MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Day 12 of the fighting in Lebanon and Israel; day 1,222 of the war in Iraq; a bill on stem cell research triggers the first veto of the Bush presidency.
(Videotape, July 19, 2006):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others.
MR. RUSSERT: These issues and more for our guests. In his first MEET THE PRESS appearance: the White House chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten.
Then, in our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE: the first White House chief of staff to appear on this program, Sherman Adams, in 1956, who worked for President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
And also this morning, the national debut of this book, “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq,” and its author, Thomas E. Ricks, the senior Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post.
But first, the very latest from the Middle East. We are joined by NBC’s Kerry Sanders in Beirut, Lebanon, and Tom Aspell in Haifa, Israel.
Kerry, first, in Lebanon, what is the state—what is the situation in Lebanon?
What are the dimensions of the humanitarian crisis?
MR. KERRY SANDERS: Well, the humanitarian crisis at this point is just growing worse. More than 500,000 people have evacuated, and more are trying to make their way. The problem is where they go to, there are very few facilities to support them. So food is running in short supply, the spaces that they’re sleeping tonight and in previous nights are on the floors of schools, on the floors of public buildings. They’re not sure when they’re ever going to be able to return.
And those that are still trying to flee are running into extremely dangerous situations. Just a short time ago a minibus trying to leave the southern city of Tyre came under attack. A missile hit it; reportedly three people on board were killed, 13 were seriously wounded. This brings the death toll in excess of 370--370 now, and most of those are civilians, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Kerry, in terms of attitudes in Lebanon: Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group. Not always in concert with the Christian—Maronite Christian Lebanese or the Sunni Lebanese. What are the attitudes that you are reporting, seeing, witnessing amongst Christians and Sunni Muslims about Hezbollah, about Israel?
MR. SANDERS: It’s hard to put your finger on exact figures, but I would say it’s pretty fair to say it’s split among both groups, 50/50 in each group. Those that supported Hezbollah appear to be even stronger in their support, very defiant, wanting to see an end to Israel, while there are those who say, “This is not our fight—or this is not only our fight. This is the Arab world battle,” and they’re a little bit fatigued by it all and asking how long is this going to go on? Day 12 with no end in sight.
MR. RUSSERT: Kerry Sanders, we thank you very much for that report, and please take good care of yourself.
Let’s join Tom Aspell in Haifa, Israel.
Tom, what did you witness overnight militarily there in northern Israel?
MR. TOM ASPELL: Well, there have been more than a dozen attacks on northern Israel this morning across a swathe, a swathe of the country, including two volleys earlier this morning here in the town of Haifa. Two people killed—the first fatalities in a week—and 11 wounded there. But the action, really, Tim, on the ground on the border between Lebanon and Israel, with Israel having four combat teams operating in that area, two across the border at any one time, looking for Hezbollah rocket storage sites, launch sites, any Hezbollah fighters which may still be there. Of course, they’re protected by air cover. The Israeli Air Force flew more than 100 sorties overnight, hitting targets around the southern suburbs of Beirut, supply lines in the Bekaa Valley, and of course in southern Lebanon. Tim:
MR. RUSSERT: Tom, the Israelis have described this as limited raids, as opposed to an invasion. Do you see any evidence of an impending wholesale invasion by Israel?
MR. ASPELL: Not yet, Tim. I think they probably need two or even three divisions to make that possible. And along the border now you can see only some of those regimental combat teams and their support, including combat engineering units. So they have nowhere near the amount of men necessary to go in on the ground there, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: How about on the diplomatic front, Tom? Are you detecting, hearing, reporting on any rumblings?
MR. ASPELL: Certainly a great deal of optimism this morning. We’ve got representatives from Great Britain, France, Germany, the United Nations all in Jerusalem now. Of course, they’re awaiting the arrival of Condoleezza Rice tomorrow. But it’s understood, among our sources at least, that Israel’s happy with a broad agreement put forward by those people, which would include a cease-fire, Hezbollah to stop firing rockets, and return those two captured prisoners. But also, Israel feeling quite happy about the prospect of an international force on the ground with the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon, and even perhaps asking for NATO troops to be part of that international force, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Aspell, as always, we thank you for your report, and please be safe.
And here in our studio in Washington, the White House chief of staff for all of 16 ½ weeks, Josh Bolten.
MR. JOSHUA B. BOLTEN: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Would the United States be open to an international force on the Israeli/Lebanon border?
MR. BOLTEN: Secretary Rice has said that we’re open to that; that’s one of the things she’ll be talking about when she goes to the region tonight. But we need to remember that the purpose of an international force has to be to maintain a sustainable cease-fire. And a cease-fire is sustainable only if we get at the root problem, which is Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that has kidnapped Israeli soldiers and sent rockets into civilian areas in the sovereign territory of Israel.
MR. RUSSERT: Would the United States participate with soldiers in that international force?
MR. BOLTEN: Secretary Rice said day before yesterday that she didn’t consider that at all likely, but she will be talking with our friends and allies about whether a—whether and when a force is appropriate, and how it might be constructed.
MR. RUSSERT: Talking with friends and allies, but in any negotiation, cease-fire, diplomatic solution, you have to talk, sometimes, with your enemies. The Syrians announced today that they are open to having direct talks with the United States. Will the United States talk directly with Syria?
MR. BOLTEN: I’m going to leave that to, to Secretary Rice to handle the diplomacy. But the truth is that over, over the course of this entire administration, especially during the entirety of the first term, the administration had a number of very close direct contacts with the Syrian government which didn’t do any good. They continued to allow terrorism to flourish, they supported it, they supported Hezbollah, and it’s only when we began to put some pressure on Syria in the form of isolation that the Syrians ultimately withdrew from—themselves from Lebanon in the wake of the Hariri assassination.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the—if Syrian wants to participate, wants to help resolve the situation, why not talk to them?
MR. BOLTEN: Well, I’m going to leave that to, to Secretary Rice. But there’s going to have to be a pretty strong showing from the Syrians of genuine interest in withdrawing their long-standing support for Hezbollah, which is responsible for a good portion of this crisis.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you what the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, said: “The Hezbollah needs to be totally eliminated.” Is that the view of the president?
MR. BOLTEN: The view of the president is that Israel has a right to defend itself, and that, in support of that, the administration needs to support U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which says that the democratically-elected government of Lebanon should control its entire territory, and Hezbollah should release its control, particularly of, of southern Lebanon. So the administration will support the efforts to put that Security Council resolution firmly in place.
MR. RUSSERT: But my question is does the president agree with the Israeli ambassador that Hezbollah should be totally eliminated?
MR. BOLTEN: It would be great if Hezbollah were, were completely gone, but the important part right now is that Hezbollah be put into a situation where they can no longer effectively threaten Lebanon’s southern neighbor, Israel.
MR. RUSSERT: But isn’t the United States encouraging Israel to eliminate Hezbollah? Have we not sent them accelerated, precision munitions and bunker, bunker-buster bombs?
MR. BOLTEN: We’ve got a long-standing military and diplomatic close alliance with Israel, so there shouldn’t be any surprise that the, the U.S. government is providing munitions to them. But...
MR. RUSSERT: But we’re accelerating the delivery.
MR. BOLTEN: I believe that’s correct, that the, the administration—more in the ordinary course of things, as the, as the Israelis have requested munitions—is providing them. But that’s, that’s the nature of the relationship. Remember, stepping back here, this crisis was created by a terrorist attack, ongoing now, by Hezbollah against the sovereign territory of Israel. We’re going to help our ally defend itself.
MR. RUSSERT: Lawrence Kaplan in The New Republic describes this as a proxy war. And let me read to you his thoughts. “America’s proxy war. The administration views the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah as a classic case of great-power brinkmanship—in this case, pitting the United States against Iran. ... The Bush team has spent many more hours encouraging Israel than constraining it. The administration, after all, has no more use for Hezbollah than Israel. ... The administration views [Hezbollah] as a crucial proxy for Iran.” Is this a proxy war?
MR. BOLTEN: I don’t think so. This is, this is a situation in which Israel is, is trying, I believe, to live at peace with its neighbors to, to protect its own territory and citizens, and the United States is going to support them in that. This is not, this is not a place to fight a proxy war against Iran, although Iran bears a substantial burden of responsibility for the, the despicable behavior of Hezbollah and needs to be held to account.
MR. RUSSERT: But it is day 12, the United States has not called for a cease-fire, the United States has accelerated munitions to Israel. Haven’t we given Israel a green light to go in there and destroy Hezbollah?
MR. BOLTEN: Here’s what we said to Israel, is that we support Israel’s right to defend itself. We’ve also encouraged the Israelis to exercise the most extreme caution possible under the circumstances to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. And we’ve also tried to do everything we can to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis that your reporter was talking about at the top of the, at the top of the broadcast. That’s what Secretary Rice is going to be talking about. All of, all of those things, ameliorating the humanitarian crisis, getting a sustainable cease-fire, and then hopefully we can turn promptly to efforts—international efforts in assisting Lebanon with its reconstruction.
MR. RUSSERT: Ken Mehlman, who ran President Bush’s re-election effort in 2004, now chairman of the Republican Party, gave a speech on Tuesday to the Christians United for Israel. And this is what Mr. Mehlman said, “We stand for Israel because their war is our war too. ... Today we are all Israelis.” Does the president believe that this is our war?
MR. BOLTEN: The president believes that, that all freedom-loving people deserve support. That’s in Israel, in Iraq, everywhere around the world. And that all those who will stand with us to reject terror and support freedom deserve our, our support. And that’s, that’s our effort in the, in the Middle East. That’s our effort in Iraq and that’s our effort around the world.
MR. RUSSERT: But is Mr. Mehlman right? Is their war our war?
MR. BOLTEN: We are allies and we will support Israel in its—in exercising its right of self-defense, but at the same time we’ll do everything possible to, to make sure that, that the, the crisis there has minimum possible impact on, on civilians that, that can possibly be sustained.
MR. RUSSERT: But in terms of the Arab world when the chairman of the Republican Party, close friend of the president, says, “Today we are all Israelis,” what single message do you think that sends?
MR. BOLTEN: The message, the message it should send is that we will support freedom-loving people who reject terror and we are, we are doing that as much as standing by the Israelis as we are by standing by the free national unity government in Iraq who, who are, after all, Arabs.
MR. RUSSERT: So an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States?
MR. BOLTEN: Well, that’s, that’s generally true with respect to allies is that that’s the nature of an alliance, is that an attack on an ally has to be considered an attack on your ally as well. But like I say, that, that doesn’t apply exclusively to the Israelis. That, that applies to, to Arabs, it applies to our European allies and it applies to our allies all over the world.
MR. RUSSERT: So the president is comfortable with Mr. Mehlman’s language?
MR. BOLTEN: I haven’t talked to the president about Mr. Mehlman’s language, but the president is comfortable saying we will support our allies.
MR. RUSSERT: Also, the White House Communications Office on Friday issued a statement called “Setting The Record Straight” and they had this, “Conservatives Stand Behind The President’s Policies.” And what they do is refer to an article by Max Boot and the Los Angeles Times as evidence of the conservative support for the president. “It’s time to let the Israelis take off the gloves. To secure its borders, Israel needs to hit the [Syrian] Assad regime. Hard. If it does, it will be doing Washington’s dirty work. Our best response is exactly what” President “Bush has done so far—reject premature calls for a cease-fire and let Israel finish the job.” That’s the White House Communications Office endorsing an article which says hit Syria—for, for Israel to hit Syria. Is that administration policy?
MR. BOLTEN: That, that article is—I mean, was sent around as a, as a reflection of some of the conservative columnist support for Israel. But, no, the U.S. policy is that what we are doing and our diplomatic effort from Secretary Rice will be to, to ensure that the world community remains united in its understanding that the problem that we’re facing in the Middle East right now was generated by and is being sustained by terrorist attacks that need to stop. And the United States will do everything that we can to ensure that there’s a sustainable cease-fire based on the Security Council resolution that says terrorism has no place in, in Lebanon or anywhere else.
MR. RUSSERT: So the Bush position is not a call for a cease-fire, but rather, “Let Israel finish the job.”
MR. BOLTEN: The, the Bush position is, is as I, as I’ve just said, which is try to get a sustainable cease-fire there based on the U.N. Security Council resolution.
MR. RUSSERT: John Bolton said he doesn’t know if it’s possible to have a cease-fire with a terrorist group. Is it?
MR. BOLTEN: It, it, it may not be, and what—and what we may need to do is have a situation in which the Lebanese government is sufficiently empowered so that it can control its own territory and not permit Hezbollah to be operating out of southern Lebanon as they have been for some time and most virulently in the last couple of weeks when they’ve been lobbing as much as 100 rockets a day out of Lebanon into northern Israel.
MR. RUSSERT: But how can the Lebanese government enforce a cease-fire when they couldn’t stop a part of their government, Hezbollah, from participating in the activity they’ve been doing?
MR. BOLTEN: We would like to empower the Lebanese government to be able to do that. That’s what Secretary Rice is going to be talking about when she gets to the region. And when she gets to Rome on Wednesday, talking to the Lebanon core group, which is a widespread international group that will come together and, and support, we expect, the Lebanese government that, that needs international support. That means, France, Italy, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia all coming together to talk about the way forward to try to support a democratically-elected Lebanese government that should control its own territory.
MR. RUSSERT: The Lebanese president has said, and the Lebanese defense minister has said, that if Israel invades Lebanon the Lebanese Army will join with Hezbollah to resist Israel.
MR. BOLTEN: What we want to do is have the Lebanese Army take control of its own territory. And I think, I think Israel itself wants to see that. And as I said, that’s what Secretary Rice’s effort is going to be, which is to ensure that Hezbollah is, is uprooted and removed from being a threat to Lebanon’s southern neighbor Israel, and that the Lebanese government and Lebanese Army are able to control their own territory, as they properly should be.
MR. RUSSERT: But listen to the Lebanese prime minister, who’s considered a more moderate force. This is what he says. “Israel’s criminal bombardments must be stopped immediately. They are bombing civilians and creating sympathies for Hezbollah where otherwise there wouldn’t be any.”
MR. BOLTEN: Well, the—that’s, that’s what you might expect to hear from, from a Lebanese prime minister. But the reality is that what we are all trying to do is give that prime minister an opportunity to control his own territory. I think Prime Minister Siniora, whom you just quoted there, would love to be in a situation in which Hezbollah is not running wild in, in the south of the country there, and Secretary Rice’s efforts will be designed to ensure that he has the, the ability to follow through on his obligation and his desire, I’m sure, to control his own territory.
MR. RUSSERT: Is the Lebanese prime minister correct that the Israeli bombardments are creating sympathy for Hezbollah?
MR. BOLTEN: I don’t know. They, they may be, and I’m sure the Israelis are aware of that. That’s one reason why we have encouraged the Israelis as much as possible to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. But, but bear in mind, Tim, that’s in this kind of circumstance that’s difficult to do, because Hezbollah has intentionally interwoven itself into the civilian populations and, and made it—basically used civilians as, as shields for their terrorist activities.
MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqi prime minister, Mr. Maliki, has weighed in as well. Now this is someone who is supposedly an ally of the United States. This was his observation on what’s going on. “The Israeli attacks and air strikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure. We call on the world to take quick”—let’s see—“stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”
MR. BOLTEN: Yeah, and that’s, that’s the kind of language you might expect to hear from sovereign leaders in, in, in Arab countries. Israel is not very popular in the region. The, the good news is that that is a sovereign, democratically elected leader of Iraq able to express his views. He’ll have an opportunity to discuss that with President Bush when he—when Prime Minister Maliki comes here early this coming week.
But the, but the particularly good news from the region is the kind of language you have heard from many other Arab countries in the region, which are coming together and recognizing that the problem in the region is the scourge of terrorism, and you saw that in a Saudi statement a week ago, other, other Arab nations, as well. I believe those countries will come together in the Lebanon core group and try to achieve the original promise of the U.N. Security Council resolution, which says, “Hezbollah, get out of Syria.”
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. The speaker of the parliament in Iraq said that “The U.S. invasion and occupation is the work of butchers.”
MR. BOLTEN: The, the rhetoric we’ve seen has, has, has been heated. The, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament is a—I believe is a Sunni, who, who staunchly opposed the, the original U.S. invasion, the liberation in Iraq. He didn’t, he didn’t view it as liberation. On the other hand, this is a man who has come into the government and is trying, along with many others, to, to form a real effective government of national unity. He is participating in the democratic process. That, that kind of rhetoric is, is, is the sort that you’d rather not be hearing, but the important part is that the speaker is somebody who is participating in a democratic process and trying to put Iraq on the, on the foundation of a multi-ethnic, free, democratic society that will be an ally to the United States and the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: But it must be hard for people all across this country who’ve given almost 2600 American men and women—their lives, on the ground, in Iraq—and for the leader of parliament to call us butchers?
MR. BOLTEN: Yeah, I think that is hard, and that’s not the rhetoric I expect that you will hear from Prime Minister Maliki when, when he comes to visit the, the president in, in a couple of days.
You know, I, I was with the president when he went to Baghdad last month, and the meetings that he had, especially in private, with Prime Minister Maliki were, were very encouraging. There was a strong sense throughout all of the people we met with—including, candidly, the speaker—of appreciation for the sacrifice that so many Americans have made, and I think you will find Prime Minister Maliki expressing that, that sentiment very strongly when he’s here in the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say “encouraging,” this was a report from the United Nations: “Iraqi death toll rises above 100 per day, U.N. says. An average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq last month, the United Nations reported, registering what appears to be the highest official monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad. ... This sharp upward trend reflected the dire security situation in Iraq as sectarian violence has worsened and Iraqi and American government forces have been unable to, to stop it.” How can you say that’s encouraging?
MR. BOLTEN: What’s encouraging was the, was the attitude of the government officials that, that we had an opportunity to meet with, and their effort to come together in a unity government. The, the situation on the ground remains very challenging. This past week, as you pointed out, was a, was a very difficult week with a lot of civilian casualties. There’s no denying that this Iraqi government is facing a very difficult situation, especially in concentrated areas like Baghdad, with a combination of sectarian violence with an insurgency promoted by outside agitators, and just plain old criminal activity.
Those forces are very hard to control. It’s, it’s relatively easy to, to kill and maim innocent civilians under, under even the best of security situations. Our job is to, is to try to assist the Iraqis in getting control of that situation, and that’s what Prime Minister Maliki and the president are going to be talking about. That, that will be topic A when they get together beginning on Tuesday.
MR. RUSSERT: But it has deteriorated since Zarqawi was killed.
MR. BOLTEN: The, the, the number of civilian deaths has increased in the, in the last few weeks, and that’s a matter of, of considerable concern to us and to the Iraqi government. And as we have been for some time in, in this, this conflict, the United States is going to be working with the Iraqi government to adjust our tactics, to, to try to confront the, the increase in what appears to be largely sectarian violence in Baghdad and elsewhere.
MR. RUSSERT: Politically, John Thune, the senator from South Dakota, Republican, who’s in line to become the man who’s in charge of keeping the Republicans a majority in the Senate in the next election cycle, offered this observation, according to the Associated Press: “‘If I were running in the state this year, you obviously don’t embrace the president and his agenda.’ He said the Iraq war is Bush’s biggest problem. ‘The first thing I’d do is acknowledge that there have been mistakes made,’” he said.
And then this from Congressman Gil Gutknecht from Minnesota, “Once a strong supporter of the war, returned from Iraq this week declaring that conditions in Baghdad were far worse ‘than we’d been led to believe’ and urging that troop withdrawals begin immediately. ... ‘Essentially what the White House is saying is “Stay the course, stay the course.” I don’t think that course is politically sustainable.’” Republicans running away from the president.
MR. BOLTEN: Well, first of all, Senator Thune called me a couple of days ago, very concerned that his remarks had been mischaracterized. He, he expressed his...
MR. RUSSERT: Wait a minute. We called the Associated Press; they stand by the story.
MR. BOLTEN: I understand.
MR. RUSSERT: The Hill newspaper, another reporter in the same news conference headlined, “Senator Thune advises distancing the president from Iraq.” So if both reporters got it wrong, what are the chances of that?
MR. BOLTEN: I’m telling you what Senator Thune called to tell me, which is that he was, he was chagrinned at, at the way his remarks were characterized and that he is a supporter of the president and his agenda.
But, but let me go to the, let me go to broader point about, about political support for the president and this crisis and the ongoing conflict in Iraq. That is that the president on this issue is not going to be driven, as, as on any other issue, is not going to be driven by polls. He’s going to be, he’s going to be doing what’s right. The conflict in Iraq is, is very hard. It’s been, it’s been involved in enormous sacrifices for our men and women in uniform and their, and their families. But it is an absolutely essential battleground for, for us to fight the war on terror. And, you know, the polls may come and go, but the president is, under all circumstances, the president, I know, is going to be doing the right thing, and I believe he will sustain strong Republican support for, for the policies that he’s pursuing. The, the—I’ve seen a lot of stories about members being interested in, in distancing themselves, like the one you just cited from the president, but the president is out there campaigning, fund-raising at a pace that’s even faster than he did in the last mid-term cycle four years ago.
MR. RUSSERT: If the president determined that we needed more American troops in Iraq in order to stabilize that country, he would do that?
MR. BOLTEN: The determination would come from the commanders on the ground. That’s what the president has always said, that the commanders on the ground will make the judgements about what force levels are needed to sustain our commitment there and, and achieve the victory that’s crucial, not only for the Iraqis, but for us and the entire world.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you concerned that we have created a country in Iraq that is much more sympathetic to Iran than we ever imagined?
MR. BOLTEN: No. I think what, what we’re headed for—and, and the reason I use the word “encouraging” when, when I talked about the president’s meeting with Prime Minister Maliki and his cabinet one month ago—is that what—where we are headed, we hope, is toward an Iraq that is a multi-ethnic democracy that will be a strong ally for the United States in the war on terror and not a cooperator in the propagation of terror that, that Iran is responsible for.
MR. RUSSERT: But you have free elections in Iraq, and the head of the parliament calls us butchers. You have free elections in Palestine, and Hamas wins. You have elections in Lebanon, and Hezbollah wins 10--12 seats in the parliament and two Cabinet seats. Free elections are no guarantee of democracy.
MR. BOLTEN: Free elections are a necessary ingredient to democracy, but—democracy in a free society—but you’re right, they are no guarantee, but they are an essential part. And I believe that although the path is, is a difficult one, it’s the right path for the United States and the world to be on.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to domestic politics. The president vetoed a stem research bill, a bill that’s called for the use of embryos that were obtained in vitro clinics that supporters say would have been discarded. And instead, have the government subsidize research to see if they can use those embryos to find some use of the stem cells for cures for Parkinson’s disease and so forth. Tony Snow, the White House press secretary who speaks for the president, went to the podium at the White House and said this to the press corps and to the nation. Let’s watch.
MR. TONY SNOW: The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it’s inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He’s one of them.
The simple answer is he thinks murder’s wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: Murder. The president believes that using an embryo for stem cell research is murder.
MR. BOLTEN: Let me, let me step back for a second, Tim. Now, I think...
MR. RUSSERT: Because that’s a very important question.
MR. BOLTEN: It is, and, and...
MR. RUSSERT: The president’s spokesman used the word “murder.” Does the president believe the use of an embryo for stem cell research is murder?
MR. BOLTEN: Let me—indulge me here for a moment, and let me, and let me walk through the issue and I, and I will get to your question, because it’s a very complicated, very, very delicate issue, that I think a lot of people misunderstand what the president’s policies were that he first enunciated five years ago.
First, the, the policy announcement that the president made five years ago was not that stem cell research would, would be banned, but rather that federal funding of stem cell research would be banned. Second, it is—and not even all embryonic stem cell research would be banned, just that research that involves the incenting, or the new destruction of fertilized embryos. There’s—this president, in fact, was the first one to permit federal funding to go to any embryonic stem cell research, but only for lines that had been, had already been created where the embryo was already created. The president’s objective in his policy, was to prevent the use of federal funds toward the, the promotion of destroying these fertilized embryos.
Now to your question. It’s a very delicate and difficult balance that the, that the president has tried to strike here between the, the needs and desires of science and the morals and ethics that, that our government leaders are, are charged to, to try to sustain. On the one hand, the president recognizes that embryonic stem cell research has, has promise, unfulfilled as yet, but a, but a great deal of promise. On the other hand, the president believes, as, as do millions and millions of Americans, that that fertilized embryo is a human life that deserves protection. The president recognizes that there are wide differences of opinion on this, and that’s why his policy has been not to prevent that research from going forward altogether, but to prevent your tax dollars and my tax dollars from going to support the destruction of that, that human embryo, because there’s so many of us who believe that that human embryo is a human life that deserves protection, and has the potential to become, become some of the beautiful kids you saw in, in the original clip you showed at the...
MR. RUSSERT: Then if the president believes it is human life, how can he allow private stem cell research to go forward, go forward, if, in fact, that is murder?
MR. BOLTEN: It’s a very, it’s a very difficult balance. I mean, the president recognizes that there are millions of Americans who don’t recognize that as a human life, and that the promise of that research for the saving of life is so important that they, that they want that to go forward. What the president has said is that as far as the federal policy is concerned, no federal funds, your tax dollars and my tax dollars, will go towards promoting the destruction of that human embryo.
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re using federal funds for existing lines, which were of embryos. So were those embryos that the federal government is experimenting on obtained by homicidal means?
MR. BOLTEN: Those, those embryos, those stem cell lines, were already—those embryos were already destroyed, and, and that’s where the president—the president’s policies draw the line. That is that our tax dollars, from the point that the president made his policy statement forward, our tax dollars are not going to go to further incent the destruction of those fertilized embryos. Let me, let me...
MR. RUSSERT: The logic, Mr. Bolten, as people are listening to this, the president is saying no, we can’t use embryos that are going to be discarded by in vitro clinics because, according to a spokesman, that’s murder. But we can use embryos that were existing before I became president, that’s OK. And if you have a private company and you want to use those embryos, that’s OK. Back to the central question: does the president agree with his spokesman, Tony Snow, that the research on the embryo in, in fact, to use that embryo is murder?
MR. BOLTEN: The president thinks that that embryo, that fertilized embryo, is a human life that deserves protection...
MR. RUSSERT: But does he accept or reject the use of the word “murder”?
MR. BOLTEN: I haven’t spoken to him about the use, the use of particular terminology, but the—but let me come back to the fundamental point here, Tim, and that is that there’s, there’s a balance that needs to be struck, and it’s a very difficult balance for, for any president to strike, between, between the needs of allowing science that can be life-saving to go forward, and reflecting the ethics and morals of this society. And as, as far as those, those fertilized human embryos are concerned that are, that are going to be discarded anyway, there was, there was a very moving ceremony, I thought, in the East Room of the White House this week, when the president discussed his stem cell policy. And on stage there with him—you had a clip of it at the top of the show—on stage there with him there were some children who are the products of those fertilized embryos that otherwise would have been, would have been destroyed.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, 128 embryos were adopted. But 400,000 are now not being used, and will be probably discarded. And you’re saying they should not be used for research by the federal government.
MR. BOLTEN: Yes, that is the president’s policy.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you then move to close down in vitro clinics—if, in fact, those embryos are being created and used by private companies for research and the president’s spokesman says that’s murder, and the president said it’s a human life, why not then close down the in vitro fertility clinics? Because they’re creating embryos that, in the president’s view, will be murdered.
MR. BOLTEN: That’s not where the president has, has drawn the balance. He’s drawn the balance with—the line with federal funding, people’s tax dollars not going to—not going to incent the further destruction of the human life. Look, 400,000...
MR. RUSSERT: But he will—he will allow private cell research companies to “destroy human life.”
MR. BOLTEN: That issue isn’t before him. What’s before him is what—the issue of what will federal funds be used for.
Look, those, those 400,000 fertilized...
MR. RUSSERT: But he could take steps to outlaw that.
MR. BOLTEN: Those 400,000 human—fertilized human embryos, I’m sure the president fervently wishes that, that every single one of them is going to get adopted and turn into one of those beautiful kids we saw at the ceremony.
MR. RUSSERT: All 400,000 are going to be adopted?
MR. BOLTEN: No. They’re not likely to be, and that’s, that’s, that’s very sad for this country. But...
MR. RUSSERT: Karl Rove, the president’s chief political adviser, said that adult stem cells show far more promise than embryonic stem cells, and the White House could not identify any scientist who could confirm that. Is—does the president agree with Mr. Rove?
MR. BOLTEN: I’m, I’m no scientist, not, not quantified to speak on it, but I think the point that Karl was getting at is that there are alternative means to achieve some of the promise of the—of the embryonic stem cells that, that scientists...
MR. RUSSERT: No, he said “far more promise.”
MR. BOLTEN: Well...
MR. RUSSERT: Can you—can you cite any scientist who believes that adult stem cells have far more promise than embryonic stem cells?
MR. BOLTEN: Well I can’t cite scientists on either side of it, but what I can tell you is that adult, adult human stem cells have already shown enormous utility in, in the amelioration of disease in this country. Embryonic stem cells have, have yet to fulfill the promise that many see, but, but there—but there is a legitimate promise there, and that’s why the president has struggled so much with that difficult balance...(unintelligible).
MR. RUSSERT: But is there any ev—is there any evidence that you’re aware of, or the president’s aware of, that says that adult stem cells show far more promise than embryonic?
MR. BOLTEN: Adult stem cells have already demonstrated for—in the amelioration of disease...
MR. RUSSERT: So you agree with Mr. Rove.
MR. BOLTEN: I—like I said I’m not—I’m not a scientist and I don’t...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, I don’t think Karl Rove is, either.
MR. BOLTEN: Well, he knows a lot of stuff, but the—look, the, the point here is that there are alternative ways to get to the, the promise that the embryonic stem cells have, and the president, in his announcement this week on, on stem cell policy, also announced that we were going to put extra effort at, at—within our scientific community at NIH into pursuing stem cell research that does not involve the destruction of those fertilized human embryos.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Josh Bolten, White House chief of staff. We thank you. I look forward to the time you come back and we talk about the deficit and the debt and all of the other subjects you’re so familiar with.
MR. BOLTEN: All the good stuff.
MR. RUSSERT: Thank you very much.
MR. BOLTEN: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the White—Washington Post senior Pentagon correspondent Tom Ricks. He unveils his new book, “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.” Then our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE. President Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Sherman Adams, the first chief of staff who ever appeared on this program way back, November 4th, 1956, a half-century ago.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Ricks. His new book, “The American Military Adventure in Iraq.” “Fiasco” is the title. After this brief station break, we’ll find out why he chose that title and what his research discovered right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back, talking to Tom Ricks, the Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post.
“Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.” That sounds like a very harsh assessment. Who did you talk to? What documents did you see?
MR. THOMAS E. RICKS: I talked to over 100 senior military officers and, and soldiers of all ranks, from private to four-star general for the book. I did five reporting trips in Iraq and also talked to a lot of people back here. I read 37,000 pages of documents. Enormous amounts of information are available. And guys at the end of interviews would say, “Here’s a CD-ROM with every e-mail I sent to Paul Bremer when I was out there.” So there’s an amazing amount of information available.
MR. RUSSERT: Here is the summary, early on in your book. “This book’s subtitle terms the U.S. effort in Iraq an adventure in the critical sense of adventurism—that is, with the view that the U.S.-led invasion was launched recklessly, with a flawed plan for war and a worse approach to occupation. Spooked by its own false conclusions about the threat, the Bush administration hurried its diplomacy, short-circuited its war planning, and assembled an agonizingly incompetent occupation. None of this was inevitable. It was made possible only through the intellectual acrobatics of simultaneously ‘worst-casing’ the threat presented by Iraq while ‘best-casing’ the subsequent cost and difficulty of occupying the country.”
Let’s talk about the intelligence first. And, you write about the national intelligence estimate. And this is how you described it. “In September of ‘02 the U.S. intelligence prepared a comprehensive summary, called the National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, of what it knew about ‘Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ ... It was prepared at the request of members of Congress who expected to vote on going to war with Iraq and wanted something on which to base their vote. ... As a political document that made the case for war the NIE of October ‘02 succeeded brilliantly. As a professional intelligence product it was shameful. But it did its job, which wasn’t really to assess Iraqi weapons programs but to sell a war. There was only one way to disprove its assertions: invade Iraq, which is what the Bush administration wanted to do.”
You’re suggesting the intelligence community was an accomplice in providing information to Congress that wasn’t accurate?
MR. RICKS: Yes. That document did not accurately reflect the information available inside the intelligence community. But you had a process of narrowing; as the information moved its way upward, doubts were stripped away. And so what you finally had in that document was something very different from what the experts actually thought. And it kind of just all veered off in one direction. It wasn’t like all the doubts were, were stripped off, it was all the doubts that said, “This may be wrong, they may not have WMD.”
MR. RUSSERT: There were some caveats in the NIE.
MR. RICKS: There were, but they tended to be ignored, especially in the summaries, which is what officials actually had. And you wound up with a situation where Colin Powell basically sacrificed his credibility and gave a speech at the U.N. based on that NIE that was utterly false, as he now admits.
MR. RUSSERT: General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, you write in his book, he was “worried by the possibility of ‘a major influx of Islamic fighters’ from elsewhere to the Middle East ... concluded that it would be necessary ‘to size the postwar force bigger than the wartime force.’ [Shinseki] prepared carefully for the Capitol Hill appearance at which he would unveil that thought and effectively go into public opposition against the war plan being devised under Rumsfeld’s supervision.”
That was the famous testimony where Shinseki said it may take a couple hundred thousand troops in order to success—be successful in Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, a deputy Pentagon chief said that he was wildly off the mark.
MR. RICKS: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: And that Shinseki really was stampeded into answering that question. You found something else?
MR. RICKS: That was one of the surprises to me in reporting the book, that Shinseki had had his staff go and talk to historians, looked at other occupations and come up with a very concrete estimate based on historical precedent of how many troops might be needed. And he concluded several hundred thousand. The Bush administration saw that as an attempt to actually stop the invasion because they really came to distrust the Army because the Army was coming up with all these objections and doubts and saying things like this is not really—or invading Iraq would not be part of the war on terror. And ultimately, the joint chiefs of staff sent out an order saying you will consider an invasion of Iraq part, part of the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: You said that General Tommy Franks, who was in head of the initial invasion of the war, used the phrase “speed kills” in terms of supporting a lower force than Shinseki had talked about. Talk about Franks, what he recommended, and the effectiveness of that initial invasion as opposed to the occupation.
MR. RICKS: Another surprise to me in writing this was that I think this probably was one of the worst war plans in American history. When you talked to people who had to implement it, they said it didn’t speak to the basic problem. All the energy went to how you get to Baghdad, which was the easy part of it. Very little thought went to what do you do after you get there. So they spent 90 percent of their time on 10 percent of the problem. And they had a war plan that was effectively a kind of a banana republic coup d’etats: decapitate the Iraqi regime. When actually the plan that they were supposed to do was supposed to change Iraq and change the Middle East. So the war plan really didn’t speak to what top authorities, the president, had asked them to do.
MR. RUSSERT: Donald Rumsfeld, when the first looting was shown on the TV screens criticized the media for showing the pictures over and over again. He said that, “Stuff happens.” That sometimes these things are untidy—freedom’s untidy. And then there was a debate between Rumsfeld and the press corps as to whether we were involved in a guerilla warfare. You said that Secretary Rumsfeld was paralyzed when the looting began. Talk about that.
MR. RICKS: This would have been, I think, the time when Rumsfeld’s forceful personality really could’ve helped if he’d come in in this late spring and early summer of 2003 and said, “This is different from what we thought it was going to be.” But what I heard from officials who were at the CPA, the American Occupation Authority, was there was kind of a paralysis at the top, that they couldn’t get Rumsfeld to change, couldn’t get him to adjust, couldn’t even get him to say yes, we are fighting a war. And so for about eight weeks, a crucial time early in the occupation, June and July, you really have the U.S. military frozen in place because it’s a hierarchical institution. And the guy at the top was not adjusting to changed circumstances.
MR. RUSSERT: You end the book by saying that history will determine whether the president was correct in saying that the invasion will make our country more secure. Right now you have doubts.
MR. RICKS: I have real doubts because while there’s a small chance, I think, that Iraq ultimately will become a stable pro-American democracy, I think there’s a much larger chance that it won’t. And I think it’s an extremely worrisome situation. We kind of have a low-level civil war there. If it becomes a more intensible war, it easily could spill over its own borders and across the Middle East and we’d have a regional war on our hands.
MR. RUSSERT: But you do not think American troops should withdraw immediately.
MR. RICKS: I think it would be irresponsible to go in there and do what we’ve done and then walk away from it. There’s a lot of Iraqis out there who have committed their lives to helping the Americans do something there. And to abandon those people, I think, would be absolutely shameful as well.
MR. RUSSERT: How long do you think we’ll be there?
MR. RICKS: Ten to 15 years, at least.
MR. RUSSERT: At what size force?
MR. RICKS: I think they’ll probably get it down to maybe 110,000 by the end of this year, and probably 50,000 by the end of next year. And then you could have a steady stay for five or 10 years, even 15 years, but I think it’s going to be a long, hard struggle.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Ricks. The book, “Fiasco: the American Military Adventure in Iraq.” We thank you for sharing your views.
MR. RICKS: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next: our MEET THE PRESS MINUTE. The first White House chief of staff to ever appear on MEET THE PRESS 50 years ago, Sherman Adams, from Ike Eisenhower’s administration.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Sixteen White House chiefs of staff have appeared on MEET THE PRESS. The first, former New Hampshire Governor Sherman Adams, who served President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
(Videotape, November 4, 1956):
MR. NED BROOKS: Welcome once again to MEET THE PRESS. Our guest is the assistant to the president, Mr. Sherman Adams. As the chief of staff to the president, Mr. Adams attends the sessions of the Cabinet and the National Security Council as well as meetings with political leaders.
MR. LAWRENCE SPIVAK: Governor Adams, on that, as you know, it’s been frequently charged that you are the most powerful member of the president’s, president’s official family, and that you’re the second-most powerful man in Washington next to the president. Can you tell us how much truth there is, if any, in that charge?
MR. SHERMAN ADAMS: I don’t know, Mr. Spivak, how I should answer a question like that...
MR. SPIVAK: Well, let me ask you...
MR. ADAMS: ...but let me answer it in the negative.
OFFSCREEN VOICE: (Unintelligible).
MR. SPIVAK: All right. Let me ask you this. Yes. May I then put this:
Now, who decides—do you decide what should and should not be taken up with the president? Because that, too, the charge has been made that through a process of selection, you can decide what comes before the president, and what, therefore, is decided.
MR. ADAMS: I don’t carry out policy, I see that policy is carried out. I don’t make policy, the president makes policy and the people in his official family.
Now so far as I’m concerned, my job is to get the things done as to which the president has already made decisions. I don’t arrogate to myself decisions that belong to the president of the United States. And all this business about being powerful and, and being the most influential person in Washington amuses me a little bit, because if that’s so, that simply adds to the president’s accomplishments, I assure you, because I, I do what I believe he wants me to do.
MR. RUSSERT: Sherman Adams was the longest-serving White House chief of staff in history: five years, nine months, one day.
MR. ADAMS: (From file footage) I have tendered my resignation.
MR. RUSSERT: He resigned under political pressure on September 22nd, 1958, after allegations he accepted expensive gifts in exchange for aiding textile magnate Bernard Goldfine during his troubles with the Security & Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.
Adams then returned to his native New Hampshire, where he established the Loon Mountain Ski Resort. He died in 1986 at age 87.
And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: And that’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.