updated 8/5/2007 12:47:40 PM ET 2007-08-05T16:47:40

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  In Iraq, the national government in crisis, weakened by political bickering and deadly bombings.  And here at home, the strain of the war takes its toll.  With us the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Then, do the leading candidates for the White House have the qualities and attributes necessary to be an effective president?  With us, Carl Bernstein, author of “A Woman in Charge:  The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton”; David Brody, senior national correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network; Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian; and David Mendell, author of “Obama:  From Promise to Power.”

But first, the war in Iraq.  What now, after four and a half years; 3,645 U.S. troops killed; 27,104 wounded; an estimated 70,000 Iraqis dead?  Just back from the region is the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and he joins us this morning.

Welcome.

SEC’Y ROBERT GATES:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you some headlines that were read here and around the world about what is happening in Iraq.  “Iraq’s largest Sunni political faction resigned from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Cabinet on Wednesday, severely weakening the government’s credentials as a national unity coalition and setting back hopes of reconciliation.  The Sunni Arab bloc’s withdrawal, announced” “the beginning of a monthlong break by” the “Parliament, is another serious blow to hopes that Iraq’s feuding political parties could pass legislation sought by” the U.S. “Congress as evidence of progress by” September 15th.  That sounds pretty dismal.

SEC’Y GATES:  Well, there’s no question that it’s disappointing that the Sunnis have, have left the government.  Some of the ministers, such as the minister of defense, who’s a Sunni, have remained in place.  But their inability to reconcile among themselves at this national level, and, and to get some of this legislation passed clearly is, is disappointing and, and, therefore, makes some of the positive developments outside of Baghdad or outside of the national political arena more interesting.

MR. RUSSERT:  But we can’t have any success in Iraq unless there’s reconciliation.

SEC’Y GATES:  At some point there has to be reconciliation at the national level.  I think, I think we, perhaps, all underestimated the depth of the misunderstanding and mistrust among these sections, among these factions in Baghdad over time.  But I think what we have been unprepared for is the, is the turn in places like al-Anbar and some other places where the locals have, at the local level, have flipped and come over to our side and provided assistance and, and created an environment in which the security in places that were considered lost six months ago now is pretty good, and where the—where local political life is beginning to come back to—the local political councils are beginning to meet again and so on.  So there’s—it’s, it’s a disappointing picture for the central government right now, but there are some positive things happening at the local level and, obviously, in the security arena.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned some of those local tribal leaders and so forth, and, yet, the Shiite national government is quite concerned about the United States cooperating with former Sunni insurgents.  And, in fact, U.S. military quoted yesterday in the paper saying that we are cutting deals with leaders of the Sunnis who very well may have American blood on their hands.  We just don’t know.

SEC’Y GATES:  I guess by the time this whole thing is over we’ll have had to make arrangements with a variety of people that at one time or another were opposed to us.  That’s the way the political process is going to evolve in Iraq, of people who have been fighting deciding they don’t want to fight anymore and want to be a part of the political process.  And that’s what we’re seeing in Anbar with the tribal leaders and, and others.  We see it in some circles on the part of the Shia.  So that’s, that’s the process we’re hoping will evolve over time.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned that we misunderestimated some of the divisions between the factions of the government, the Shiites and the Sunnis.  Mr. Secretary, for Americans watching today, many are saying to themselves, “The administration was wrong about weapons of mass destruction, wrong about the size of the force necessary to occupy Iraq, wrong about the costs of the war, wrong about Shiite and Sunni division.  Why should we have any confidence in anything they say about the future of Iraq?”

SEC’Y GATES:  Well, I think that what we should have confidence in is the evaluation that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus are going to make in early September.  These men have been on the ground for quite some time now. They are the best of our professionals.  They will look at this.  Their report—certainly General Petraeus’ part of it—will be examined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent to me and then to the president.  So it, it won’t be entirely General Petraeus; it’ll be mostly General Petraeus.  But what we’re trying to do is get an honest an evaluation of this situation as we possibly can so that the president and the Congress can decide how to move forward.

MR. RUSSERT:  But there have been some very serious misjudgments made?

SEC’Y GATES:  Oh, I think that’s, you know, that’s, that’s clearly been true. I referred to several of them in my confirmation hearings, and, and I—but I think, in this case, what we were really looking at was how difficult it would be—I mean, he—these are people now who have worked together for, for over a year.  They have had a @government.  They have voted a budget.  They have passed some 60 pieces of legislation.  Not the key ones that we’d like to see. But, but, at the same time, there is still this deep mistrust from, from the Shia, who have been oppressed by the Baathists, the Sunni Baathists for so long.  The Baathists wanting to get back into power and make sure that they have a stake in the country, and the Kurds, basically, being the, the peacemaker, if you will, among them.  So I think that this, this internal cultural and historical clash has made it harder for them to exercise the basic trust required to pass some of these laws.

MR. RUSSERT:  The president has--(clears throat) excuse me—nominated Admiral Michael Mullen to be the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the ranking military man in our country.  And USA Today covered that testimony with this:  “The Iraqi government has made little progress” towards “political reconciliation, and U.S. policy in Iraq would require a ‘strategic reassessment’ if that does not happen by mid-September,” Admiral Michael Mullen, the president’s nominee, said.  Do you agree with that?

SEC’Y GATES:  I think that that’s the—I think what Admiral Mullen is saying there is essentially what is what the president has said, that we are going to have a, a fundamental look at where we are in, in Iraq in September.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if the government does not reconcile itself in the next five weeks and pass legislation that helps unify that country, we would have a strategic reassessment?

SEC’Y GATES:  Oh, I think you would have to, yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  You...

SEC’Y GATES:  But that’s, that’s basically the whole point of, of the Crocker-Petraeus effort.

MR. RUSSERT:  You served originally with the Iraq Study Group of Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton and then had to leave to take your current position.  The Iraq Study Group wrote this:  “If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military or economic support for the Iraqi government.” Do you agree with that?

SEC’Y GATES:  Well, I left the group before they started putting together their, their recommendations.  I would say that, that I probably would have signed up to that at that point.  But I think what we have not anticipated—what we had not anticipated, either on that group or in our government six months ago, was that you would begin to have the turn at the local level in places like al Anbar and Diyala provinces and some of the others where, where you do have the locals beginning to cooperate with us, sign their sons up for the police and so on.  So I think circumstances have actually changed in a different way, and the question is whether the local positive developments can somehow be brought in sync and, and paralleled with some positive directions at the center.

MR. RUSSERT:  In terms of unifying our country, unifying the Congress in fighting this war in Iraq, would it have been helpful if the president had adopted the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group?

SEC’Y GATES:  Well, I think that if you would go back—I think there’s something like 79 recommendations—I think that the president has, has adopted a very substantial number of the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton group in part or in whole.  The, the group itself recommended that, that a surge might be necessary.  It recommended talking to the Iranians.  We’re doing that.  I, I think that in a number of the cases—I think what people are saying, the president ought to have just said, “OK, Baker-Hamilton is my policy.” And the truth is, even while I was on the group, it seemed to me that it was probably not likely the president was basically going to outsource his foreign policy or national security policy to a group of, of outsiders.  But the opportunity to pick and choose from the suggestions that they’ve made I think has, has enriched the policy.

MR. RUSSERT:  In March you said we would know by the summer whether or not the surge was successful.  Do you—have you reached a conclusion?

SEC’Y GATES:  I think that the military side of the surge we’ve still got a little ways to go, but I think that the military side of the surge has been successful.  I think that the, that the ability to go in—the problem when we would go after al-Qaeda and insurgents before is that when we would hit them in one place, they’d squirt to another place.  For the first time the commander has enough forces that he can attack all of their basic locations at the same time, so it’s much more difficult for them to squirt out and escape, and we’re capturing and, and killing quite a lot of these people and, and beginning to re-establish order in neighborhoods.

There’s one major town—I’m not going to name it because I don’t want it to be a target—but there’s one major town in Anbar that has not had a—an IED explosion since February.  So, so there, there has been progress, I think, in the military side of the surge.

MR. RUSSERT:  But there—a victory in Iraq is not a military solution.

SEC’Y GATES:  No.  All the commanders and I, and I think everyone agrees that a successful outcome in Iraq requires political reconciliation.  There’s no question about that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Should the Iraqi parliament have stayed in session?

SEC’Y GATES:  Yes.  In fact, when I was in Iraq two months ago, I urged—I strongly urged the presidency council and the, and the prime minister that council of representatives not go out.

MR. RUSSERT:  Because the signal it sends, sends to the U.S., whose sons and daughters are over there in 130-degree heat carrying their extraordinarily heavy packs, fighting every day, and the Iraqis adjourn without reconciling.

SEC’Y GATES:  Well, I was—I was actually even more blunt than that to them. I said, “We have—for every day that we buy you, we’re buying it with American blood, and the idea of you going on vacation is unacceptable.”

MR. RUSSERT:  Back in February you were before the Senate Armed Services Committee and Robert Byrd asked you this question:  “How much longer do you think we’re going to be in Iraq before we begin to bring our people home?”

And Secretary Gates said, “It seems to me that if the plan to quiet Baghdad is successful and the Iraqis step up, accept their responsibilities, and successfully assume the leadership in trying to establish order and then carry out their political reconciliation process, I would hope that” we’d “be able to begin drawing down our troops later this year.” That would be the end of ‘07.  Do you stand by that timetable?

SEC’Y GATES:  Well, I think what we have to wait for now is the report from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and for the president to make that judgment.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is there a possibility we could draw down troops by the end of this year?

SEC’Y GATES:  A possibility.

MR. RUSSERT:  A good possibility?

SEC’Y GATES:  There is a possibility.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you bet on it?

SEC’Y GATES:  I think I’d just leave it at that.

MR. RUSSERT:  There was a dustup involving your department regarding Senator Hillary Clinton.  She wrote a letter asking whether the Pentagon was planning for an eventual troop withdrawal and just what the operational look of that may be.  And a letter was written by the under secretary of state, Eric Edelman, that said “Premature and public discussion of the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.”

You wrote a letter back to Senator Clinton saying, “I emphatically assure you we do not claim or suggest otherwise, believe that congressional oversight emboldens our enemies, nor do we question anyone’s motives in this regard.”

Vice President Cheney said on Thursday that he thought that Edelman’s letter was a—he, he agreed with the letter and thought it was a good letter.  Do you, do you think that Edelman’s letter was a good letter, and do you agree with it?

SEC’Y GATES:  I’ve been at this business a little over 40 years, and I think Eric Edelman is one of the most professional people I’ve ever worked with and one of the most talented.  I’ve come to rely on him heavily.  Senator Clinton reacted to his letter.  I looked at it carefully and believed in some ways it could have been a little clearer, and wrote her back basically saying what you quoted.  I certainly agree with the vice president that we are not going to share contingency planning with the Congress.  We never have.  Truth of the matter is we don’t share contingency planning even in the executive branch, because the plans change all the time and not to mention leak if they were to be shared widely.  And also I believe the, the vice president and I are on exactly the same page in terms of the appropriateness of the role of, of the Congress in terms of oversight of the defense department.  So I think, I think, I think there’s really no daylight there.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the part of the letter about enemy propaganda could have been left out.

SEC’Y GATES:  Well, I just—I think people are a little on edge.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, if we had actionable intelligence about Osama bin Laden or high level targets in Pakistan, and General Musharraf—President Musharraf did not act, would we act unilaterally?

SEC’Y GATES:  Musharraf has been a very strong ally.  The fact of the matter is, if we had actionable intelligence that Osama was in Pakistan, I think—my view is that President Musharraf would work with us to make sure that we could go after him.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if he didn’t, would we act unilaterally?

SEC’Y GATES:  I think we would not act without telling Musharraf what we were planning to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Secretary, we thank you very much for joining us and sharing your views.  I hope in the future you’ll come back and allow us more time.  We have a lot to talk about.

SEC’Y GATES:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Thank you, sir.

Coming next, what attributes should we be looking for in the next president of the United States?  Carl Bernstein, David Brody, Doris Kearns Goodwin and David Mendell—Obama, Clinton, Thompson, Edwards, Giuliani, Romney and more—the race for the White House coming up on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Our MEET THE PRESS roundtable, the race for the White House. What should we be looking for in our next president?  Clinton, Obama and a lot more after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Welcome, all.  We have a lot to talk about.  The race for the White House 2008 fully engaged.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, you’ve been thinking and writing and talking about attributes, traits that we look for in our commander in chief, our presidents. And this is the list so far, a work in progress:  They have withstood adversity, they have diverse perspectives around them, they have a sense of loyalty, they’re not afraid to admit mistakes, they know how to manage their emotions, they can define the goals for the country, and they know how to relax.

MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:  Correct.  I mean, I think when we go through this campaign, instead of talking, as we too often do, about things like cleavage, things like sighs and shrugs, who gets the better in a debate, we should look at the past, look at history, see what have made the great presidents great. What were their strengths?  And look for the past of these people to see have they revealed these strengths and what weaknesses, and are they able to compensate for their weaknesses.

MR. RUSSERT:  Give me a sense in history of people who have taken on adversity, who have surrounded themselves with people of different opinions, who have not been afraid to admit mistakes.

MS. GOODWIN:  Well, when you look at FDR, for example, he was considered somewhat smug and arrogant before polio struck him down.  After that they said he was much more compassionate, much more able to understand other people to whom fate had dealt an unkind hand.  You look at Abraham Lincoln, he lost almost everything before the presidency:  two Senate races, his, his first love, his mother, his sister, and yet was able to move forward.  You look at Teddy Roosevelt, and he lost his wife and his mother on the same day, and yet said the only way to beat the black dog of depression was to move forward. You look at Abe Lincoln putting a team of rivals into his Cabinet, diverse opinions.  FDR, reaching down to get Marshall, who had disagreed with him on—number 34 on the list, bringing him to chief of staff.  You look at Lincoln, continually able to acknowledge errors, learn from his mistakes. He’d say, “I’m smarter today than I was yesterday.” You look at Lincoln able to have the enormous ability to relax.  At the theater, he’d go 100 times during the presidency.  FDR playing poker and stamps.  These guys knew how to relax and replenish their energies to face the struggles of the following day. That’s the qualities we need to look for.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let’s talk about the current crop.  David Mendell, your soon-to-be-released book, out next week, on Barack Obama, “From Promise to Power,” you write this:  “Obama, without argument, is imbued with an abiding sense of social and economic justice.  He’s an earnest, thoughtful, occasionally naive man who has a strong sense of moral purpose.” You go on: “It is his easygoing public temperament and ingenious lack of specificity that perhaps have most abetted his career in politics.  Whatever setting Obama steps into—a black church, the Senate floor, a rural farmhouse—he blends comfortably into the atmosphere, as if he” had “spent a lifetime there.”

MR. DAVID MENDELL:  Yes.  Well, looking through Doris’ list there, I think Senator Obama possesses several of those qualities.  I don’t think he’d be where he is right now if he didn’t.  He, he grew up in Hawaii.  He has this extraordinary sense of calm around him.  He, he presents a, a calm, cool and collected presence in, in public.  And in, in private occasionally he can have a short fuse or a short temper.  But I think he—I think he possesses several of those qualities, and it—calmness being the, the key.

MR. RUSSERT:  Carl Bernstein, in your highly acclaimed “A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” you write this:  “Hillary is neither the demon of the right’s perception, nor a feminist saint.” Here “is a story of strength and vulnerability, a woman’s story.  She is an intelligent woman endowed with energy, enthusiasm, humor, tempestuousness, inner strength, spontaneity in private, lethal (almost) powers of retribution, real-life lines that come from deep wounds, and the language skills of a sailor (and of a minister), all evidence of her passion—which,” deep down, “is perhaps her most enduring and even endearing trait.”

MR. CARL BERNSTEIN:  She’s, she’s quite a lady.  She—one of the amazing things is what a terrific politician we’re watching her become.  She has never had a political temperament on the public stage until she got to the Senate. She’s running a very smart campaign.  The question goes back to the—her history, and what’s real and what’s not.  She has an awful lot of trouble with grudges, with enemies still, but she’s much better at masking it.  She still has an awful lot of acolytes around her who were known in the West Wing of the White House, Bill Clinton’s wing, as the “Kool-Aid drinkers.” They are not very good at saying, “Hillary, you know, you really screwed up today.” But she has one person who will say that very gently, and that’s Bill Clinton, which is perhaps the great asset that, that she now has as a candidate.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Democratic candidates have been at the Daily Kos, the bloggers’ convention out in Chicago.  Yesterday there was discussion amongst Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards about lobbyists.  And this is an interesting look into this campaign.  Let’s watch it.

(Videotape, August 4, 2007)

Unidentified Man:  So will you take a position?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY):  Yes, I will, I will.

Man:  Thank you.

SEN. CLINTON:  Because you know, a lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not...

Man:  (Unintelligible)

SEN. CLINTON:  ...represent real Americans.  They actually do.  They represent nurses, they represent, you know, social workers.  They represent—yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people.  So you know, the idea that somehow a contribution is going to influence you, I just ask you to look at my record.  I have been fighting for the same things. I—my core principles have not changed.  But I do want to be the president for everybody, and I want to represent the entire country, and that is what I’m aiming to do in my campaign.

Man:  Thank you.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  I disagree with the notion that lobbyists don’t have disproportionate influence.  Look, the insurance and the drug companies—the insurance and the drug companies spent $1 billion in lobbying over the last 10 years.  Now Hillary, you, you were talking earlier about the, you know, efforts you made back in ‘93.  Well, you can’t tell me that that money did not have a difference.  They are not spending that just because they are contributing to the public interest.  They have an agenda.

FMR. SEN. JOHN EDWARDS:  How many people in this room have a Washington lobbyist working for you?  I see two, three.  How many people are in the room? Fifteen hundred, 2,000?  You are not represented by Washington lobbyists. They need to cut these people off, that’s what we need to do.

Man:  Thank you, thank you.  Thank you.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Different answers to the question would you take money from federal lobbyists.  David:

MR. DAVID BRODY:  Yeah, yeah.  I mean, that was not the visual moment, I, I think, that Hillary Clinton was looking for.  Especially the fact she was sitting in the middle, and you had Edwards and Obama kind of pointing fingers both at her in, in the middle.  But the reality is that the underlying theme here is this experience vs. a fresh face.  I mean, the Obama folks have said for a long time that a—that the experience—they’re trying to tie her to this whole idea of experience and the fact that if she does have the experience, well, wait a minute, that means that ties her to the establishment.  And if it ties her to the establishment, they’re going to try to make the Bush-Cheney issue, you know, they’re going to try to bring that in as well.  And then they’re going to bring up Biden and Dodd and Clinton, put them all together, and say, ‘Hey, that’s 100 years of Senate experience.  Do you really want that?’

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me read to all of you two more quotes about—from these books and then open the discussion wide open.  This was from Carl Bernstein’s book about Hillary Clinton, according to the Daily News.  “Senior political figures quoted by Bernstein described an aloofness and arrogance from Hillary Clinton that turned them against her.  Former Senator Bill Bradley remembered how she said the White House would ‘demonize’ anybody who stood in the” Clinton “administration’s way.”

“‘That was it for me in terms of Hillary Clinton,’” Bradley said.  ‘You don’t tell members of the Senate you’re going to demonize them.  It was obviously so basic to who she is.  The arrogance.  The assumption that people with questions are enemies.  The disdain.  The hypocrisy.’”

And then from David Mendell’s book, “Obama:  From Promise to Power,” we read this:  “What the public has yet to see clearly” in—“is his hidden side:  his imperious, mercurial, self-righteous and sometimes prickly nature, each quality exacerbated by the enormous career pressures that he has inflicted upon himself.  He’s an extraordinarily ambitious, competitive man with persuasive charm and a career reach that seems to have no bounds.  He is, in fact, a man of raw ambition so powerful that even he,” even he “is still coming to terms with its full force.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin, are politicians prepared to read that about themselves?

MS. GOODWIN:  Well, they should be, because that’s how they’re going to learn about how they’re projecting themselves to the country at large.  I mean, for Hillary, the polls show sometimes a difficulty with projecting warmth and compassion.  People who know her say she is warm, she is humorous, she is spontaneous.  But in it—you lose a reservoir of good feeling if you don’t get the country with you.  Eisenhower and Reagan had this great reservoir of good feeling because people felt that they were warm, they felt that they cared about their issues.

The ambition thing is so interesting of what you’ve written about, because ambition is a good thing.  Lincoln had huge ambition, so big that he wanted to be remembered after he died for having changed the world in a better way.  The question is, is your ambition your ego?  LBJ used to say, “Some people want power to strut around, to ‘hail to the chief.’ Others want it to have celebrity.  Still others want money.  I want it to do good things.” So we got to look at the ambition.  If it to social and economic justice, as I think you suggest?  Is Hillary’s ambition partly to be the first woman, a great civil rights thing?  Barack Obama would be the first African-American.  Those are huge things.  That can be good if channeled away from your own self-interest.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think, Carl Bernstein, Hillary would say when she reads Bill Bradley’s quote?  The arrogant, disdain, hypocrisy.

MR. BERNSTEIN:  That “I’ve really moved away from those attributes, that I’ve taken a look at myself, that I know the mistakes that I’ve made.” How much introspection is really there and how much of it is for public consumption, we don’t know.  But she is somebody who learns from her mistakes.  She has gone exactly the opposite in the Senate.  In the, in the White House, she was strident, she was right up front with saying what she believed to the extent that it hurt her, too direct.  The opposite in the Senate, ducking issues sometimes, in fact.

But what’s so interesting to me is the clip you put up there.  I think it tells us an awful lot about Hillary Clinton.  She didn’t like the question, she knew she was about to get got.  And you could see her a little bit perturbed by it, and she—at the same time, her answer was really a little less disingenuous, I think, than the other two.  What somebody is—like Dodd finally got up and said is, “Let’s have public financing of our campaigns and end all of this corporate welfarism that we are all beholden to.” But she wouldn’t do that.  What she ends up saying is, “It’s true.  There are lobbyists for good cause.” And at the same time, she ends up getting sandbagged on that, and she—and when you see her sandbagged, she doesn’t like it.

MR. BRODY:  And I would also say that this goes to the underlying, one of the attributes you talked about, which is managing emotions.  I mean, if you think about what Hillary Clinton has done so far in this campaign, she has been a master, at this point, of doing that.  There have been hecklers that have showed up at her events, there have been protesters that have gotten right in her face.  She’s been able to laugh it off somewhat.  There, there’s another part of that that we saw the other day, yesterday, when Hillary Clinton was actually—there were hisses and boos, and she said, “You know, I kind of expected this coming here, a little bit.” So she’s able to have fun with it to a certain extent.  That’s important and that she doesn’t have the YouTube moment.  Because the camera’s always rolling, as we know.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Mendell, when you write that Barack Obama has another side—mercurial, self-righteous, sometimes prickly—has the campaign responded to that?

MR. MENDELL:  No, they haven’t.  I haven’t spoken...

MS. GOODWIN:  Here it comes.

MR. MENDELL:  I haven’t spoken with them since those words have been written.

MR. RUSSERT:  But why did you write that?  What did you see?  Was there—is there a stark contrast between the public...

MR. BERNSTEIN:  It’s really good writing.

MR. MENDELL:  Well, thank you.

Yes, there is a stark contrast.  In private, he’s a—Barack Obama is an exceptionally intelligent man, and, and folks who are that intelligent sometimes think they’re always right, and they find that they are right often. And at times he can have a little trouble with people who don’t live up to his standard, his, his intelligence level, and he can talk down to them at times. He’s—he, he—reporters who invade what he feel is his world and, and aren’t giving him fair coverage, he can have a little—he can have a few issues with them as well.  He’s not—he can get a little prickly at times.  I think a lot of this has been brought on personally himself with this, this extraordinary ambition that he has.  He—anybody who wants to be president of the United States obviously has a great amount of ambition, and he’s learned to temper that, I think, over the years.  He lost a congressional race in 2000, and I think he’s, he’s trying to balance due patience with, with that raw ambition that, that he possesses.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Obama made headlines with his speech to the Wilson Center about Pakistan.  Let’s watch that and come back and talk about it.

(Videotape)

SEN. OBAMA:  When I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won. The first step must be to get off the wrong battlefield in Iraq and take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  If we have actionable intelligence about high value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Doris:

MS. GOODWIN:  Well, I think Mr. Obama understands that his great strength is to project new directions, new ideas, a different way of dealing with domestic and foreign policy than we’ve seen, not only the Bush administration but perhaps even in the Clinton administration.  You see his polls, people under 45 are much more for him than over 45.  So I think here he’s taking the risk in that statement that he may be bashed for the lack of experience which Clinton went right after him on, but to say, “I’m going to try new things,” and hoping that the country is willing, as he says, to turn a new page.

MR. RUSSERT:  He also talked about the use of nuclear weapons in such an attack on Pakistan.  Let’s listen to that.

(Videotape, Thursday)

SEN. OBAMA:  I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance if involving, you know, civilians.  Let me, let me scratch all that.  There’s no—there’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  In both those comments, Hillary Clinton sought to distinguish herself from Barack Obama.  Earlier we saw her talk about him meeting with foreign leaders as naive.  When talked about the use of nuclear weapons, she said, “Presidents don’t comment about things like that,” trying to emphasize strength and experience.  And yet, the Obama camp, as you say Doris, said “Wait a minute.  We’re throwing all that out.  We’re doing something new.”

In Iowa, David Brody, are Democrats looking for something new?  And is this helpful to Barack Obama in a primary?  And has Hillary Clinton—has her mind clearly focused on a general election where strength and experience and commander in chief are much more important?

MR. BRODY:  Well, there’s no doubt about it.  And she has been very, very consistent on this from day one, talking about—look at the “rogue leaders” comment in that debate.  I mean, she capitalized on that from, from right when he said it about without pre-conditions, she pounced on that.  She has been talking about national security quite a bit.  That, clearly, is why part of the reason with his speech, if you listen to Barack Obama when he talked about this, he, he mentioned the word kill and terrorist many, many times in that speech because he knows he needs to have one eye on national security, one eye on the general election.  And he knows he cannot get trumped by her in this area or he’s got problems.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here’s some poll data, Carl Bernstein.  I’m going to go through it with you and David Mendell and everyone.  It’s quite revealing.  And then we’ll come back and talk about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama particularly.

Here’s the national race, according to Newsweek.  It has Clinton, 44; Obama, 23; Edwards, 14.  Now Iowa, the first caucus, look at this:  Obama, 27; Clinton, 26; Edwards, 26; Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, 11.

And the analysis of that Post poll is as follows:  “Overall, about half of” the “likely Iowa caucus-goers expressed a preference for what Obama is claiming to offer, which is a new direction and new ideas, while” 19 percent prioritized—“39 percent prioritized strength and experience.

“Among those who are looking for new ideas and a new direction,” Obama gets 37; Edwards, 31; Clinton, 15.  “Among those who cite strength and experience, Clinton had a wide lead with 38 percent;” Edwards was second with 21; Obama, Richardson at 14.

And one last, and this is very revealing, likely Iowa Democratic caucus voters which candidates do you think...

Best Experience:  Hillary Clinton, 50; Edwards, 15; Obama, 7.

Strongest Leader:  Hillary Clinton, 36; 18; 23.

Honest and Trustworthy:  14 for Hillary; 24 for Edwards; 30 for Obama.

Most Likeable:  14; 33; 33.

What does that tell you?

MR. BERNSTEIN:  There are pretty smart folks out there.  I, I think, you know, in terms of easy impressions, those are pretty good.

I’m so impressed by something Doris said about history and why books like—you’re talking about David’s book here—are so important.  Because what we’re seeing in all these clips are pros playing the game.  What those polls are about, that you just showed, are about are the voters trying to get past the pros?  And this election, God help us after what we’ve been through in this past administration, has got to be to get past the pros and to get to what these people are.  How do you do it?  Like Doris said, you find out about their past, and you look and say, “Do my values, do my sensibilities bring me to vote for what I know these people are, based on a real reading of their past?” I think that’s why we try to do these books.

And, and in Hillary’s case particularly, even though she’s the best-known woman in the world, we haven’t really had that opportunity because so much of her character has been defined by acolytes and enemies instead of by the best obtainable version of the truth, the kind of thing I think David has tried to do in his book about Obama.  Finally, maybe, we’re going to get that, and I think that’s what those polls are about.  I think they’re smart as hell, those polls.

MR. BRODY:  And, and I would say that goes to the character trait of authenticity, which if you think about this, I mean, this is what Mitt Romney is trying to deal with on the campaign trail, this, this flip-flop theme that is going through on—throughout his campaign.  And so it goes right to authenticity.  And voters are trying to sift through that.  I think that’s why Giuliani has done surprisingly well, not just nationally with Christian conservatives and, and other social conservatives because, whether or not you agree with him or not, he’s seen as authentic.  And I think that’s extremely important in terms of at least the perception.  Now, whether or not it will play true throughout this campaign trail, well, we’ll have to see.

MR. MENDELL:  I think that 7 percent for experience and leadership is a—has to be a real concern for the Obama people.  I think that’s why you saw him make his comments this week about an engagement in Pakistan.  They’ve got to bump that number up.  You, you can’t win that race sitting at 7 percent.  But I also think the Iowa voters are, are perhaps the most...

MR. BERNSTEIN:  They’re very self-aware, too.  You know, they know this is their big moment.

MR. RUSSERT:  Doris, to—picking up on Carl’s points, David’s points.  If we knew more about John Kennedy before he came to office, more about Richard Nixon, more about Lyndon Johnson, more about George W. Bush and the way he looked at the world or...

MR. BERNSTEIN:  (Unintelligible)

MR. RUSSERT:  ...his relationship with his father, and how he disagreed with him in terms of Iraq and going into Baghdad in ‘91 or so, how do we get our arms around that?

MS. GOODWIN:  Well, I think that’s going to be the requirement of how broadcast news should be dealing in these next months.  We’ve got to make sure that as these biographies come out, where the people have studied them, they get time just as you’re giving today.  I think the questions in the debate should be different.  It’s ridiculous to ask who has got a six-point, point program on health, and who has a seven-point program.  What matters is can they mobilize the country to support the goals that they have?  Which shows are they effective as communicators.  You’ve got to ask them about their strengths and weaknesses.  You’ve got to admit what their weaknesses are and see if they can complement them by putting the people around them who have different kinds of qualities.  I think if we can just shift the dialogue away—we’re spending too much time entertaining ourselves, and this is much too important, as we’ve seen from candidates who get in there who have all these terrible traits in the past, but we never knew about them, and suddenly—they’re not going to change.

MR. RUSSERT:  If you know those traits in the past, you—it is a pretty good predictor and indicator of the future.

MS. GOODWIN:  Absolutely.  You get on a bigger stage when you’re president, so sometimes the traits that are good can be magnified and the weaknesses can be understood if you’ve learned from experience.  But you’re not a wholly different person once you become president.  So that’s why we’ve got to look at their past.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Brody, you brought up the Republicans.  Let me get into that contest.  Here’s the latest national poll:  Giuliani is at 30, Fred Thompson—who NBC News has learned is now scheduled to announce his candidacy on September 5th—at 22, McCain at 13 and Romney at 10.

Newsweek says this:  “The [Newsweek] survey may,” may “offer some clues as to why Giuliani hasn’t been able to widen his lead over former senator [Fred] Thompson, who hasn’t even declared his candidacy.  Roughly one third (34 percent) of all voters and more than half (58 percent) of registered Republicans say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate” who’s “a strong supporter of gay rights.  As mayor of New York City, Giuliani supported civil unions and signed a domestic-partnership bill.” He’s still the front-runner, and yet there still seems to be some reluctance because of his position on gay rights, on gun control, on abortion rights.  And yet, it’s not been the disqualifier that many had predicted.

MR. BRODY:  No, and I—and there’s three reasons for that.  I think—well, there’s quite a few reasons for that.  But taxes, the economy, the war on terror—that’s his bread and butter, that’s what he’s going to Iowa and New Hampshire, especially, for right now.  I mean, what the Giuliani campaign is basically saying here is that a lot of people have talked about a February 5th strategy, that it’s all about Super Tuesday and these winner-take-all states. They’ll contend that it’s about Iowa and New Hampshire, and that they need to do well in those two states.  They cannot fall off the face of the map.  They need to to be a top three at least in Iowa and New Hampshire, because Romney, as you know, is leading right now in both of those states, and if he gets momentum in Iowa and New Hamsphire, he could run the table.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here’s the latest poll out this morning from Iowa.  And you’re right, Mitt Romney, 26 percent; Giuliani, 14; Fred Thompson, 13; McCain, 8; Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, 8.  What does that tell you, David?

MR. BRODY:  Well, I mean, it tells me quite a few things, that Romney spent a lot of time in the state, and that’s very important.  And that’s why Giuliani, especially, is making strides, at least his campaign believes he’s making strides in Iowa to spend a lot more time.  What they’re telling me is that expect in the fall for him to be in Iowa a lot more, in New Hampshire a lot more, and they are not conceding Iowa at all to a Romney, to a Thompson. There is a shot, the Giuliani campaign believes, for them to do very well in Iowa.  Not just top three, higher than that.

MR. RUSSERT:  If you talk to people across the country, there seems to be a trend towards the Democrats.  You ask the generic question who would you vote for for president, the Democrat wins by some 20 points.  When you match them head to head, Clinton-Giuliani, Clinton-Obama, Obama-Giuliani, it’s a much tighter race.  We went out and asked about issues.  Which party, do you think, is better, would do a better job on various issues?  And it’s quite revealing. Let’s just run through this list.

On global warming, the Democrats plus 39 points.  People overwhelmingly believe the Democrats would be better on global warming.  Health care, plus 36.  Gas prices, plus 35.  Reducing the deficit, which traditionally had been a Democratic issue, now the Democrats, a 25-point advantage.  Education, 22 points.  And controlling government spending, traditionally a Republican issue, now the Democrats, 16 points.  Iraq, 15-point bulge.  Immigration, 10. Ethics in government, 10.  The next one?  A tie.  The war on terrorism, which party?  Then, the advantage to the Republicans on these three issues: promoting a strong military, 28 points; dealing with homeland security, 12 points; promoting strong moral values, five points.

That’s a pretty good indicator on the kind of campaign we’re going to see.

MS. GOODWIN:  And I think that shows you why it was so smart for Hillary to get on the Armed Services Committee.  She knew, as a woman, that especially she had to project strength on military issues.  She’s talked to soldiers. It’s almost like that’s the threshold, I think, for a woman candidate, to be strong on military and strong on respect for the soldiers.  And I think she’s done that as well as she can, and that’s an important thing for her.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Mendell, Obama’s campaign, about change, about inspiration.  All those domestic issues clearly on his side as a Democratic candidate.  And yet there’s some real warning signs when it comes to the military question and the homeland security question.

MR. MENDELL:  Sure, is he—does he have the strength of character to lead the country.  He’s a fresh face, he’s brand-new.  Just three years ago, I was covering a, a guy running for the U.S. Senate who was a state senator.  But I think, politically speaking, you look at those numbers and I think you see why he got in this race.  The Democrats, way ahead on, on all those issues.  I don’t think this was necessarily his timetable for running for president of the United States, but I think he saw an opportunity here, and in his gut he just had to seize it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Carl Bernstein, when you see those numbers, all the issues on the side of the Democrats, but homeland security, strong military, moral values, you can anticipate the campaign against Hillary Clinton.

MR. RUSSERT:  You can, but as Doris said, the first thing she set out to do when she went into the Senate was to become a defense intellectual, and she’s really done it.  What those numbers tell me is that the people in this country are so far ahead of we who are journalists in defining in a serious way what we ought to be looking at, and, and we ought to be taking some real note of those polls.  You know, I believe in polls in terms of, you know, 3 percent here, 3 percent there.  They’re a snapshot.  To me, that is a snapshot that says, “Hey, you guys who are reporters, wake up and look at what’s important.” That’s my reading of it.

MS. GOODWIN:  You know, in fact, looking at Giuliani, it seems to me the important reporting that’s necessary is, everybody now knows what an extraordinary job he did after September 11th—resolute, defiant, decisive, controlling anger, etc.  But then the question is, what was his mayorship like before that?  And sometimes those very strengths of his were difficulties before—intolerance, difficulties with enemies.

MR. BERNSTEIN:  It’s one of the reasons why Hillary’s people would like to run against Giuliani above all the others.

MS. GOODWIN:  So that—we need to know all sides of his career, and maybe he changed after 9/11.  That we need to know as well.

MR. BRODY:  And I would also say on national security, look what happened in the House and Senate over the weekend.  You know, go ahead and, and basically allowing the White House to have their way on domestic wiretapping, I mean, because they know that they can not be pigeonholed this way come 2008, not just for presidential politics, but also for the 2008 broader congressional elections as well.

MR. RUSSERT:  A Democratic-controlled Congress acceded to the White House on the issue of domestic wiretapping.

MR. BRODY:  That’s important.  That’s significant, and, and it goes to exactly what those poll numbers showed.

MR. RUSSERT:  Carl Bernstein, Hillary Clinton refuses to admit a mistake in terms of her vote on Iraq, unlike John Edwards and Joe Biden and Chris Dodd and all the other candidates, and she’s adamant about it.  Why?

MR. BERNSTEIN:  One, because she believes in her vote.  You know, she was in the White House for eight years and watched her husband deal with Saddam Hussein.  She believes that presidents ought to have leverage, and that that vote gave George Bush leverage.  What’s a little disingenuous, I think, to many who know her, including her colleagues in the Senate, is the explanation that she thought she was really voting to send George Bush back to the United Nations.  That’s a problem that gets to a bigger question that’s not in your numbers—candor, openness, truthfulness.  My guess is that the most important figure is going to go to that question come near the election day, but especially after the mendacity and subterfuge of this current presidency and Mr. Gates’ predecessors that, that that’s really where Hillary is going to have some problems with her past.  And, at the same time, we see her moving in a really interesting way.  You know, she said yesterday in, in, in Iowa, “I can’t even count the mistakes I made.” You know, that’s, that’s a big step, and she did it in a—in an off-handed way that—but openness and candor and truthfulness after what we’ve been through, I think, is, is the sleeper issue in this campaign, and...

MR. RUSSERT:  Can she, can she meet that challenge?

MR. BERNSTEIN:  It’s, it’s her biggest challenge in some ways.  And if she explains, I think, as a human being, what her life has been about and what she’s been through and opens up in a way she hasn’t been willing to, for instance, in her own autobiography and says, “You know, look, I had a special prosecutor who wanted to indict me.  I was three years in the White House, and I woke up thinking, ‘This out of control guy wants to send me to the clink.’” If she were to do that and say, “So I was careful in my answers in Whitewater” I think it might, might help her.  I’m speculating, but I, I don’t doubt that’s going to be a problem.  But for, for all of the candidates, particularly the Republicans as well.

MR. BRODY:  Yeah, and I would say connectingness.  You know, one of the character traits that’s, that’s going to underline this whole conversation is this idea of connecting with the voters.  If she comes out and says, “Hey, you know, I, I made a few mistakes.  I did this.  I did that,” it gives her a sense that, that the people can really relate to you because, you know, they make mistakes, too.  And this is why we haven’t really talked much about Fred Thompson.  But Fred Thompson may have this kind of Ronald Reagan-type quality a lot of people are talking about where he can just connect to voters without working to hard to do it.

MR. MENDELL:  But when you’re up 21 percent in the polls, is that what you want to do, come out and start admitting that you’ve made mistakes in the past?

MR. BRODY:  Right.  It’s just that...

MS. GOODWIN:  Well, you know that I think?

MR. BRODY:  Yeah.

MS. GOODWIN:  I think if you admit them—it’s not that we want a mea culpa. We want to know that they learned...

MR. BERNSTEIN:  You know they...(unintelligible).

MS. GOODWIN:  ...from those mistakes.  Because if she can talk about the staffing, the difficulties they had in the beginning of the Clinton administration, the health care debacle, then we’re going to know that her experience is even more important because she’s learned from it, she was there.  It’s not just what we want her to say, “I’m sorry.” That’s a childish thing.  But just to learn from it.

MR. MENDELL:  That’s right.

MR. BERNSTEIN:  She has a history of learning from mistakes.

MS. GOODWIN:  That’s the key.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued.  Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Brody, David Mendell, Carl Bernstein.  The book, “Obama:  From Promise to Power,” out next week.  And Carl Bernstein’s “A Woman in Charge,” is out right now.  Thank you all.  Interesting.

We’ll continue our discussion with these four geniuses.  Find out how these biographers and reporters and how difficult it is to get a handle on such complicated political figures.  Our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web Extra on our Web site this afternoon, mtp.msnbc.com.  You’ll enjoy this one.  We’ll be right back.

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MR. RUSSERT:  On Tuesday’s “Nightly News” David Gregory will have an exclusive interview with Tony Snow about his battle with cancer.  An extraordinary close-up look at the brave battle being waged by the president’s White House press secretary.  That’s on Tuesday’s “Nightly News.”

That’s all for today.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

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