MSNBC: Tim, one of the Senate’s most prominent Republicans, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, is urging President Bush to begin the process of bringing home at least some of the U.S. troops from Iraq this year. You’ll have the senator on Sunday. How significant is his statement?
Russert: This is significant. It’s John Warner, former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, former Secretary of the Navy, strong supporter of the war, strong supporter of the president.
He said the president has to send a message to the Iraqi government that, in effect, America’s patience is running out and we’re going to start winding down and bring troops home.
The importance of this is Sen. Warner is sending the same kind of message to the president of his own party.
People will say, “Well, Sen. Warner said he won’t vote with the Democrats for a specific timetable for withdrawal.” That’s true, but nevertheless he has decided to offer blunt advice to the president and leader of the Republican Party.
Couple that with the report in Friday’s Los Angeles Times that Gen. Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is saying the strain on the Army in Iraq is such, we're going to have to bring a considerable number of troops home next year, and we appear to have and the military leadership and the Republican Party leaders in the Senate saying the same thing to the president.
It really does create huge complications for the president as he tries to navigate his strategy for the war in Iraq.
MSNBC: Does it undercut anything Gen. Petraeus might have to say next month in his on the success of the surge in Iraq?
Russert: Gen. Petraeus will be able to point to some success – el Anbar. Why? Because the Sunnis, who were supportive of Saddam Hussein have now aligned themselves against al-Qaida. We’re arming the Sunnis. We’re arming the Shiites. We’re arming both sides.
Our biggest concern is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. He was in Syria the other day and he said, in effect, “If the Americans are getting impatient with us, then we’ll find other friends,” and “We don’t have to abide by any timetables.”
I believe the Democrats, certainly, will seize on Maliki’s comments as saying, “You can have all the temporary military successes in the world by continuing the surge and pushing the insurgency back a bit in different provinces, but unless you have political reconciliation, there’s no long term solution. And Maliki doesn’t seem capable of bringing about political reconciliation.”
MSNBC: Do Warner’s remarks set a different tone in Congress to begin taking a look at changing funding for the war?
Russert: Warner was asked that Thursday. He said he is not in favor of cutting back funding, but Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the leader of the Republicans in the Senate said a few months ago if the president doesn’t alter the course, then the Congress will.
I think we’ll see a showdown between Republicans who have to run for reelection in 2008 against a president who doesn’t have to face the voters again. And, in the end, like all these big issues that confront our country, it’s the members of the president’s own party that ultimately have to go and say, “I’m sorry Mr. President, this is not working.”
MSNBC: Switching topics quickly - with all the jockeying among South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire, are we going to see the first votes of the 2008 election in 2007?
Russert: Probably not. It looks like Iowa will be the first week of January, then New Hampshire – although Michigan is trying to inject itself and my guess is they’ll get pushed back a little bit.
But it’s only going to enhance, I think the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire in terms of the momentum in the coverage and so forth, but it is wild. Here we are in August, the campaigns are in full tilt and we still don’t know the schedule. But I think it will sort itself out in the next two to three weeks.
On the subject of the campaign, we’re also going to have to something interesting Sunday, along with Senator Warner - Lance Armstrong, the cyclist champion. On Monday and Tuesday in Iowa, he’s going to have a presidential forum to ask the candidates one question: What are you going to do about cancer?
Lance Armstrong, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 25, given a 50-50 chance of survival and went on to win seven Tour de France bike races, has now committed himself to this single issue. It’s going to be fascinating to hear these candidates speak specifically about cancer, which affects one out of three Americans.
Warner and Armstrong, Sunday, on .