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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Iraq Reconstruction Salvageable?

Aired September 4, 2003 - 20:19   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Last night, we told you that a draft military review concluded that war planners did not have enough time to prepare for the reconstruction of Iraq. Now many people are wondering what, if anything, can be done to salvage the situation.
Thomas White was dismissed from his post as Army secretary a little bit earlier this year. His new book, "Reconstructing Eden: A Comprehensive Plan for the Post-War Political & Economic Development of Iraq," is out today. He joins us tonight from Houston.

Welcome, sir. Good to have you with us.

THOMAS WHITE, AUTHOR, "RECONSTRUCTING EDEN": Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Let's go back and revisit some not-so-ancient history. Back in May, you were fired by Secretary Rumsfeld. Why?

WHITE: Well, we had differences of opinion, professional differences of opinion.

He was the senior man. I was the junior man. So I resigned. It was nothing personal. It was just a difference of opinion. And it happens every day.

ZAHN: Did you have many conflicts of opinion about what the postwar reconstruction plan should look like in Iraq?

WHITE: Well, we were clearly on record, the Army chief of staff and I, that our view was, it was going to take a lot of troops and a long time to stabilize the situation. And, of course, there were different views in the administration as to whether that was true or not. I think history proves that we were right.

ZAHN: Well, that debate rages on.

There is a lot of talk, potentially, about this U.N. resolution going through. And maybe it will have more troops over there in the future. But let's talk a little bit about what you think was wrong with the plan, in addition to the troop strength, which you have just outlined for us.

WHITE: I don't think, Paula, that we truly appreciated, all of us in the planning process, the enormity and complexity of the task of reconstructing Iraq from where Saddam left it to making it a viable democracy with a strong and growing economy. That is a tremendous challenge. And I think we underestimated that challenge. ZAHN: But, as you no doubt know, the administration also feels that it's not getting enough credit for getting utilities up and running in some parts of Iraq, getting schools back in operation, getting some govern -- excuse me -- let me try that one more time -- government buildings up and operating. Is that true?

WHITE: Well, I think that we've got a long way to go before we finally achieve any of our strategic objectives.

Recall that they were, A, to topple the Saddam regime. We still have Saddam on the loose someplace in Iraq, most likely; B, find the weapons of mass destruction. We've had our challenges there; C, to root out international terrorists. And, of course, Iraq has become a collecting point for international terrorism since the war; and, D, establish a democracy in Iraq with a prosperous economy.

So while there have been some initial successes, I think we all realize that this is going to take some time and it's a tremendous challenge.

ZAHN: Last night, we reported on a brand new report done for the Joint Chiefs that basically said, in part, that not enough resources were devoted to the finding of weapons of mass destruction. Was that your assessment when you were there?

WHITE: I think that's a fair collusion.

You will recall, before the war was fought, that the reports that were described to us by the president and others in the administration would suggest that there were large quantities of weapons of mass destruction. And, unfortunately, four months down the road into this, we haven't been able to find any of it. So I think that's a great -- should be a great concern to all of us.

ZAHN: Finally, sir, I can only give you about 15 seconds to answer this question. You did two tours of duty in Vietnam. Do you see any parallel with what's going on in Iraq today?

WHITE: No. I think it's an entirely different situation, different part of the world, and different challenge that we have.

ZAHN: You even did that faster than 15 seconds.

Thomas White, thanks so much for joining us tonight.

WHITE: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: And maybe the next time we visit, I'll be able to say the word government. Finally got it right the fourth time.

WHITE: Good for you.

ZAHN: I guess I have the governor's race in California on my brain tonight. Again, good to see you.

WHITE: Yes, ma'am. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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