Saturday, April 28, 2007


Cleland with Wolf yesterday.


BLITZER: All this happening as the battle over Iraq, funding for the war, and a time line for withdrawal, raging here in Washington with Congress and the White House at an impasse right now.

Joining us now, the Vietnam veteran, the former Democratic Senator, Max Cleland.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

Let me get your quick reaction to that piece we just heard.

It's been, what, four years. The U.S. has been training thousands of Iraqi troops, but they're still not ready.

How frustrated are you that it's taking so long to get these Iraqi troops ready to defend their own country?

MAX CLELAND (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, it reminds me of Vietnam, quite frankly. The -- the essence of what we're seeing in Iraq is what we saw in Vietnam, that unless you have the political support of the people there, they're not going to support really fighting for their own country.

It's not until we get out will they really take it upon themselves to defend themselves, particularly against al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is just now using them and coming in and -- and attacking Americans, as they did when they killed those nine soldiers from the 90 -- 82nd Airborne.

So, we are part of the problem, not part of the solution. That's why, after five years of war, it's painfully obvious that there is no strategy to win. There is no strategy to end this war. And so the war is essentially unwinnable and untenable militarily. And that's why we have to get out.

But the Iraqis must ultimately take care of their own country. And that's what we need to leave them to do.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said today about the Democrats' desires to include a timeline for withdrawal in the war funding bill.

Listen to the president.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the Congress wants to test my will as to whether or not I'll accept a timetable for withdrawal, I won't accept one. I just don't think it's in the interest of our troops. I really think it's a mistake for Congress to try to tell generals, our military experts, how to conduct a war.


BLITZER: All right. What do you say to the president?

CLELAND: Well, this is not a test of the president's will, you know? And Congress is not trying to tell the generals what to do.

The truth of the matter is, there is no strategy that the president is telling the generals to do. You see, that's the problem.

I mean, more and more, generals are coming out of the military, particularly the Army, and saying the war is unwinnable militarily. It is essentially a political war that we're going into. And we're on the wrong side of it. We're trying to occupy a nation that doesn't want us there.

Secondly, we're going after the wrong enemy here. Al Qaeda is morphing around the world. They morphed most recently into North Africa. And George Tenet's book just coming out in the next few days says his concern is still about al Qaeda in the United States.

So, we need to withdraw from Iraq, withdraw our ground forces from there, because we are not part of the problem -- I mean solution. We're part of the problem there.

BLITZER: But you're...

CLELAND: And this is not a test of the president's -- this is not a test of the president's will. He may have his -- he may have his day on this, but when he signs that veto early next week, he will sign it in blood, because he's just guaranteeing the death of more Americans in Iraq.

BLITZER: Saxby Chambliss, the man who beat you in your run for re-election the last time around in Georgia, he says, and I'm quoting now, "It's almost un-American, un-American to come out and tell the enemy that they've won and lost."

Listen to this little clip of what he said on the Senate floor yesterday. Listen to this.


SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Men and women of the 3rd ID simply don't agree with the Democrats who want to tuck tail and run. Georgians don't want to do that, the military does not want to do that.


BLITZER: All right. He says Democrats are almost un-American for what they are trying to do.

What do you say to Senator Chambliss?

CLELAND: Well, first of all, I've been called un-American and unpatriotic by the senator before. It wasn't true then, it's not true now.

And secondly, I don't take my advice on war from somebody, Mr. Chambliss, who tucked his tail and ran from the war of his generation. He got out of going to Vietnam with a trick knee. So I'm not going to follow anybody's advice on that, and I'm certainly not going to back off my view that it's time to protect Americans, it's time to bring our young Americans home, and it is time to set a timetable.

That's what the Congress is voting on, and has voted successfully on. It is now time to change strategy, change policy. If the president won't change, ultimately we will see more Americans die, and ultimately we will get out of Iraq, but after he's gone.

BLITZER: You fought in Vietnam at a time of serious debate here in the United States over what U.S. troops were doing there in Vietnam. You know the impact on moral to fighting men and women.

What about the impact on the battlefield right now in Iraq, as a result of this very serious debate under way here in the United States?

CLELAND: Well, you feel like -- a young French lieutenant in the French Indochina War in Vietnam said he felt like he was shot in the stomach and kicked in the rear end. And I'm sure that members of the armed forces in Iraq feel that way.

I know that's the way I felt in Vietnam when the massive unrest in the United States breaking out in '67 and '68. But the worst morale problem is to commit young Americans to a cause that is not winnable and is ultimately untenable and unsupported by the United States people -- people in America.

So, the best thing we can do is make sure we have as good an exit as possible. And the president, if he vetoes this bill, will give up the last opportunity he has to make a bipartisan exit from Iraq. Ultimately, it's going to be ultimately on his head and shoulders, and he'll be signing that veto pen in blood because more young Americans are going to die when he vetoes this bill.

BLITZER: Senator Cleland, the current U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has been in Washington all week. He's appealing to everyone for patience, to give him some time, to see if this new strategy can work, at least through September or so. He says at this point, he and the U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker, would have a better sense if it's working. He promises that if it's not working, he will tell the American people the truth.

Why not give the general some more time to see if he can make it -- make it better?

CLELAND: Time? This is the fifth year of this war. As a matter of fact, next Tuesday is the anniversary of President Bush standing up on an aircraft carrier, playing dress-up with his flight suit, which he never wore in combat, trying to be the war hero he never was, and saying major combat over, mission accomplished. And later on he said, "Bring 'em on." Well, they came on, surprise, surprise. Have killed over 3,300 young Americans and wounded over 30,000, and over half a million Iraqis have died.

I don't want that kind of patience. It's five years into this thing now. It's time to end it, and it's time to move on and worry about al Qaeda. That's the real threat to this country.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it there.

Senator Cleland, as usual, thanks for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CLELAND: Thank you.