AC: "As long as they don't host al Qaeda, America doesn't care beyond that."
Anderson once again talks to Michael (on set) and to Peter Bergen (in DC) about the Afghanistan elections, this time moments before the polls open there. Michael stays on to discuss today's bombings in Iraq. And Anderson announces that all three will be in Afghanistan the first week of September.
ANDERSON COOPER: We're joined now by Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst in Washington, and also by our own Michael Ware, who has certainly spent a lot of time both, we know, in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan.
Peter, let's start off with you. A big day for this country. What is at stake right now?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, at stake is the entire project that the international community is engaged in.
I mean, if this election goes off fairly well, many of the naysayers, I think, will be shown not to be correct. I think the main indicator to look for, Anderson, is voter turnout. Karzai's going to win this election either in the first round or the second round. That's a virtual certainty.
But if voter turnout is significant on the day, certainly above 50 percent or 60 percent, something like that, I think that sends a message that the Afghan population were not intimidated by the Taliban, were actively engaged in this very important election.
The last election was in 2004. There was 80 percent turnout. I think that's very unlikely that we will see that kind of turnout. But a significant turnout would be a big signal to the Taliban that the Afghan population were not intimidated.
COOPER: Michael Ware, Secretary of State Clinton says the U.S. is impartial in this in terms of who actually gets elected. Does it matter to the U.S. who gets...
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, no, it really doesn't. It doesn't -- in some ways, it doesn't matter to the Afghan people, and, to some degree, it doesn't matter to the U.S. interests in Afghanistan either.
I mean, I think I would disagree with Peter to some degree. I think this election's going to happen, no matter what. It mightn't be pretty. It's going to be disrupted in certain areas. Would we consider it a complete clean, legitimate election? No. There's going to be deep flaws within it.
But will it be enough for the Afghan people? I would think so. And we're going to see a lot of disruption in the south. And maybe the Pashtuns in the south, the people from whence the Taliban came, are going to feel even more disenfranchised, which is one of the Taliban goals.
But I don't think this election is going to mean a great deal in terms of going forward, either for Afghanistan or for U.S. strategy, because whether it's the return of Hamid Karzai or whether it's Abdullah Abdullah or anyone else, we're going to see a hodgepodge of warlords, corrupt officials, and another government that cannot deliver services to its people.
COOPER: Peter, is corruption that deeply entrenched in Afghanistan right now, I mean, narco corruption, other forms?
I mean, according to Transparency International, the NGO that tracks this thing, you know, Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, perhaps only beaten by Somalia. So, that's a pretty low bar.
So, yes, there's no doubt, as Michael says, it's a highly corrupt country. A third of the economy is basically generated by the drug business. And that's just a fact.
COOPER: And in terms of the U.S. policy, Michael, clearly, the Obama administration has tried to scale down what the endgame or what the goal is. At this point, is the goal, as the U.S. has set it, achievable?
WARE: I think it is. And we saw this begin under the Bush administration. It started to tone down its goals, as it did in Iraq.
The word democracy was dropped, for example. And, certainly, we're not looking at, you know, shining models for that region, nor in the Middle East, as Iraq was meant to be. Essentially, a stable country that can hold itself together, won't host al Qaeda will be more than enough for U.S. interests.
And I have to tell you, I visited D.C. not so long ago and went to the Department of State. And it was made very, very clear to me that Afghanistan nor Iraq are considered strategically important to U.S. interests.
They are important countries, but they're not strategically vital. As it was said to me, and is accurate, Afghanistan's a pile of rocks. It just so happens that al Qaeda had bases there at one point.
If the Taliban want to re-engage, re-enter the political process, end their insurgency, as long as they don't host al Qaeda, America doesn't care beyond that.
COOPER: Peter Bergen, appreciate it.
Michael, stick around. Michael, we will talk about Iraq. I want to talk about an especially terrifying day in Baghdad, Iraq's prime minister blaming al Qaeda in Iraq and Saddam Hussein loyalists for a wave of grisly bombings at the capital, a half-dozen explosions across the city, including nearly simultaneous truck bombings of the foreign and finance ministries, nearly 100 dead, hundreds more hurt.
Michael, what do you make of this, six bombings, 95 people dead, the deadliest day of violence since the U.S. pulled back troops from the cities. What happened?
WARE: This is, welcome to Iraq.
This was happening under the U.S.-led offensive, under the U.S.- led war. I remember, when I was there just not so long ago, just before I left, 80 died in one day. Today, the death toll's 95 or 100. This is part of a long-running campaign.
COOPER: Well, the prime minister today said that they're going to have to -- quote -- this is going to lead to the -- quote -- "reevaluation of our plans and security mechanisms."
Is it possible that they would reevaluate the U.S. position of pulling out?
WARE: Well, I know that the U.S. command there would like to redeploy some troops to the north, certainly around Mosul and some of the more vulnerable villages up there, because at the moment that's one of al Qaeda's latest strongholds. That's going to be a very interesting question, because the Maliki government has been dogged about running this war on its own in its own way.
It wants America to underwrite it, but it doesn't want America to participate. It wants to do this its own way. It's tearing down the blast walls in Baghdad. And, for example, it's ludicrous to hear the prime minister of Iraq blame these bombings on Saddam loyalists or Baathist loyalists.
The Baathist loyalists went on the U.S. government payroll. They opposed al Qaeda during Saddam. They oppose them now. That's just a sign of the Shia-vs.-Sunni rivalry. That's got nothing to do with the real security threat.
COOPER: A rivalry which is alive and well.
Michael Ware, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
A quick program note: Starting the week of September 7, Michael, Peter Bergen, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and I are going to be reporting from Afghanistan with American forces on the front lines in their battle with the Taliban. I hope you join us for that week.