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State of the Union; Promises Kept?; Iraq Realities

Aired January 23, 2007 - 23:00   ET


PAUL BEGALA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And no military strategy will work unless we have a political strategy on the ground that will actually make these Iraqis want to come together in a multi-sectarian nation and will make Mr. Maliki, the prime minister, want to crack down on the Shiite death squads who are sponsored by his chief political patriot, Muqtada al-Sadr.
So I think it's a political problem. And that's where the problem should lie. And Democrats, I think, did a good job today asking tough questions of Petraeus, but they're not going to try to knock him off, and I think wisely so.

COOPER: But, Mike, as you well know, a lot of people -- supporters of the president's policy will say, yes, of course it's going to need a political solution, but you can't have a political solution unless there's security, unless there's, you know, an end to these death squads. It's sort of a catch-22.

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, that's exactly right. The idea behind the president's strategy is use our military power to try to create a monopoly of force in Baghdad so these extra government actors on both sides can't create the civil war or political strategy, particularly among the Iraqis who have not shown a lot of sophistication or courage is possible.

The other way to go is partition. You got three choices -- leave, partition or try to create a security situation by using American force -- which is tough, but that's where the president is going -- and hope the Iraqi political class comes together in a compromise.

I think it's a fair bet, it's the bet the president is making. The question, is will he be able to sustain support for this thing against a hostile Congress long enough to give it a shot. And that's up in the air.

COOPER: Mike Murphy, Paul Begala, it's always a pleasure, guys. Thanks.

BEGALA: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: As Paul touched on, in terms of political and policy challenges facing him, we saw a much different President Bush tonight than several years ago. But did we really hear a difference? Did he change any minds?

CNN's Ed Henry joins us now with a recap -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is a wounded president. His first State of the Union to a Democratic Congress.

So he started out with an olive branch. We heard him talking, saying that he had the high honor for the first time of any president to refer to madam speaker.

Of course, Nancy Pelosi, you could see her getting emotional at that moment. Smart, true political move for the president. He needs to get a lot of business done with Nancy Pelosi in the months ahead.

But also what was key was that -- what was gone was the tough guy rhetoric we've seen in previous big speeches, axis of evil and the like.

Also last year's State of the Union, a rather rosy scenario about Iraq, the president saying so much progress was being made, that he was hoping that troops would start coming home soon.

Tonight, a much more sober admission about the situation on the ground in Iraq, that it's not going well. And the president was almost pleading with lawmakers in both parties -- not just Democrats, but in both parties -- to stick with him and try to give this new strategy of sending more than 21,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq, try to give it a chance.

Take a listen.

OK. I guess we don't have that sound. But essentially, the president was talking about how he really needs that help.

And what I was really struck by was the silence in the chamber. The fact that in previous State of the Unions when the president talked about the war, you could hear hoops and hollers, especially on the Republican side, really behind him on the war. This time, obviously lawmakers in both parties really not sure what's around the bend in Iraq, what's really coming next.

Also on the domestic front, not a lot of surprises. We had already heard about this new health care initiative, the energy initiative as well.

And the bottom line there is that they face very uncertain futures in this Democratic Congress. Democrats already criticizing some of those policy proposals. So it's really unclear what this president, as nearing lame duck status, really can get done with this Democratic Congress -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ed Henry, thanks, from the White House.

Right after the president wrapped up, we began polling Americans who were watching the speech. We've now got some very early results.

Joining us again, CNN's Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, what do the numbers tell you?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The numbers tell us that the speech -- the response to the speech among those who watched it, remember, was fairly positive, but not as strong as it has been in the past.

Forty-one percent of Americans said they had a very positive response to the president's speech. Now, that looks pretty good, except that it's not as good as Bush has achieved in his previous State of the Unions where even last year it was 48 percent. In the past, it's been 50 percent, 74 percent. This is the least well received.

Will it lead to more cooperation or more disagreement between Democrats and President Bush? By a very small margin, the vote -- the speech watchers are inclined to say it may lead to more cooperation, but not a decisive margin.

And were those who watched the speech confident that the United States will be able to achieve its goals in Iraq? Still a lot of skepticism. Only 15 percent said they were very confident; 46 percent said they were not confident that the United States could achieve its goals.

They felt somewhat more optimistic about health care and about energy. But on the Iraq issue, Anderson, still a lot of skepticism.

COOPER: And, Bill, how do we get these numbers? Where are they from?

SCHNEIDER: They are from a poll of people who said that they intended to watch the speech. And there's something interesting about this poll. Normally the audience for a president's speech is very partisan. People of his own party watch, the other party doesn't bother.

This audience was about equally divided between Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Why, with an unpopular Republican president did a lot of Democrats watch? Simple, it's the first time he's spoken to a Democratic Congress. Nancy Pelosi. They wanted to see the new Democratic Congress, see the new speaker of the House, and I think that brought a larger than usual Democratic audience to a Republican president's speech.

COOPER: Bill Schneider, thanks.

Tonight's speech was on the State of the Union, of course, but it was also about the state of the president.

Joining us for more reaction are "TIME" magazine's Joe Klein, "Newsweek's" Marcus Mabry and Blogger Andrew Sullivan.

First, I want to get all of your reactions to the president's State of the Union address.

Andrew, let's start off with you. What did you think? ANDREW SULLIVAN, TIME.COM BLOGGER: I thought it was underwhelming, to tell you the truth. I mean, I think he said lots of good positive things. But the crisis in Iraq overshadows everything. There are no good options. It's clear he has no new strategy.

COOPER: So even though he spent the bulk of the speech, the first half of the speech or more talking about other issues, still the end part, Iraq, overwhelmed everybody?

SULLIVAN: I think it does. I mean, this is our exponential moment. This is the moment when this war either becomes even much worse than it is today or somehow we get some glimpse of hope.

And I don't see any hope in this speech. I don't see any strategy that will actually succeed. And I think you felt that in the hall. You felt that everywhere. We're looking, hoping desperately for some way forward and there is none in the speech.

COOPER: Let's get a quick bite from the president on Iraq from tonight's address.


COOPER: Joe Klein, did the president buy any time for his policy?

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: I don't think so. I think that what we were getting here was the same old rhetoric, and also, I think that if there was any headline in this speech, is that he really did open a discussion on health insurance and on health policy this time.

But I agree with Andrew, this speech was genuinely underwhelming, and I would suspect an awful lot of people were watching "American Idol," which may be affecting Bill Schneider's numbers there.

COOPER: Let's hope not.

Marcus Mabry, anything surprise you about the speech?

MARCUS MABRY, SR. EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE: Well, you know, see, I did not expect, Anderson, that call for the volunteer civilian corps. I think a lot of Americans looked surprised, even the speaker of the House looked surprised.

I was surprised at the grace of the president and of the speaker when he first came in and he told that very moving story about her dad. I thought that was spectacular and I thought that was so solicitous. And I thought, you know, maybe it's going to work out.

And very quickly, it got very ugly. This was kind of, you know, weird, split personality Bush, because on the one hand, he actually tried to be conciliatory. You know, this could have been a State of the Union -- if you look at the domestic issues, talking about greenhouse gases -- this could have been the State of the Union of a Democratic president. That was kind of extraordinary for this president. At the same time, though, he was confrontational.

COOPER: And yet, Marcus Mabry, I was watching the speech there with Andrew Sullivan, who was blogging all during the speech. And you pointed out something which actually Paul Begala just pointed out about 10 minutes ago. Right after addressing Nancy Pelosi in this very kind of warm way...

SULLIVAN: Well he's -- in the speech, it's written, it says Democratic Congress. And he said Democrat Congress. Democrat, as an adjective, is a tone of abuse. And it certainly felt that way by the Democratic Party. He couldn't help, but go into that partisan mode, even when he was trying, I think, sincerely to be graceful about it. But his partisanship came through in that moment.

COOPER: Marcus Mabry was talking about this president appealing in many ways to Democrats. No -- perhaps, no greater issue than immigration are they close together on. Let's listen to what the president had to say.


COOPER: Joe Klein, is immigration an issue the president could actually try to get something accomplished on the next two years?

KLEIN: Yes. I think that that's the one thing you can say about this speech and about this session. You're going to probably get the comprehensive immigration bill that both the president and the Democrats have favored throughout. And that's probably a good thing.

On those other domestic issues, though, it was really kind of strange to me how he raced through them. These were complicated proposals. The health care proposal especially. The -- you know, I doubt if even Al Gore could explain to you what the president was proposing to do, you know, on the energy front without really studying it. And certainly there were -- you know, there were no specific proposals about how we get toward his slogan.

So I think that that part of the speech, because he raced through it to get to the part that he was most familiar, probably most comfortable with, which was saying the same old thing about Iraq -- the front part of the speech, the domestic policy part of the speech was an opportunity lost.

COOPER: Joe, Marcus and Andrew, we're going to talk to you a little bit more in this hour.

The State of the Union address is a tradition, of course, dating back to George Washington.

Here's a quick look at the raw data. Tonight's speech was the 218th State of the Union message in our nation's history. It's only the 74th time the president has delivered the address as a speech before Congress.

Tonight, as President Bush noted at the top of his speech, was the first time a woman has sat in one of the two seats located behind the president.

More of the speech coming up. We'll talk with Democratic Presidential Candidate John Edwards and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander to get their reactions.

First, the one issue the president cannot get away from, Iraq. How it's waging war on Bush's domestic agenda. And really, what is the new strategy? We'll look at it close up in detail, next on 360.



COOPER: Well, in a speech that focused heavily on domestic issues, President Bush, of course, could not avoid Iraq. Even when the president isn't talking about the war, the country is. It's why he faced the country tonight with the lowest approval rating ever, 34 percent.

And some say the trouble in Iraq has now made it almost impossible for Mr. Bush to get anything else done.

CNN's Tom Foreman reports.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Anyone anywhere anytime in Washington can tell you what George Bush has to address these days.




FOREMAN: And that simple fact, according to many political analysts, is cutting the legs out from under every other legislative idea the president likes, no matter how vigorously he launches them.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: George W. Bush is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because there has been -- because right now people are concerned about the progress of the war.

FOREMAN: So sure, the president is talking about energy consumption.


FOREMAN: But the polls say...


FOREMAN: Yes, he's engaging immigration.

(PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS) FOREMAN: But the opposition says.


FOREMAN: Absolutely, the White House wants to move forward on health care, social security and other issues of national importance. But...




FOREMAN: Even Republicans say they fear public dissatisfaction with the war is stripping their president of all his political muscle.

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The concern in the conservative grassroots in this country is that the president is moving in a direction where he wishes to embrace the Democrats in order to accomplish something.

He is going to destroy this Republican Party if he continues to move in this direction.

FOREMAN: The White House continues to argue that it is not abandoning its political base. And the war can and will move toward a successful end.

President Bush still has two years in office, during which he hopes to have enormous influence on the State of the Union. Maybe he's got nothing to lose with that approach.

DAN MCGROARTY, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL SPEECHWRITER: President Bush's ratings have dropped so low that in some respects he may as well go with something big.

FOREMAN: Everyone in Washington knows it can be lonely at the top. Just like anyone, anytime, anywhere can tell you what is making it especially lonely now.




FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, Iraq.

Joining me once again Democratic Strategist Paul Begala and Republican Strategist Mike Murphy. Paul, no matter what side of the aisle you are on, it's got to scare you that no matter what the president proposes domestically, and no matter what Democrats want to do domestically, Iraq overshadows everything it seems.

BEGALA: Absolutely. And he's got 727 days as our only president. It's an awfully long time. It's not even a debate anymore as to whether he's a lame duck. It's whether he's a dead duck because of Iraq. He has got to find a way to move the reality on the ground.

I mean, Mike Murphy earlier talked about how you can't really conduct a war in a partisan environment.

President Clinton actually did. The Republicans controlled the Congress and we went to war in Bosnia. But it was a short and very successful war and we didn't lose a single soldier. It was nothing like what we're in right now.

And the president has got to find a way to turn this. If I were advising him -- and you know, he watches your show every night, Anderson, so I guess I am advising him now.

Mr. President, you could have and still can completely take the Democrats out of criticizing you on Iraq. Appoint a special envoy to Iraq, your predecessor, Bill Clinton. I mean, it would box in his wife. What could Hillary say, right? He would probably have to do it. He's a former president. He loves his country even more than he loves his party. He'd have to go and do it. It may be an unsolvable problem. And you could blame Clinton. And it would shut the Democrats up.

I mean, he's got to do something big and bold on Iraq. And, you know, I just don't think the Iraqis are up to it, so he's got to do something.

COOPER: Mike, assuming you don't think the Bill Clinton idea is a god one, what would you advise the president to do to try to get other things done?

MURPHY: Yes, well, if the president went to Iraq, there would be a -- or if President Clinton went to Iraq, there would be a recession in the nightclubs of New York. So I don't know if I could ever recommend that.

I did recommend earlier in an op-ed I wrote for "L.A. Times" that you have to fight a war in a bipartisan manner, otherwise you cannot sustain the public support. So I recommended a bipartisan war cabinet, with the leaders of Congress in a compromise.

However, what needs to be done now -- I'm actually -- I'm pessimistic, but I think we're going to -- I am optimistic that we're going to learn quickly what's working and what's not in Iraq because it's all coming down to whether the Shia majority government under Maliki will have the courage to take on the violent Shia militias on their side of the political equation. If they're willing to do that, I think there's hope for Iraq. If not, it's going to be very, very hard to stabilize. So I think in the next 60 days we're going to learn a lot. And if not, the president's going to have to move to an even tougher situation, which is how to manage a withdrawal and what do you do to try to keep this thing from being a total disaster over there, understanding there are clear limits to American power if both sides in Iraq are just hell bent on a civil war or sectarian settling of this by blood rather than talk. I hope not, but that's going to be the question.

COOPER: Mike, you're saying 60 days, which sort of echoes what Robert Gates was saying. I think he said by March, we should have a sense of where the Maliki government is on this, whether they're serious. But -- and again, I might be mistaken, and correct me if I'm wrong, but my reading of what General Petraeus wants and was talking about today is that regardless of whether the Iraqis are able to stand up, regardless of whether they're able to show up or whether they retreat, he wants the full deployment of the 21,000 U.S. troops or the 17,000 to Baghdad in order to see how the policy works, regardless of what the Iraqis does -- do. And that's not going to be 60 days.

MURPHY: Right. That's the big problem. The real way to do the president's strategy has been beyond kind of the reach here, which is a lot of troops really fast, monopoly of force and give Petraeus what he needs to do that quickly.

And we don't have the troops. There are a lot of technical reasons why this is a problem. And that, to me, as a political analyst, is the problem here.

Will the president, with limited support at home, be able to sustain this idea long enough to be able to achieve it, if it can work? And it's going to come down to the Iraqis having to go way above and beyond where they've been in a short period of time, which is why I think we're going to get early indications pretty quick. And if the early indications are bad, the political reality is it will collapse on the president. And I'm hoping it doesn't happen.

But, you know, battles are fought by generals, but wars are fought by politicians. And if the political situation becomes incredibly untenable in the next 100 days, it's going to be harder and harder for him to a proceed. The Democrats will totally radicalize or go after the funding. All this stuff they say about not doing that I think is a bluff. It could get worse and then he's in a real political problem.

COOPER: We're going to have to leave it there.

Paul, you better turn your phone off, because if Bill Clinton gets a call tonight, I think that you're going to get a second call and you're going to be in trouble.

BEGALA: I think so. Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Paul Begala, thanks.

Mike Murphy, thanks as well.

So now the question is, what exactly are the troops supposed to do when they get to Iraq? We talked about the large escalation. But what does it actually mean? What are they supposed to do? What's the strategy? We're going to ask a pair of retired generals, CNN Military Analyst David Grange and James "Spider" Marks.

Plus CNN's Michael Ware is going to join us here. He's usually in Baghdad.

I'll also talk tonight with former Senator John Edwards, who of course, is running for president in '08. He has his own take on the war, different from the president, some of his fellow Democrats as well. That and more, when 360 continues.




COOPER: President Bush on the war in Iraq. He did not go in depth on the topic until more than half an hour into his speech.

We're joined now by somebody who spent a lot of time on the ground in Iraq, covering the war for us, CNN's Michael Ware.

Michael, it's good to see you here in Washington.


COOPER: It's probably a more dangerous town in some ways than Baghdad, in a whole different way.

What did you think of the president's address in terms of what he said about Iraq? Was there anything new there? Is his policy new?

WARE: No. He uses the term, the new strategy. And I think that is -- that's a bankrupt term. I mean, what we see is a band-aid strategy that's furthering something that hasn't already worked.

Sending an extra 21,500 troops is simply not enough. I mean, it's a continuation of the same old, same old. It still fails to address the fundamental dynamics that are driving the many wars that are plaguing Iraq.

And I mean, it still leans upon the old reliance upon allies who have not stepped up. In fact, you see President Bush saying we now demand more of the Iraqi government. Then he immediately chides them. He says you need to deploy more troops. You need to confront the radicals. You need to come to the strategy. We've heard all that before. Nothing's different -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, supporters of the strategy will say you're focusing too much on just the numbers, on the escalation, when in fact what is different, they will say, is the way those troops are going to be deployed. That they're going to be deployed throughout Baghdad, in neighborhoods. They're going to have sweeps of neighborhoods, yes, with Iraqi forces, but then they're not just going to pull out. Actually, U.S. soldiers...


COOPER: in these neighborhoods. Is that new?

WARE: Right. To that degree, that's new. U.S. forces taking and occupying ground...

COOPER: New and risky.

WARE: ... with Iraqi partners.


There's a great inherent risk that goes with that. Is the American public ready to pay the price for that? Theoretically, they should be. Iraq is in such a perilous and dire state, America needs to be prepared to do what has to be done.

That's the other thing about the president's address as to the State of the Union. He painted a picture that was bereft of any optimism. He pointed to...


COOPER: There was no talk about winning, there was no...


WARE: None. He said, let's listen to al Qaeda. Something he said before. They are serious and they mean business. And then he points out al-Anbar Province, the commitment of more troops. Then he says, we're now seeing escalating danger from Shia extremism. That's Iran.

This is the president tacitly acknowledging what many have been saying for some tome. Iran has benefited more from this invasion, from this war, than America. So, too, al Qaeda.

And here's the president, pointing to that and saying what do we do about it? Well, we need to talk more, let's add an extra layer of discussion and bipartisanship, let's increase the size of the military, let's put in more of a humanitarian effort. But where is the hope? Where is the light?

COOPER: Well, we'll see. We'll see if there is any light.

Michael Ware, appreciate it. Thanks. You'll be in Baghdad soon?

WARE: I head there on the weekend, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Well, God speed. Thanks, Michael.

WARE: Thank you.

COOPER: Joining me now, retired generals and CNN Military Analyst David Grange and James "Spider" Marks.

Gentlemen, good to see you.

General Marks, let me start off with you. General Petraeus, the incoming commander in Iraq or hopeful incoming commander to his supporters talks about battalion posts across Baghdad. And he says that priority number one is protecting the Iraqi population. How is that actually going to work on the ground in Baghdad?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Anderson, great question. Let me take you to the map, at least initially, and let's focus in. Let's fly into Baghdad where we can kind of address some of the specifics that General Petraeus intends to get about when he gets into Iraq.

What you see here is the Tigris River that really kind of cuts the city of Baghdad in half. As you know, over here is Sadr City. That's predominantly Shia. That's where a lot of the militia is, the Mehdi army resides, where Maliki has got to take a stand.

And over here on the west side of the Tigris are those ethnically mixed neighborhoods of Shia and Sunni.

The plan is to put here into the west side of the Tigris U.S. soldiers supported with and by Iraqi security forces. And that's where the preponderance of the force will go.

Certainly, there will be some forces out on the al-Anbar Province, further out to the west. That's where 4,000 Marines will go. So 17,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground with Iraqi security forces in those ethnically mixed neighborhoods.

The intent is to try to work the solution there, as has been described. The only way you conduct any type of a counterinsurgency operation is you must clear and secure. The president addressed that again tonight. And in order to secure, you must hold. You can only hold with boots on the ground and with increased numbers. That's the intent of this 17,000.

Now, there are two additional points that are made about the operations that will take place, primarily on the west side of the Tigris. And that is you've got to protect the good guys. And that's what the U.S. forces primarily will try to do.

The most important thing is the Iraqis have got to step up and do that additional task, which is you got to go kill bad guys. That's the strategy. Clear and hold, protect good guys and kill the bad guys.

Then, the Iraqi security forces on the east side of the Tigris, almost working independently, will go after those Shia neighborhoods.

COOPER: That's, of course, the plan. Huge questions remain about whether in fact they will be willing to go after those Shia death squads, the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr.

General Grange, Defense Secretary Gates said we'll know by March if the al-Maliki government is serious about living up to its promises. Is that enough time to know if the military operation on the ground is successful, though?

GRANGE: Well, I don't think it's enough time to know if the operations within Baghdad are successful to that point where we see a clear -- clear signs of success, future success.

But it will, I think, determine whether the Iraqi government truly is going to take a stand and challenge the militias that dominate big portions of Baghdad and have created almost a Hezbollah state within the state.

COOPER: Do you think they will, General Grange?

GRANGE: Say again?

COOPER: Do you think they will? I mean, if you were a commanding man and you had a unit of Iraqi troops with you, would you trust them?

GRANGE: It depends how well I know that leadership. I was an advisor in Vietnam, and I trusted those that I was with, with my life. So it just depends. I think it varies between the type of units, different units within Iraq. And I think some -- some relationships are very strong and trustworthy.

COOPER: General Marks, I was reading over General Petraeus's testimony on Capitol Hill today. And I might be wrong about this, but in my understanding, it seems to me Petraeus wants all of these troops deployed, the full 17,500 or however many it is, into Baghdad, regardless whether the Iraqi troops prove themselves capable. Is that your understanding of what Petraeus wants?

MARKS: Absolutely. General Petraeus understands that mission No. 1, as does George Casey and John Abizaid and those leaders that are in place right now, that a blanket of security has got to come down over Baghdad.

And as Dave Grange just indicated, the only way you do that is you step forward and you are present, and you must trust the Iraqi security forces to do the same in those areas, whether you're working with them or they're working independently. You've got to be able to provide a presence. That's what must happen.

So the U.S. forces are going to step up. They have stepped up. But they've got to do that with these additional forces as they come in.

COOPER: General Grange, as a veteran of Vietnam, you're very familiar with how politics, domestic politics here at home affect military strategy overseas. There is a time line for military strategy in Iraq, but is it -- do you think it's in sync with the time line of U.S. domestic politics here? GRANGE: Probably not. Usually never is, because there's always time limits put on things. There's troop caps put on how many soldiers are required for certain tasks.

You know, I had the fortune to be with a -- with the leaders of a brigade this weekend en route to Iraq. And they have no concern about the enemy. In their mind, they're so well trained that they're not concerned about the enemy.

What they're concerned about is the political leadership, both in administration and in Congress, to back them up with this particular mission, and the will of the American people with -- to have a winning attitude to give this a shot.

And when you look at the soldiers in the eye, I just can't imagine Americans not wanting to do that when we're deploying these soldiers into harm's way.

COOPER: Very quickly, General Grange, General Marks, David Petraeus, the right man for the job?

MARKS: Anderson, I say he is the right man for the job. He has got the time in country. He's done the thinking. He's done the fighting and the thinking about what the tasks are ahead.

COOPER: General Grange?

GRANGE: I agree 100 percent. The right man. But he's got to be supported or it's impossible to be successful.

COOPER: General Grange, General Marks, as always, appreciate your perspective, guys. Thanks.

Up next, the Democrat who is taking out a tough position on getting out of Iraq ASAP. We'll talk with presidential hopeful John Edwards.

You're watching a special edition of 360, live from Washington.



BUSH: We can work through our differences, and we can achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there's work to be done.


COOPER: That was President Bush earlier tonight. Former Senator John Edward is running for president. He was John Kerry's running mate in 2004, of course. He watched the address tonight from Miami.

Senator Edwards, appreciate you staying up late and joining us. Thanks very much. I've got to ask you. You started off your presidential campaign just a few months ago in New Orleans. Were you surprised that this president did not mention New Orleans or the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast?


First of all, thank you for all you've done bringing the country's attention back to New Orleans. But, yes, I was surprised, when he -- especially at the end of the speech, when he was identifying a whole group of American heroes who were in the gallery. And I sort of got this sense inside of what Americans I think want, which is a sense of decency and goodness in their people and their president.

And I thought back to a year ago when the president said, "We're committed to New Orleans. We won't desert you. We'll stay with you until the problems are solved, and they're not." And I was very surprised to hear the president not focus on that tonight.

COOPER: The president seemed to be reaching out to Democrats, trying to bridge differences with his domestic agenda. Were there any programs that you liked? What did you think about the speech overall?

EDWARDS: I think overall, there were a couple of good things and bad things.

The good things were he did talk about healthcare. He did talk about energy and energy independence and the issue of global warming. I think those are very good things.

What's wrong with what he said is he's had six years to do something and, unfortunately, nothing's happened. More importantly, looking forward instead of back, which is what we should be doing, his proposals were very small incremental proposals.

And I think in both those areas, healthcare, where I believe we need universal healthcare in America, and the area of energy, we don't need small baby steps. Energy and global warming. We need a real transformation into how we do energy in this country.

So I think now is the time for bold leadership, not small baby steps. And that was -- that was the disappointing part.

COOPER: Iraq, of course, the shadow over all of this presidency, said the U.S. must succeed in Iraq. He called the consequences of failure grievous and far reaching. Do you think success is still possible? And how do you define success there?

EDWARDS: Possible, but hard. The way I would define success is if that we can get to the place where Iraq is relatively stable. It may not be a liberal western democracy, but if the people are governing themselves and they're not under the control of a dictator, I think that's a good thing. I think what's -- where I differ with the president so fundamentally -- and I was listening to the generals who were talking on the -- on your program just before I came on -- is that, listen, the men and women in our military and our military leadership are following the president's orders. They're going to do everything in their power to make this work.

What's missing here is the president is basically and fundamentally wrong. He seems to think that somehow if we put more troops behind what has been failing time and time again, that it will make it work. And I just think he's wrong.

What's -- what's going to have to happen is the Shia, the Maliki- led government, are going to have to decide to actually bring the Sunni in so that we have buy-in to a long term unified Iraq. And that's not happening right now.

And the question is how do we shift responsibility to them? And my belief is the only way that's going to happen is for America to stop enabling them, stop enabling their past bad behavior, and start pulling our troops out of Iraq so that they take responsibility.

COOPER: How quickly would you start pulling troops out?

EDWARDS: Immediately. I mean, I wouldn't bring them all out immediately, but I think that process has to be done over -- in a steady, careful way over time.

But I would take 40,000 to 50,000 out immediately. And then over the course of the next year to a year and a half, be in the process of withdrawing American troops and redeploying them. I think it ought to be smart -- done smart and thoughtfully. We ought to be training the Iraqis in an intense way.

And an issue that's not been discussed very much, we ought to be intensifying our diplomacy, just with the Saudis, the Jordanians and the Egyptians, our friends, which the president talks about. But we ought to engage very directly with those who have been antagonistic to the United States of America. And that includes Syria and Iran specifically.

COOPER: Senator Edwards, as always, appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

EDWARDS: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Straight ahead tonight, we'll talk to Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Also, blogger Andrew Sullivan.

Stay tuned. You're watching 360 from Capitol Hill.



WEBB: Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world.


COOPER: Those are the words of Senator Jim Webb giving the Democratic response to the State of the Union.

Joining us now, Lamar Alexander, Republican Senator from the state of Tennessee. Thanks very much for coming on the program.


COOPER: First impressions of the president's speech?

ALEXANDER: Presidential. I used to work in the White House. And I was told everything that comes here is important, so we need to push the important out and leave to the president the truly presidential. And I think he focused on a handful of truly presidential things tonight.

He hit Iraq, healthcare, energy independence, HIV/AIDS, balancing the budget. He didn't give us a laundry list. I thought he did a good job.

COOPER: Does he appear to you a wounded president?

ALEXANDER: No, no, he appears to be a determined president. He's a human being. He's been knocked around a lot. But what I liked was the fact tonight he did what a president is supposed to do. He picked a few very big issues, big serious proposals. He laid them out there, said these are big. Here's my idea. I'm going to try to persuade you.

COOPER: A lot of people we talked to tonight thought that those issues were being overshadowed by Iraq, the looming issue over everything. Did he win any supporters on Iraq that maybe were on the fence tonight, or did he buy himself some time?

ALEXANDER: I don't know. I think he may have bought himself some time. I think the argument, give me a chance with this. You know, it's one thing to say, as I feel, that I'm not really persuaded that sending 21,000 more troops is the right idea.

It's another thing to say, well, now, we're going to vote on some resolution while they're on the way over there that might send them the signal that we don't support them. So he may have helped himself with that.

COOPER: So where do you stand on that now?

ALEXANDER: That's exactly where I stand. I'm -- directly to the president, I would say, "Mr. President, I'm not persuaded that the 21,000 is a good idea." But I have yet to see a resolution I'd vote for that would send -- that might not send some signal to these troops that he has a right to send as commander in chief. I don't want to tell them that we don't support them.

COOPER: What do you think the biggest problem in Iraq is? I mean, do you have any faith in the al-Maliki government? It seems the president is putting an awful lot of faith in al-Maliki. He says he's met with the man. He seems to believe him. Do you?

ALEXANDER: I don't know him well enough. But my -- I prefer that we step back, that we send a clear signal in the Middle East that we're going to be there for a long time. I think we have to be there for a long time but in a limited, supporting way.

The president prefers to go ahead and try one more time to help Baghdad secure itself. I understand the argument. I don't agree with it.

COOPER: We just heard Senator John Edwards talking about he supports basically an immediate pullout or starting to withdraw troops. What's wrong with that?

ALEXANDER: Well, what's wrong with that is I don't think we can do that now. We...

COOPER: It's gone too far?

ALEXANDER: It's gone too far. We have to send a signal to the rest of the Middle East that we're there for a long time. And we tried to build a nation there. We are trying to do that, trying to help a nation build itself. We did that in Germany. We did it in Japan. We're still there.

COOPER: We heard from the president tonight something we've heard an awful lot. And I put the president to Barack Obama. I'll put it to you. The president said by fighting terrorists in Iraq, we're keeping -- we're not having to fight them here at home.

Barack Obama says he doesn't think that logic makes any sense. Do you think that's true?

ALEXANDER: I do think -- well, I think the president is as likely to be right about that as Barack Obama is on this point with all respect. Because since 9/11 we haven't the fight here. We haven't been attacked here. And we've stopped -- or helped to stop terrorist attacks that might have happened.

COOPER: Do you think the war in Iraq has made terrorism worse in the world? Do you think it's made the U.S. more in danger?

ALEXANDER: Terrorism is worse today than it was five years ago. The war in Iraq hasn't been as successful as any of us would like. All of us would like to be out of there but we can't be right now.

And so I prefer the Iraq Study Group's approach, which is step back, send a clear signal we're there in a supporting role for a while, get our troops out of the combat business, into the support business, go after al Qaeda there. I think we can develop support for that in this country.

COOPER: Senator Lamar Alexander, appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

ALEXANDER: Thank you very much.

COOPER: Thanks for being on the program.

We've got a lot more coming up. The big picture, some closing thoughts on what the president said tonight from blogger Andrew Sullivan, Marcus Mabry of "Newsweek" and Joe Klein of "TIME" magazine. We'll be right back.



BUSH: Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty.


COOPER: And that was, of course, President Bush earlier tonight. He -- with a pretty familiar refrain. He said it before. The question is has the patience for the war run out?

With us again, "TIME" magazine's Joe Klein, "Newsweek's" Marcus Mabry and blogger Andrew Sullivan.

Andrew, you were sort of impressed, although you don't agree, perhaps ideologically, with Jim Webb, the Democratic response, but with the tenor of the response.

ANDREW SULLIVAN, TIME.COM BLOGGER: Stylistically, I think it was the first time I've seen a Democratic response to President Bush that seemed to have more authority, even more testosterone than President Bush.

I mean, he brought out those military photographs of his father and his son. He spoke of economic populism. And he spoke of responsibility in foreign policy in a way that I almost felt like, "Wow, he's someone who actually seems to know what it is to have authority in foreign policy."

And we have a president who seems to be proposing the same strategy with the lack of resources that he's always had.

COOPER: Joe Klein, do you think Jim Webb was the right guy to do the response? JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Oh, yes, absolutely. You know, it was one of the very, very rare occasions where Democratic response really held up next to the president.

But, in the end, I think that the testimony this morning by General Petraeus may be the most significant thing that happened today, because he really began to lay out what he's going to do over there.

And let me just point out, Anderson, you've been saying a number of times during the past hour that we're going to move 17,000 more troops into Baghdad.

It's important to note that the majority of troops who are going to be patrolling in Baghdad are already there. We have them in these big forward-operating bases. We're going to move them out of those bases into the streets, as General Marks said, which is going to result in a lot more casualties.

The thing that really has concerned me about, you know, today, is you keep on getting these weird statements from the administration like, you know, the secretary of defense's statement about knowing whether the Iraqis are going to cooperate by March. He previously said we're going to know whether this is working by August.

If you listen carefully to what General Petraeus is saying, this is going to take time, and it's going to cost lives.

COOPER: And, also, Marcus Mabry, to Joe's point, I mean, what Petraeus is saying -- and I repeated myself endlessly, I think, in this last hour -- but I do think it's a significant point. That, regardless of what the Iraqis do, regardless of whether they run and cower or stand up and fight, those troops need to be deployed and, according to Petraeus, the strategy needs time to play itself out.

MARCUS MABRY, "NEWSWEEK": No question. This is what the military men say, which is very different from what the politicians say.

This administration has never been straightforward with the American people on the cost of this war. They had assumptions that were not well based, that were overly optimistic. And they paid a price.

I think what we saw tonight was a greatly diminished George w. Bush. This is not the bold president who, for the last six years, assured the American people that we were headed toward victory in Iraq.

And I think the American people have paid a price, and obviously, the fighting men and women have.

SULLIVAN: I think that he still has one strength, which is that withdrawal quickly could mean almighty hell in the region. Civil war. Everybody understands that.

So he is telling us tonight, we are really in a terrible situation, but anything else would make it even worse.

MABRY: You know what, I believe...

COOPER: And Webb did not have an answer to that. Webb said, we don't want to withdraw precipitously, but we want to withdraw in short order. What is that?

KLEIN: Andrew, there are answers that are being developed. Plan C is being worked on now in our intelligence community, in the military and among leaders in the Democratic Party like Jim Webb.

And I do think that Webb -- and especially, a piece of advice to John Edwards, if you're going to call for the immediate withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 American troops, you're going to have to tell us which ones they are, where they're stationed now, and what the rest of the troops are going to be doing when those guys leave.

And so I think -- but I do think that a plan is going to -- is in the process of emerging. It's complicated. All these plans are complicated. And it has some real serious flaws.

MABRY: I think there's only one thing that George Bush said tonight that he truly, truly believed, and it wasn't that domestic stuff that sounded like it could have been a Democratic agenda.

It was that he does believe that, if we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, then we will see the next 9/11 erupt from that country, which will be Afghanistan under the Taliban, only 100 times worse.

And this president is willing to bet the rest of his presidency to have the next two years be a living hell for him to prevent that from happening. He doesn't care what else happens.

COOPER: Marcus Mabry, Joe Klein, Andrew Sullivan, appreciate all your perspectives. Thanks, guys.

More 360 ahead. And at the top of the hour, special coverage of the State of the Union address continues with Larry King. Some of his guests: Democrat and presidential hopeful Bill Richardson, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and many other key political players.

We'll be right back. Stay tuned.


COOPER: Just a quick note before we go. I hope you join us tomorrow night for an important ANDERSON COOPER 360. From Cambodia and beyond, modern day slavery. Women, children held hostage, chained to a life they never imagined and how you can help them. "Invisible Chains: Sex, Work and Slavery", it starts at 10 Eastern Time tomorrow on 360.

That does it from here. "LARRY KING" is next. I'll see you tomorrow night.


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