked the Congress to approve military action there. Is -- the justification was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a grave threat to this country. But no weapons of mass destruction have been found. And the topic here in Washington, as you know, over these past couple of weeks is: If the administration was so certain that the weapons were there, why have they been unable to find them?
What is your take on all this at this point?
BIDEN: Well, let me back up. My take is that it was a declaration prior to the inspectors leaving in the late '90s by the world community at the UN, inspectors, that there were X number of liters and tons, etc., of biological and chemical weapons with a nuclear program, a nascent nuclear program that had been started but had stopped. Then when it came time during the negotiation, if you call it that, to get Saddam to yield up those weapons, he neither gave an explanation for how he destroyed them, if he destroyed them, nor did he give an explanation as to whether or not he still had had them. So it was reasonable to presume that he had them, in my view.
In addition to that, what did get hyped, though, in my view, I believed -- on your program I've spoken on this at the time -- that I thought the hyping the prospect of him having nuclear capability -- I never saw any evidence he had that at all. But there was a concern on the part of many of us that if he left unfettered for another five years with the billions of dollars in revenue he had, that he would get such a program.
But two things I think the administration hyped: One was the connection to al Qaeda.
And two, the prospects of nuclear weapons on the horizon.
And three, their absolute certainty that they had some sense that they knew where these weapons were.
SCHIEFFER: Well, do you think this was hyping that was done deliberately? Do you think somebody misread the intelligence, or did just somebody make a mistake?
BIDEN: I think it was, by the political side of this, hyped in the same way that Bush one hyped what was going on in Kuwait relative to the royal family and torturing and babies being killed, etc.
I think it happens all the time on the eve of war. And what really confused things was the neoconservatives in the administration, they wanted to go in no matter what. As Wolfowitz was quoted as having said in a major Vanity Fair article, he said "It was the bureaucratic rationale for going in," meaning the only thing everyone in the administration, from Powell to Rumsfeld, could agree upon -- that is, that nuclear weapons as a potential; biological and chemical weapons in fact, were a justification to move.
But you had half the administration, even if they had no weapons whatsoever, would have wanted to move anyway. So I think that's where the confusion came and I think that's where the hype became part of the drumbeat.
SCHIEFFER: Do you think there ought to be a congressional investigation of this?
BIDEN: Oh, I believe there will be. I think the appropriate mechanism to do that is the intelligence committees. You know, the agency itself is saying it's going to do a thorough review. It will remain to be seen whether or not they, in fact, do do that, if they're able to be self-critical. But I think it cannot go uninvestigated, because, look, big nations have two things. They have their word and their credibility, and beyond their power. And, you know, our credibility is going to be called in question in other parts of the world, and so now you're already seeing the case being made about Iran's nuclear weapons and biological weapons, etc. It's going to be harder even if it isn't true, and their nuclear program is real.
Whether or not you're going to be able to convince the American people, let alone other people around the world, that Iran is a, quote, unquote, "looming threat" with regard to weapons of mass destruction -- so it's important to get this straight.
And we apparently, Bob -- and your own folks have uncovered the fact that some of the compounds we thought were bunkers, Saddam bunkers and were Saddam residences, etc., turned out not to be that at all. So clearly, our intelligence was lacking.
SCHIEFFER: Well, you bring up a very interesting point, because the story you referred to is our Pentagon Correspondent David Martin's story.
David is in Baghdad right now and last week went to that compound that we all heard about, where the administration said they had information that Saddam Hussein was there, and that's why they started the bombing ahead of schedule. David goes there and interviewed both CIA officials and one U.S. military official, who said they have searched all that area.
They know where the bombs hit. The bombs hit they were supposed to hit, but they can't find any compound there. They say there was no compound there, which raises another question, it seems to me.
And now on top of that, you have these stories that keep coming out about what were the circumstances about that rescue effort involving Private Lynch, Jessica Lynch, that we all know about, and there's no question that risks were taken when those military officials went there. But now we're hearing stories that, in fact, they faced no resistance whatsoever; that, in fact, the doctors just handed her over to the Americans and they went back to the base camp. Well, that's not at all the kind of story that we got at the time. It raises, as you say, the question of credibility. You believe that there was some sort of deliberate campaign to lie to people about this...
BIDEN: I want to make...
SCHIEFFER: ...and things that happened there?
BIDEN: Assumption is the mother of all mess-ups here, but I want to make clear that we cannot -- we have to distinguish -- and I'm not suggesting you're doing anything other than this -- between the actual work on the ground of our military and the soldiers who fought and the bravery they exhibited. And to the extent there is any hyping, it was not done by the folks out there risking and losing their lives.
But I do think that there appears to have been -- which is normal in every war that -- that I, in 30 years, have been any part of as a United States senator, where the administration in charge tries to take whatever will give the best bump to what's going on -- you know, the most hype they can get.
Apparently -- and I don't know -- that may have been done on the Jessica Lynch story, not by the rescuers, not by those special forces that went in, but by the official spokespersons for the administration describing what happened. And I think that's unfortunate. And what happens; then everything else sort of gets skewered.
Right now, for example, the president still hasn't told the American people what you and I both know and everybody else knows who covers this: that we're going to keep tens of thousands of forces in Iraq for a long time to come. So these things sort of pile up. And I think we underestimate the ability of the American people to accept the -- you know, the raw, straight facts. And as a consequence of not giving them the straight facts sometimes, we make it harder to make the legitimate cases that we have to make that are hard to swallow because they're painful. And it's not good, but it's not fatal.
SCHIEFFER: In our next segment, we're going to talk about the future of the Democratic Party, what the party needs to do to be competitive. Some people say it's going in all directions. So I would close by asking you this question: There was a lot of speculation for a time that you intended to seek the Democratic nomination this time. But now people are saying, `Well, apparently he's not going to. He's waited too late.' Is that still something that you're thinking about?
BIDEN: Yes. They may be right. I have said from the beginning I'll make that decision in the early fall. If it is true that that is too late, then so be it. I believe it will not be too late to make that decision. I remind people Clinton didn't announce when he won until October of that year.
I think it's unfair to characterize all these guys who are out there now as not packing material. There's nothing they can do at all to demonstrate to people that they're qualified to be president now in the context in which they have to now compete. And so I think as I think, as to paraphrase Clemens, I think the reports of the demise of the Democratic Party are very premature.
SCHIEFFER: And also overstated is that Joe Biden has already decided not to run. You're still thinking about it, you still might do it?
SCHIEFFER: All right. Thank you very much, Senator. Glad to have you this morning.
BIDEN: Thank you. Appreciate it.
SCHIEFFER: We'll be back in a minute to talk about the problems facing the Democratic Party.
SCHIEFFER: Well, we've heard a lot from Republicans lately. That always happens when Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress.
Today we're going to talk some about the Democrats and where their party goes from here. We have three leading Democrats, as it were. From Jackson, Mississippi, Virginia Governor Mark Warner; from Monterey, California, Leon Panetta, who, of course, was White House chief of staff when President Bill Clinton was in the White House; and E.J. Dionne, columnist for The Washington Post and somewhat of a theorist, I would say, and an expert on the Democratic Party.
We're going to kick around politics a little. Governor Warner, let me start with you. You're down there in Mississippi. You made a speech last night. And I noticed one of the things that you said was that people can like NASCAR and they can go hunting and they can still vote Democratic. You also said, though, that the party is not going to be able to move forward in every discussion if it turns out to be about abortion and guns. So I would ask you, does that mean that Democrats should abandon any kind of stance that calls for any kind of gun controls, like the ban on assault weapons, for example? Does it also mean that Democrats should no longer be pro-choice?
GOV. MARK WARNER, D-VA: No, Bob. I am pro-choice. I just think that we can't start every discussion with social issues dominating. I think throughout much of America, particularly rural America and rural Virginia, where I did very well, Democratic message about opportunity, about allowing your children to stay in the community they grew up in and bring them a good job there is a powerful, powerful message. But if you get tied up in the social issues all the time as the precursor, you never even get to that message of hope and opportunity.
SCHIEFFER: Well, you...
WARNER: My goal In our campaign, was to make sure that we understood that our cultural values as Virginia Democrats was no different than the values that the vast majority of Virginians had.
SCHIEFFER: Well, there's no question that you were successful in a place where it's hard for a Democrat to be successful these days. I guess the last time Virginia went a Democratic in a presidential campaign was 1964 if memory serves.
WARNER: That's right.
SCHIEFFER: But when you say you can't start every discussion with social issues, the problem, it seems to me, is that the Republicans will start the discussion with those issues when they take on Democrats.
How do you get by that? How do you counter that?
WARNER: Well, I laid out my position. I said I was a supporter of choice and that I was a supporter of Second Amendment rights. I actively went after, for example, gun owners. We had a very active "Sportsmen For Warner" organization. Then we moved right, more importantly, into the discussion of: 'All right. What can I do to appeal to people who live in rural communities? What message' -- and our message of hope was, 'How do you make sure that your kid doesn't have to pick up and move away -- in our state, for example, to northern Virginia -- 'to get a good job? How do you bring that economic opportunity, those job skills, to prepare them for a knowledge-based economy?'
That kind of message of optimism, that kind of message that says, 'Democrats are about providing that hope, those job skills, the preparation for a knowledge-based economy,' it's something I think we need to get back to talking about on a national level.
SCHIEFFER: Leon Panetta, your old boss, President Clinton, said that Democrats need to match the Republicans on national security and then go after them on other issues.
We now have a president who's presided over a successful military operation. At least it appears successful so far in Iraq, but again, as we were talking about with Senator Biden, these weapons of mass destruction that were supposed to have been in Iraq have not been found as yet. I was wondering if President Clinton confronted some of these same things. What do you make of these intelligence reports? Do you think that the Republicans deliberately hyped them? Do you think there were mistakes there? You confronted some of these same intelligence reports, I would guess.
LEON PANETTA, Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff: Well, we did, Bob. We received many of the same intelligence reports during the early part of the Clinton administration with regards to Iraq's capacity on chemical and biological weapons and the fact that they had the capacity ultimately to try to work on developing nuclear weapons. So we were receiving, I think, very much the same kind of intelligence that this administration was receiving.
But having said that, there's no question now that there clearly appears to be an intelligence failure, certainly in the facts leading up to the war. But I think you could say right now that by the mere fact that we're struggling to try to determine just exactly what happened to these weapons -- where are they, where were they located -- I think that in and of itself is an intelligence failure.
SCHIEFFER: Just from standpoint of politics, is it good politics for the Democrats to raise questions about this?
PANETTA: There's no question that I think the Democrats have to work with the Republicans on the issue of determining just exactly what took place here. But I think what has to be stressed by Democrats is, yes, national security and the capacity of Democrats to be able to stand for protecting this country and protecting the security of this country.
But more importantly, I think we have to show that our goal, as far as the United States, is to make it a world leader -- not an empire but a world leader. And that's an area that I think Democrats can be very strong in. I think Bill Clinton showed that kind of leadership in working with our allies. I think that's the kind of message where Democrats frankly can score some points on the national security issue.
SCHIEFFER: E.J., you have been following Democratic politics for a long, long time. I would say you're an expert...
E.J. DIONNE, The Washington Post: : Bless you for that.
SCHIEFFER: …frankly on Democratic politics. As I look at what's ahead for the Democrats over the next year, I find that Republicans have created a very impressive infrastructure, if that's the word for it. You have some very good people, public relations people who are pretty good at putting out spin. You have a lot of talk radio, cable television, research institutes lobbying networks that all come together and form quite an echo chamber, as it were, for getting the Republican message out. I'm not sure the Democrats have anything at this point that's as good as that on their side.
DIONNE: I think every honest Democrat that I've ever talk to says exactly that. One I talked to last week, a senator said that Democrats are 25 years behind Republicans in building this network that ranges from talk radio to research institutes.
But I also think there's a problem in the leadership of the party. Democrats spend so much time saying who they're not that, voters have lost a sense of who they are. You know, they keep saying that they're not soft on crime, they're not soft on family values, they're not tax-and-spend liberals.
Well, what are they? It sounds like they're running away from ghosts.
A CBS News-New York Times poll asked Americans which party do they have a sense of where to lead the country. Fifty-three percent said they knew where Republicans wanted to lead the country. Only 40 percent said that of Democrats. And I think that's a problem.
If I could direct a question to your guests.
DIONNE: The New York Times after that poll interviewed a 50-year-old woman called Wendy Satterford from San Diego. And this is what she said. She said, 'The Republicans have a clear view of what they want and are effective in promoting it. The Democrats don't have a clear vision. They seem afraid of the electorate and the apparent rising tide of conservatism. They don't seem to be able to speak out even for middle-of-the-road things.'
I'd love to ask your guests: how do they respond to her because I think that's a fair critique.
SCHIEFFER: Governor Warner?
WARNER: Well, let me say where I think -- I hope Democrats will be headed over the next 18 months. I think we do have to be strong on national defense. I think we can't walk away from that. I think we also have to articulate a better position frankly on homeland security than what the administration has. Now that means not only support for first responders but it also means finding a way to engage the public in homeland security.
For example, in Virginia we created something called Virginia Corps. It's in effect a kind of 21st century civil defense group where we bring neighborhoods and communities into that whole activity of homeland security. I think it's very important.
I think we have to take a very strong stand on fiscal responsibility. The fact of the matter is with the administration's tax cuts, we're going to see deficits as far as the eye can see. The very same people who a decade ago were bemoaning these deficits as saying they were mortgaging our kids' future, now have fallen silent. Democrats have to be the party of fiscal responsibility.
We also have to be, again, the party of some level of hope and opportunity. If we don't come back to the message that I think President Clinton and other Democrats have had in the past that said we're rushing into a knowledge-based economy. We've got to be the party that helps provide our people with the job skills they need to compete in that knowledge-based economy.
SCHIEFFER: OK. And quickly...
WARNER: So strong on the internationally, fiscally responsible, and that message of hope and opportunity in terms of how you get the skills to compete in the 21st century economy. I think that's what Democrats ought to be about.
SCHIEFFER: Let's give Mr. Panetta one last word here.
PANETTA: Well, I think the key is that Democrats have to appeal to the average working family, to their concerns and to their hopes for the future.
This administration clearly is leaning towards their interests, towards the wealthy. This tax cut is probably the greatest example of that. I think what Democrats have to represent is that we want to provide opportunity for everyone regardless of their status in our society. That's been the basic Democratic message; it has to continue to be.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, thanks to all of you. That was a very interesting go-around.
I'll be back with a final word in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: Finally today, it has rained for one solid month here on the East Coast, which is why I find myself spending more time reading the obits. It's not that I enjoy reading about death. Just the opposite.
The obits celebrate life. They list people's accomplishments. It's the one place in the paper to find a ray of sunshine, a smile. The rest of the paper is usually a list of things that have gone wrong, because that's the nature of news, the stuff we need to know.
Walter Cronkite once said, `We don't do stories about all the cats that did not run away. No one needs to know that. It's the cat that climbs a tree and won't come down that becomes the news story.'
The New York Times' obits are the best. Wherever in the world someone dies, The Times seems to know about it and finds something pleasant to say about them.
My favorite obit this week was about Clarence "Sandman" Simms, the legendary tap dancer. I saw the Sandman once and liked him, but not until I read the obit did I find out how he became a dancer. It was out of necessity. He started out as a boxer, but his footwork was better than his punch, so he just concentrated on what he did best. Now there's a lesson. The obit also said that the Sandman was 86, but added he had long maintained his age was just a matter of opinion.
News is what we need to know, and no one really needs to know any of that, but aren't you glad you do now? That's why I love the obits. Now if it would just stop raining.
That's it for us. We'll see you next week right here on Face The Nation.