MSNBC: Tim, what do you make of this latest Osama bin Laden tape and his proposing a truce with America?
Tim Russert: Every time something happens to al Qaida – for example the other day’s bombing in Pakistan where it looks like several al Qaida key operatives may have been killed – bin Laden has to show that he is alive and well and suddenly an audio tape emerges. It’s like that game at the amusement park where you whack the little weasel and another one pops back up. I think he’s having a little more difficulty getting these things out – video tape’s a bit more cumbersome. Audio tape is a little easier.
What’s going on here?
He’s saying to President George W. Bush, “I’m here. September 11th 2001 was five years ago and I’m still here. And your poll numbers are down, Mr. President. If you want an out to this situation, get out of Afghanistan, get out of Iraq and we can all live in peace.”
It is, I think, an attempt to taunt the president and taunt the American people.
The thing that really bothers me – intrigues me as well – is these tapes. How does al Jazeera get them? It seems to be a rather cozy relationship.
There is a clear path here. The tape goes from bin Laden to couriers to al Jazeera. And it seems to me that is such a direct link should be pursued vigorously.
MSNBC: Osama bin Laden makes the statement about bleeding the Soviet Union for ten years until it became a nothing and says they’ll do the same to the U.S. Does he understand how Americans react to that sort of statement?
Russert: It is quite interesting to watch the bin Laden tape juxtaposed against the tape with hostage Jill Carroll, of the Christian Science Monitor. You see a 28 year old woman who did nothing wrong, surrounded by guys with ski masks and AK-47s and it gets people’s blood boiling. There’s no doubt about it.
We have robust arguments about Iraq – whether we should be there, whether the war was executed properly, about weapons of mass destruction. We should have those debates. However, when it comes to threats from Osama bin Laden, I think the country pulls together and says, “Now wait a minute pal. Ease up. You attacked our country – and what have you done for your own people?”
MSNBC: What about his threat of more violence in the U.S.?
Russert: Al Qaida thinks in terms of years.
Remember when they bombed the World Trade Center in 1993? They returned to the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. Eight years later.
And, so we’re all breathing a little easier now and hoping that, “Well, my God, this is five years now since 9/11.Make no mistake about it, al Qaida is trying to plan another attack on the U.S.
MSNBC: What difference would it make, in the grand scheme of the worldwide war on terror, whether Osama was killed or captured at this point?
Russert: Psychologically it would have an enormous benefit in the U.S. People believe we we should bring to justice someone who inflicted such horror on America on September 11th.
Around the world, the reaction will depend on geography and culture. To most he is evil. To many he is a hero.
The interesting thing is: Wwhat is more important at this point, Capturing Osama bin Laden or maintaining General Pervez Musharraf in control of Pakistan?
To the top U.S. officials I’ve spoken to, its not even a close call. They would gladly trade keeping Musharraf in power in Pakistan and not capturing Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan has the nuclear bomb. The Taliban has tentacles into the ISI – the Pakistani CIA. General Musharraf has two motorcades every time he travels – one real and one decoy. They have been successful in attacking the real motorcade, so there are people around him who want him dead. He is someone who has cast his lot with he United States in this war on terror. He’s a vital cog, if you will, in trying to prosecute it.
If we were to lose Musharraf and if pro-Taliban elements were able to take control in Pakistan – it would be a disaster for the world. They would have control of a nuclear bomb.
MSNBC: Which brings us to concern about Iran and nuclear weapons.
Russert: That’s the one issue where Great Britain, France and Germany – people who are divided on the war in Iraq are not divided.
I remember back in 1981, when Israel attacked a nuclear reactor in Iraq and was condemned worldwide – condemned by the United States for that unilateral action. And now, 25 years later, people say thank God they did it.
The situation with Iran is obviously much more complicated, much more difficult militarily. But if you read the Israeli press, the Israelis have not ruled it out. Officially, the U.S. doctrine, militarily is not to rule it out.
But the clock is ticking and the world has to make a decision as to whether or not we’re going to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb.
Can Iran be stopped diplomatically? Is military action viable and advisable? Big, big questions.
MSNBC: Why are Great Britain, France and Germany taking the lead in dealing with Iran?
Russert: The only way we’re going to get Iran to cease and desist from building a nuclear bomb is for the world to be united against them. And it’s going to take the United States, with France, with Germany and, I dare say, with China and Russia.
We have to be together on this – and certainly consider economic sanctions.
If Iran gets a nuclear bomb, all bets are off in terms of the world’s stability and in terms of the possibility of nuclear blackmail – saying to the world, “All right you get out of this country, you get out of that country or we’re going to flex our nuclear muscle.”
MSNBC: How do you get Russia and China on America’s side in this? They’re deeply connected to Iran.
Russert: That’s right. The Russians have oil deals and the Chinese are building missiles with them. That’s the problem.
I tell you, we thought the cold war was over, but there could be a long, dark and difficult future ahead of us.
MSNBC: Who will we see Sunday on Meet the Press?
Russert: Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama, who just got back from Iraq and the Middle East. When he ran for the senate in Illinois as a state legislator, in 2004, he opposed the war in Iraq and he gave an interesting speech as to why. It was rather prescient in terms of his opposition. I’m quite interested in how he views the war in 2006.
He’s also been appointed Democratic point man on congressional lobbying reform.
Then James Carville and Paul Begala have a new book out called "Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future" - a blueprint for the Democratic Party. I thought, rather than let Begala and Carville have the stage to themselves, I’d put someone in between the two of them. A Republican strategist by the name of Mary Matalin – Mrs. Carville’s. My suspicion is she will more than hold her own.
All Sunday, on Meet the Press!