Week in Review: Iraq's Hold on Washington

Making news this week was the passage by Congress of an Iraq spending bill with a withdrawal timeline, George Tenet's account of the Bush administration's determination to go to war in Iraq, a Democratic debate in South Carolina, the death of Boris Yeltsin, the state of Russia today and the death of David Halberstam.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

This week, President Bush promised to veto the Iraq war-funding bill sent to him by the Senate. Democratic presidential candidates gathered in South Carolina for their first debate and placed blame for the war squarely on the president. And former CIA Director George Tenet writes about his role in the run up to that war.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Dan?

DAN SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Hello, Dan. And when the president vetoes this war-funding bill, which is expected to within a few days as he's promised to, where will the Congress and the president go?

SCHORR: Where they'll go? Well, they're going in two directions, I think. First of all, there's going to be a meeting of administration people and people from the Hill to see if they can make any progress towards drafting a new resolution. That's not going to happen, apparently.

So that the next thing is they each go about into their corners to decide what their next strategy is. The Democrats say they will have a new bill by July 1st. By saying by July 1st, they're indicating they're going to put some pressure on, I guess, by holding back for a while and see whether that produces anything. Beyond that, no one knows.

SIMON: Because the president had indicated that he thought there were some serious effects that could be forthcoming before July if the new funding bill wasn't passed.

SCHORR: Yes, indeed. He has said that first, he gave a date of May 1st. Now there's a date in June. They had indicated that if they don't get the money by that time that there will be terrible things happening to our soldiers over there. Each has a way of exerting pressure and we will see a lot of pressure exerted in the next couple of weeks.

SIMON: On that subject of Iraq, George Tenet, the former CIA director, has a new book coming out on Monday. He says that his phrase, slam-dunk, which has been reported that, I think initially, gets back to Bob Woodward's book about the war, has been taken out of context and cited as the definitive phrase that took the nation to war. How do read these different accounts?

SCHORR: Well, you know, if in his mind, what he was saying to the president is that it's going to be very easy to explain to Americans what's going on here, and that's a slam dunk, okay, that's what he has to say. Part of his problem, however, is that he - having to work with people like Vice President Dick Cheney, who he blames for most of what went wrong. And so we're having here, as we wind down from this war, will have - is going to have, I think, for a long time to come, send(ph) out yes, no, what did Cheney do, why were they still mad at each other?

SIMON: We should explain that in another segment for today's show, we speak with John McLaughlin who was Mr. Tenet's deputy at the CIA.

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: And he says that Mr. Tenet was merely saying he was confident enough, evidence could be declassified to prove that Iraq possessed mass - weapons of mass destruction.

SCHORR: Okay, that's today's story.

SIMON: Democratic presidential hopefuls held their first debate in Orangeburg, South Carolina, on Thursday, first of many debates before the Iowa's caucuses next year, my gosh, January 14th. Did you notice anything in particular in this line up?

SCHORR: What struck me, having seen many, many presidential debates over a long period of time, is that nobody seemed to criticize anybody else. It was all sweetness and light. And I think if the Democrats can do that, I think, they're going to make a couple of great points. I don't know how long I would last but it's strange to say there's no specific thing that any of them said that sounded new to me or made the front page.

The news in it for me was all these Democrats and nobody's criticizing any of the candidate(ph)?

SIMON: Did anybody among what's called the second or third-tier candidates, which is to say below Senators Obama, Clinton and former Senator Edwards, have an unexpectedly large impact for you?

SCHORR: I don't know. I have not seen the polls on that. And I would be able to tell you that after I see what they have to say in the papers.

SIMON: You may not know this, Dan, but that's what football coaches say after a big game on Sunday.

SCHORR: Of course.

SIMON: Then they ask them, what about that? And they say, I'll have to take a look at the tape. I'll tell you later.

SCHORR: Where do you think I got my analysis here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: We certainly want to note the passing this week of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: Remembered for so much, I think, certainly the image he strikes in history is standing atop a tank outside of the Kremlin. How will he be remembered?

SCHORR: There are two kinds of Yeltsin. There's the one who boldly stepped out and practically overthrew the Gorbachev government. And if anybody, any one person responsible for the end of the Soviet Union, it was Yeltsin because Gorbachev who preceded him was interested in trying to reform the Soviet system and keep it. Yeltsin wouldn't let him do that.

The other side is the fellow who drank too much and somehow made a very bad impression when he came here to the White House. But you always, sort of, can't have everything. Next thing I went to see him and pronounce his name Yelsin(ph). I always remember that. But practically is that he is an important figure in history, flawed by his personal habits.

SIMON: Vladimir Putin, his successor, announced this week that he's suspending Russia's compliance with a NATO treaty that regulates the number and type of conventional weapons in Europe.

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: He says, in response to the U.S.' plans to build a missile defense system in Europe.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: This conflict, essentially, reenact the Cold War?

SCHORR: On a very small scale, so far, yes. He's a big(ph) one when he suspended their compliance with the arms treaty, which they - was signed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a treaty with NATO. Putin is interested more than anything in establishing respect for Russia. They're doing well economically. They're doing fabulously. But Putin says, we want respect.

SIMON: And of course, we have to note this week the passing of our friend David Halberstam.

SCHORR: David Halberstam was - simply typified a generation of journalists that we'll not see again. He's thought of this country on his way out of Vietnam. No other reporter I've ever known could say that I was the first instrumental person in ending a war. And, you know, look.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure, Scott.

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