Meet the Press   |  January 05, 2014

3: Foreign Policy, Marijuana Decriminalization at Forefront of Issues

NBC's Richard Engel updates David about Al Qaeda in Iraq, and a roundtable discusses foreign and domestic political conflicts.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> before we get back to the rou roundtable, i want to bring you the latest on a growing crisis, the rise of al qaeda in iraq . it's been a lot of violence since the u.s. left two years ago. this is the city of fallujah . it's a key city west of iraq . more than 100 troops were killed in the battle. the forces that were killed in iraq were in that province. richard engel is in sochi, russia. he's covering the games for us. he covered the war for us, and you also covered the civil war in syria . and i bring that up because here you have sunni militants operating in iraq again as they are in neighboring syria . what's the significance of this?

>> reporter: well, we're seeing the return of al qaeda in iraq , and it is absolutely connected to syria . the same al qaeda militants that are fighting sometimes against the regime of bashara al-assad are fighting in baghdad . it's all about what you just mentioned. the government in baghdad is shiite and the people in rumani are sunnis. the people in fallujah , same situation. they feel they have not been given a fair share of the political power in iraq . and you see the same divide in the conflict just across the border in syria where you have the rebels who are sunni who are fighting against the government, which is shiite. it is one conflict across the two borders.

>> richard , the united states has pulled out of iraq , preparing to do the same at year's end in afghanistan. secretary kerry saying today this is iraq 's fight. but does the united states have a real concern, a real interest here?

>> reporter: well, the gains that were achieved by u.s. troops in iraq , very hard-fought gains, have now been wiped out or are being wiped out. u.s. troops fought in f parks llujah, they invaded fallujah twice to drive out sunnis. i'm not sure the government has the capability, or does it have the capability to do it without producing mass bloodshed? the government in baghdad is now threatening assault, because there has been uprise ng both these cities in western iraq , and the government in baghdad says it will assault them to drive these extremists out. if the u.s. had trouble doing it, and the u.s. had to destroy large parts of both fallujah and rumani to do it, what's going to happen when the two forces try to get out these two cities?

>> richard engel , thank you so much. you'll be watching for terror concerns and security concerns at the games in sochi, and we will keep pace with you, richard . thank you so much.

>>> we're back now with the roundtable. congressman edwards, i want to start with you. how much concern do you have about iraq ?

>> i have a lot of concern, but i don't think the united states really has a place there. it's unfortunate what happened because so many americans lost their lives in fallujah , and to see this happening is really disturbing, but it's not the united states ' fight.

>> you were there in the political wars, behind the actual war in iraq . not only the gains that richard engel says is being lost, but does the united states have responsibility for what's happening in iraq , particularly if it's a growing problem in the region?

>> before the united states left iraq , it had the chance for a decent self-government, for iraqi leaders to bind the wound to the country. what you see playing out, as richard pointed out, is a sunni -shiite civil war across the region that the united states must stay out of. we have no ability to go and affect an outcome in any of these countries in the middle of this civil war which has been going on for some 700 years.

>> look at the "new york times" today. that's one of the lead stories. and the other is, "new york state is set to loosen marijuana laws." i'm looking at you, chuck todd , only because you cover politics so closely. that's the only reason. this is a very interesting story about what is a growing public policy debate that the states are having. where is this headed?

>> like many of our social cultural reforms that end up being more liberalized culturally, it's coming from the west. it's coming from these referendu referendums. it's colorado and washington state being the most prominent. we've seen these movements thech. they start west and make their way east. but i think this is moving pretty quickly. i think you have an interesting left-right coalition here. the rand paul libertarian wing of the republican party has no issue of what you do in your home, whether it comes, in some cases, with the issue of a woman's body and in other cases with things like marijuana.

>> i look at this and i think about it as a parent with young kids, and whether i think it's acceptable for them to be smoking marijuana, as well as other things that are legal that can be very damaging to them. there is a legal aspect of this as well, a deterrent aspect. talking to an fbi friend of mine who was saying, you know, there still is a deterrent about making marijuana legal. here's something the denver post writes in its editorial where they talk about marijuana being legalized in the state. they never opposed 64 mainly because of the conflict with federal law , which exists in colorado , but we've long supported the concept of legalizing marijuana nationwide and putting an end to the massive squandering of resources and it appears others now agree.

>> i think there is clearly a growing support around the country for decriminalizing marijuana. legalization is something else. and yes, it's happened in two states. and yes, new york is moving toward medical marijuana . and people are now saying they like the idea, they're willing to think about the idea that marijuana is legal, but when you get down to practical effects, it's only been in effect in colorado , legal, for a few days. already it's reeking a little havoc. i talked to a good friend over the weekend that lives there, and she was telling me, you know, the police have having to learn about how to detect when drivers have been using. marijuana, it's different. she talked about the ski resorts in the state which are a huge draw are going to have to figure out what they do about this, because they're on federal lands . there are safety issues. marijuana can be dangerous. yes, it can be fun, as david brooks wrote about in his column this week, but there are other issues. and i think we've only looked at one part of it.

>> you mentioned david brooks because there is so much reaction in his column in the "new york times" in social media circles, various platforms. here's part of what he wrote in his column on friday. in legalizing weed, citizens of colorado are indeed enhancing individual freedom but they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person we want to be. you talk about ultimate experiences and later regretting them.

>> i agree. that's sort of the rite of passage chuck referred to. i think first as a parent, but i also look at a public policy where we have driven so many young black and brown men and women into the criminal justice system . the entre was marijuana. we can figure out these issues from a decriminalization issue of how do you detect marijuana use. the same rules still apply if you're driving impaired and those sort of things, but we do have to get to a point in this country where we say, you know what? there are some things that need to be regulated because it actually makes it safer.

>> steve, where do you see this?

>> marijuana has been functionalfunction functionally legal in the state of california for many years. anyone who wants to get it can get a prescription. the reality here is when you evaluate it over the long term, how much money have we spent in this country trying to enforce the war on marijuana? how many people do we have locked up, non-violent marijuana offenders, in this country, and what percentage of them are black versus middle class white kids? so this era of prohibition is coming to an end. this product should be legal. it should be regulated, it should be taxed. we talk about as parents things that we're concerned about it. as a parent of young kids, i worry about my kids turning on the tv and seeing miley cyrus . it is a dangerous world out there.

>> but there's a little bet of sentime sentimentality, where, i don't know, if i tried pot, i might not like it. it's a lot more potent now. it doesn't seem to me as a parent it should be like cigarettes.

>> there's cigarettes and alcohol , and a parent has the responsibility in all issues and all matters forever in perpetui perpetuity. parents have to have a relationship with their kids where they say, hey, don't do this. but at the end of the day , has this been a successful government policy , this prohibition policy? i think it's very difficult to make an argument.

>> i want to just turn the page here away from this and talk about the bigger issues we're seeing in the country. especially the role of progressives now, and with de blasio now the mayor of new york city . de blasio draws all eyes to new york city lab, populist ideas. what's going on in democratic politics?

>> the idealogy of both parties is disappearing, i think, and now we're seeing a move here where the democratic party is more united in what it stands for these days. it has moved to the left a little bit in the same way the republican party , which used to have idealogical adversity inside the party, liberal republicans , conserving republicans, were seeing one idealogy inside the republican umbrella. i think that's what's going on in the republican party . the question is, where we have much more stark choices -- i remember in 2000 , gore and bush were trying to sound like the same candidate, and i think that's why we ended up am a tie. we have not had this clear of a divide between the two parties idealogically, perhaps, in a couple generations. what does that mean? i think it means the gridlock we get in washington because it's so hard to find compromise when you're so far apart.

>> here's de blasio talking about some of the inequality he wants to address in the city.

>> we are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. and so today we commit to a new progressive direction in new york .

>> judy, it's interesting to me that part of the reaction to obama on the left is to say, he's let us down on some of these real progressive areas.

>> and that explains why, i think, picking up on what chuck was saying, there is this kind of excitement in some democratic circles about de blasio because there is a full-throated support about some of these policies which universal pre-kindergarten has some support in both parties. but i think it's hard to say a lot of people are ready for a surge toward liberalism and saying what we've got in new york is a situation where somebody was in power for a long time, michael bloomberg , one philosophy. and we know historically in this country when somebody is in power in a long time and party shifts, policy shifts. and i think that's mainly what's happening in new york right now.

>> so more broadly, as we think about washington getting back to work, the big political stories in 2014 , i've got a list of them here and we'll put them on the screen, obamacare, immigration, the debt ceiling, broader economy, control of the senate. steve schmidt, how do republicans tackle these? where is there any progress?

>> i think it's definitely going to be a year for progress, and i think you can make a strong argument that we won't see progress until we're in a new presidency. certainly as jim cramer was talking about that divide between small things, the minimum wage issue, and big things , how do we create economic growth , how do we create upward mobility , how do we are release the engine of prosperity with big reforms? i don't think any of those things are going to happen. one issue not on that list is energy. i think from the undercover stories of 2013 , the energy boom of this country, and when jim cramer is talking about the places where you can go get a job out of high school driving a truck for $90,000 a year, that is because of the energy revolution in this country which has profound security, ramifications for us globally and that's going to be an issue out there as we talk about fracking and other things.

>> donna, you have to look at some of the progressive goals, whether it's raising the minimum wage , maybe it's restoring jobless benefits, maybe that's easier, but you have to take a tough look at congress and say, i don't see how i get this through the house. do you think that as a democrat?

>> i think it's complicated, but i think it's still important to define what those issues are, where the dividing lines are. when i look at bill de blasio, what i see there is an ability in a jurisdiction to create that kind of change that really is about closing that economic gap, whether it's on minimum wage , expanding child care, closing the inequality gap and using that as a platform for promoting some of these things in a congress that is going to be quite recalcitrant in terms of accomplishing.

>> let me get another break in here. we're going to come back and talk about the terror attacks in russia, safety concerns for our athletes in next month's winter games . i'll speak with former homeland security secretary janet napolitano .