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MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, August 24, 2003
GUESTS: General RICHARD MYERS
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Senator JOHN McCAIN, (R-Ariz.)
Armed Services Committee
Senator JOE BIDEN, (D-Del.)
Ranking Member, Foreign Relations Committee
Los Angeles Times
U.S. News and World Report
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS (202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Death, destruction and terror continue in Iraq. One hundred and thirty-five Americans killed since this triumphant announcement. What now? With us, the president’s top military adviser, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, former POW, now Republican senator from Arizona, John McCain, and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden of Delaware.
Then the very latest on the California recall and the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Insights and analysis from Ron Brownstein of The Los Angeles Times and Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report.
But first, we are joined by the nation’s top military leader, General Richard Myers. Welcome.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Thanks, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: As we showed in our lead-in, on May 1st, the president said, “Mission accomplished in Iraq.” Since that time, 135 American soldiers have been killed. Was that too premature of an announcement?
GEN. MYERS: I think what the president said was major combat operations are over. And he also went on to say there’s a lot of hard work left to do both in Afghanistan and Iraq. So I think he was talking about the major combat operations.
MR. RUSSERT: We will not need any more major significant combat operations in Iraq?
GEN. MYERS: Well, the way we look at it now, no. We’re dealing with the remnants of the regime, former regime loyalists, some outside foreign fighters, Jihaddists who are coming there to fight. And I’ll tell you why they’re coming there, because the stakes are so high in Iraq. This war on terrorism that we’ve been about now for almost two years strikes at the very heart of what we believe and what many countries in this believe in terms of our core values, of peace and liberty and the opportunity to share in prosperity. And that’s what it’s all about in Iraq. That’s what it’s about in Afghanistan and that’s why
they’re coming there to fight.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were on this program and other places in March, you said that the most important objective was to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. Have we found any yet?
GEN. MYERS: That work is ongoing. We’ve got over 1,000 people in an intelligence cell over there working under some really great leadership, and they’ll reveal what they found at the appropriate time. But they’re continuing to run that down. I think I also said that this is difficult. Iraq’s the size of the state of California. The other day we saw them dig up one of the buried fighter aircraft. They went to extraordinary lengths to bury an aircraft. A 55-gallon drum with anthrax in it would be a lot more difficult to find and dig up. So it’ll work. I mean, the system we have in place, the process we have in place will work, and we’ll find what we are after.
MR. RUSSERT: And you’ll find weapons of mass destruction?
GEN. MYERS: That’s my view.
MR. RUSSERT: Was the imminence of the threat of those weapons overstated?
GEN. MYERS: No, I don’t think so. I think any prudent military planner would have to take into account the fact that they had programs. I mean, the world knew that the Iraqi regime had weapons of mass destruction. That’s why we went into combat in our protective gear even as hot as it was. The gear just makes it even that much worse. So, no, that was a very prudent thing to do, and we had lots of intelligence that said that we could be subjected to weapons of mass destruction.
MR. RUSSERT: Is Saddam Hussein still in Iraq?
GEN. MYERS: Best we know, he is. And, again, if we don’t have him, we don’t know exactly where he is or whether he’s dead or alive. I think most people think he’s alive and we’re closing in on him like we’re closing in on all of the top 55.
Let me just tell you, we’ve already got 42 of the top 55, the deck of cards if you will. We’ve got 42 of them. Obviously, Saddam Hussein is an important part of that, but he’s not the only part. And we’re making great progress.
MR. RUSSERT: But capturing 42 of the 55 hasn’t stopped the resistance. Will capturing Saddam stop the resistance?
GEN. MYERS: Oh, I think it’s just one more step in what we have to do, and I don’t personally believe that the resistance will stop because you get Saddam Hussein. I think some of the wind will be taken out of the sails of those who think that there’s some slim hope that this regime will come back. It’s not coming back. It never will come back. Whether we get Saddam or not is not going to change that. But it will be help. I think it’ll help in terms of people’s perception.
MR. RUSSERT: On Tuesday, as we all know, the U.N. headquarters in Iraq was bombed. The New York Times wrote this story: “American investigators looking into the suicide bombing of the United Nations compound on Tuesday are focusing on the possibility that the attackers were assisted by Iraqi security guards who worked there, a senior American official here said. The official said all of the guards at the compound were agents of the Iraqi secret services, to whom they reported on United Nations activities before the war. The United Nations continued to employ them after the war was over, the official said. ‘We believe the U.N.’s security was seriously compromised,’ the official said, adding that ‘we have serious concerns about the placement of the vehicle’ and the timing of the attack.”
Was this an inside job?
GEN. MYERS: I don’t think we know yet. It’s only a few days since the attack. I think we need to let the investigation run its course, and we’ll find out.
MR. RUSSERT: There’s a lot of discussion about Iraq becoming a mecca for terrorists, a haven for terrorists now, porous borders, which prompted Jessica Stern to write an op-ed piece, which said this: “Tuesday’s bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was the latest evidence that America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one. America has created, not through malevolence but through negligence precisely the situation the Bush administration has described as a breeding ground for terrorists: a state unable to control its borders or provide for its citizens’ rudimentary needs.”
GEN. MYERS: Clearly, Iraq before March 19, before we went across the border, was a terrorist state, supported terrorism, and had a weapons of mass destruction program. And what...
MR. RUSSERT: What’s the evidence of that, General?
GEN. MYERS: Well, the evidence was before we went over, the many U.N. Security Council resolutions that stated that they had a program and that they had weapons of mass destruction they had not accounted for. They were supporting Hamas and other terrorist organizations. If you remember, Saddam Hussein was paying I think it was $25,000 to families of terrorists who would conduct suicide attacks, to the families of those who would conduct suicide attacks against Israel and, of course, there was this group of Ansar al-Islam up in northeast Iraq that was working on poisons that had actually, in fact, infiltrated into Europe and some of those plots thwarted by the British and the French and others.
So, I mean, this was a very, very bad regime. The hope for Iraq is what we’re doing right now. The hope for Iraq is what we’re doing right now. And it is a high-stakes game, because this is about the war on terrorism. It’s exactly about that, and now the countries that surround Iraq need to be cooperative, need to help control their borders so more foreign fighters don’t come into Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: But have we created a haven, a mecca for terrorists around the world to congregate and to use as a base to strike at 150,000 Americans on the ground?
GEN. MYERS: No, I don’t think we’ve created a mecca. I think what a lot of foreign fighters want to do is that they see this as a very important venue for them to oust the Americans, the coalition, the international community. We have over 40 countries involved in this and another 14 that look like they’re going to probably put troops into Iraq. So this is an international effort. You saw what they did to the U.N. It’s clearly an international effort. And what the terrorists want to do is they want to have their way. They want to win. And if they can win in Iraq, they feel that they can get the international community out of the Middle East and let terrorism have its way. And that’s just not going to be. It’s more a question of wills right now.
MR. RUSSERT: So this is now more than just toppling Saddam Hussein. This has become the big magilla in terms of defeating world terrorism.
GEN. MYERS: Well, I think it’s part of the war on terrorism. We’ve said that all along, and I don’t know if it’s the big magilla, but it’s a very important part of it. And, you know, if we can help Iraq become a free, democratic country that recognizes and treats its minorities and ethnic groups appropriately, that is respectful of its borders, then we’ve done a very wonderful thing in the Middle East. And I’m not saying we, the United States. I’m saying we, the international community. That’s what the U.N. was all about. And by the way, they’re obviously there to stay because they’ve stood back
up again. As you saw, they’re in tents, and they’re operating again in Baghdad.
MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned the international troops. Would you be willing to allow the United Nations to assume some portion of control of the occupation in order to bring in the French and the British and significant amounts of international forces?
GEN. MYERS: That is obviously an issue for the diplomats and the political leadership. I think it is important that this effort be internationalized and, as I mentioned earlier, it has been internationalized. We’ve got, in fact, 35 countries with troops on the ground; as I mentioned, another 14 that are contemplating that, other countries that are providing help in many other ways, financial and...
MR. RUSSERT: But we have 150,000 American troops and about 20,000 international troops.
GEN. MYERS: That’s correct. And we’re looking for a third multinational division, absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of troops. This is what some of the experts have had to say, and I’ll show you and our viewers: “Some experts say it is unrealistic to think that Iraq can be secured with troops at the current level. A debate over this subject flared in May, when Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, said hundreds of thousands would be needed to secure Iraq after the war. James F. Dobbins, an expert in peacekeeping operations who was the Bush administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan, said in an interview today that the United States might need 300,000 to 500,000 troops to maintain stability in the country. ‘Whatever the right number is, it’s significantly larger than what we have,’ said Mr. Dobbins, director of international security and defense policy at the Rand Corporation.”
Do you agree?
GEN. MYERS: No, I don’t agree. And, first of all, it’s a complex security environment inside Iraq. I was just there several weeks ago. I went to the heart of where 80 percent or more of the incidents occurred, north of Baghdad and between Baghdad and Tikrit. I was in Tikrit. The (technical difficulties) I rely and Secretary Rumsfeld relies, President Bush relies, on the combatant commander, General John Abizaid, to give us his assessment of what he needs. If he wants more troops, he can have more troops. That is never an issue. But that’s not what General Abizaid is asking for. That’s not what his division commanders are asking for.
And you have to take in account that we have over 50,000 Iraqis now that have been trained over time, 50,000 that are armed and working with us to bring security and stability to that country. That number will continue to grow, and dramatically, between now and next month and the month after. And then we have the international community helping as well. So it is complex. It’s not the same all over the country. And number of troops won’t help with those random acts of violence that we have from time to time. It’s not just always a matter of troops. So I rely on the ground combatant commander, and that’s General Abizaid.
MR. RUSSERT: But if we continue to lose American soldiers, you’d be open to sending more American troops to Iraq?
GEN. MYERS: If the ground commanders—if General Abizaid says he wants more troops, then sure, we’ll be open to that. You bet.
MR. RUSSERT: And General Barry McCaffrey has said, “We just don’t have them to send.” The cover of Time magazine: “Are We Stretched Too Thin?” Do we have more troops available to send to Iraq?
GEN. MYERS: We do. We are—two things: We are stretched thin, but we have more troops. We have more troops to send. We have other ways to do that and we can take those steps. But...
MR. RUSSERT: Call up more reserves, if necessary?
GEN. MYERS: Well, the reserves are going to be part of whatever we do in the future, anyway. That’s just the way we are. You know, let’s go back and step back just a second and say what this is all about. We are a nation at war. This is a war against international terrorism. In my view, this is the biggest threat to this country’s existence as far back as I can remember, at least to World War II, perhaps eyond, because they’re striking at the very things that we hold dear, our core values. And it’s not just true for the United States. It’s true, as we see, in Riyadh, as we saw in Bali, as we see in Jakarta. Around the world terrorists are trying to strike fear—terror—into the hearts of people so they can have their way with the processes that we hold so dear.
And so it’s important that we remember that as we go after—and so we’re willing to—it’s going to require sacrifice and commitment. Our troops understand that. Their families understand that. Our job is to try to make their lives as predictable, to provide the resources to do the job, and we’re committed to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: Might we have to reconstitute the draft?
GEN. MYERS: Oh, I think—no, no, I can’t say that we’re anywhere close to that at this point.
MR. RUSSERT: As you know, Secretary Rumsfeld asked a group of civilians to go over and take a look at what is going on in Iraq, the so-called Hamry report right here, which I’ll put on the screen. They concluded this: “The Iraqi population has exceedingly high expectations, and the window for cooperation may close rapidly if they do not see progress on delivering security, basic services, opportunities for broad political involvement, and economic opportunity.”
That was a month ago.
GEN. MYERS: You bet.
MR. RUSSERT: And it appears the situation has worsened since then.
GEN. MYERS: First of all, a great report by Dr. Hamry. They did a very nice job. And they’re right, in the sense that to provide the Iraqis the opportunity for freedom and prosperity that they can have in that very rich country—rich in oil, rich in water, rich in human resources—you need security, you need economic progress, you need political progress. And things are happening on all three fronts, and we look every day—and I won’t speak for Ambassador Bremer, but we look every day at ways to improve
that. And there are—you know, the coalition inherited an infrastructure that was very dilapidated. The hospital I visited in Baghdad hadn’t had any upgrades in 50 years. While Saddam’s building palaces, he didn’t upgrade the hospitals. So, you know, we have to start, in some cases, from the ground up.
MR. RUSSERT: But is the window of opportunity closing quickly where we may lose the Iraqi people as they become frustrated, without power, without self-governance, and with a larger terrorist threat?
GEN. MYERS: I think we need to put maximum effort on those pieces—the economic piece, the political piece, the infrastructure piece—that I mentioned, so we don’t lose them. But I don’t think we’re in danger of doing that right now. In fact, the soldiers I talked to up near Tikrit, and, more specifically, near Balad, said, “Listen, we know we’re having an effect on this country because tens upon tens of people come out and tell us when we’re on patrol ‘Thank you very much for being here. Thank you for being here.’” That story is not going to get in the front page, but it is, in fact, what goes on in the majority of places in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Friedman of The New York Times made this observation in his column, and I’ll share with you and our viewers: “...Anyone familiar with NATO operations in Bosnia and Kosovo should have understood that we needed two armies for this invasion. The first was the fighting force that would kill Saddam’s regime, and the second, following right behind it, a force of military police, civilian affairs officers, aid groups and public affairs teams to get our message across. The Pentagon brilliantly prepared the first force, but not the second.”
GEN. MYERS: And we’re working hard on that second force. I will remind you that when General Franks took—went across the border in Kuwait into Iraq, that, in fact, we did have civil affairs people with right us, we had humanitarian rations, we had water, and we had engineers to help fix the infrastructure. So it was always part of the plan, and we continue to work that. That is—it’s extremely important piece, cannot be underestimated, and...
MR. RUSSERT: But in all honesty did you misjudge the level of resistance?
GEN. MYERS: I think the diehards in the Iraqi regime, the former regime loyalists, as we now talk about them, I think they’ve been probably a little more active than we thought. But then, you know, it’s also—there’s this big criminal element. And how did—how were they going to behave, the 300,000 criminals that were let out of the Iraqi jails by Saddam’s regime before the fighting started? I mean, we have to deal with those, too. How many of these incidents are criminal as opposed to former regime loyalists? And so, you know, it’s hard to answer. It’s a complex security situation. But it’s hard to answer that question right.
MR. RUSSERT: But this is going to take lots of time, lots of money, and lots of manpower.
GEN. MYERS: It’s going to take, more than anything else, both in Afghanistan and Iraq, patience by the American people and an understanding that this is a very, very important fight in both those places, and not just the American people but the international community. Afghanistan did not get the way it is now in a day. It took decades of mismanagement and brutal regimes. Iraq didn’t get the way it was with this dilapidated infrastructure and the fear of the people to come out and participate in their government in a day. So it’s going to take patience to get this job done. You’re absolutely right. And it’s going to take money, not necessarily U.S. money, but international money, certainly U.S. will be a part of that.
MR. RUSSERT: Right now it’s primarily U.S. money.
GEN. MYERS: Well, there’s lots of ways to get resources and revenues for that. And there’s a donors conference, I think, coming up in October to work more of that for Iraq. And this is an important fight for the international community, and everybody needs to step up.
MR. RUSSERT: General Richard Myers, we thank you for your views.
GEN. MYERS: Thank you very much.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the view from the U.S. Senate with two key members who made recent trips to Baghdad: John McCain and Joe Biden. They will be together right here on MEET THE PRESS. Republican McCain, Democrat Biden, coming up.
MR. RUSSERT: Senators John McCain and Joe Biden on Iraq, our political Roundtable and the California recall and who will be the Democratic nominee, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senators, welcome both.
Senator McCain, you’re in Turkey. Let me start with you. What must be done in Iraq right now?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ): First, could I say, Tim, the men and women in the military are doing a superb job. To see these young people in 125-degree heat with body armor and equipment on, they’re marvelous and they’re well-led and they’re doing a great job. The problem is that they don’t have enough resources. There’s not enough of them, and we are in a very serious situation, in my view, a race against time. We need to spend a whole lot more money to get the services back to the people. We need to get the electricity going, the fuel, the water. And unless we get that done and get it done pretty
soon, we could face a very situation.
MR. RUSSERT: How many more troops do you think we need in Iraq?
SEN. McCAIN: I think we need, I would guess, at least another division, but we also need people with specialized skills. Linguists we’re running short of. Our Guard and Reservists are at the breaking point. We need civil affairs people. The refinery at Basra cannot be fixed. It needs to be totally replaced. It was 30 years of neglect on the part of the Saddam Hussein regime.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden.
SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D-DE): I fully agree with John. You know, I’m like a broken record on this, Tim. We are woefully under prepared. I think this administration, Mr. Rumsfeld, they should sort of get over it and get to what they seem unwilling to do. This is like ideologies run into reality here. We need more troops. We need more cops. We need more civilian affairs people. We were woefully unprepared, but we have incredible people there now. They don’t have the resources. We don’t even have a communication system. John’s over there now. Turn on the television. What you’ll find is—it’s like—no
one watching. We control the media over there. We don’t have it up and running in the way that has any credibility. I mean, there’s no sense of urgency here with this administration now, and it’s time for the president to go to the American people and say, “Look, this is a gigantic undertaking. It’s going to cost billions of dollars,” and take more force in order to do it. So we’re about to lose the American people. Forget losing the Iraqis. We are going to lose the American people’s support for this undertaking unless he starts to level with them.
MR. RUSSERT: How many more troops do we need?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I understand from the experts I speak to, 40,000 to 60,000 additional troops. And in order to get those, we need a U.N. resolution authorizing them. We don’t have to have these folks under blue helmets. They can be under U.S. command. Kofi Annan as recently as two days ago said he saw how that could work. But we’ve got to sort of swallow our pride and do what’s supposed to be done: go back to the international community. Look, we squandered two opportunities, Tim. We squandered the first opportunity when we went in by not bringing along the rest of the world with us.
Right after we went in, the president landed on an aircraft carrier and said “Mission accomplished,” when that banner should have said “We’ve only just begun,” and he should have turned to the rest of the world and said, “Now, come in, we need you.” This is a third opportunity that came from the bombing. Something bad happened; something good can come from it if we lead now—lead—and we have to lead the rest of the world into putting incredible resources into Iraq now to get it up and running.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McCain, General Barry McCaffrey said this the other day. “Counting 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, 37,000 in Korea, more than half the army in Iraq, we can’t do any more. We have three brigades uncommitted and reserved, and we have other international responsibilities. The real question is, does the administration right now have the political will to call up maybe nine National Guard brigades and tell them they’re on duty for 12 months and add them to the force structure. If we don’t do that a year from now we are going over a cliff.”
Do you agree with that?
SEN. McCAIN: I don’t have the kind of knowledge that General McCaffrey and others have about the specifics of the number of troops. I know we need more. I know we need them particularly in certain specialties. People have said in the Guard and Reserves, time is up, and they have to be replaced. But I want to mention one other thing real quick, and that’s this business of all these outside people coming in from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran. They are coming in because they know what’s at stake, and we cannot afford to lose this. But if we win the hearts and minds—and I hate to use that phrase, because it reminds us of time long ago—but if we can win the people over, then these people will be treated as the outsiders that they are. Chairman Mao said the guerrilla is to the people as the fish is to water. We can dry up the water. So I’m worried about those people coming from outside, but I’m far more worried about the people of Iraq losing confidence. They don’t understand when the economy of Kuwait was restored in six months that we haven’t done a much better job, and it’s a very difficult, tough job. And, yes, the president has to tell the American people it’s tough, and I’m sure the American people will support him
when they know what’s at stake.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you what a Newsweek poll out this morning says. If attacks continue on U.S. military personnel, would you support a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? Yes, 48 percent; no, 47. And would you support increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq? Yes, 40 percent; no, 55 percent. And this: Do you support current U.S. spending levels in Iraq? Yes, 34 percent; no, reduce spending, 60 percent.
Senator Biden, how do you respond to that?
SEN. BIDEN: You know, last time I was on your show, Tim, the thing we talked about was the Hamry report and how the window was closing. And you and I talked about how the window that’s closing is support of the American people, and there’s three things that the American people have to understand and
they haven’t been told by the president, and that is this is going to cost us hundreds of billions of dollars over time. We’re spending $4 billion a month just to keep our troops there. And there’s not even a penny put into next year’s budget. The administration hasn’t even budgeted one penny for it yet.
It’s almost like we want to keep this a secret. If the American people know what’s at stake and what is at stake is not only this war on terror. By the way, if get Iraq right, there’s still going to be terror. But if we get Iraq wrong, the entirety of the Middle East is going to become a cauldron for the next decade. And so we have much at stake here, and the president has to go and explain to the American people in order to turn around those numbers, why this is important. He hasn’t given a rationale yet. He should go on prime time and say, “The is what needs to be done. This is what I’m asking of you. And this is
what we need, and this is how we’ll succeed.” We’ll get American support if we do that, but no wonder they have those poll numbers now. All they see is chaos and no explanation from the president, except terror.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McCain, half the country said we should withdraw U.S. troops; 55 percent say, “Don’t send more American troops,” and 60 percent say we should reduce spending in Iraq. What should the president do?
SEN. McCAIN: Speak directly to the American people. The American people have great confidence in the president. He led this nation with great moral clarity after September 3rd. Speak directly to the American people. And the American people fully would understand that we cannot protect our own borders. We have to go where the terrorists are. If they win here, then obviously, we cannot win the war on terrorism. And the dictators in this part of the world are paying attention, as well as the terrorist organizations. We can and will win. These are the best fighting men and women in the world, and if they’re given the equipment and the wherewithal, they’ll do it and the American people will support them.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, the whole notion of Iraq becoming a haven for worldwide terrorism, almost a haven, if you will, for people to come who want to participate in the jihad—has the situation worsened or improved since the war?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I don’t think it matters a lot, quite frankly. In other words, we’re there. We’re attracting these people. But we did not by going in create this haven for terror. What we did by going in is we created a gigantic target, and we haven’t provided enough security to protect the target. Look, we’re getting—95 percent of the deaths are Americans; 95 percent of the money is American money; 95 percent of the troops are American troops. One of two things happens—one of three things: Either we lose Iraq by pulling out, we don’t put more troops in; two, we put more of our troops in, increasing more money, more deaths, more involvement; or we get other people in.
How do we get other people in? We have to have a U.N. resolution. That’s the only way Turkey and these other countries say they’ll go in, under the umbrella of a U.N. resolution. So I don’t know why we don’t get on with it. It’s simple, Tim. We do it all by ourselves or we get the rest of the international community to help us do it. It’s that simple. This is not rocket science. This is not complicated. We pay the whole bill, like we’re paying now—and by the way, all these other 10, 20, 30 nations, they’re contributing an average 400 troops per nation. Give me a break.
There’s nothing international about this until we get NATO in there and we get Islamic forces in there. And we can get 30,000 Islamic forces in there from Pakistan and from Turkey, and we can also get India in on the deal now, which would make a gigantic difference now, allowing us to free up our forces, doing police work, to concentrate on the borders and to concentrate on the tough areas. But we don’t seem to be willing to acknowledge this. What is the hang-up here? What’s the hang-up? We either pay for it all—this administration’s treating Iraq like it’s some prize we won that we don’t want to share.
MR. RUSSERT: How long, realistically, will we be in Iraq, and at what cost?
SEN. BIDEN: The cost will be well over several hundred billion dollars over time.
MR. RUSSERT: Hundred...
SEN. BIDEN: Hundreds of billions. We’re already spending $4 billion a month. We spent $60 billion going in.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re talking years.
SEN. BIDEN: I’m talking years. We said—I said to you on this program over a year ago, it’s going to be somewhere between three and five years we’re in there. The hope was we would be in there with a whole lot of other people, Tim, so we are not—you know, it’s like—if the American flag is the only thing seen there as an occupying force, that’s just what we are viewed as. But if you have a truly multinational force in there with multinational responsibility, you will get the consent of the people of Iraq as well as the region to understand that this is not an occupation. This is a liberation. It’s kind of like a seesaw. There’s a tipping point here we’re going to hit some...
MR. RUSSERT: But what if the other countries, the French, the Germans, say no?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, they will say—they will come in if we ask and if we go into it by providing for them to have some say in the political side of this equation.
MR. RUSSERT: Shared authority?
SEN. BIDEN: Shared authority. Not shared authority—look, no one’s saying that you should have anything other than an American commander running all the forces there, but shared authority in determining what that government’s going to look like. And by the way, why wouldn’t we want that? Why would we not want that? I don’t get this. I don’t get it.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McCain, realistically, how long will American troops be in Iraq, and how much is it going to cost us?
SEN. McCAIN: I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m telling you what the question is, and the critical aspect of this is: What happens in the next few months?
SEN. BIDEN: Exactly.
SEN. McCAIN: Time is not on our side. People in 125-degree heat with no electricity and no fuel are going to become angry in a big hurry. The sophistication of the attacks on U.S. and allied troops have increased. And what we do in the next several months will determine whether we’re in a very difficult situation or not, and there’s still time, but we’ve got to act quickly.
MR. RUSSERT: So you are urging the president to move in tens of thousands more American troops quickly, Senator McCain?
SEN. McCAIN: And a lot of money. The money has got to flow. We have to get these oil pipelines repaired. We have got to get the water flowing. We have got to get the fundamental services, and, as importantly, we have got to turn the government of Iraq over to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible.
We have done that in places like Kirkuk, that I visited, and we can do it in other places. But it’s going to be very tough. But we have got to let the Iraqi people govern themselves as quickly as possible.
MR. RUSSERT: Do they have a security force in place that can in fact do that?
SEN. McCAIN: Not at the moment, no. I don’t believe—we’ve got a great deal more to do. And, again, it’s not so much numbers. It’s specialities and skills and—civil affairs, military police, linguists. We’re very short of people that speak the languages. So it’s not only just numbers. It’s the skills they bring. And our Guard and Reserve people are very, very overstretched.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you say this to the president directly, Senator McCain?
SEN. McCAIN: Sure. I’ve never been reluctant in the past, and he and I have had good conversations, and I’m sure we will on this.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, how acute is this?
SEN. BIDEN: You know, it’s like you got a vein—you know, your artery, you’re losing blood. We need a tourniquet on it immediately. And that’s what John’s talking about, in my view, immediately, whatever it takes. For example, we were talking about a month ago, Tim, everybody says we need 5,800 European police forces in there right now. We don’t have them in there. We haven’t made this a primary, overwhelming objective. Once we stop that bleeding, then we can stitch up the wound. That’s going to take the longest. That’s the international community. But in the meantime we got to staunch
MR. RUSSERT: Couldn’t be more serious. Senator McCain, before you go, in our next segment we’re going to talk about California. As a Republican, what kind of governor do you think Arnold Schwarzenegger would make?
SEN. McCAIN: I think that he will probably make a fine governor. I have never had the opportunity of seeing him, but I have always admired his skills in the movies.
MR. RUSSERT: John McCain, that has to be the last word. Joe Biden, thanks very much.
Coming next, Governor Gray Davis blames a Republican conspiracy on his troubles. Arnold meets the press. And Cruz Bustamante, lieutenant governor, calls for tough love. The California recall just six weeks away. Insights and analysis from Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report, and Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times with new poll numbers out this morning, coming up on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Roger, Ron, welcome. California recall.
MR. ROGER SIMON: Thank you.
MR. RON BROWNSTEIN: Tim. Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: California recall—Ron, your paper, the Los Angeles Times out this morning with a new poll. Should Gray Davis, the governor, be recalled? And here are the numbers. Yes, 50 percent. No, 45 percent. You need 50.1 percent for a recall. What’s going on?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, Gray Davis has had some success at what was job one for him, which was bringing back Democrats. In the earlier polling, when he—the recall was doing better, he was losing as much as 35 to 40 percent of Democrats to voting yes on the recall. In our poll, 3/4 of Democrats now say they oppose the recall in California. I think it was only 15 percent of Democrats were now supporting it. Davis went out this week with a very partisan argument. He called it part of a right-wing power grab, said it was part of an ongoing Republican effort to steal elections. Some people said that was too hot and divisive, but it did seem to have its immediate intended effect of rallying Democrats, at least temporarily, to his cause.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s listen to Governor Gray Davis in his own words. This is exactly as Ron described them:
(Videotape, August 19, 2003):
GOV. GRAY DAVIS, (D-CA): What’s happening here is part of an ongoing national effort to steal elections Republicans cannot win.
It started with the impeachment of President Clinton when the Republicans could not beat him in 1996. It continued in Florida where they stopped the vote count, depriving thousands of Americans of the right to vote. This year, they’re trying to steal additional congressional seats in Colorado and Texas, overturning legal redistricting plans. Here in California, the Republicans lost the governor’s race last November. Now, they’re trying to use this recall to seize control of California just before the next presidential election.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s Governor Davis’ interpretation of recent history, Roger Simon.
MR. SIMON: It’s pure Gray Davis. He always runs against the bogeyman on the right. In both his gubernatorial elections, he ran against the bogeyman on the right. It’s never “Vote for Gray Davis because I’m a great guy.” It’s, “Vote for Gray Davis because if you don’t, you’ll get someone far worse. You’ll get a right-wing Republican.” And that theory, that call to action has traction in California, which is a liberal Democratic state.
MR. RUSSERT: It is ironic. That was his theory, his hope. And then his lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante, said, “You know what? I’m going to put my name on the ballot as an alternative...”
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: “...just in case recall succeeds.” And now, Ron, the California Democratic delegation in the House led by Nancy Pelosi, the House leader, said, “Yeah, you know, that’s a good idea.”
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: “No on recall, yes on Bustamante.”
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, they want that fall-back position, Tim. The argument that Davis raised in that clip gets him within range, but I think even his own staff—I’ve talked to some of his advisers this week—believe it does not get him over the top. I mean, that is not going to win him a majority, which is what he needs. Independents are still supporting the recall by a substantial margin in our polls. So what the Democrats are saying is, “Look, Davis is equivocal at best. This is still a Democratic leaning state,” as Roger said. If we have someone on the ballot, we have obviously a better chance of keeping the governorship. And, in fact, in our poll that’s out this morning, Cruz Bustamante is leading Arnold Schwarzenegger, in part, because the Republican vote is dividing and Bustamante is now winning 2/3 of Democrats in the state.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s look at those numbers. Cruz Bustamante now up to 35 percent; Arnold Schwarzenegger at 22; Tom McClintock is at 12 percent; Peter Ueberroth at 7 percent; Bill Simon, who withdrew yesterday, at 6 percent. Where those votes will go? Probably to McClintock, but who knows? And Arianna Huffington way down at 3 percent. So the strategy perhaps of saying no to recall, yes to
Bustamante may energize the Democratic base and, ironically, may help Davis when, in fact, he was opposing that strategy.
MR. SIMON: Well, what we’ve seen is—this is a stunning poll result to begin with and it’s a little out of variance with some other polls. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but what we’re seeing is that the greatest threat to Gray Davis retaining his seat may not be Arnold Schwarzenegger. It may be Cruz Bustamante. We could, in the next six weeks, get down to an election where the governor of the state is battling the lieutenant governor of the state to hang on to his job.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: A couple of points about the poll and more broadly. What’s interesting to me about this poll, first of all, is, as I said, the disparity between the the unifying Democrats, where Bustamante is ahead now, in large part, because he’s winning 2/3 of Democrats. Schwarzenegger in the survey is only winning about 40 percent of Republicans. McClintock, in particular, is a significant competitor for conservative Republican votes. As you say, many of the Simon votes may go in that direction.
The other thing that people in the national press haven’t focused on enough is that in our poll and in earlier California polls, Schwarzenegger is not the overwhelmingly popular figure he’s being portrayed as. The percentage of Californians with a negative view of him in our poll is roughly equal to those with a positive view. And that’s been echoed by earlier survey results. He still has a good deal of work to do to convince, beyond the Republican base, voters that this is something that makes sense, to take a movie actor and put him in as governor at a time when the state is facing such difficulties.
MR. RUSSERT: He tried to deal with that on Wednesday when he met with former secretary of State and Treasury George Shultz and investor Warren Buffett, had a news conference. Let’s analyze some of the things he said. Here is Arnold Schwarzenegger from Wednesday:
MR. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Now, does this mean that we’re going to make cuts? Yes. Does this mean education is on the table? No. Does this mean I’m willing to raise taxes? No.
Additional taxes are the last burden that we need to put on the backs of the citizens and businesses of California.
MR. RUSSERT: Then he was asked, however, would he absolutely rule out any tax increase, and this is what he said:
MR. SCHWARZENEGGER: Having said that, it is clear that we can’t ever say never because we can have, you know, next year an earthquake. We can have a natural disaster. We could have a terrorist attack or something like that, so we can never say never. No.
MR. RUSSERT: Roger Simon, is that enough to satisfy Conservatives who want a clear no tax cut pledge?
MR. SIMON: No. And, in fact, there actually...
MR. RUSSERT: No tax increase pledge.
MR. SIMON: Right. They’re asking Schwarzenegger to sign a decree to that effect. I doubt it will satisfy them. Look, in two weeks, Schwarzenegger has moved from platitudes to generalities, which maybe a sign of progress. He’s following a Lincolnesque campaign. It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Now, this doesn’t mean that Arnold Schwarzenegger is stupid, but he has been saying to voters tacitly, in another clip in that speech, he says, “You know, people don’t care about the figures.” What he’s really saying is: You elected a guy who knew all about the figures; you elected a guy who was an expert on state government, had been there for three decades, was a staff person, lieutenant governor, then a governor. That’s Gray Davis. He knew everything and what you got was deficits, higher taxes and chaos. Arnold is saying, “You’ve tried smart, now try Arnold.”
MR. RUSSERT: And isn’t he saying, Ron, “Why get bogged down in all the weeds and all those numbers? I’m going to bring leadership. I’m going to go to Sacramento, bring the parties together, no one owns me and give me a chance to do it”? Does that message sell?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think it does sell to some Independent voters. But I basically agree with Roger. Look, they say, you know, to govern is to choose, but to choose is to define. And I think Schwarzenegger’s strategy has been that in a field this crowded, that he might be able to win with a broad appeal across the electorate with a very low number needed to win, a very low percentage, and not to try to get too clearly defined on one side of the spectrum or the other. And that was part of the reason why I think he’s been trying to avoid giving too many specifics that would alienate any bloc of the electorate.
I think that press conference was pretty effective at bringing back Conservatives. It didn’t go quite as far, perhaps, as some would hope, but he really muted a lot of the criticism, people like Rush Limbaugh, who had earlier been critical, described it as a home run. The problem, though, is as he becomes more acceptable to Republicans, inevitably, he becomes less acceptable to Democrats. His numbers among Democrats in our poll are very poor, both favorable and on the actual ballot. And he is becoming more of a conventional Republican candidate, which is tough in a state that leans Democratic like California, especially if those other two prominent Republicans, Ueberroth and McClintock, stay on the ballot.
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah. But if they drop out and endorse Arnold Schwarzenegger, doesn’t he become the face of the Republican Party in a Democratic state?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: He does, but at least then I think he would have a clearer shot. You can imagine, Tim, if these poll numbers like this persist, the pressure on those other Republicans is going to grow enormous to get out of the race and give Schwarzenegger a clear shot at the second part of the ballot.
MR. RUSSERT: Roger, you mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger saying the public doesn’t care about figures. This morning in The Washington Post, the president of the United States was talking about the deficit. He said, “I’m much more concerned about creating jobs than numbers on paper.”
MR. SIMON: Well, the two campaigns have some similarities to Bush’s first gubernatorial campaign run by Karl Rove, who also, we believe, has been giving some advice to Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is basically that if you’re up against a candidate who has a lot of expertise, don’t get into a battle over facts and figures. Don’t get into a battle over the details. When you see Arnold Schwarzenegger on TV,
you always see him doing one of two things: laughing or smiling. And in his press conference, he talked about optimism repeatedly. He is the candidate who’s optimistic about California’s future. And when you see Gray Davis, Arnold hopes you see the sort of crouched figure, always talking about doom and gloom and how you need him to get you through these tough times.
MR. RUSSERT: Was there another actor from California who was known...
MR. SIMON: Yeah, yeah, yes.
MR. RUSSERT: ...for his optimism...
MR. SIMON: It was Ronald Reagan.
MR. RUSSERT: ...by the name of Ronald Reagan? Let me turn to presidential politics.
MR. SIMON: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: John Zogby’s been polling about George W. Bush. On job approval, positive/negative, here it is: 52 percent positive; negative, 48 percent. And on the question, “Should President Bush be re-elected?”: yes, 45 percent; no, 48 percent. Newsweek shows a very similar result today. Now, that’s a generic, however.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s not Bush vs. candidate Kerry or Gephardt or Dean. It’s anyone else. But what does that number tell you, Ron?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, the real thing you have to watch when you have an incumbent president is his approval rating. The overwhelming majority of people who give the president a positive approval rating vote for him for re-election. And the fact is that Bush is being dragged down right now by news at home and abroad. At home he is at risk of being the first president since Herbert Hoover to suffer a net loss of jobs over his full presidential term. And, of course, in Iraq the news has been sort of unrelentingly bad: one day after another of sort of steady literal bleeding of American troops over
there, the upsurge of terrorism as well. If both of those circumstances continue and President Bush has a low 50—just over 50 approval rating, we go back to the 50-50 nation. And that is the underlying reality that we’re facing. The country is divided in a partisan sense. He has soared above that based on his approval post-9/11 and Iraq. If that begins to puncture, I think we revert back to this very even partisan divide.
MR. RUSSERT: Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, has been telling people, Roger Simon, that, you know, “The conventional wisdom said that the Democratic candidate had to support the president on the war in order to reinforce his national security credentials. But, ladies and gentlemen, come next November, I will be the only Democrat who will have the rationale to oppose the president, because by opposing the war in Iraq I was right and all the other Democrats were wrong.”
MR. SIMON: Well, Howard Dean has clearly shown himself not only to be far more in tune with his party than some of the other Democrats, but perhaps, if these poll results are correct, the nation as a whole. Dean said the strategy of supporting Bush on Iraq, getting national security off the table and fighting George Bush on domestic issues was a losing idea. It lost in 2002. He said, “Let’s energize the base of the party instead of going for the vast American middle, which we’ll not win anyway. Let’s go for our Democratic base.” And this whole campaign, in a few short months, really has evolved into a “Stop Howard Dean” movement on the part of the other Democrats. This guy is just tearing up the field.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I agree largely, but I disagree with one point. First of all, I agree that Dean has become the driving force in the Democratic race. I mean, his ability to raise money off the Internet-the crowds that he is drawing this weekend—he’s on a sort of “sleepless across America” tour that he’s doing. It began last night in Virginia with about several thousand, 4,000 people, by some estimates. He’s going to be going across the country. They’re expecting to raise at least as much money in the third quarter as they did in the second, when they raised more money than any other Democrat. Extraordinary situation, Tim, where the outsider candidate has become identified before the insider establishment favorite.
The only thing I differ with Roger on is, look, it is still going to be a challenge for Dean, if he is the nominee, to explain to the American people why he did not think it was in our national security interest to remove Saddam Hussein. The threshold of being an effective and credible commander in chief is larger and more important after September 11 than it was before, and I still believe that it will be a challenge for Dean to cross that threshold, having opposed the war; not impossible, but certainly more of a challenge than it’s been so far, with Bush pushing back at him, not just Dick Gephardt and John Edwards.
MR. RUSSERT: You may have a perfect storm gathering right now that is not good news for President Bush: the unemployment numbers; the difficulties in Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction, no Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, if you find Saddam Hussein, find weapons of mass destruction, and the economy starts ticking up, then what does Howard Dean base his campaign on?
MR. SIMON: Well, Howard Dean and everyone else is in big trouble based on that scenario. And as you pointed out, Tim, the president’s relatively bad poll numbers are the president vs. a generic Democrat. The president isn’t going to run against a generic Democrat. He’s going to run against a real Democrat. If it’s Howard Dean, and there’s no reason to believe this early that it will be, the president might feel that he’s going to match up very well.
MR. RUSSERT: The DraftWesleyClark.com group has a new poll out tomorrow in which they show the president matched up against the various Democrats. The president beats the Democrats but he’s below 50 percent against most of them. They also show that their man, Clark—in generic form, when you describe his biography against George Bush, they like Wesley Clark. Do you think Clark gets in?
MR. SIMON: I think Clark gets in, and I think he hurts a lot of people in the Democratic race, including Howard Dean. He’s anti-war but he has a general’s credentials. Also, he hurts those candidates running from the South, John Edwards and Bob Graham, because Wesley Clark is from Arkansas. Also, he hurts John Kerry, because he will become the second veteran, combat-decorated Vietnam veteran, in the race, and John Kerry loses his main talking point, which is that’s what John Kerry is.
MR. RUSSERT: Those McCain Independent voters in New Hampshire, some going to Dean, some going to Kerry, now would have a choice in Wesley Clark.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Well, look, I mean, if he does get in—and I think most people are feeling that he is going to—it would be a good time for him, because there is a sense in the Democratic Party that, apart from Dean, none of these candidates have really taken off this year. They’re all either flat- lining or somewhat losing ground over the course of 2003. On the other hand, having seen him speak, I think he is still much more confident and assured talking about foreign than domestic policy, and obviously, for a Democratic primary electorate, Iraq is only part of the mix. There’s a lot of people who
want to talk about health care, the economy, the budget deficit. And he has some work, I think, to do on those fronts.
MR. RUSSERT: No one else getting in? No Hillary?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: No. No.
MR. SIMON: No. No. This is...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: No. No. No.
MR. RUSSERT: No Al Gore? No Al Gore?
MR. SIMON: Nine may grow to 10. I don’t think it’s going to go past that. No Al Gore.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. No, I think—no Al Gore. I think you got...
MR. RUSSERT: What you see is what we get.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: What you see is what we get.
MR. SIMON: That’s good, that’s good.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: We’re going to see some more announcements. We’re going—the debates are starting soon. I mean...
MR. SIMON: Right.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...there—this has moved down the road. And, you know, Dean, in particular, has established a following that really isn’t going away. I mean, he has got some ability to stay in this for a while past Iowa and New Hampshire.
MR. RUSSERT: Message, money and momentum?
MR. SIMON: Right. He’s all got all that.
MR. RUSSERT: But is the Democratic nomination worth winning?
MR. SIMON: Oh, it’s very much worth winning.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: This is...
MR. SIMON: This election is not a lock for the president.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s going to be wild.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Absolutely. Look, if you—unless conditions are off-the-charts good for Bush, it’s a 50-50 country, and we’ll have a close race.
MR. RUSSERT: Ron Brownstein, Roger Simon, thanks so much. We’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it is MEET THE PRESS.
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