Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC:  Tim, polls are showing the American public growing more and more disenchanted with what is going on in Iraq – now a majority of Americans think the United States should no longer be there.  President George W. Bush’s domestic and foreign policy numbers have been on a downward movement.  It appears members of congress - up for mid-term elections - are seizing on that and taking on the issue of setting a timetable for getting out of Iraq.

Tim Russert:  There’s anxiety everywhere – in the White House and on Capitol Hill and across the country - with 60% of Americans now believing things are going badly in Iraq and a majority now believing it’s not worth the price being paid.

President Bush is going to have to address the country in a very sober way to try to reassure the nation why the U.S. is there and what’s at stake.

On the other hand, members of congress running in 2006, just 16 months from now, are getting very, very nervous.

Democrats had a meeting Wednesday where they were given the latest polls and they were cheering, because they think some of the swing marginal districts show the Democrats beating Republicans simply by saying, “Get rid of those guys” – not because they have any alternative plan, it’s just “throw the incumbents out.”

MSNBC:  A lot of people might be thinking, “Why can’t the U.S. just set a date and get out?”  But this has brought about a moment of agreement between, among others, former President Clinton and President Bush.

Russert:  Yes.  And I had Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, and Sen. John McCain, some months ago, sitting side by side, from Iraq, saying, “You can’t set a deadline.”

The concern is this:  If a deadline is set, then the terrorists - the insurgency - will simply sit back and say, “Okay, we’ll wait for them to leave and we’ll take over the country.”

On the other hand, the Iraqis have to step forward.  The only U.S. exit strategy is for the Iraqis to train enough security and military forces so that American men and women can come home.  They are far, far from that.  And unless they’re willing to shed blood for their own new country, there will come a time when the American public will say, “Enough already.” 

I think people of both parties, the majorities, want to say, “All right.  Let’s give it a year or two.”  But after that, if the Iraqis are not ready to govern their own nation, and defend their own nation, it’s going to be extremely difficult to maintain support of the American people.

MSNBC:  You mentioned the president has to address the American people.  But, back in the Vietnam War days, Americans watched Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon say one thing, while the U.S. troops were doing something considerably different over there.  Will remarks to the nation be enough this time?

Russert:  You know, that is such an important point.  There is a “Rose Garden Optimism” that seems to be in conflict with “Baghdad Pessimism”.

You have congressional delegations coming home - Sen. Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware and Rep. Curt Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania – saying the reality on the ground is the Iraqis are not training their troops quickly enough to replace the Americans and the insurgency is alive and well.  But Vice President Dick Cheney has insisted the insurgency is in its final throes.

So, when the president addresses the nations, it has to be candid, it has to be something that is not in conflict with what people are hearing when their clock radios go off in the morning with the latest reports on Iraq and it conflicts with what they’re hearing from the White House. 

If that’s the case, guess what?  They’re going to become very suspicious and very skeptical. That’s why the president has to lay it out very clearly, openly and honestly what is going on, on the ground in Iraq.

MSNBC:  On Tuesday of this week, Rep. Dick Durbin, D-IL, compared the treatment of U.S.-held prisoners at Guantanamo detainees to the treatment at the hands of Nazis, and there’s been comparisons to the Soviets in their gulags and even Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.  But we’ve heard very little on the POW issue from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain – himself a prisoner of North Vietnam for five years during the Vietnam War.

Russert:  I’m anxious to hear what he says Sunday, when he’s our guest on Meet the Press. 

Sen. McCain, back from Iraq, has been a strong supporter of the war and feels passionately about it, but he has not said much about Guantanamo.  He will on Sunday - many veterans I’ve talked to say they’re concerned about the treatment Americans show to U.S. captives, because they want to make sure American POWs are taken care of.

He’ll also be answering the tough questions about where the U.S. is going in Iraq. 

And we’ll discuss military recruitment.  The army is falling 40% short of its goals for the volunteer army.  There are huge challenges ahead for our country and for Senator McCain.

MSNBC:  Might his motives be suspect now that he is widely suspected of wanting to carve out a coalition of voters who might back him for president?  A lot of them being Democrats.

Russert:  It’s remarkable.  He has higher favorable ratings among Democrats and Independents than he does with Republicans.  He ran in 200 against George W. Bush, he beat Bush in New Hampshire by 18 points, but lost amongst Republicans in New Hampshire.  Of the 18 primaries he was in, in 2000, the only state he carried the majority of Republicans was his home state of Arizona.

So, he can be elected president in a general election, but he has to win the nomination.  That’s his challenge.

But this Sunday, for the full hour on Meet the Press, it will be John McCain.  We’ll talk about Iraq and Guantanamo along with stem cell research, judicial nominations and, of course, a potential run for president.

Sen. McCain is always a colorful, interesting, man to interview and I look forward to Sunday.


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