MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the war in Iraq. The debate continues.
VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists, an invitation to further violence against free nations, and a terrible blow to the future security of the United States of America.
SEN. JOHN P. MURTHA, (D-PA): We need to change the direction in Iraq. We can't win this militarily. There's no question we're going in the wrong direction, and we're not winning.
MR. RUSSERT: What should we do? With us: the ranking Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden of Delaware, and the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia. Biden and Warner square off on Iraq.
Then, insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, David Gregory of NBC News, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and Judy Woodruff, former anchor of "Inside Politics."
But first, with us now: two United States senators with strong views about the war in Iraq, John Warner of Virginia, Joe Biden of Delaware.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE): Good to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me start the conversation with Senator Biden. By some comments you made at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday--here it is: "I do think that many [Democrats] have reached a conclusion, as many of my Republican colleagues, that this is lost."
Is that the view in the Senate, the war is lost?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think there's a number of people that think it is. I do not think it is. I think we have a six-month window here to get it right. But I have to admit that I think its chances are not a lot better than 50:50, and it requires a real change in course along the lines that--Senator Warner laid out an amendment; got 79 votes in the United States Senate. I think if the president follows that prescription, we got an even shot to make this a success.
MR. RUSSERT: You wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post where you said you did not think that the military, U.S. military, can sustain 150,000 troops in Iraq for the next two years. Why not?
SEN. BIDEN: I'm quite sure it can't. You've had everyone from Barry McCaffrey on here; General Casey has spoken out publicly. There is--unless we fundamentally change the rotation dates and fundamentally change how many members of the National Guard we're calling up, it'll be virtually impossible to maintain 150,000 folks this year. So the question is not whether we're going to draw down troops in the year 2006; it is, whether or not we're going to draw down, what are we going to leave behind? Are we going to leave behind--are we going to have traded a dictator for chaos or are we going to have traded a dictator for a stable Iraq? That's the real question. And that depends on the president's actions from here out.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Warner, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, do you believe we can continue to have 150,000 troops in Iraq over the next two years?
SEN. JOHN WARNER, (R-VA): I certainly do, but more importantly, yesterday, Joe, I took your article, which I've got right here, and I went over it with Pete Pace word by word--chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And he said, "That's inaccurate, that assumption." He said, "We can do it. And we will do it." We've got estimates, if we--the ground condition's justified, as the president said, to pull down. We've got an option to increase the forces. Now, we will go from 158,000 to around 138,000 shortly after the elections, assuming the ground situation covers it. But my good friend here and I differ strongly. This article is entitled "Timetable." We should not be establishing any timetable with regard to our withdrawal.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, then why did you introduce the resolution? And words are important.
SEN. WARNER: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you what your resolution said that Senator Biden referred to: "...calendar year 2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq... the Administration needs to explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq."
Why was that necessary? Has the administration not been explaining its strategy?
SEN. WARNER: Short answer to it: I felt it was very important to strike a bipartisan note. You know that famous phrase, "Check politics at the water's edge"--it was given at the conclusion of World War II by one of our great Republican senators. I feel that very strongly. Joe Bi--excuse me--Joe Lieberman joined me on the floor in that statement. But here we are. We made a decision and I accept responsibility not to have a resolution of our own and then go against Carl Levin's resolution. Let us try and take Carl Levin's amendment, which I did, mending it, taking out the timetable language, leaving that in, and I did that for a very important reason. In order to get the bipartisan vote, we needed to show that we were tasking the administration with a more thorough reporting schedule of facts. Joe Biden refers to it in this well-written op-ed piece, if you get by the one barbed wire. And he lays out that we do need to know more on every quarterly basis, every 90 days, exactly what is taking place: the president's evaluation of the situation in Iraq...
MR. RUSSERT: Should the...
SEN. WARNER: ...what's going right, what's going wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the president go before the American people with a map of Iraq and say, "Let me explain to you what is going on in the war. This area's secure. This area is difficult. This area we had captured but now the terrorists have gotten it back"? Take people through it in a very honest, straightforward way, a status report, an update.
SEN. WARNER: Tim, I'm old enough. I served in the last year of World War II in the Navy. Franklin D. Roosevelt did just exactly that. In his fireside talks, he talked with the people, he did just that. I think it would be to Bush's advantage. It would bring him closer to the people, dispel some of this concern that understandably our people have about the loss of life and limb, the enormous cost of this war to the American public, and we've got to stay firm for the next six months. It is a critical period, as Joe and I agree, in this Iraqi situation to restore full sovereignty in that country and that enables them to have their own armed forces to maintain their sovereignty.
SEN. BIDEN: Tim, let's get something straight. There's not a single general, including Pace, who believes we can keep 150,000 troops in Iraq without extending tours three and four and five times and without further mobilizing the National Guard. We can keep 150,000 troops there. We could put 200,000 troops there. It would require a fundamental change, fundamental in the rotation schedules. We've told our military. So let's get the facts straight. That's number one. Number two...
SEN. WARNER: Joe, I just...
SEN. BIDEN: ...there was a vote of no confidence. The 79 senators who voted for the language you just stated there were saying, "Mr. President, we want you to tell us what's the plan. What is your timetable? We're not setting a timetable for withdrawal. What is your timetable to get a political settlement, to get the Iraqi army up and running, to get the ministries functioning? You tell us, Mr. President." That's what that resolution was about.
SEN. WARNER: Joe, when I talked to Pace yesterday, he said one of the means with which we're going to maintain those force levels is what we call cross-training, taking certain segments of the Army and retraining them in 30 to 60 days to perform the basic fighting we see against the insurgents, take elements of the Guard, which might take a little longer. You know, artillery men can become infantry men, artillery men can become policemen.
SEN. BIDEN: Fundamental change.
SEN. WARNER: No, well, it may be a fundamental change. We certainly did it in World War II. We did it...
SEN. BIDEN: It's possible.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Warner, you said for the next six months. What happens six months from now if there simply aren't enough Iraqis standing up, as the president would say? By every estimate of the American military, there are about 700 Iraqis who are fully competently trained, independent of fighting outside of U.S. control. What happens if not enough Iraqis step forward to defend their country? What do we do?
SEN. WARNER: All right, Tim. First place it's more than 700. You're talking about the one battalion which can do it all by itself. We have working today some 40 Iraqi battalions working with our troops, integrated in some instances, fighting side by side, sharing the equipment. It is a joint operation. Now, the test comes as follows. Once we have secured an area using that joint force, and the U.S. forces then move on and we leave the Iraqis, the test will come within the next six months. Are they able to maintain these communities and keep this insurgents out? That will be the test.
MR. RUSSERT: And if they cannot?
SEN. WARNER: At that point then we have to come to the realization that the program has not met the target and we have to determine what we're going to do. I would not want to posture what that decision would be. You'll have to wait. You shouldn't speculate. We'll have to wait for those six months.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, what's the problem when kids here in the United States sign up and go to boot camp and get ready, and we've done it in World War II, we did it in Korea, We did it in Vietnam, we did it Kosovo, we do it in Iraq--they can be ready for combat within a matter of months. Why is it taking the Iraqis some two and a half years and they still have not put together an army that can replace the United States?
SEN. BIDEN: A quick answer. Three things. One, the Defense Department hasn't leveled with the American people. They told--the civilians. They indicated and secretary of defense on your program will say 200,000 trained Iraqis. Number one, nowhere near that as you pointed out. Maybe 35,000 in category one and category two. Number two, there is no officer corps. They completely decimated and decommissioned every aspect of the former Iraqi military instead of doing what we did in Germany, Japan and other places. And number three, there has not been the focus on the training until the last nine months. We essentially squandered a year and a half.
I was on your program much earlier pointing out to you that I went and visited the training facilities for the police and the military and it was virtually non-existent. Yet we talked about training a thousand a month. So we're finally getting into gear. It's finally beginning to work. We still do not have that officer corps which, in fact, we had. You train up these kids in six months--in six weeks; in six months, and we have an officer corps. They have no such officer corps.
And lastly they have no command and control. That's why General Casey is talking about, in order to draw down you don't not only train up these battalions, which are 600 to 800 people, you have to train up a larger facility that deals with command and control. They don't have that capacity yet. They don't have that capacity. That takes times.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Warner, it's interesting that the conversation in Washington is talking about redeployment, about Iraqis standing up, U.S. standing down. The Iraqis have now stepped forward and said it's in their interest for the United States to withdraw. An Iraqi leader told The Washington Post that the Iraqis should have more of a role in the defense of their country, but Time magazine had a very interesting item about you in a meeting that you had, and let me share it for you and our views. "In an unusual closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last week, Virginia's John Warner...sat across the table from 10 military officers chosen for their experience on the battlefield rather than in the political arena. Warner rounded up the battalion commanders to get at what the military calls `ground truth'-the unvarnished story of what's going on in Iraq. ... According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, the Army and Marine officers were blunt. In contrast to the Pentagon's stock answer that there are enough troops on the ground in Iraq, the commanders said that they not only needed more manpower but had also repeatedly asked for it. Indeed, military sources told TIME that as recently as August 2005"--a few months ago--"a senior military official requested more troops but got turned down flat." Is that true?
SEN. WARNER: Tim, I took the initiative, as I do in many areas, to do independent analysis. I just don't rely on what's coming out of the Pentagon. That's not to say that I'm distrustful, in no way. I get along very well with the secretary and others. But I think it's important that Congress do its own independent analysis. I did bring that group, it's rather unusual, of 10 young men and I--it was a closed meeting and I cannot confirm or deny what took place. But I will make one observation, two as a matter of fact. I never saw a finer group of young men in my life. Just the finest. And America should be so proud of the quality of individual in uniform today. The subject of the meeting was IEDs, something that concerns me greatly. And I will say not--apart from that meeting, the Pentagon now--and they'll be announcing it and I give them full credit--is revisiting this IED problem. That's the road bomb that's going off and taking so many lives and limbs, and upgrading it considerably and enhancing it and also listening to the private sector that's out there working with these concepts to combat this type of weaponry.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, let me stop you there...
SEN. WARNER: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...'cause this is an important point.
SEN. WARNER: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: We have heard Secretary Rumsfeld say over and over and over again that he will give the men on the ground exactly what they ask for and he has never, never turned them down. It appears that your meeting with military officers indicates something much different. Is Secretary Rumsfeld being candid when he says that he has provided all the troops that his commanders on the ground have requested?
SEN. WARNER: The answer is yes. Again, I cannot comment on that meeting because I cannot continue to function with this committee if we don't have a measure of confidentiality. I told each of those officers when they came in there, "This is an off-the-record meeting." All senators present understood that, all staff, but it came out as a leak but I will not confirm it.
Back to Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld when asked this question I think gave a proper answer. And I've been associated with the men and women of the uniform of this country for many years as you well know. There isn't a young company commander, there isn't a lieutenant, there isn't a battalion commander who at times wishes he didn't have more people. But those requests go up, and in this instance, those requests were reviewed by senior officers. And Rumsfeld has to rely on the--General Abizaid, General Casey to make those evaluations. Each time they've asked for more individuals, he has sent them. The best example, we're up to 158,000, an increment of 20,000, to make sure the referendum was done under the best controlled circumstances.
SEN. BIDEN: Tim, I've been there five times. I reported on your show and others. I don't know what they tell Rumsfeld, but flag officers, guys wearing stars, not one single time, including the last one, Memorial Day, and I'm going again in 12 days, have I not been told by flag officers that they did not have enough forces.
Give you a specific example. They said last time I was there on Memorial Day, "We cannot mount a counterinsurgency. We go out and clear out Anbar province. We blow these guys away. We don't have enough troops to leave behind. We leave. They come back across the border. Senator, we don't have enough troops."
I've been calling for more troops for over two years, along with John McCain and others subsequent to my saying that. They may not be telling the secretary of defense, but let me tell you, on the ground--not young officers, flag officers, and everybody knows. We went with too few troops. We do not have enough troops from the beginning. We haven't had them throughout. Now it's becoming counterproductive. But the point is, there clearly, clearly, clearly was a desire on the part of the military for more troops.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden...
SEN. WARNER: But, Joe, you lay out in here the fact that there's a resentment about our troops being there as occupiers...
SEN. BIDEN: Now...
SEN. WARNER: ...and that is provoking part of this...
SEN. BIDEN: Now--now...
SEN. WARNER: Let me just finish. That question is before Abizaid and Casey every day. You bring more, it appears that we're trying to occupy and stay longer.
SEN. BIDEN: If we had brought more...
SEN. WARNER: So they have to strike that balance.
SEN. BIDEN: If we had brought more two years ago, a year ago and six months ago, you would not have everything from the looting to the situation we have now of not being able to mount a counterinsurgency. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy now, a Bush-fulfilling prophecy. Putting more troops in now, as in the absence of the progress that wasn't made, does come off as occupation now. This is second-guessing history here. There's not anybody you're going to find when they rewrite this that says we had enough troops going in, enough troops two years ago and enough troops a year ago.
SEN. WARNER: But, Joe, we ought to be looking now--forward looking...
SEN. BIDEN: I was answering the man's question.
SEN. WARNER: ...and doing everything we can to support the troops and maintain their morale so that they can undertake daily the risks that they're assuming.
SEN. BIDEN: I have. That's why I've gone there five times.
SEN. WARNER: I just got back six weeks ago myself, so I'm headed there again, too.
MR. RUSSERT: And yet it's important that we put things in historical context. Senator Biden, you were on the show in August of 2002 talking about Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. You concluded your statement by saying, "I think Saddam either has to be separated from his weapons or taken out of power." A month later you voted for a resolution authorizing just that. In hindsight, knowing everything you know now about the absence of weapons of mass destruction, was your vote a mistake?
SEN. BIDEN: It was a mistake. It was a mistake to assume the president would use the authority we gave him properly. And I brought along that whole quote. I knew you'd ask me this. I said, "We know he continues to attempt to gain access to additional capability, including nuclear capability. There's a real debate on how far off that is, whether it's a matter of years or it's a matter of less than that. We don't know enough now." That was the rest of my quote. So I never argued that there was an imminent threat. We gave the president the authority to unite the world to isolate Saddam. And the fact of the matter is, we went too soon. We went without sufficient force. And we went without a plan.
MR. RUSSERT: If there was a vote today, you would vote no?
SEN. BIDEN: I--with this president, absolutely I would vote no, based on the way in which they've handled it.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Warner, you stood on the Senate floor and said this on October 8, 2002. Let's listen.
(Videotape, October 8, 2002):
SEN. WARNER: Saddam Hussein possesses today an arsenal of weapons far, far more dangerous to the whole world than Hitler ever possessed.
SEN. WARNER: Correct.
MR. RUSSERT: You believe that is still correct that Saddam...
SEN. WARNER: I made that statement. I stand by it. At that time, I was operating on intelligence which had been given my committee behind closed doors in open sessions by George Tenet, by Secretary Rumsfeld.
MR. RUSSERT: But you would now admit that statement was wrong.
SEN. WARNER: What--the statement cannot be substantiated because of the revelations of the faulty intelligence on which I, the president, and heads of states of France, Great Britain, Germany and others reacted to that situation.
MR. RUSSERT: But even back then, Senator Warner, and this is really important. This is what you said on August 27, 2002. "As I read and follow the debate, there appears to be a `gap' in the facts possessed by the Executive Branch and the facts possessed by the Legislative Branch."
The White House is now saying that you had every bit of intelligence that they had and yet, leading up to the war debate, you were saying there was a gap between what you knew and what the president knew.
SEN. WARNER: Well, I stand by that statement also. There are times in which I feel that we do not have the full knowledge, and as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I have done my very best to assure that members of our committee do get the full intelligence. I also serve on the Intelligence Committee. And I feel very strongly that that gap should never exist. And apparently, at that time, I was of the opinion and I stand by the statement.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, you said to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette November 16, 2005, "The vice president, I believe, flat lied. The president didn't lie. He misled."
Vice President Cheney on Monday was responding to you and others, and this is what he said. Let's watch it and come back.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: What is not legitimate, and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible, is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence. Some of the most irresponsible comments have come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing the use of force against Saddam Hussein. These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence materials. They are known to have a high opinion of their own analytical capabilities. And they were free to reach their own judgments based upon the evidence. They concluded, as the president and I had concluded, and as the previous administration had concluded, that Saddam Hussein was a threat.
MR. RUSSERT: "Dishonest and reprehensible."
SEN. BIDEN: Let me ask you, Tim, a rhetorical question. He sat on your program in the fall before the war and said, "Saddam Hussein has reconstituted his nuclear weapons." I simultaneously said, "There is simply no evidence to sustain that. None. Zero. None." I said it then, I said it again, I say it now. I demand anyone put forward for me, classified or in any other form, any evidence to sustain the assertion the vice president of the United States made that Saddam Hussein said to Tim Russert he, Saddam, has reconstituted his nuclear weapons. That is a flat misrepresentation of the facts.
MR. RUSSERT: And, in fact, he did say exactly that March 16, 2003. Later that year, September 14, he said he "misspoke"...
SEN. BIDEN: Well, there it is.
MR. RUSSERT: ...that he meant nuclear capability.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, even nuclear capability, you--we did not have access to the same stuff that the president gets every morning, as John will acknowledge. We didn't realize that--how discredited the sources were that were being quoted to us about the reconstitution of a nuclear capability. There was no evidence of that. Look, you had phrases like "mushroom cloud," "much graver threat than grave threat," "mortal threat," "the threat is urgent," "grave and gathering danger," "urgent threat," "immediate threat," "serious and growing threat," "real threat," "significant threat." These are all phrases these guys used.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Warner, take the aluminum tubes that the administration talked about in terms of...
SEN. WARNER: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...being used for nuclear weapon development. The State Department was very, very clear about that; the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Department of Energy. And in the National Intelligence Estimate there was a caveat which said, "We don't believe these tubes could be used for anything like that." Do you believe, in all honesty, that the administration took the very best spin on intelligence they could get in order to help buttress or support the case for war?
SEN. WARNER: You know, I've known the president quite well. I knew his father well. I actually knew his grandfather, met him. You remember, he served on the...
SEN. BIDEN: I only know the father and the...
SEN. WARNER: Well, anyway, the grandfather served on the Armed Services Committee as a senator. That's a family that's been known for its integrity and public service for generations. Our president would not intentionally take any facts and try and mislead the American public, in my judgment. What was before all leaders of the world at that time were facts that gave rise to the--Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction and some potential for nuclear weapons. When we went in, in '91, we underestimated how far he had proceeded in his programs. Now, we recognize he didn't have them but he certainly had the infrastructure to which he was going to direct moneys, if he ever got it, to go back into the business of weapons of mass destruction, had not this invasion taken place.
SEN. BIDEN: Tim, I'm not talking about the president. Let's get that straight. I'm talking about Cheney when I said they lied. Let's--let...
MR. RUSSERT: You said the president misled.
SEN. BIDEN: Yeah, misled. Now, here, let me be precise. Aluminum tubes--remember that whole issue? Casey said the tubes were "irrefutable evidence" of their nuclear policy. Rice said they were "really only suited for nuclear weapons programs." And Bush said there was "no doubt" about this. In fact, the Energy Department expert said, as you pointed out, the tube--they were not for nuclear. The Intelligence Research Bureau agreed and said, "no compelling case that Iraq's currently pursuing an integrated, comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons." This is in 10/02. Now, this is evidence they had at the time. Yet they used words like "The weapons program is irrefutable."
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, when you read the National Intelligence Estimate, at least the summary of it, it had a caveat in there from the State Department and the Department of Energy saying they did not believe the...
SEN. BIDEN: After the fact, Tim. Look, look...
MR. RUSSERT: This was made available to senators before the vote. Only six read it.
SEN. BIDEN: No, no, no, no, no, no. That's true, that was before the vote.
MR. RUSSERT: But you saw...
SEN. BIDEN: That was before the vote.
MR. RUSSERT: You saw that information and you still voted for the war.
SEN. BIDEN: But remember--no, remember what I voted for was for the president to be able to go to war, if, if--I've got the resolution here--if, in fact, it was to enforce the existing breaches that existed in the U.N. resolution and if he could show there were weapons of mass destruction.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the Democrats and you were diligent enough in reading that National Intelligence Estimate and all the caveats and calling the president to task as to whether or not he was being candid about the intelligence and his interpretation?
SEN. BIDEN: Yes. And if I--I'll leave with you because there's no time here all the statements I made at the time laying out my doubts about their assertions. But remember what the resolution said, Tim, it didn't say "go to war." It said, "Mr. President, if you can show these things, then you can use force."
The reason we gave the president the authority was to unite the world in keeping Saddam in a box, not freeing him up from the sanctions, which was the alternative, as you remember at the time. We have selective memories. That was the alternative. It wasn't the status quo, anti, or war, it was whether or not we were going to keep him in a box.
MR. RUSSERT: Was it a vote for war?
SEN. WARNER: It was a clear authority that the Congress would support the president if he made certain findings. And I'm confident the president proceeded to make those findings on the best intelligence available. And I think it's fortunate that within our government there are different interpretations by the several departments and agencies responsible for analysis.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, before we go, Washington Post, November 10, "Senator Joe Biden's written a letter to a potential donor with the statement, `I'm running.'" Running for what?
SEN. BIDEN: I'm running to stay in this program with John Warner. If I can raise the money, if there's someone out there besides me who thinks I should be president, then I'm going to run for president. If not, I'm not going to run for president. I've been as candid with you as I can, Tim, and that's where it is. And I'm out seeing whether or not I can raise the money. It's a lot of money. I don't know whether I can do that and we'll know by--you know, in the next six months or so whether I can be in the game. If not, I'm going to stick with John and be his truth squad.
MR. RUSSERT: But as of now your letter says "I'm running."
SEN. BIDEN: Well, yeah. I am. I'm going out to see if I can do it.
SEN. WARNER: Well, look at the program this morning. What better evidence than that, right?
SEN. BIDEN: That's right. I got it--you've got it.
SEN. WARNER: How about it?
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. John Warner...
SEN. WARNER: To be continued, you bet.
MR. RUSSERT: ...Joe Biden. We'll be right back.
Coming next, a war of words over the war in Iraq continues in our roundtable, with David Gregory of NBC News, David Broder of The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and Judy Woodruff, coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Our roundtable with David Broder, David Gregory, Gene Robinson and Judy Woodruff, after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Welcome, all.
David Gregory, you traveled with the president throughout Asia. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, issued a statement in Korea the day that John Murtha spoke out about a position of redeploying troops and McClellan said this. "So it is baffling that [Congressman John Murtha (D-PA)] is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party. The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists."
Less than 48 hours later, the president, Mr. McClellan's boss, said this.
(Videotape, November 20, 2005):
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Congressman Murtha is a fine man. He's a good man who served our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a United States congressman. He is a strong supporter of the United States military. And I know the decision to call for an immediate withdrawal of our troops by Congressman Murtha was done in a careful and thoughtful way. I disagree with his position.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, Congressman Murtha would take exception to immediate withdrawal. He says...
MR. DAVID GREGORY: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...his is a gradual redeployment, but all that being said, how did we get from "surrendering to the terrorists" and "a colleague of Michael Moore"...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...to "a fine man," "a patriot," within 48 hours?
MR. GREGORY: This weakened White House made a decision a couple of weeks ago and that is to start to fight. They wanted to fight about Judge Alito, but that hasn't been much of a fight right now, so now they want to fight about Iraq. And they wanted to take on the Democrats, knowing that if the public believes that the president took the country to the war on a lie, there's no way he could keep Americans focused on sticking it out in Iraq now. And so they used a line from their 2004 campaign play book-- Michael Moore in the left wing faction of the Democratic Party--and they used it against Murtha. Quickly they realized that that was a mistake. And it wasn't just McClellan who wrote that. Top officials in the White House were involved in that. The president felt, after seeing for a couple of days that this was an important moment, that a very serious member of Congress and an ally of the military was calling for a re-examination, that he had to tone it down, because the American people were taking it seriously.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, is it possible for official Washington--the president, Democratic leaders, Republican leaders--to arrive at common ground, a consensus position on Iraq?
MR. DAVID BRODER: It's possible, Tim, but they won't get there by arguing about who did what three years ago. And this whole debate about whether there was just a mistake or misrepresentation or so on is, I think, from the public point of view largely irrelevant. The public's moved past that. The public wants to know what we're going to do next in Iraq. It's an untenable situation for it to go on as it has been going for the last six months or a year. And we are beginning to see the outlines of a possible strategy for whittling down the American commitment and turning it over to see whether the Iraqis can or cannot manage their country themselves.
MR. RUSSERT: How much of an impact did Congressman Murtha's speech have?
MR. BRODER: Well, I think it had two impacts. One, it certainly crystalized the debate about the possibility of an immediate withdrawal, but that was very quickly rejected. It also distracted from what is probably a more significant thing, which is what your two guests were doing--your Biden and Warner-- when they put together those resolutions in the Senate that put 79 senators on record as saying next year the Iraqis have to take over the war.
MR. RUSSERT: Judy Woodruff, we have a situation where the Democrats are trying to figure out how to deal with this politically. Hillary Clinton, who was a front-runner in all the polls for the 2008 nomination, said it would be a big mistake to withdraw from Iraq, that it could create another haven in Iraq like we had in Afghanistan. At the same time, the same week her husband, Bill Clinton, the former president, said the war was a big mistake. Can the Democrats embrace both positions? The war was a big mistake but now that we're there, it's a big mistake to get out too quickly?
MS. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, first of all, Jack Murtha changed the debate. You talk to Democrats and Republicans, and, yes, he was repudiated on the floor, but everybody you talk to says these members, these senators have gone back home, they are going to pay attention to what their constituents are saying. Even--no less an influential thinker in American foreign policy than Richard Holbrooke, I talked to him yesterday. He is all for staying the course. He is now reassessing his own position, asking what if things don't change on the ground, as is hoped.
About Hillary Clinton, Tim, she represents the real dilemma that Democrats face. And that is you--those who supported the war, if they want to run for president, they are dealing with a constituency out there who--a majority of whom desperately want to bring these troops home. And you've got Democrats like Hillary Clinton and others like Joe Biden who are--you know, who are living with the overhang of the Vietnam War, George McGovern. That's a very difficult circle to square, or square to circle. And so I think, you know, for Hillary Clinton, that's why we're not hearing a lot from Hillary Clinton.
MR. RUSSERT: Gene Robinson, you wrote a column in The Washington Post on Tuesday about this issue and were very strong with your own views. ..."`stay the course' doesn't play as a strategy when the course seems to lead nowhere. What is victory in Iraq? When will we know we've won? When"-- will--"the simmering, low-level civil war we've ignited spark into full flames and somebody takes over the country? ... The mess that George Bush and Co. have created in Iraq doesn't have an unmessy solution. Murtha's plan--just get out--isn't really attractive, but at least it's a plan. The saying goes that when you're in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. But the president, like the optimistic kid in the old joke, just keeps burrowing deeper into the pile of manure..."
MR. EUGENE ROBINSON: Well, you know, it's interesting, Tim. I think what's happening in Washington now is arrival at a kind of common consensus expectation. And I think the expectation is that some sort of gradual or even more precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops will begin to happen in 2006. And along with that expectation is a general lowering of expectations about the outcome, about what will be left behind in Iraq. I think that there's general agreement now that there will be a mess in Iraq when U.S. troops finally withdraw and it certainly won't be an Athenian democracy, as the administration said it was out to create.
MR. GREGORY: Can I just add--what I think is important--I don't know what the conversation was like around your Thanksgiving dinner table, but I think right now it's not just about what the administration focuses on, which is the disaster they think will occur if we leave precipitously. I think where the public is, as you said, David, is they're asking themselves the question, "What's the best outcome if we stay?" And unfortunately, perhaps the only outcome is a kind of low-level civil war that's akin to the Arab- Israeli situation with U.S. soldiers in the way. I think that's a scary prospect. And so what the administration faces is the difficulty of saying to the American people, "We've got a shot here for real democracy." The question is, do Americans feel invested in building that democracy over the long term. It could be very difficult.
MS. WOODRUFF: Tim...
MR. BRODER: Well, do Iraqis feel invested in it? That's the crucial question. This is largely out of our hands now. And it is going to be up to the Iraqis what happens in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: An insurgency of this magnitude has to be enabled by the populace.
MR. BRODER: Of course.
MR. RUSSERT: And unless the Iraqis "stand up," there is no possible way the United States can stay there forever to protect them from an insurgency that they are tacitly allowing to exist.
MS. WOODRUFF: Tim, there is a must-read piece in the Atlantic magazine this month. Jim Fallows writes; he's taken a very hard look at the Iraqi military, what you're talking about here, and he says the U.S. has not lived up to the commitment that it spoke two years ago. The Iraqi military has not been trained; there hasn't been the leadership. And he goes on--basically, what's scary about it, to pick up on what David said--the scary thing is, he said, even the people who say we must stay the course are saying there are no good options. If you get out, the country falls into civil war. If you stay, it's a mess.
So--and then Larry Diamond, who is not as familiar a name--Stanford University, a Hoover Institute fellow; I interviewed him this week for the Council on Foreign Relations--he spent four months in Iraq; came back completely disillusioned. He was there for the administration; came back completely disillusioned with their commitment. Now, he says, "Yes, we've got to stay there, because the U.S. stake in Iraq is greater than in Vietnam." And he said the U.S. must not only adopt a bilateral position, it's got to bring in the U.N., it's got to bring in other countries in the region. It is a devastating portrayal.
MR. ROBINSON: But, you know, I'm not sure that the idea of maintaining a unitary Iraq is necessarily the best idea. I mean, is that ever going to work? Is Iraq ever going to be a stable polity, a stable country? And I'm not sure that it is, absent the sort of tyrannical rule that Saddam Hussein had imposed. I mean, you have the Kurds in the north, who see themselves as part of a larger kind of transnational, persecuted minority. You have the Shiites in the south, who see themselves ditto, as part of a larger, transnational persecuted minority. You've got the Sunnis in the middle, who used to run the country, who don't anymore. Is that a country? Can we leave that as a unified country? I'm not certain.
MR. RUSSERT: David Gregory, you cover George Bush day in and day out. Do you believe that he is at a point now where he realizes that support for the war in the country and in Congress and in the Pentagon--I asked Congressman Murtha last week, "Have you gotten any response from members of the Pentagon that you deal with?" He said, "Absolutely," suggesting they were encouraging him to go forward with his words. Is the president aware, is he capable at this point, of backing off of his stated goal of a democracy for Iraq, and realizing the reality that, in fact, he may have to withdraw troops in 2006 and withdraw completely in 2007?
MR. GREGORY: Well, I'm not clear that that understanding has really taken hold, because you've seen tactically an administration that has gone on the offensive in a way they did last year with an old playbook that doesn't work the same way that it used to. I think there is a growing realization that, number one, you have to reverse this feeling in the country that the administration lied to take the country into war, which they staunchly reject, but that they also have to redefine when and how we get to a democratic and some sort of stable Iraq. So I think that is beginning to take hold now because, really, there's no other choice. And that's why there's so much talk about a drawdown of troops by next year, as you get toward the midterm elections, and putting Iraqi forces out front, lowering the profile of American forces, because the president's got a party. He may not have to run again, but Republicans who were very important supporting the war do have to run on this policy now, and it's very difficult.
MS. WOODRUFF: Richard Holbrook again--I talked to yesterday--had a memorable line. He said the Democrats have a dilemma, the Republicans have a crisis, because this policy that they have embraced for so long is coming unraveled. You've got, on the one hand, John McCain saying more troops, let's stay there for years. On the other hand, you've got everybody from John Warner to Chuck Hagel--I mean, the party is, to some extent, all over the map.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, the Democratic campaign committee for Congress, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rahm Emanuel is the chairman, are taking out radio ads in three swing Ohio congressional districts saying you can't have Republican Congress being a rubber stamp for George W. Bush. You have Republicans saying openly now we have to resolve the situation in Iraq. You have the Jack Abramoff scandal which now, according to investigators, may include six members of Congress and some congressional wives. What do Republicans do between now and November of 2006 in terms of dealing with their president on Iraq, on the deficit and other issues to be in a position that they can hold their seats?
MR. BRODER: We don't have to speculate, because you've begun to see it already on Capitol Hill. It's every person for himself or herself. They are scattering, and voting their districts. We saw it in the House, we saw it in the Senate, and we will see it increasingly now because the president is weakened. The one thing the president could do that would help himself and help his party would be to start leveling with the American people. I mean, I think an honorable man like John Warner, to have to sit here and not be able to say to you what those young officers clearly said to him about the troop situation in Iraq, just puts his party in a terrible position and people can see through that.
MR. GREGORY: Right. And, Tim, you raised the point about why the president doesn't go on television with maps, with graphs, with numbers about what's happening in Iraq when so few Americans really understand the reality on the ground. He certainly was willing to do that with the Social Security debate but hasn't been willing to when it comes to Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Judy Robinson, the editor for The New Orleans Times-Picayune, is in the paper today and the last couple of weeks saying, "America, don't forget Katrina, don't forget New Orleans. Mr. President, members of Congress, help us. What happened? You were down here. It was a huge issue." How big of an issue is that going to be if, in fact, the fallout from Katrina is not dealt with in a way that was promised?
MR. ROBINSON: You know, I'm not sure it'll be that huge an issue, and it's a shame, really. I mean, in a way, the country almost has forgotten about New Orleans. The focus certainly shifted elsewhere. And, you know, the city is, for all intents and purposes, ruined. There's a crescent of--with the affluent neighborhoods and the French Quarter that's starting to come back to life, but it's an artificial kind of life. There are no people in the rest of the city in these ruined neighborhoods. There's a question of billions of dollars that would have to be spent to build levees that could withstand another Katrina or even a more powerful hurricane which some day surely will come. The question is being raised as to whether New Orleans ought to be rebuilt on that site and in that way. And it seems that the whole focus of Washington has shifted elsewhere, for good reasons. I mean, the Iraq War is a major...
MR. RUSSERT: But it's in such stark contrast to the promises that were made by everybody...
MR. ROBINSON: It certainly is.
MR. RUSSERT: ...in the days following Katrina.
MR. ROBINSON: You know, we'll never forget.
MS. WOODRUFF: ...resources. I mean, we've spent over $200 billion in Iraq. The deficit is enormous. The other--I mean, the president's tax cuts, he continues to embrace those, continuing those. I mean, there are so many priorities out there and you're right, I think Gene is right. I think much of the country has unfortunately forgotten.
MR. BRODER: What's not being forgotten, though, are the pictures of the plight of those people who were abandoned in New Orleans, and the message that that sent to the American people that the folks in charge of their government at all levels were not...
MR. RUSSERT: Local, state and federal.
MR. BRODER: ...were not up to the job.
MR. GREGORY: And these are confidence questions which hang over other debates like Iraq. It's part of what's weakened the president. But, you know, Tim, you and I were down there covering it when the president made this promise, the biggest reconstruction the world has ever seen. It's a big financial commitment. It's gotten him in trouble with his own party, and a lot of Americans have forgotten.
MR. RUSSERT: Last week we talked about the bird flu and I asked the doctors who were in charge of protecting the American people, in light of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, in light of Katrina, why should the American people have confidence that their leaders are capable of protecting them against this pandemic that may occur either months, years, decades from now. And they understood that they're very much front and center on that.
Let me turn to the CIA leak investigation. Time magazine reports that Viveca Novak of Time magazine has now been subpoenaed to testify. David Broder, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, as you know, has testified before Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel. What's going on at The Post, in light of that?
MR. BRODER: Consternation, to be honest with you. I think none of us can really understand Bob's silence for two years about his own role in the case. He's explained it by saying he did not want to become involved and did not want to face a subpoena, but he left his editor, our editor, blindsided for two years and he went out and talked disparagingly about the significance of the investigation without disclosing his role in it. Those are hard things to reconcile.
MR. RUSSERT: Gene Robinson?
MR. ROBINSON: I agree with David. Consternation, a certain amount of embarrassment. And, you know, the fact that we can't understand why Bob did what he did. You know, I think that's a very interesting question in this whole incident about confidential sources, about access, about the tradeoffs that we all make for access in granting anonymity for sources. And, you know, I think that's going to continue. I think people are looking at us skeptically.
MR. RUSSERT: And every source I believe is going to want complete assurance that if I give you this information, will you refuse to testify even if it means going to prison.
MR. ROBINSON: But are we going to have to give sources a form to...
MR. RUSSERT: Well...
MR. ROBINSON: ...you know, is there going to be a form? Well, check off yes for, you know, grand jury testimony, no for public disclosure, yes...
MR. RUSSERT: We've only got a few seconds left. David Gregory, the White House thought that perhaps this thing was coming to closure. Now, there's a new grand jury. More reporters being brought in. What's the attitude, what's the mood about Karl Rove and the...
MR. GREGORY: Just a sense of malaise. The president can't get out from under it. He can't make a public statement about whether any top officials acted inappropriately until this is resolved.
MS. WOODRUFF: And, Tim, the blogs are suggesting that maybe Scooter Libby confused you and Bob Woodward. I've known you both for a quarter of a century. I don't know of anybody who could possibly make that mistake unless they just think all middle-aged white guys look alike.
MR. RUSSERT: Judy, you're a good friend of mine, but I'm no Bob Woodward.
We'll leave it there. We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: For more information on today's guests and topics, check out the MEET THE PRESS Web site, where you can also download the audio of today's entire program to your computer or MP3 player. The MEET THE PRESS podcast all at mtp.msnbc.com.
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.