Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press. He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.
MSNBC: Tim, just in time for the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack in America, we’ve seen new video of Osama bin Laden with the 9/11 attackers. Why, from their point of view, would they do something like this so close to the 9/11 anniversary?
Russert: It is quite interesting trying to figure out their mentality. Remember the tapes they released right before 2004 elections? They may have calculated it would hurt President Bush, but many observers say it actually helped him.
This tape, I think, was an attempt to show the world al Qaida is still a player five years after September 11th. All it does is create disgust and anger with the American people, so, I’m not sure they quite understand our psyche as well as they think we do.
MSNBC: In addition to the commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks this weekend on Meet the Press, you have a very special guest.
Russert: Yes, indeed. For the first time in three years, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, returns to Meet the Press.
He has lot to talk about obviously, with what has occurred over the last three years with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and so on.
So, for a full hour Sunday, we’ll honor those who died five years ago, on September the 11th, as well as have a comprehensive conversation with Dick Cheney.
MSNBC: Do you think Mr. Cheney’s appearance is part of the Bush administration’s initiative of the past couple of weeks to speak on the threat of international terrorism and maybe tie it to the war on Iraq.
Russert: Absolutely. The administration is trying to go out and say this election is all about the war on terror, not just about the war in Iraq.
You know, the differences between the parties couldn’t be clearer now. The Bush administration is saying Iraq is the central front in the War on Terror – that’s its reminiscent or analogous to the World War Two and the Cold War and we have to stay the course.
The Democrats are saying that’s nonsense. The Iraq War’s a distraction from the War on Terror and is more analogous to Vietnam and that we have to change the course.
It’s very clear. The voters are going to have to make a decision.
MSNBC: It’s interesting how this very issue has been perceived as a real negative for the administration and yet, here they are turning it around and going on the offensive with it.
Russert: Absolutely - a page from Karl Rove’s playbook.
You take your most vulnerable issue, in terms of public perception, and go on offense. And there’s not a day that’s gone by where the Bush administration hasn’t said, “You want to talk national security? Let’s talk.”
But the emphasis is always on the War on Terror, much more than the specific war in Iraq.
MSNBC: Four years ago, in the off-year election, didn’t the White House launched somewhat of the same kind of offensive to help Republicans in midterm elections - and it seemed to work?
Russert: It did. It worked in 2002 and it worked in 2004. Will it work again in 2006? The Democrats are betting no, because of the situation on the ground in Iraq. The Republicans are betting yes, because of the fear of terrorism.
You remember, in 2002, the big issue was Homeland Security. The Democrats had proposed creating the Department of Homeland Se3curity. The Bush administration resisted it, then came up with their own version and accused Democrats of opposing it and a few Democrats lost their seats.
Its rough and tumble politics and we’ll see what happens in just about eight weeks.