MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the president explores new options for Iraq.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I’m not going to be rushed into making a difficult decision.
MR. RUSSERT: The tension between the First Amendment and the war on terror. And will this man, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, run for president of the United States? With us: our guest, Newt Gingrich.
Then, is there any good options for Iraq? And how will the war in Iraq affect Republicans and Democrats in the 2008 race for the White House? Insight and analysis from two columnists for The New York Times, David Brooks and Tom Friedman.
But first, for four years, he was speaker of the House of Representatives, he’s been touring the country contemplating a run for the White House, talking about American solutions. He’s with us this morning.
Newt Gingrich, welcome back.
FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): It’s good to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me start with Iraq, on the minds of all Americans, and show them what you said a few weeks ago up in New Hampshire. “Former House speaker Newt Gingrich told a New Hampshire audience that unless the Bush administration admits that the war in Iraq is a ‘failure,’ it will never develop a strategy to leave the country successfully.” Why is the war a failure?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, the war’s a failure in part because the strategy, as I told you on this show in December of ‘03, has been wrong consistently, it’s been a strategy that was far too American. Second, it’s a, it’s a failure because the instruments of national power don’t work. And it’s important to understand we all focus on Maliki’s government. The, the Baker-Hamilton Commission reports that out of 1,000 people in the American Embassy, 33 speak Arabic, eight of them fluently. Now, at some point we have to have a national conversation about the fact that, outside of the uniform military, none of the instruments of national power work, and they need to be fundamentally overhauled. This isn’t about policy. It’s as though you wanted to go to Boston, I wanted to go to Los Angeles, and the car standing outside was broken. Doesn’t matter what our policy agreement is, the car doesn’t run.
And so I think the administration shouldn’t just focus narrowly on Iraq, they should look, first of all, at the larger war, which does include Iran, it does include North Korea, it does include al-Qaeda. And they should look second at what are the strategic changes necessary to win in Iraq? And if you have to do that, how are you going to get the job done when Treasury doesn’t work, Justice doesn’t work, State doesn’t work, intelligence doesn’t work? And this is a very severe problem for our effectiveness.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were here in October of—December of ‘03, however, you were very supportive of the war, concerned about where it was heading, but supportive of it. Let me show you what you said and come back and talk about it.
(Videotape, December 7, 2003):
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I don’t believe we should be arguing about American commitment in Iraq. The only exit strategy in Iraq is victory. Now, if that’s true, then we should be able to reassure every Iraqi we’re not leaving till the bad guys are defeated.
MR. RUSSERT: “The only exit strategy is victory. We’re not leaving till the”...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I believe that today.
MR. RUSSERT: So what do you do, send more troops?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: You, you only—look, the president’s got to make a very hard decision, and that’s why I used the word “failure.” This president is a very proud, very stubborn man, has to come to grips with the fact that the policy he has followed—with all good intention—is not succeeding. Now, if that’s true, it should be possible to build a bipartisan commitment to rethink from the ground up what we’re doing, how we do it, and what it takes. And it’s not just 30,000 more troops or not, it’s very important to surge troops if they’re going to bridge to a better future. But unless you’re going to design that better future—let me give you a simple example where Hillary Clinton and I ended up in agreement at a meeting on this topic. I’m a relatively conservative Republican, I think you’d accept that statement, I believe a Franklin Delano Roosevelt civil conversation corps designed to mop up every young Iraqi male who’s unemployed would be as big a strategic step in Iraq towards victory as whether you have more troops or fewer troops. The fact you have 60 percent unemployment among young males in Iraq is a disaster.
Now, if we can’t—but we have no instrument of national power today other than the military that could possibly run a program that was a civil conservation corps for young Iraqis, and that would be an example of a totally different approach that would, I think, work significantly, that’s a component of how you get to a stable self-governing, self-defending Iraqi future. But the challenge I have for all of our good friends who are honest, well-meaning people, who say, “Well, we can afford to run, we can afford to leave, we can afford this,” describe the cost of, of defeat.
In 1979 under Jimmy Carter, America was seen as weak; there were hostages held in Iran against all international law, there was an American Embassy under siege in Pakistan, there was an American ambassador killed in, in, in Afghanistan. If we summarily get beaten in Iraq, and what’s what we’re talking about, if we are defeated in Iraq, there are not enough Marine elements in the world to evacuate the embassies that’ll come under siege.
MR. RUSSERT: So in order to avoid defeat, would you send more troops—American troops to secure Baghdad?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I would send more troops if it was in a context of a new strategy with a dramatically new commitment, with a bipartisan resolution in the Congress. I mean, the center of gravity for American policy right now is the president finding a bipartisan agreement in the Congress in the first two or three months to send a signal to the world that it is America’s—this, this can’t be Bush’s war. This is either an American commitment to victory or it is a defeat. And if the Democrats decide it’s a defeat, fine, then let’s—then let’s withdraw. And when we withdraw, let’s understand why we withdrew. But stubbornness is not a strategy.
MR. RUSSERT: When the war was first conceived, you were on the Defense Policy Board of Secretary Rumsfeld. I went back and re-read Michael Gordon’s book, “Cobra II,” and you’re—play a role in that. Let me share that with you and our viewers and come back and talk about it. “At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld and his advisers saw that the plan [to invade Iraq] was at a formative stage and that this was the time to shape it. Newt Gingrich was one of them. The former House Republican leader ... had Rumsfeld’s ear. Gingrich had been appointed by Rumsfeld to the Defense Policy Board. ...
“As the Pentagon’s focus shifted to Iraq, [retired Navy Admiral Doug] Macgregor received a call from Gingrich, who told him that Rumsfeld was frustrated with the military’s suggestion that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to defeat and occupy Iraq. ... Gingrich asked Macgregor to draft a briefing, which the former lawmaker could quietly slip to Rumsfeld. ... [Macgregor] argued that the Army, properly restructured, could attack Baghdad with 50,000 troops and win within two weeks.”
Now, General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, had advocated hundreds of thousands of troops. That was rejected. It appears that you were on the side of Secretary Rumsfeld for a much smaller force, which turned out to be quite wrong in terms of securing Baghdad.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. Well, let, let me start with—that’s technically wrong. Doug Macgregor’s a retired Army colonel. He’s not a Navy admiral. But having—with that minor correction in the book, what I said was I thought it would take 135,000 to 150,000 men, I thought that—and I wrote a paper in August of 2002 called Operation Switch, which said you can only go in light if you hire the Iraqi Regular Army. But that you have to have a plan to have Iraqis patrolling the streets within two to three weeks—which, by the way, the British did in Basra. You had to have a plan that said you’re going to have an Iraqi interim government exactly like Afghanistan, which Khalilzad was prepared to do.
MR. RUSSERT: So we had too few troops going in.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. We—you—there were two strategies. Shinseki is exactly—if you’re going to appoint Bremer and have an American domination, you’d better send a half million to a million men. If you’re going to convert the Iraqi Regular Army, do what we did in Afghanistan—have a very light footprint, have no national resistance to us—then 150,000 was exactly the right number. The problem was we had a perfect strategy for a fast war, and then converted to deciding we were an American occupation. And from the day Bremer entered—and I’m not picking on Bremer as a person, because I assume he represented the president.
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah. A decision like that to eliminate the Iraq army couldn’t have been made just by him, it had to be supported by the secretary and the president.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I, I assume in the end the president’s commander in chief. But the point is, they had then adopted a strategy which would only work if you had a half million men. And, and that, that’s why, frankly, I went public in the fall of ‘03, because it was very clear that, that—the two things that were the most startling to me were that we had imposed American nationalism—I mean, Bremer was giving speeches on television. Made—it made no sense at all to have an American speaking to the Iraqis on television.
The second difference was it became startlingly clear that all of our civilian instruments of power are absolutely broken. I mean, I cannot overstate this. They are absolutely broken. They cannot function. And the Agency for International Development is an absurdity. The State Department is totally unprepared for this kind of war. And, and I’m not—these are not negatives. I think you need a 50 percent bigger State Department with a dramatic investment in information technology, with an entire new training program. So I’m not picking on the current State Department. I’m saying by any objective standard, none of our civilian instruments work. And this is a huge national problem. It’s not a Bush problem. This is an American problem.
MR. RUSSERT: But there were some fundamental judgments made that we would be greeted as liberators...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...that we would need—we would not need hundreds of thousands of troops, that there were weapons of mass destruction, that the oil would pay for the reconstruction, that there wouldn’t be sectarian violence. Some of those fun—most of those fundamental judgments were just plain wrong.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: It de—it de—well, you and I have a disagreement here.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s a question.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No, well, you said it was a judgment.
MR. RUSSERT: A question.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: A question. Good. OK. Dave Petraeus in northern Iraq hired 15,000 Iraqi soldiers in six weeks. The U.S. Marine Corps had Iraqi generals teaching professional education courses about how they’d fought the Iraq-Iran war. There was a program under way in April or May that would’ve reintegrated that society probably by the end of summer. It required dealing with the sheiks, it required a whole range of things.
There’s, there’s a tragic package on the Internet, which, which I’m going to send you personally. I want to get—there’s a—I want to get this out, because there’s a Marine captain I want to name, name—I want to make sure I get his name right. I think it’s Patikian. And, and he, he was—he’s been killed, and it’s very unfortunate. I had the wrong paper. But Captain Travis Patriquin. P-A-T-R-I-Q-U-I-N. He did a stick figure briefing on how to win in Al Anbar and it will break your heart. Because he said, ‘Look, there are sheiks in Al Anbar who’ve been the local power structure for 1300 years and they know how to run the place. They know how to track down the, the, the bad guys. They know what to do. And a bunch of 26-year-olds come in with Bremer and write a law that said, “The sheiks are irrelevant. We now represent modernity.” And we’ve now spent three years not knowing what we’re doing, not knowing who the bad guys are, not knowing who the good guys are. And you, and you see this stick figure presentation by this young Marine who was killed just a few weeks ago and it makes you want to cry because we, starting in June of ‘03, violated virtually every principal I know about how to be effective in this kind of country. And we did—that was not true in April or May.
MR. RUSSERT: But that’s part of planning.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s part of, that’s part of war.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. No. It was an absolute decision to change what we were doing. The army—the military had a plan. They were rapidly reintegrating the Iraqis. I discussed this with General Abizaid when he was the deputy commander in Qatar three weeks before the, the campaign. And that—ask Abizaid something, he’ll tell you, there was a clear path which we decided not to take. And when we didn’t take it, it has gotten steadily worse and I think that’s why I’m saying unless the administration’s prepared to say we need a new strategy with new resources, we need to fundamentally restructure our instruments of national power, they will not win in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the broader war on terror and some comments you also made in New Hampshire about the war on terror and the First Amendment. “This is a serious long-term war and it will inevitably lead us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country. ...
“And, my prediction to you is that either before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech. ...
“This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment.” Which freedoms, rights of speech would you curtail?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, let’s start with an incident recently in Illinois where the FBI sold hand grenades to a jihadist who wanted to go into a mall at Christmas and blow up himself and as many people as possible. The FBI now reports—and by the way, the local Muslim community thanked the FBI for trapping him, and the ACLU was worried that entrapment was involved. Just take those two standards. The local Muslims who are Americans and patriots and don’t want to be blown up in the mall thought it was terrific to arrest this guy for trying to buy hand grenades, and the ACLU thought there’s probably a real infringement of his legal right to be stupid.
MR. RUSSERT: But they’re Americans and patriots as well.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Yeah, Americans and patriots as well, but they’re suicidal in my judgment. So second, the, the FBI now reports that this jihadist almost certainly became a jihadist—he’s an American living in Illinois, and he’s getting on the Internet and he’s reading hate and he’s reading recruitment and he’s reading how to be a jihadist. Now, why would you tolerate that? I mean, in a free society that’s trying to survive? You know...
MR. RUSSERT: So close down Web sites.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: You close down any Web site that is jihadist.
MR. RUSSERT: But who makes that judgment?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Look, I—you can appoint three federal judges if you want to and say, “Review this stuff and tell us which ones to close down.” I would just like to have them be federal judges who’ve served in combat.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you concerned, however, that with carte blanche, that the government could move in and say, “This mosque is closed, this Web site is shut down”?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. You have—you have more censorship in the McCain-Feingold bill, which blocks the right of free speech about American campaigns than you have from the FBI closing down jihadists. We’ve already limited the First Amendment right of free speech by a set of rules that are stunningly absurd. In California, you can raise soft money to run negative commercials attacking your opponent through the state party and you cannot raise soft money to run a positive commercial on behalf of your own candidate. That’s California state law. It’s stunningly stupid and a clear infringement of free speech.
So we’ve had a 30-year period of saying it’s OK to infringe free speech as long as it’s about politics. But now if you want to be a jihadist, and you want to go kill people, well who are we to say that’s morally wrong? I think that’s suicidal. I’m using the word deliberately. A country—a Supreme Court justice once said “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” This country has every right to defend itself, and you saw the same thing recently on this U.S. Airlines provocation, where you had six people go way out of their way to cause trouble, and then claim they were infringed upon. And I think, frankly, the president should invite that U.S. Airlines crew to the White House and thank them, because we ought to set a standard that if you’re provocative about killing people, we’re not going to show you any mercy.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to what is going on with your life, and travels around the country, the 2008 presidential election as well. Your old colleague in the House, Tom DeLay, made this prediction the other day, according to The New York Post. He predicted that “Hillary Rodham Clinton will win the presidency in 2008 - and that Barack Obama would likely be the vice president. ... ‘Hillary will be the next president of the United States.’” Here’s the cover of Newsweek magazine with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Do you agree with Mr. DeLay that Hillary will be the next president?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I think she certainly has an opportunity to be the next president.
MR. RUSSERT: Will she be a formidable...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: So does—so does Barack Obama, and I would say so does John Edwards. On the Democratic side, I think those are the three clearly serious contenders.
MR. RUSSERT: What about Al Gore?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I—look, I’ve known Al Gore for many, many years. If he runs, he’ll be a serious contender, but I think he would be fourth on that list of plausible people. I actually think Barack Obama’s having as good as run as anyone could hope for, and he’s doing it by being positive, by being engaging, and by being above all the negative Washington-based, you know, this morning’s hotline nasty attack, you know, e-mail kind of stuff. And I think if he can sustain that, despite the best efforts of many of my good friends in the media to drag him down to mere issues, he could become very formidable.
MR. RUSSERT: Does he have enough experience to be president of the United States?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, Abraham Lincoln served two years in the U.S.
House, and seemed to do all right.
MR. RUSSERT: Will Hillary be a formidable candidate?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Hillary Clinton is one of the hardest working professionals I know. I mean, she is serious, she is married to the smartest politician in the country, they have an enormous network of fund-raising. No one has made any money betting against the Clintons since 1980.
MR. RUSSERT: So she could win?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Oh, of course she could win. And anybody who thinks she can’t win must have been living on a different planet, I mean this—I, I watch Bill and Hillary with deep professional admiration. It’s like, like watching a formidable opposition football team. You coming from Buffalo will appreciate this. You know, there are years when it’s good, and there are years when it’s bad, and they are formidable.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the latest NBC poll about the Republicans. Rudy Giuliani leads the pack, 34 percent; John McCain, 29; Newt Gingrich at 10; the governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, at 8. And yet, when asked about favorable/unfavorable attitudes among all voters: favorable, Newt Gingrich, 28; unfavorable, 44. High negatives.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Absolutely. And look, I, I was a very aggressive Speaker of the House, I was very controversial. I had 121,000 negative ads run against me nationally. That’s—but I’m not running for president right now. I mean, what I’m doing is talking about ideas, and even, I think, most people agree that we could use a new generation of solutions—solutions on energy, solutions on education, solutions on national security, solutions on health. I founded the Center for Health Transformation as a non-partisan program that reaches out. American Solutions, the, the organization we’re creating, is going to reach out to every candidate in both parties. And I’m, I’m pretty happy to try to develop a very positive, very solution-oriented future for the country. And then we’ll see what happens over time.
MR. RUSSERT: But that’s a change in your demeanor. When you ran for speaker, you did call Democrats grotesque, dishonest, you said Jim Wright, the former speaker, was a crook. I mean, there’s a long history of very aggressive partisan rhetoric from Newt Gingrich. Do you regret that now?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. Look, first of all, it was a different time. I mean, you had a 40-year monopoly of power in the House by the Democrats. You, you were in very different kind of environment. You didn’t have a war that, that should focus every American on our own survival, which we—we have a big war, of which Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan are sub-sets. But we have a much bigger threat to our very survival. We didn’t have the rise of China and India. I mean, I think we’re entering a period where, as Americans, we have to pull together in what I think will be the largest complex challenges since the Civil War. And I don’t think there’s any period since 1861 in which the nation has been—will be as tested as it’s going to be in the next 15 or 20 years.
And part of it, I think I’ve, I’ve reacted—again, we’re all creatures of, of the world we’ve lived in. I’m now a grandfather, I have two grandchildren who are five and seven, and I think you, you think differently about time when you think about your grandchildren’s future, and you think about, “What kind of country am I going to leave them?” And I also think the country’s at a point where it—where, where the negativity has gotten to the point, whether it was right or wrong in ‘94, it has now gotten to the point where it’s pathological. I mean, where you have consultants who, who don’t know how to write a positive commercial. That’s bad for the country. Maybe good for their candidate, it’s bad for the country.
MR. RUSSERT: You said you’re not running for president yet. In every article that assesses your presidential prospects, starting with today’s New York Times, your home state paper, the Atlanta Constitution, it always talks about your liabilities. I want to talk about that and give you a chance to respond.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I can’t imagine you’d do that, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, it’s, it’s in case you’re going to be a candidate. This is how you’re—this is the Atlanta Constitution.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: This is what it would be like.
MR. RUSSERT: “Gingrich’s liabilities, as Americans would certainly be reminded in a campaign, run the gamut from personal to political. Twice divorced, he has been accused of having extramarital affairs—including one while he was leading the movement to impeach President Bill Clinton for lying about an affair. ...
“And then there are the ethics charges first raised in 1996. ... The House Ethics Committee investigated Gingrich’s use of tax-exempt charities to fund a college course he was teaching at two Georgia colleges.
“Critics charged that the course was political in nature and violated the groups’ tax-exempt status. Gingrich was reprimanded and ordered to pay $300,000 for improper use of funds and for twice providing the Ethics Committee with false statements.” How do you deal with that in a presidential campaign?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: First of all, you do it honestly and openly. We could take them one by one if you want to, but let’s start with the ethics stuff, OK? On every ethics charge, in the end, I was exonerated. The one thing that happened is I signed a letter written by one of our lawyers that was technically wrong, and I paid the cost of investigating that letter.
MR. RUSSERT: But you were reprimanded by the full House later for...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: For having signed a letter.
MR. RUSSERT: And that you paid a fine or...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: That’s right.
MR. RUSSERT: Three hundred thousand. It’s significant. It’s significant.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: That’s right—it, it is, I just said it’s significant. And I vol—and I paid the $300,000. Now, but here’s the point: the rest of the stuff in that article about my—the ethics charges, are false. The Internal Revenue Service said there was nothing wrong with the course. I am a PhD in history. I was teaching a college course. It was totally—it goes back to free speech. I was allowed to teach courses. The Federal Election Commission was reprimanded by a federal judge and told that the charges against GOPAC were totally false. All of the courses—those things didn’t make page one. And, and I fully expected my opponents—remember, the Democrats were very mad after the ‘94 election. They had lost power. They—for the first time in 40 years. They knew it couldn’t be their fault, so it must be mine.
But if you go back and you took—if you were to some day take item-by-item what the charges were, and what the results were, again and again and again they turned out to be false. Now, I’ve had a very long career, and there’re lots of things people would be able to pick out from votes to attacking my life to attacking, you know, the ethics stuff. But people have to decide at some point down the road, first of all is, are the ideas good? I didn’t come here today and say you should put me in the White House. I came here today and said, “We need solutions on health; we need solutions on education.”
If the ideas are good, then let’s see how many candidates’ll just take the ideas. I’m, I’m pretty happy to have written the Contract with America. I’m pretty happy to have reformed welfare, balanced the federal budget, cut taxes, been the only person cited by the 9/11 commission for strengthening the intelligence community in the ‘90s. And if over the next 10 years I can help my grandchildren live in a safer, freer, more prosperous country by creating a wave of new ideas and new solutions, that wouldn’t be a failure.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you, do you regret pressing the impeachment of President Clinton so hard?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: President—you know, I’m—I’ve been divorced twice.
Both times I’ve been deposed. Both times I was told, “Perjury is a felony. You should tell the truth under deposition.” President Clinton lied under oath as a lawyer in front of a sitting federal judge in a civil rights case. This was not about his personal behavior in the Oval Office. That’s a matter of judgment, and people can render judgment. The question is, do you want to go down the road of Nigeria and corruption and have a country in which, as long as he’s popular, he can break the law? And if Clinton gets to commit perjury on this topic, then what does the next president get to commit perjury on, and then what does the next president get to commit perjury on? This was entirely about something I knew personally. We have an obligation as citizens to tell the truth to a federal judge under oath. The president failed that.
MR. RUSSERT: You said this in Newsweek, which was quite interesting. “I’m not a natural leader. I’m a natural intellectual gadfly.”
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I think that’s right. I mean, I—I think my—what I bring best to American public life is trying to find ideas and solutions—what I’ve tried to do for the administration is find ideas and solutions and, and try to find a way to get a path to victory. You know, I don’t know that I would have done better or worse than Bremer. I don’t know that I would do better or worse than other people at specific jobs. I think what I can do pretty well, as we have done at the Center of Health Transformation, is think through what America needs to do. And I’m always struck when I talk to reporters because on the one front they say, you know, there aren’t enough ideas in politics. And then they say, so who’s your consultant going to be? And you say, well, let’s talk about AIDS. They say, we don’t have time for ideas right now. Who’s your—who’s your finance chairman? I mean, you can’t have it both ways.
MR. RUSSERT: But...
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: I’m, I’m happy to be in public life. I’m thrilled and honored that you to have me on this extraordinary program that several million people will see a conversation and there’ll actually be three or four ideas involved in the conversation.
MR. RUSSERT: On the American solutions, is it possible to get liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans, to find common ground on Social Security as opposed to, “We want privatizing,” “We don’t need any changes”; on abortion: “It’s the taking of a life,” “It’s a woman’s choice”; on gay marriage: “It’s, it is something that’s immoral” or “It’s civil rights.” How do you find common ground on those issues?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, you’re—that is the great opportunity that Barack Obama’s describing. I mean, Obama gives, makes some superb speeches. I quoted him Friday night in Manchester from his speech the previous Friday night, I might say, to a bigger crowd. And—but I said, I said positively, he is talking to Americans. He’s talking about finding a way to come together. You know, and maybe it starts by saying, what is it we can agree on that we can work on together and then accept the fact that we’ll fight on these things.
But I—I think, for example, I would love to see hearings on what would a 21st-century State Department be like, and how big does it have to be so you have enough personnel to have training, and how much do you have to invest in order to have modern information technology? And, and, and I would be very happy to have Democratic committees holding those hearings. Because there’s a conversation as Americans we ought to be able to have in a positive way.
Similarly, I think the president should ask the Congress to hold hearings on the larger war. What does Ahmadinejad’s threats as the leader of Iran mean to America? What does it mean that the North Koreans have set off a nuclear weapon? What should we make out of the missile firings in North Korea and Iran? I think if the Congress started out here and then came in to say, OK, if this is the nature of reality, then here’s how we Americans can work together, I think by May or June you might see a totally different tone in this city. But real change requires real change.
MR. RUSSERT: And the president has to drive it.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: No. The president has to be open to it because the American people have to drive it.
MR. RUSSERT: You said you won’t announce your presidential plans until September.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Isn’t that too late? Won’t the other candidates be so well financed, so well organized?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: You are a great student of this business. When we were young, I think you were younger than me, but when we were young, John F. Kennedy announced on January 2nd, 1960, the year of the election. In 1975 and again in 1979, Ronald Reagan announced in November, OK? My view’s this. If—and you—and you put up the numbers. Romney’s had a good year. He’s emerging as a serious player. Giuliani is wildly popular for national security reasons. John McCain has built a base for years of hard work. If one them seals it off by Labor Day, my announcing now wouldn’t make any difference anyway. If none of the three having from now to Labor Day can seal it off, the first real vote is in 2008. And there’s plenty of time in the age of television and e-mail between Labor Day and 2008.
MR. RUSSERT: So you’re thinking about it.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Of course I’m thinking about it. I mean, I can’t have guys like you talk about it and not think about it.
MR. RUSSERT: And you’re going to position yourself that if there’s a vacuum in September, you’ll probably go.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: And I hope between now and September to help create with every candidate in both parties, a wave of new ideas, a wave of new solutions. And see how that ferments. I’m going to send a letter to the state parties, both Democrat and Republican, in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina urging them to hold bipartisan forums. Get the candidates on the same stage. I mean, have Obama and McCain. Have Hillary and Romney. Have a real dialog of Americans. Not just two partisan groups getting their armor on to fight each other.
MR. RUSSERT: When you sending that? This week?
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Send out in early January. My—and my goal is to make 2007 a year of, of solutions and dialog. Really modeled off Lincoln-Douglas. We’ll, we’ll have the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 2008. And I hope, possibly, that they could be launched at Cooper Union where Lincoln gave his great speech in, in 1860.
MR. RUSSERT: Newt Gingrich, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views on American solutions. We’ll be watching.
FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Thank you. Great.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, you read their columns in The New York Times. The opinions of David Brooks and Tom Friedman on the war in Iraq and presidential politics 2008. They are both coming up, next only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Our MEET THE PRESS roundtable: David Brooks, Tom Friedman of The New York Times. Their opinions, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back. David Brooks, Tom Friedman, welcome both.
Tom Friedman, your column December 8th. Let me show you and our viewers what you said. “Our real choices in Iraq are 10 months or 10 years. Either we commit the resources to entirely rebuild the place over a decade, for which there is little support, or we tell everyone that we will be out within 10 months, or sooner, and we’ll deal with the consequences from afar. We need to start the timer - today, now.” What happened?
MR. TOM FRIEDMAN: Well, basically what happened, Tim, is that, in some ways, Zarqawi won, the arch-al-Qaeda Sunni terrorist. Iraq was always a long-shot, but I was of the view that, after the invasion, the Shia of Iraq—or the majority—were basically ready to work with the Sunnis. They were basically ready to write off the last 30 years as Saddam’s problem. And the Sunni al-Qaeda strategy was to provoke the Shia with murderous, really outrageous attacks on their mosques and on their markets until they finally rose up and said, “No more.” And we basically split Iraq into a sectarian war. And that’s where we are right now.
And therefore, it seems to me that—you know, there’s a lot of talk now about a surge of troops or whatnot. I’m for trying anything, basically, but, but here’s the problem, it seems to me, Tim: The issue that we need to be focused on is what would be self-sustaining. We can put in 30,000 or 300,000 more troops now, and yes, we’ll tamp down the violence. But can you produce something that is self-sustaining so the minute we pull them out, it doesn’t just revert to form? And that self-sustaining solution requires an understanding, a political understanding, at the core between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. And right now, we do not have that. So more troops, necessary but not sufficient. Without that understanding at the core, nothing is possible.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that understanding attainable?
MR. FRIEDMAN: I’m not sure anymore, you know, is the real problem. When, when I look at the Iraqi factions today, it seems to me, Tim, they want—democracy, that’s not their first choice, they want justice. They want justice before democracy. The Shiites want justice for the last 30 years. The Kurds want justice. The Sunnis want justice for a war that overturned their, their dominance. My, my fear about Iraq right now and the reason I wrote that column is that I get the sense, Tim, that our vision of Iraq, a democratic, or democratizing pluralistic Iraq, is everyone’s second choice there, all right? Their first choice is a Shia theocracy in the south, a Sunni return to power, an independent Kurdistan. And we cannot go on having our first-choice boys and girls dying for Iraqis’ second choice.
MR. RUSSERT: David Brooks, you wrote a column which was a, last Sunday, a prediction, in effect. You say “In fall 2007, the United States began to withdraw troops from Iraq, and so began the Second Thirty Years’ War. This war was a bewildering array of small and vast conflicts, which flared and receded and flared again across the entire Middle East, but which were joined by a common theme.” Is that what you see happening, playing out?
MR. DAVID BROOKS: If things continue to go badly. I think there are two big things happening in the Middle East. The one is the nuclearization of the Middle East, starting with Iran but soon, then Saudi Arabia and possibly a nuclear weapon under every tent.
And the second big thing is the collapse of a lot of nation states. We see it in Iraq with subnational groups and supernatural groups thriving, but the nation states falling apart. Whether they’re Shia and Sunni, whether it’s Hezbollah in Lebanon. We see it this week in Palestine with Hamas and Fatah fighting each other. So these are subnational organizations.
MR. RUSSERT: You see it spreading to Saudi Arabia, Egypt?
MR. BROOKS: Absolutely. And Bahrain, where there’s a Shia majority. A great historian, Michael Oren, says there are three authentic nation states in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran and Egypt. All the rest are phony nations. Sometimes with family—run by families with armies. And that’s—that is fragile. And that could all come undone and that could all be part of the spreading wave of chaos. And that, that is the worst-case scenario, but completely plausible these days.
MR. RUSSERT: Your paper framed the issue this way on Wednesday: “A central thrust of the discussions at all levels of the administration is how to pressure Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to move faster to provide basic services and quell sectarian violence - some of which stems from his powerful supporter, the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr - and whether to force him to meet certain benchmarks or face penalties and rewards, also to be determined.” Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, wrote a memo which questioned Maliki’s abilities. The president says he’s the right guy for Iraq. Is Maliki capable of doing what has to be done in order to secure that country in time?
MR. BROOKS: You know what’s changed about the administration? Used to be you’d go in and you’d talk off the record to one person and you got a sense of what they all thought. Now you talk to one and then you hear 180 degrees from the other. So now there’s no consensus on the Maliki government. And no sense that they really can control the government from the center—the country from the center in any case.
What I think the administration is about to do is to embrace an idea promoted by a retired general, Jack Keane, and Fred Kagan, a think-tanker, which is to surge 20,000 or 30,000 troops into key Baghdad neighborhoods. We’ve been fighting this war just enough to lose, and they’re going to make one last effort, and this is the, the plan that’s been laid out before the president, is a two-year plan. And it’s going to involve significant commitment of troops and significant sufferings and probably casualties. And they’re, they’re going to try to, for the first time, devote just enough sources—resources to win.
Whether it can work goes back to something Tom said: Do the Iraqis want to—want to have a unified country? Does the butcher in Baghdad who lost his brother because he got drilled in the back of the head, does he want to forgive or does he want to kill? And ultimately, I think the success of any strategy, as Tom indicated, depends on the Iraqis.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom, the--71 percent of the American people do not approve of the president’s handling of the war. Can you have a new commitment of more troops to Baghdad, a surge if you will, two years as defined by David Brooks? Will the American people accept that?
MR. FRIEDMAN: I don’t think for very long. I mean, I’m sure the president can try something for a while, but I don’t—I don’t think for very long. You know, the vision David sketched out in his column I think has, has a real plausibility to it. We’re seeing a civil war in Iraq, and in that part of the world, Tim, you know, if you step back, look at what’s been going on there for the last year. In Iran, they just had a conference on why the Holocaust didn’t happen. In Iraq, you have people fighting over who is the proper heir to the prophet Mohammed. And in Syria, the—basically, the government of Syria killed the prime minister next door, and wants to get off with a parking ticket. This is a freak show, OK? There’s no other part of the world that’s behaving like this.
And it gets back to something, you know, I, I argued, you know, before the war, which is that some things are true, even if George Bush believes them, and one of them is that this part of the world is really falling off, all right, in a dangerous way. As David alluded to, that if this cracks up, you know, what you get, they actually need a civil war.
We had a civil war in our country. We had a civil war because we thought some people in our country believed really bad things. Really bad things about human dignity and equality, about, you know, the right of one people to enslave another. They’re having a civil war in Iraq, only it’s not about ideas, it’s about tribal issues. There is no Abe Lincoln there. It’s the South vs. the South, that’s the problem with the fight right now.
And so, you know what? When I—when I think of the president, he’s met with all of these people from Iraq in, in the last, you know, few months, I think of a rule I learned, and maybe forgot the past few years, as a reporter in Beirut. And that—it goes like this, Tim: What people in the Middle East tell you in private is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their language. So they come over here and say, “Mr. President, we’re really with you. We’re for a democ”—but then they go back there, it’s what they say in public. You know, in Washington, Tim, people tell the truth off the record and lie on the record. In the Middle East, they lie off the record and tell the truth on the record.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s been an interesting week in terms of the media and our coverage of Iraq. Both the first lady and the secretary of defense made suggestions as to what we should be doing. Let’s watch the first lady first on MSNBC.
(Videotape, December 14, 1006):
MRS. LAURA BUSH: I do know that there are a lot of good things that are happening that aren’t covered, and I think the drum beat in the country from the media, from the only way people know what’s happening, unless they happen to have a loved one deployed there, is discouraging.
MR. RUSSERT: The drum beat that is discouraging. Here’s the secretary of defense on Friday.
(Videotape, December 8, 2006):
SEC’Y DONALD RUMSFELD: I mean, if you, if you just watched what’s happening every time there’s a bomb going off in Baghdad, you’d think the whole country’s aflame. But you fly over it, and that’s just simply not the case. There are people out in the fields working, and there’s cars in the gas lines waiting to get fuel.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you think?
MR. BROOKS: Get off of it. I mean, we’ve got a hero in our newspaper, John Burns. Another hero, Dexter Filkins, there’s a whole series of heroes over there. They’re not biased about this. They want the best for the Iraqi people, they want democracy. Listen to what they’re reporting, they’re reporting chaos. You have 100--I don’t know what it is, 1.6 million people leaving Iraq. You’ve got 9,000 Iraqis every week who are moving to their Shia homeland, or to their Sunni homeland. This is a country—it’s not civil war, it’s just disintegration. So the idea that this is some media concoction, you—I said that a year ago, two years ago. But at some point, face reality.
MR. RUSSERT: Face reality?
MR. FRIEDMAN: You know, Tim, if I can share with you another rule I had about the Middle East, it was that any general going to the Middle East—or reporter—should have to take a test, and it would consist of one question:
Do you believe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line? If you answer yes to that question, you can’t go to Iraq. You can go to Korea, you can go to Germany, you can go to Japan. You can’t go to Iraq.
And the problem is, when you hear the first lady, when I think of the way Bush is running this war, he thinks that in the Middle East the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. It’s all straight, it’s a matter of just add a little more force here, and a little more, you know, give another speech there. It’s insane. I wanted this to succeed, you know, as much as anybody, all right, because I thought it was really important. But I thought it was really important and really hard. And to me, what history will damn these people for is they thought it was really important and really easy.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the 2008 presidential race, because it is upon us, and Iraq is going to be a big issue. David Brooks, you wrote back in October about Barack Obama, and you said: “Coming from my own perspective, I should note that I disagree with many of Obama’s notions and could well end up agreeing more with one of his opponents. But anyone who’s observed him closely can see that Obama is a new kind of politician. ...
“It may not be personally convenient for him, but the times will never again so completely require the gifts that he possesses. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, you should hope Barack Obama runs for president.” Still feel that way?
MR. BROOKS: Even more so. You know, I looked at some of the coverage of his, his New Hampshire trip and you look at the crowd and they’re leaning forward toward him. It’s like they’re thirsty and they’re drinking for water. And he’s offering that. And what he’s offering is the ability to see all sides of an issue. And I disagree with him. And we’ve had many conversations, and he sees the best side of my argument and then he reflects it back.
And the, the point he makes, and I think it’s a good point, it goes right to his age, which is his weakness. He says, “You know, these boomers have been running the country and, you know, maybe in 1968 a lot of baby boomers started hating each other and they never stopped. But I’m not of that generation. I’m not of the culture war ‘60s generation. I am willing to respect the other side.” And he brings that talent to listening. And so I think his talent is that he multiplies the knowledge he has by being able to understand both sides. And the weakness may be is that he’s the kind of guy who goes to a restaurant and says, “Well, there are 16 reasons to order the fish, but 19 to order the meat.” And maybe he thinks a little too much. But, but, you know, this is what the times would require.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s an interesting time, Tom Friedman, and we have a lot of candidates out there. Barack Obama in 2002 came out against the war in Iraq. Said if he was a senator, he wouldn’t vote for it. John McCain, on the other hand, saying we need more troops and has been saying that for years. How big of an issue is Iraq going to be in this 2008 campaign? And do you need national security experience to play on that presidential stage? Beyond what Mr. Obama has?
MR. FRIEDMAN: I think you need judgment more than experience. I think, if anything, the experience of the last six years has proven that, Tim. But I want to pick up on, on David’s point, because I think Obama is such a powerful candidate for, for a couple of reasons. David and I were talking about them earlier. One is that I believe Democrats voted in the last two elections like this, Tim. (Plugs nose) Al Gore. (Plugs nose) John Kerry. They voted with their nose plugged, basically. Democrats are starved, just as David said, to vote for someone they’re excited about.
But the second thing, and I so agree with David, is just that Barama’s—Barack Obama’s great strength right now is the country is so tired of being divided. Deliberately divided, OK, by Karl Rove. They are so tired of that. They want to be unified. They understand the need—the problems we face now, from Social Security to Iraq, can’t be solved without some kind of national unity. And I think his strongest case, basically, is that he really presents himself as a unifier and not a divider.
MR. RUSSERT: And Hillary Clinton, because of her experiences as a first lady, the Clinton administration, you just heard Newt Gingrich, has very high negatives going into the race, David.
MR. BROOKS: Yeah, I would love to know what’s going on in Clinton-land right now. Believe me, they are smart, aggressive people in that world. And they are looking at this guy and they’re not going to sit still for this. And listen, there’s, it would be completely wrong, as Gingrich said, to underestimate Hillary Clinton. I think there are two tendencies. People are going to take a look at Washington and they’re going to say, “I want something new. I want something fresh. I want Barack.” Then they’re going to take a look at the world and say, “I want somebody experienced. I want somebody who’s been around.” And that’s Hillary. So they both have strong momentum behind them and it would just be foolish to count her out.
MR. RUSSERT: How about the Republican side? John McCain; Rudy Giuliani;
Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts; Newt Gingrich, who was just seated here. What do you think?
MR. BROOKS: Well, I think they’re, they’re—the first three in particular are, are strong. And I, I just look at what the world’s going to look like in 2008. I personally think it’s more likely than not that Iraq will be a complete mess, that Iran will be very close to nuclear weapons, that a government like Jordan or Syria or Lebanon could be falling. It’s going to look pretty nasty, I think. And I think that really raises Rudy Giuliani and John McCain’s record. I think Mitt Romney’s been running a brilliant campaign, but I think when the world is looking tough, Republican voters in particular are going to want a tough guy. And the evangelical Christians are going to overlook Rudy Giuliani’s personal views and personal life and I think he is going to be formidable, as will McCain, obviously.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s your sense?
MR. FRIEDMAN: Well, I think that one thing Republican voters will want, Tim, if I, if I’m right, and Americans in general, is something that the Baker-Hamilton commission gave us, which is at least an honest diagnosis of where we are. You can agree or disagree with their recommendations, but people wanted an honest bipartisan diagnosis. Not Rumsfeld’s nonsense about flying over Iraq at 30,000 feet and see, see people farming.
Think of what happened this week. OK, Dick Cheney, the vice president, stood up at a massive farewell ceremony for, for Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and said he was the greatest secretary of defense in American history. Now, if that is true, either George Bush is a fool or Dick Cheney is a liar, all right? Because either George Bush just fired at the height of a war, at the greatest national security threat of our country’s current era, the greatest secretary of defense in history, or Dick Cheney thinks we’re all walking around with a sign that says “Stupid” on it.
But I can stand up and say this: After this incredible fiasco—you know, just to go back to David’s point—and tell people that this guy was the greatest secretary of defense in history—people are tired of that, Tim. Too much is at stake now. The first lady says, you know, “Things are going well in Iraq.” If things are going so well in Iraq, why are there a million Iraqi refugees in Jordan now, and 600,000 in Syria? Because we misreported it? They’re not reading The New York Times.
MR. BROOKS: If I could say something about internal Republican politics and about this show. I hope Josh Bolten, the White House chief of staff, was watching Gingrich this first half of this show. Gingrich said, “Unless we fundamentally restructure what we’re doing in Iraq, we will not win.” He is not far off from where a lot of Republicans are. Probably where most elite Washington Republicans are.
So what’s going to happen? These Republicans do not want to run in 2008 with Iraq hanging over. They never want to face another election like that. So at some point, six months, eight months, there’s going to be men in gray suits. There’s going to be a delegation going into that White House saying to President Bush, “You are not destroying our party over this.” And Bush will push back. But that’s going to be the, the tension. Talk about world—American support for the war, it’s Republican support in Washington for the war that the president needs to worry about.
MR. RUSSERT: We have to leave it there. David Brooks, Tom Friedman, thank you.
MR. BROOKS: Thank you.
MR. FRIEDMAN: Fine.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week on Christmas Eve morning, a special holiday edition with Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book “The Purpose-Driven Life,” and Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek magazine. Warren and Meacham on “Faith in America,” right here next Sunday on MEET THE PRESS. And for those observing, happy Hanukkah. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.