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Week in Review: War Debate; Hill Politics; Moussaoui

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Week in Review: War Debate; Hill Politics; Moussaoui

Analysis

Week in Review: War Debate; Hill Politics; Moussaoui

Week in Review: War Debate; Hill Politics; Moussaoui

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  • Transcript

Highlights of the week's news include President Bush's remark that "future presidents" will decide when to remove U.S. troops from Iraq; Democratic offensives on Capitol Hill; the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui; and GM's buyout offer to workers.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is on vacation. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Mr. BOB DEAN (Reporter, Cox Newspaper): Will there come a day, and I'm not asking you when. I'm not asking for a timetable. Will there come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?

President GEORGE W. BUSH: That, of course, is an objective. And that'll be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.

WERTHEIMER: President Bush answering Cox Newspaper reporter Bob Dean's question Tuesday at a news conference at the White House.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us to talk about the week's news.

Hi, Dan.

DAN SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Dan, future presidents will decide if American troops will stay in Iraq. That means President Bush envisions troops in Iraq until the end of his term in 2009. Did that remark and that date surprise you?

SCHORR: Oh, it did surprise me because the President had been making great, great efforts not to give any sense of timetable, or whatever, because that would be very bad in its effect in Iraq. But what happened here, I think, was a sort of stream of consciousness thing. You know, when he said that'll be for some other president, presidents, plural, so it could go on a lot longer, and what he really is doing is revealing that, back in his mind, he does not think that those troops are coming home very soon.

WERTHEIMER: Now, polls are showing that the American public is becoming increasingly uneasy with the war in Iraq. And most specifically, what the war in Iraq can do for the United States. But the President has been delivering speeches aimed at re-focusing the nation's attention on the war, shoring up domestic support. Do you think the public is listening?

SCHORR: Public is listening but with an increasing sense of dismay. The words civil war seems to be creeping into public discussion now. While the President fervently denies there is any civil war, the former prime minister of Iraq, Allawi, says there is one going on now. And if this insurgency blooms into a real sectarian battle, then there'll come demands to send more troops in order to separate the warring parties. I think that's a very serious matter there.

WERTHEIMER: Inside Iraq, do you see any progress in forming a Unity Government?

SCHORR: Well, yes. I'm happy to say there is some recent progress. The talks among the different parties about forming a government have been stalled for several days. But then they resumed. And then President Talibani came out and announced that they'd made some progress and they hope to have a government formed by the end of the month. So one little bit of good news.

WERTHEIMER: Now, here at home, some Democratic congressmen went on the offensive against the administration this week. On Sunday, Congressman John Murtha said on Meet the Press that Secretary Rumsfeld should be fired, and that Vice President Cheney should resign. Senator Feingold introduced a resolution to censure the President for illegal wiretaps relating to the secret domestic surveillance program Mr. Bush authorized. How seriously do you think this criticism is being received?

SCHORR: Well, I don't think it does the Democrats any great good to have Senator Feingold come out and talk about censure. And it looks from here as though the Republicans were happier about that remark than any of the Democrats were. But to think of censure, or impeachment, or anything by a Republican controlled Congress, is, of course, a little bit silly. But, well, if lawmakers can't be silly, who can?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: In an op ed piece for the Washington Post this week, Secretary Rumsfeld compared pulling out of Iraq to abandoning post war Germany to the Nazis. What do you think of that?

SCHORR: Well, I think that was a very unfortunate remark, if I can say so, because there really is no connection of any kind. But I guess they're running out of things to say. When they do, they come across saying things that sometimes don't sound wonderful.

WERTHEIMER: But what about the possibility that if the United States were to suddenly leave, that whoever is left standing in Iraq, and it might be some of the Baathist, or some of the sectarian conflict, that people who hope to end up on top prey on the people.

SCHORR: There're two ways to look at this. One is to say that the Americans can't get out now, because then you would have all these bad things happening. But then there's the other argument, which you hear, that it is the very presence of American troops which gives people a target in Iraq. Which gives people a target for the insurgency. And people like Congressman Murtha are saying, and I don't know how true it is, that if the troops come home it would bring peace faster in Iraq.

WERTHEIMER: Now, here is something that is happening in the United States, although, of course, it's related to the Middle East. Prosecutors in the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui wrapped up their case on Friday. They argued that Mr. Moussaoui should receive the death penalty because he could have prevented the 9/11 plot, if he had confessed what he knew when he was arrested in August 2001. Did they make their case, Dan?

SCHORR: Well, if they made their case, they made their case against the FBI better than they made their case against Moussaoui. Judging by what they now knew from Moussaoui, that nobody thought to do anything, two, three, four weeks before 9/11, is simply chilling in its effects. As to Moussaoui himself, well, he gets his story told. He gets a chance to possibly get a life sentence instead of getting execution.

But I must say, for me, it matters much less what happens to Moussaoui, but that we learned how dysfunctional our government can sometimes be.

WERTHEIMER: Here at home, also, General Motors announced this week that it would offer early retirement incentives to about 113,000 autoworkers. Those workers will likely be gone by June. Is something more than the auto industry being downsized, as the troubles of GM and Ford continue?

SCHORR: Well, almost everything is being downsized. But it's rather painful for those who work at General Motors, many of whom have given their whole working lives to GM, looking forward to the day when they manage to retire on very good pensions and very good care. And to say now, we'll give you a whole bunch of money now, but then go away with those requests, is very hard for them.

And I don't know how many of the workers will accept it. They don't have to accept it. It's a large amount of money to get at one time. But then you think of what happens afterwards.

WERTHEIMER: Dan, next week the Senate is debating a number of proposals aimed at reforming U.S. immigration law. The President made a point this week of asking lawmakers to keep the immigration debate civil. What makes this issue so divisive, do you think?

SCHORR: Well, there's a sharp line that goes in the whole immigration discussion, the sharp line between those who really want to protect us from immigrants and put up walls, and have stricter enforcement. And then those who think that these are productive people who can very well be used.

There are now 11 million people who have come in from Mexico. And the President is trying to say let's use these people in some way for the greater glory for American, America's economy. While others say yeah, don't let them in. And I think that battle is going to go on right into the floor of the Senate next week.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, Dan, just one more thing. A basketball game, March Madness; as I'm sure you know, LSU, the Duke killer, plays UT Austin. What do you think? You want to pick?

SCHORR: No. I can't afford to pick because when it comes to really great conflicts and struggles, I've got to maintain neutrality.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much Dan.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: News analyst Daniel Schorr.

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