MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Iraq. Hundreds of civilians die as Iraqis, Sunnis and Shiites kill each other. Is this a civil war? What does it mean for the 130,000 American troops on the ground? With us: the top military man at the Pentagon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace.
Then, the debate rages over foreign investment in our ports, and a Council on Foreign Relations task force focuses on the growing concern over the anti-Democratic behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin. With us: the co-authors of that report. He was the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2004, former Senator John Edwards. And he was the Republican candidate for vice president in 1996, former Congressman Jack Kemp. Edwards and Kemp, together only on MEET THE PRESS.
But first, what is going on in Iraq? Why the dramatic increase in bloodshed?
With us: our nation’s top military man, General Peter Pace.
GEN. PETER PACE: Thanks, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s going on in Iraq?
GEN. PACE: Well, what happened in Iraq was you have the extremists who see that the Iraqi people are going to the polls and voting for their own freely elected government. The terrorists are becoming more desperate—so desperate that they destroy one of their own most sacred shrines in an attempt to cause civil war and strife. The Iraqi people—the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shia—have walked up to that abyss, looked in and said, “That’s not where we want to go.” The Iraqi police, the Iraqi armed forces have maintained good calm, and the Iraqi people themselves and their leaders are saying, “Let’s remain calm and let’s figure this out together.”
MR. RUSSERT: If you were to be asked whether things in Iraq are going well or badly, what would you say? How would you answer?
GEN. PACE: I’d say they’re going well. I wouldn’t put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they’re going very, very well from everything you look at, whether it be on the political side where they’ve had three elections, they’ve written their own constitution, they’re forming their government. You look at the military side where this time last year there were just a handful of battalions in the field, Iraqi battalions in the field. Now there are over 100 battalions in the field. They had no brigades—that’s about 3,000 men each. Now they’ve got about 31 brigades. No matter where you look at their military, their police, their society, things are much better this year than they were last.
MR. RUSSERT: The American people were asked that exact same question, how things are going in Iraq, and here’s how they responded: Well, 36; badly, 62. Why do you think there’s such a disconnect from your view and that of the American people?
GEN. PACE: I don’t think we’re getting the goodness out to the American people the way we should. Somehow we need to find a way to have balance in the amount of reporting that we’re able to get out. If you remember back when the war began, we had 24/7 coverage. Folks could watch television, they could read newspapers, they could read magazines, and they could put together their own opinion of what’s going on. Now the amount of coverage from the war zone is much less than it used to be, and understandably, the coverage, then, that comes out is the bombings and the things like that. People don’t get a chance to see or hear about all the good things that are happening.
MR. RUSSERT: After the mosque was blown up, General Casey this week talked to the Pentagon reporters, and let me show you a small exchange he had with the press. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, March 3, 2006):
General GEORGE CASEY (Commander, Multinational Force, Iraq): Could this happen again? Sure, yes, it could happen again. As I said, Iraq is not out of danger. There is still a terrorist threat here that is working to foment continued sectarian violence.
Unidentified Reporter: Is the country close to civil war, or could it fall into civil war?
GEN. CASEY: Anything can happen.
MR. RUSSERT: Anything can happen. Seventy-three percent of the American people believe we are headed to a likely civil war.
GEN. PACE: Anything can happen, and I agree with George Casey, and he’s a very practical commander because he needs to be focused on the worst that could happen so he can be ready for it. Having said that, I believe that the Iraqi people having shown—shown in the last week to 10 days that they do not want a civil war. They are not attacking each other’s mosque—mask—excuse me—mosques. You know, there was reports that there were hundreds of mosques attacked, not true, the number is somewhere in the range of about 30, of which less than half a dozen actually had significant damage done. The Iraqi people want to have calm, and they’re working hard together, especially amongst their leaders, both political and religious, to maintain that calm.
MR. RUSSERT: But three-fourths of the deaths that have occurred over the last few weeks are executions largely tied to militias—the Sunni militia, the Shiite militia. Isn’t that an indication of how insecure things are on the ground that these militias have risen up and are quite powerful entities?
GEN. PACE: The militia are a problem, they are a concern. The Iraqi government has clearly stated that there is no room in Iraq for militias that are not subordinate to the Iraqi government. There are some still that are out there performing duties for leaders who are not elected leaders. That is something to be dealt with, but it is not a major long-term problem as long as the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi police continue to be loyal to the central government, as they have been.
MR. RUSSERT: But the Interior Ministry has death squads that have—going into mosques and killing Sunnis.
GEN. PACE: I don’t know that that’s true. I know that there are death squads; I do not believe that they’re responsive to leaders in the Interior Ministry. I think they’re responsive to non-elected, non-appointed leaders. Regardless of who they’re responsive to, they are a problem, they need to be dealt with. The Iraqi government is working very hard to vet all of those individuals who join their police forces, join their armed forces. They’re working hard to ensure they have a balanced force—Sunni, Shia, Kurd—and they intend to have a loyal police force and a loyal army.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you have confidence in Mr. Jafari to be prime minister, the leader of Iraq?
GEN. PACE: Doesn’t make any difference what Pete Pace thinks one way or the other. The only thing that’s important is do the Iraqi people want him to be their prime minister? And if they do want him to be their prime minister, he should be. Or...
MR. RUSSERT: But if you have 130,000 American troops on the ground, the top military man doesn’t have confidence in Mr. Jafari as a leader?
GEN. PACE: I didn’t say that. What the top military man’s saying, that’s out of my lane. And although I certainly have an opinion and certainly will support the elected prime minister of the country, it’s inappropriate for me to say one way or the other while the Iraqis are still deciding who their leader should be what my opinion is of one of their potential leaders.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Jafari said that one of his favorite American writers is Professor Noam Chomsky, someone who has written very, very strongly against the Iraq war and against most of the Bush administration foreign policy. Does that concern you?
GEN. PACE: I hope he has more than one book on his nightstand.
MR. RUSSERT: So it troubles you?
GEN. PACE: I would be concerned if the only access to foreign ideas that the prime minister had was that one author. If in fact that’s one of many, and he’s digesting many different opinions, that’s probably healthy.
MR. RUSSERT: There’s a lot of concern that the judgments made about the war before we went in have just proven not to be correct. There were no weapons of mass destruction, as been promised, in effect, as the primary rationale for the war; we were told we’d be greeted as liberators, that there would not be a long, protracted, bloody insurrection. How can we have been so wrong?
GEN. PACE: Well, first of all, with regard to the weapons of mass destruction, I certainly believed there were—that we would encounter them. We had our troops fully ready to be attacked by chemical weapons. So those of us who were in leadership responsibility positions believed that, that was in fact true. Turned out, at least to date, that we have not found any new. We have found some—some of the older caches, but no new weapons. Bottom line is that the Iraqi people are—are still so much better off today than they were under Saddam Hussein, that they’ve had three elections. They are getting their own government. They are able to move about to go to school, girls go to school. I mean, no matter what section of the society you look at right now, they are better off today than they were under Saddam Hussein.
MR. RUSSERT: Several conservative writers have reflected on the war this past week. Here’s George Will in the Washington Post. He wrote this:
“Almost three years after the invasion, it is still not certain whether, or in what sense, Iraq is a nation. After two elections and a referendum on its constitution, Iraq barely has a government. A defining attribute of a government is that it has a monopoly on the legitimate exercise of violence. That attribute is incompatible with the existence of private militias of the sort that maraud in Iraq. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, writing in the Wall Street Journal, reports that Shiite militias ‘have broken up coed picnics, executed barbers [for the sin of shaving beards] and liquor store owners, instituted their own courts, and posted religious guards in front of girls’ schools to ensure Iranian-style dress.’ Iraq’s other indispensable man, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, says that unless the government can protect religious sites, ‘the believers will.’”
Were there too few American troops in Iraq initially, in order to guarantee security for the Iraqi people? An absent security, this has created, fostered the growth of these militias and this sectarian war.
GEN. PACE: Let me take it backwards. First of all, there were many more militias before than there are now. That did not mean that militias are not a threat, they are. And as we’ve talked about already, the Iraqi government has a plan to deal with them so that the militias must be dealt with, and they must come under a central Iraqi government control.
With regard to the numbers of troops, it was then and is now a balancing act between having enough troops to get the job done and too many troops to be oppressive and creating more problems than resolving. I have been a member of the joint chiefs for the last four and a half years. I have been present when Tom Franks, early on, now George Casey and John Abizaid, each of the generals who’ve been in positions of responsibility, have come forward with their recommendations. I’ve sat with the joint chiefs of staff and reviewed those recommendations for troop—troop strength. We have made the recommendation to the secretary of defense and the president that the troop strength that the commanders are recommending is correct, so I am, have been very comfortable that what size force that the commanders have asked for is correct and that the balance between having enough and too many is about right. Most importantly, what is needed is more Iraqi troops, and in the last year, over 100,000 additional troops have been added to the Iraqi government. There’s 232,000 police and army Iraqis right now serving their country. That’s a enormous increase in their schedule to get up to 335,000 by the end of this year, which is exactly what we want. You do want more troops, but you want them to be more Iraqi troops.
MR. RUSSERT: General, many observers—objective observers say that you cannot have an insurgency this robust without being enabled by the population. Now, Lawrence Kaplan in The New Republic, who—a supporter of the war, said that he wrote on a story of a young man that called emergency line 130 to report insurgents shooting mortars; no one answered the line. And then he said you don’t do it again because if you call that emergency line, insurgents get a hold of your phone number and come kill you.
GEN. PACE: Think about the two things that you said. One—one was that they’re being supportive, and another is fear. I believe it’s the fear factor, not the support factor. The tip line last March was getting about 400 tips per month. Now it’s upwards of 4,000 tips per month that are coming in from Iraqi citizens telling their government and telling us where—where problems are.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the insurgency is in its last throes?
GEN. PACE: I believe that the Iraqi people are waiting to see what their government is going to do. Are they going to provide the kind of future that they have voted their government to provide for them? And I believe that the vast majority of those who are currently either afraid of the insurgents or taking money from the insurgents because it’s the only way they get—they have to provide sustenance for their families, that those individuals will move more and more over to the side of the government as they see that the government is providing the kinds of services that a government should provide for its people.
MR. RUSSERT: But we have been told the insurgency was just a small group of dead-enders, that it was in its last throes. That just isn’t correct, is it?
GEN. PACE: I think what is correct is that the number of individuals who will participate in insurgent-like activities is going to be dependent on not only military power, but more importantly economic and political power that’s taking place in the country.
If you have an opportunity to get a job and feed your family, you’re much less likely to accept $100 to go plant a bomb on the side of the road. This is not about ideology, it’s about sustaining your families in many cases. Once we have the Iraqi government functioning the way it should be, I think you’ll see that the vast majority of those who, in the past, had been willing to participate in insurgent-like activity, will no longer do so.
MR. RUSSERT: And if it doesn’t?
GEN. PACE: If what does not?
MR. RUSSERT: If it doesn’t happen that way? If it doesn’t play out that way, what happens then?
GEN. PACE: We continue to press forward until we are able to have the government that, in Iraq, that provides those kinds of services. I believe that it will, that we will in fact have a government that provides services to the people that are needed, that provides job opportunities, and in those job opportunities and in that future that is hopeful and optimistic, you will have the young men not following the insurgents, not being fearful insurgents, but living more normal lives.
MR. RUSSERT: Knight-Ridder reported this week that U.S. intelligence agency more than two years ago said that the insurgency “had deep local roots, was likely to worsen, and could lead to civil war.” And that was just ignored by political and military leadership because they wanted to believe their own rosy scenario.
GEN. PACE: I do not believe it has deep roots. I do not believe that they’re on the verge of civil war. I do believe that there are a small number, relatively small number, of individuals who are ideologically committed to the terrorist ideology and are going to do whatever they need to do to try to bring those citizens back under tyrannical rule.
MR. RUSSERT: William F. Buckley, conservative writer, said this, this week. “One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. ... Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. ...” And he put forward two postulates. “One of these postulates, from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom. The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymakers to cope with insurgents bent on violence. This last did not happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure.” That’s William F. Buckley.
GEN. PACE: Mr. Buckley would probably do well to take a trip over to Iraq and walk the streets and talk to Iraqis, and talk to Iraqi government, talk to Iraqi army, talk to Iraqi police. I believe that what is happening there is very, very positive with regard to the training of the army, the training of the police, the loyalty of that army and police who were—performed exceptionally well during this most recent crisis. This is not a failure. This is a very, very difficult situation, putting together a democracy inside of a country that for the last multiple decades has known nothing but tyranny. This is not going to be easy to do, but it is come—coming along and is coming along with good progress.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you really believe it’ll be safe for William F. Buckley to walk the streets of Baghdad?
GEN. PACE: I think not all the places in Baghdad, no, but I do believe that if he had a chance to get over there, properly escorted—I would want to be escorted myself—but properly escorted, that he would have a chance to talk to folks and see that the Iraqi people are positive about their future; that the Iraqi armed force and the Iraqi police are loyal to their government and are getting much, much better each day.
MR. RUSSERT: Again, let me show you the views of our fellow Americans. The war in Iraq; is it worth the cost? Yes, 29; no, 63. Can you keep an army at war without the support of the populace?
GEN. PACE: No, you cannot, and therefore it’s a very important, as we talked about earlier in the show already, that we get more of the entire picture to the American people. What they’re seeing is the same bomb going off every 15 minutes on television, as opposed to having an opportunity to see all of what’s happening in Iraq. I believe that the American people who are able to see all that is happening in Iraq would understand much better that progress is being made. It is not a great smiley picture, nor is it a disaster. What it is, is a very tough environment that still has a lot of work to be done, but one in which we’re making very, very good progress and one of which the American people can and should be very, very proud.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Afghanistan. Here’s President Bush who visited there on Wednesday meeting with President Karzai, shaking his hands there in Kabul. Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium. More than a third of the economy of Afghanistan relies on drug trafficking. How could we have let that happen in the three—four years—five years we’ve been there?
GEN. PACE: First of all, we did not let that happen. That has been true for decades.
MR. RUSSERT: We’ve let it continue.
GEN. PACE: What has to happen now is we need to be able to assist and work with the Karzai government in providing alternative crops, alternative employment. Right now it’s very difficult to walk up to a farmer and say, “Stop doing what you’re doing with poppies,” unless you have something else to offer that person. So it is—it is a problem. No country can continue to—can prosper if a large sector of its gross domestic product is based on an illegal crop. President Karzai knows that. The British government has been in the lead in that regard helping him. We’re in support of both the UK and the Karzai government. We’ll continue to work with them. It is a problem that needs to be worked on.
MR. RUSSERT: As much focus has been on Iraq, many have called Afghanistan the forgotten war. Suggestion that perhaps we’ve taken our eye off Afghanistan, the place where the Taliban and al-Qaeda were. Lieutenant General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified this week before Congress—and this is sobering. This is how he described Afghanistan. “The Taliban-dominated insurgency remains a capable and resilient threat. In 2005, Taliban and other anti-coalition movement groups increased attacks by 20 percent over 2004. Insurgents also increased suicide attacks almost four-fold, more than doubled improvised explosive devices attacks and increasingly used beheadings to terrorize the local population. This more active enemy will continue to negatively impact Afghan government and international efforts to create a stable Afghanistan. We judge insurgents now represent a greater threat to the expansion of Afghan government authority than at any point since late 2001.” How has that happened?
GEN. PACE: I think what has happened is that terrorists are recognizing the fact that Afghanistan has been left alone by them among other things, and that inside of that relatively stable environment, the Afghan government has made enormous strides: that they’ve had presidential elections, that they’ve had their parliament elected, and that the Karzai government and the people of Afghanistan are embracing democracy. That’s a real threat to the terrorists and they are therefore, looking to increase their attacks on that government.
By the way, the normal attacks in Afghanistan were about three or four per day. So a 20 percent increase means instead of four per day, you’ve gone to five per day. So in a relative sense, it’s a very, very small number.
Having said that, with the NATO forces going in there now, with 26 countries adding their weight to support the Karzai government, I think you’re going to see the terrorists attack those new countries, because they understand—they, the terrorists understand—that the weight of NATO, the weight of the free world is more and more on the side of Karzai—President Karzai and his government. And the terrorists are understandably afraid of that outcome.
MR. RUSSERT: In April of 2004 in Afghanistan, Army Ranger Corporal Pat Tillman, the former NFL football player.
GEN. PACE: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Was killed. It took three weeks for America to find out that it was friendly fire, not enemy fire. Mr. Tillman’s father, Patrick Sr., said that the government has outright lied, that they scripted this, that they covered up, that they were afraid they were blowing up their poster boy and it would affect their recruiting. “Your recruiting would go to hell in a hand-basket if the truth got out.” That’s his dad. There were three investigations, internal investigations. The inspector general of the Defense Department has now said they’re not good enough, they’re not credible, and there’s going to be another investigation. What do you say to Mr. Tillman today? Why, in his words, the cover-up? Why not come out with the truth? Why have there been three investigations that have not satisfied the family or the military?
GEN. PACE: Yeah. Well, first of all, the Tillman family has gone through enormous anguish, and the fact that that has happened to them is really regrettable. Second, each of the investigations has been done as thoroughly as the investigating officers were able to do at the time. But in the review process, especially this most latest review, in the review process, it was determined that some other factor needed to be looked at to be sure we had a complete picture. So, for example, this latest event is the fact that, although there’s no evidence that there was criminal activity, the investigators did not specifically look at whether or not there was criminal activity, criminal activity being when Corporal Tillman was killed by friendly fire, was that fire by the friendly forces fire that should have been going on or was someone potentially firing a weapon when they should not have been? There’s no indication that there was, but there was no specific recommendation in the report that there was not. And, therefore, the invest—inspector general reviewing as he should the investigation has said, “No, this is not the answer to all the questions, go back and look at into these things.”
MR. RUSSERT: Governors across the country are very worried about the National Guard cuts proposed by the administration. Have you pledged to maintain National Guard at 350,000?
GEN. PACE: Yes, we have. There are—there are no cuts to the—to the Army National Guard. Three hundred and fifty thousand is the authorized end strength, and it will remain the authorized end strength. Currently, there are 333,000 soldiers actually in the Army National Guard. That is the part that has been funded in this budget. When the Army recruiting force is successful at filling those other 17,000, and as they do recruit to those additional spaces, that money will be provided. So the Guard will remain at 350,000.
MR. RUSSERT: General Peter Pace, we thank you for joining us. And as always, we wish the very best, and our prayers to your men and women on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.
GEN. PACE: Thank you very much. Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Thank you, sir.
Coming next, two men, both one-time presidential candidates: Democrat John Edwards, Republican Jack Kemp. They are next, right here, together, on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: What do John Edwards and Jack Kemp think about Iraq, foreign investment in American ports, poverty and the growing tension in U.S. Western relations? After this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Want-to-be-vice presidents, welcome.
FMR. REP. JACK KEMP (R-NY): Former.
MR. RUSSERT: Jack...
FMR. SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC): Can you find another way to describe us?
MR. RUSSERT: ... Jack Kemp, how much trouble are we in Iraq?
REP. KEMP: Well, we’re in serious trouble to the extent that there is such a split between the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiites, and then you’ve got added to that an incredible pressure from the Syrian border and the Iranian border. I’ve long felt we didn’t have enough troops on the border of Iran and Syria to wall off the insurgents coming in from outside.
My most serious problem is that there is no economic component to the war on terror. In other words, there’s no 21st century Marshall aid plan to—I think we should be building on President Bush’s idea of a trade zone in the Islamic world, but there has to be aid and some type of hope that life can be better for women, their children, families and, as the general pointed out, some economic component that will lead to jobs and an opportunity to better one’s life, one’s condition in life.
MR. RUSSERT: Were there some fundamental misjudgments, obviously about weapons of mass destruction, but what about the intensity of the insurgency and the number of troops necessary?
REP. KEMP: Absolutely. Fundamental misperceptions, misconceptions, and as I said earlier, there has been little reward to those who want to bring peace. Sixty-five percent of the people, according to all the polls in Iraq, are very happy, very glad that Saddam is gone, but 80 percent of the people want the United States to set a timetable to make sure that—unambiguously, we tell the people of Iraq and the Islamic world that we’re not going to have bases in Iraq. I think there’s a very important consideration that we have to announce, that we have absolutely no plans to leave bases in Iraq as—and in my opinion, it’s very important to set some type of a timetable. Not ‘06 or ‘07, but they have to know that by ‘08 or ‘09 at the latest, we’re going to be—totally be out of Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, in November of 2005, you wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, and said this: “I was wrong. Almost three years ago we went into Iraq to remove what we were told—and what many of us believed and argued—was a threat to America. But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda. It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake.” Why were you so wrong?
SEN. EDWARDS: I don’t think I was the only one who was wrong, but I’m the one who had to make the judgment about how to vote on this resolution about Iraq. I listened to the information we got on the Intelligence Committee which I served on. I talked to former Clinton administration officials. And it turns out that the very premise for voting for the resolution and for the invasion of Iraq, which was the presence of weapons of mass destruction, was inaccurate. It was wrong. I had an independent responsibility to make a judgment and cast this vote. It turns out that the vote was wrong and my judgment was wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: In February of ‘05, you praised the turnout in the election as a wonderful, extraordinary thing. And then back in November of ‘03, you were on MEET THE PRESS and I asked you about your vote then. Let’s listen to your response in November of ‘03.
(Videotape, November 9, 2003):
MR. RUSSERT: Do you regret your vote in giving George Bush, in effect, a blank check for the war in Iraq?
SEN. EDWARDS: No. I voted for what I believe was in the best security interest of the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: That was after the war had begun considerably. We hadn’t found WMD. What, what caused the change in your thinking?
SEN. EDWARDS: Well, the truth is I was, then, I was still trying to defend my vote. When the election was over and I had time to think about this and reflect on it, it became increasingly clear to me that I talk a great deal about the need for moral leadership in America and for America to provide moral leadership for the world. Well, the foundation for moral leadership is the truth. And for me, saying that my vote was wrong is the truth. And so I thought it was important to say it.
MR. RUSSERT: In October—I’m sorry, in February of ‘02, you said, “I think Iraq is the most serious and imminent threat to our country.” Do you believe that was accurate?
SEN. EDWARDS: No. No, it’s not accurate. I was wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: Just dead wrong.
SEN. EDWARDS: I was wrong. Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Based on faulty intelligence.
SEN. EDWARDS: Based on the information. It wasn’t just me—the information I got, the information that the Congress got.
MR. RUSSERT: What do we do now?
SEN. EDWARDS: It’s hard. I mean, I—no pie in the sky. You know, I’m worried that, I’m worried that Iraq is beginning to slip away. You see the ongoing violence. The stalemate and then the formation of the government. It’s absolutely critical for success that there be a representative government formed where every group in Iraq feels like they’re being represented and their voice is being heard. I also think that our footprint, the size of our presence there now is still way too big. It sends a signal that we’re going to be there forever, that we’re not going to let the Iraqis protect themselves, that we’re not going to let the Iraqis govern themselves. It suggests that we’re there for oil. All those things are bad.
I think we have to reduce the size of our footprint. I said months ago that I think 40,000 troops should be redeployed. There’s a way to do that. Secondly, I think we have to intensify the training of Iraqis so they can provide their own security. There’s not a single battalion that’s ready to operate on its own in the Iraqi Security Force. And then—and this is the hardest and may not be successful—if we reduce our footprint, we need to intensify our efforts to bring others into this so that it’s not just us.
MR. RUSSERT: If a civil war breaks out when we withdraw because there’s no one there to secure each—one side against another, what do we do then?
SEN. EDWARDS: At the end of the day, we can’t do this for them. The Iraqis are going to have to do this for themselves. They’re going to have to form their own government. They’re going to have to decide whether everyone in Iraq will be represented in that government. And they’re going to have to protect themselves. America cannot continue to do this for them. They have to do it themselves.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, let me turn to the whole issues of the ports. Six American ports being operated by a company from Dubai. Jack Kemp, you wrote in The Washington Times, “It was disappointing to witness the pessimism, cynicism and hypocrisy of some left and right who have been using a rather straightforward, commercial port operations contract to rant against the friendly United Arab Emirates, a country that chose, post-September 11, 2001, to stand with the West, (and the United States) in the war on terror. ... To turn down this contract would further weaken our relationships with moderate Arab allies and I believe ultimately, our own national security and our chances for peace and liberalization throughout the Middle East and Africa.” You’re very against public opinion.
REP. KEMP: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Very much against Congressional opinion.
REP. KEMP: It’s the right thing to do. First of all, as you quoted, after 9/11, President Bush said to the Arab world, “You’re either with us or against us.” And the UAE from Abu Dhabi to Dubai said, “We’re with you.” There are U.S. Naval ships in Dubai ports. The United States Air Force is operating in Abu Dhabi and Al Dhafra. They have made a decision to support the United States in the war on terror. General Tommy Franks said they’re a valued ally of the United States. They have said they want to be with us, they want to invest. And 80 percent of all the ports in the United States of America are operated by companies with ties to governments from communist China to Denmark to Taiwan to Singapore, and in this case Dubai. So I think it would be a mistake for us to turn our back on a friendly Arab country that’s supporting us in the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Edwards:
SEN. EDWARDS: Well, I don’t think we should discriminate against anybody, including Dubai, the UAE, but I have a different view about what we should do.
I think that this is sufficiently important to the safety and security of America that American companies should be doing it. I would start by saying companies that are owned by foreign governments should not be operating or providing security for our ports.
I’d like to go further than that and say foreign companies shouldn’t be doing this. We ought to be doing it ourselves. I think there’s a practical issue with that, which Jack just made reference to, that they’re already doing so much. So I—that’s the starting place.
I also would like to see us use this as a vehicle to talk about what’s actually happening in our ports. Five percent of our containers are inspected. We can do much better than we’re doing right now. Number one, we ought to be moving toward the goal of screening all containers. We also ought to make sure that we have a tracking system so that we know what’s happened to them in transit.
We also—we need to be—and by the way, these ins—these screenings—screening process, the use of that technology, we need to be careful, because some of these containers have lead around the outside of them, so it’s difficult to see what’s inside. And if the screening doesn’t work we may have to physically inspect them.
And then last, we need to figure out a way, and there is—there are seals available that will do this—to make sure that these containers have not tampered with. So they’re very specific practical things that have not been done by George Bush and this administration that very much need to be done.
MR. RUSSERT: You attended two conferences in the United Arab Emirates in 2005.
SEN. EDWARDS: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: In 2000, President Clinton authorized sale of 80 F-16 Lockheed fighter jets that you did not object to.
SEN. EDWARDS: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you not trust the UAE?
SEN. EDWARDS: Oh, no. The UAE actually has done a lot of good things, and America’s relationship with the UAE is a good relationship. I don’t think this is about UAE, I don’t think it’s about Arab countries, I think this is—this is about whether America is going to operate and provide security for their own ports.
MR. RUSSERT: You don’t think that being an Arab country and hijackers from—some of them came from that country has—is a factor?
SEN. EDWARDS: But at the end of the day there’s a simple solution. The simple solution so that we don’t discriminate against Arab country—countries, which I think is a terrible idea, the simple solution is America and American companies need to provide this—operate the ports and provide security.
REP. KEMP: That is just at odds with the reality on the ground. That, as I said earlier, 80 percent of all the ports in the U.S. are operated—not the security, not the control, not ownership, but operated. The flow of goods in and out of the United States ports. We have the recognition that the UAE was the first country to sign the container security initiative. They have been a valued ally. And very frankly, in a global economy, as Tom Friedman points out, as the world is flattening how can the United States withdraw from the type of trade and commerce that we do, not only with Asia, but with the Arab world? So it’s a big mistake, and this is pointed at an Arab country, and I think it would weaken the United States security to say the UAE, “We’re going to let you out of—we’re going to put you out of our commerce in our ports.”
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to a domestic issue. The two of you have gone to the University of North Carolina and the University of Southern California to talk about poverty. Katrina: Jack Kemp, when you were in the Republican administration, you were seen as the outreach person to the African-American community. Do you believe that the Bush administration response to Katrina, has created an image problem with African-Americans?
REP. KEMP: There’s an image problem, no doubt about it. And government at every level failed the Katrina victims. And they are victims. This was a horrible mismanaged at every level of government, and it uncovered not only a level of poverty that is unacceptable in the 21st-century America that we live, in, but a level of racism. I’m not accusing anybody, Republican or Democrat of racism, but the generic attempt by government to handle this problem has led to, I think, a very big image problem for both political parties—and my party, which it should be thinking big time about what could be done. Abraham Lincoln had a Homesteading act, Franklin Roosevelt had the FHA and GI Bill. We—I think the president has attempted to do the right thing. I think we need to go further. I think we need a total enterprise zone for the whole Gulf region. I think we need to bring Habitat for Humanity into this, and the president’s talked about urban homesteading in the Gulf region. We need a massive effort, dramatic effort to build housing, schools and create job opportunities for people in the Gulf Coast region.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, after Katrina, you heard a lot of discussion about the racial divide, the economic divide. Do you believe either party has stepped up to deal with that issue?
SEN. EDWARDS: America hasn’t done what it needs to do. This is the great moral issue of our time. Thirty-seven million people who live in poverty every day in a country of our wealth is wrong, and we have a responsibility to do something about it. I—over the course of the last year, you know, I’ve had a little time on my hands. I’ve been moving around the country and meeting with families who live in poverty, and the—the most striking thing to me is they don’t feel like anyone speaks for them, they have no champion, they have no advocate. Katrina gives us, because of the window that opened with Katrina and the aftermath, gives us an opportunity to do something about poverty in America, and they’re such obvious things that we can do. Part of it’s financial, part of it’s not.
On the financial side, we can do something about raising the minimum wage, we can do something to expand the earned income tax credit, particularly to make it more applicable to single workers. Get rid of the marriage penalty in the earned income tax credit. These families need assets. We saw these families on our television screen from the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. They didn’t have a car, they didn’t have bank accounts, they didn’t have credit cards. We need to help these folks be able to—to accumulate some assets. We can set up an account for them, match what they’re able to save, they need access to college, you know, and so many young people would—the government’s cutting funding for financial aid for kids who want to go to college. We—we started a program in a small county in eastern North Carolina where we make college available to every young person who graduates, qualified to go and is willing to work while—during the time that they’re in college.
And then, finally, and this is a critical component, responsibility matters. You know we, the American people, our country, we expect people that we’re helping to help themselves. And where we—we have to address things like teenage pregnancy. One—one of the things I find when I sit at these tables with families who live in poverty is the mother of four or five children has kids who are having kids. We have to do something about that. We have to do something about the hopelessness of the young African-American men who live in the inner city. But this is something we can do if America makes a commitment to do something about it.
MR. RUSSERT: The two of you, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kemp, joint authors of the Council on Foreign Relations task force, “Russia’s Wrong Direction, What the United States Can and Should Do.” Let me read a little bit for our viewers:
“U.S.-Russian relations are clearly headed in the wrong direction. Contention is crowding out consensus. The very idea of ‘strategic partnership’ no longer seems realistic.” And then this: “The Task Force recommends the United States pursue ‘selective cooperation’ with Russia rather than seek a broad ‘partnership' that is not now feasible.”
Many observers say Russia invites Hamas to visit with them. Russia cuts off natural gas to the Ukraine. Russia clamps down on the free press. Putin centralizes power. Why should we have any kind of relationship with a country like that?
REP. KEMP: A good question, except you can point to many contradictions in our relations with Russia post-Cold War and here in the early years of the 21st century. But as John and I have discovered in our task force, and we don’t speak for all 15 or 20 members, but there is a consensus that without Russia’s cooperation, all of the great issues of the day from nuclear proliferation to terrorism, to dealing with Iran and North Korea, to dealing with HIV-AIDS or education and the problems of poverty in the Third World, we need the cooperation of Russia. So it is a pragmatic relationship with Russia that has to be nurtured, and, in my opinion, I come at this from—as a congenital optimist and a believer, that economics is extremely important to the future of our relationship. We believe that we must work with Russia, and here we are on the eve of the G8 in July, the...
MR. RUSSERT: Industrial nations.
REP. KEMP: ...seven industrial democracies of the world plus Russia are going to meet, with Putin as chair. We think, and I don’t know that I speak for everybody, but I really believe that our nation should call the ministers of foreign affairs together in a G7 to remind the Soviet Union—I’m sorry, the Russians, that the G8 is not a perpet—not a perpetual organization.
MR. RUSSERT: That Russia—Russia risk being taken out of that.
REP. KEMP: I don’t want to take them out. But I want them to know, and I think we believe—we believe that they should know the we can go back to the G7 if they don’t cooperate on things like Iran, North Korea, nuclear proliferation, and the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, John McCain, your co—former colleague in the Senate, said we should not go to the meeting in St. Petersburg in July, that—until Russia starts changing its behavior.
SEN. EDWARDS: Well, we came to the conclusion in the task force that that’s not our recommendation.
I want to add one thing to what Jack just said. If you step back and look at this thing from altitude, there is the real potential in the world, if we do what we should and we have a smart foreign policy, that we can live in a world where the great powers attack the problems that face the planet, and that includes all the things that Jack just made reference to: HIV/AIDS, terrorism, proliferation, all the huge issues that the world’s faced with. The reason our relationship with Russia matters is we want them working with us, not against us, to solve the world’s problems. So it matters what our relationship with Russia is, it matters how we deal with Russia. The question on the G8 specifically is—and Jack just suggested it, it’s a good idea—that we have a meeting of the G7, at least at the ministerial level, before anybody goes to St. Petersburg.
But the question on the G8 is, is it better to have Russia on the inside, or is it better to have them on the outside? At least for now, we believe it’s better to have them on the inside, and the reason is we need their cooperation on issues that really matter to us, and the most glaring one of those issues is Iran. You know, we need the Russians to do what they’ve been doing, to cooperate, to continue to negotiate with the Iranians, to try to provide enriched uranium, control the fuel cycle in the dealings with the Iranians. And then at the end of the day—you know, the IAEA is meeting tomorrow, if they are—if Iran is referred to the Security Council, which a lot of us believe is what’s going to happen, we’re going to ultimately need Russia. We’re going to need them in the Security Council. We want Russia, for example, if this—Iran continues on the track they’re on now, we want Russia to stop helping them build this nuclear facility at Bushehr.
We need Russia in this process, but we have to recognize all the things that are going wrong in Russia. Their economy has improved dramatically under Putin, but at the same time, the de-democratization is powerful. And on top of that, they’re meddling, constantly meddling, and bullying the old Soviet states that are on their periphery.
MR. RUSSERT: Five years ago when President Bush first met with President Putin, the president was asked whether or not he trusted Mr. Putin, and this was President Bush’s response.
(Videotape, June 16, 2001):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I’ll answer the question. I looked the man in the eye, I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; he’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.
MR. RUSSERT: Jack Kemp, “straightforward and trustworthy,” are those two words you’d describe for Vladimir Putin?
REP. KEMP: I don’t think the president would say that today. Albeit, we want Putin’s cooperation in the things that John and I have alluded to earlier. When they shut off in January natural gas supplies to Ukraine, it absolutely affected Europe to a great degree. Twenty-five percent of all the gas going into Europe comes from Russia, in 10 years it’ll be 75 percent. So that was a big mistake. But they backed off, and now they need to sign the European energy accords. When I was in Israel when Hamas was invited to Moscow, and then we saw yesterday, I think, or Friday, Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, said to Hamas, “You have to recognize Israel.” So there’s these contradictions in our relationship, and I think it was reflected in President Bush’s comments.
MR. RUSSERT: John Edward, before we go, you’ve been traveling around a lot. I noticed these three states on your schedule the last 24 months: Iowa five times; New Hampshire four times; South Carolina two times.
SEN. EDWARDS: I can’t imagine where this is going.
MR. RUSSERT: I’m asking you.
SEN. EDWARDS: Well, I’ve actually been traveling all over the country, not just into the places that you mentioned. And everywhere I go, I’m preaching the gospel about...
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re thinking about running for president in ‘08?
SEN. EDWARDS: It is something I’m considering, yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Fair enough. It’s nice to have a Democrat and a Republican sit here together.
John Edwards, Jack Kemp.
REP. KEMP: Pleasure. Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: We’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.