Guest: Stephen Hayes, Rosa Brooks, Pat Buchanan, Richard Wolffe, Richard
Engel, David Ignatius, Jeffrey Goldberg, Bill Ritter
DAVID GREGORY, HOST: Tonight, a political cease-fire. The campaigns stand down on personal attacks, as Barack Obama and John McCain stand together to honor the fallen heroes on this, the seventh anniversary of 9/11.
GREGORY (voice-over): A 24-hour truce between the presidential candidates, as the names of loved ones lost echo over Ground Zero and the nation pauses to remember the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, as well as the downing of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Two hours from now, Senators Obama and McCain will share the stage with this backdrop of 9/11 at the ServiceNation summit, take on the issue of voluntary service and disaster relief.
And seven years after President Bush declared a war on terror...
GEORGE. W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people who
knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
GREGORY: Are we any safer now?
NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Robert Engel and associate editor at “The Washington Post,” David Ignatius, are here with their thoughts.
Plus, Obama’s hopes of winning the Mountain West. Democratic Governor of Colorado Bill Ritter weighs in on whether Governor Sarah Palin has made that plan rocky.
That and more coming up in the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.
GREGORY: Fifty-four days to go in the race for the White House.
Welcome to the program. I’m David Gregory.
We begin with headlines. And the headline tonight, “The Forgotten Issue Remembered Today.”
National security moves to the front of our minds today as the candidates pause from this campaign with the nation to remember the victims of 9/11. McCain honored the seventh anniversary of the attacks with this statement at the crash site of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have had the great
honor and privilege to witness great sacrifice for America’s sake, but none greater than those good people who grasped the gravity of the moment, understood the threat, and decided to fight back at the cost of their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Senator Obama released a statement as well, with a reminder of what is at stake, saying, “Let us remember that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 are still at large and must be brought to justice.”
According to the latest NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll, terrorism and national security are now low on the list of voter concerns. It’s a stark contrast from just six years ago, when NBC News polls showed a quarter of Americans listed terrorism and national security as their top concern. In 2006, that number dropped to 15 percent, and now just 9 percent say it is the most important issue that this nation must confront.
As this fading issue comes back into focus today, we’re going to address how Obama and McCain have pledged to retool the president’s plan to fight the war on terror.
Stephen Hayes, senior writer at “The Weekly Standard,” joins me now.
Both candidates stood at Ground Zero together today, a pause from the campaigning. Terrorism is back in focus as an issue, and it’s appropriate time for us to ask a fundamental question: Are we safer?
STEPHEN HAYES, SR. WRITER, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”: Yes. I think you
look back at where we were seven years ago, six years ago, 364 days ago, and virtually everybody, whether you’re talking about intelligence experts, national leaders, international leaders, the American public, thought that we would be hit again and we’d be hit again soon. Eighty-five percent of the American public thought that at the time.
The reality is we haven’t. And, you know, it’s become, I think at this point, a political necessary and quite fashionable to beat up the Bush administration about everything—anything and everything. This is one time where you have to stop and say, whether you agree or disagree with how they did it, the reality is we haven’t been attacked again, and they deserve a great deal of credit for that, I think.
GREGORY: Rosa Brooks from the “Los Angeles Times,” that is a fact. It is also a fact, according to the government’s own intelligence, that the kind of Islamic extremism that led to 9/11 has really not abated, particularly in those parts of the world, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, where United States forces are deployed.
ROSA BROOKS, “LOS ANGELES TIMES”: This is a classic, do you want the good news or do you want the bad news situation? The good news is that we did weaken the specific structure led by Osama bin Laden. The bad news is that we created a franchise for al Qaeda, a worldwide franchise for al Qaeda.
The other piece of bad news is that we went about it in a way that made us about 15 new enemies around the world, including nuclear-armed states such as Russia, which Sarah Palin today seems to be threatening more with.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think both statements are
true. I clearly think seven years without being hit again—and I think the Bush administration, FBI, CIA, our police and everyone deserve enormous credit. I do tend to agree that the interventions abroad are the political motivation behind a lot of this terrorism.
But I think today was a great win for McCain. I cannot understand why Obama let the day go by, just issued this querulous statement while McCain is out in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, praising the courage and intrepidity of the people that did rise up. I think it was a good day. The only thing good for Obama is it did put aside, gives him a 24-hour hiatus, from the “lipstick on a pig” stuff.
GREGORY: Right. And obviously the politics of the moment may not be in the moment, but they’re certainly not forgotten.
The candidates did not formally campaign today. There is news to report, though, from the trail.
Governor Sarah Palin just finished her first interview with a journalist since actually joining the ticket. It was with ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson in Alaska.
ABC News has just posted a portion of that transcript on its blog. Charlie Gibson noted she once said that the Iraq war was a “task from God,” and he asked her if Iraq was a holy war. Here’s a portion of what she said.
Palin responds, “The reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s words when he said - first, he suggested never presume to know what God’s will is, and I would never presume to know God’s will or to speak God’s words. But what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that’s a repeat in my comments, was, let us not pray that God is on our side in a war or any other time, but let us pray that we are on God’s side. That’s what that comment was all about, Charlie.”
Gibson said, “I take your point about Abraham Lincoln’s words, but you
went on and said, ‘There is a plan and it is God’s plan,’ to which Palin
said, ‘I believe there is a plan for the world and that plan for this world
is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for
every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights,
and I believe that are God-given, Charlie, and I believe that those are the
rights to life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, in my
world view, is a grand, grand plan.’”
BROOKS: Good plan, I guess. You know, it’s funny, because Sarah Palin, until she got the McCain script, was actually saying some different things about Iraq.
Until quite, quite recently, until earlier this August, was expressing a lot of the same concerns I think that most Americans have about the Iraq war—e.g., is there a plan? Is there an exit plan?
She has now—she’s gotten in line. She’s been whipped into line here. But I think the question remains, the funny thing is that everybody from President Maliki in Iraq, to Barack Obama, to George Bush at this time is calling for some kind of timeline to get us out. The only person who is not is still John McCain.
It would be very, very interesting to push Sarah Palin a little bit further on where she is now.
GREGORY: On this specific point though, Pat, I think there is a lot of Americans who would pray for U.S. troops going into harm’s way. That certainly doesn’t seem abnormal at all.
Is there still a question for her or a residual question after Bush years of, what does she mean about whether this is God’s plan?
BUCHANAN: No. I just looked up “The New York Times” story because I had seen it there.
What she is talking to the kids about is we must pray, and she does say we must pray that this is God’s plan. That’s the way “The New York Times” says it.
There’s nothing wrong with that. And as a kid, I used to make the sign of the cross before foul shots. And you obviously pray that this is all part of God’s plan. I don’t think there is any problem with it.
If she had come out and said the Iraq war is the plan of God, I think she would have a problem. But she didn’t say that. And she said she didn’t say that.
Let me switch gears a little bit. We’re going to turn to Senator Obama.
He met with the aforementioned President Clinton for a private lunch in Harlem today. And President Clinton told the press that he predicts a pretty big win for Obama in November.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I
predict that Senator Obama will win and will win pretty handily.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There you go. You can
take it from the president of the United States. He knows a little something about politics.
CLINTON: That’s what I think is going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: The images here, Steve, how much do they help Obama? And do we have a clearer sense of what Bill Clinton is actually prepared to do for Senator Obama on the campaign trail?
HAYES: Well, I mean, the first thing that has to be said is, what a stunning prediction. I mean, really making news, saying that he thinks Obama is going to win.
Look, this was the photo-op that I think the Obama campaign wanted. They wanted this sort of unity photo-op that they hadn’t had for a long time.
And the best thing that the Obama campaign can hope will come out of this meeting is to have Bill Clinton stop talking, basically stop talking to the press, don’t criticize Barack Obama, stop talking about his wife and her run for the presidency. Just basically stop talking.
How much they want to use him, that remains an open question. I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to use him that much because he is a polarizing figure. They may have other plans.
GREGORY: Let’s turn to our “Daily Debrief” today.
It’s just about two hours from now that McCain and Senator Obama will participate in a forum on service and civic engagement at Columbia University in Manhattan. It’s going to be moderated by “TIME” editor Richard Stengel and PBS’ Judy Woodruff. The nominees will be questioned separately, McCain going first, Obama following.
I want to go to Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe, who is at Columbia for a preview of what is to come there tonight.
But Richard, start here with that meeting today. How significant does the Obama camp think that was for them to have that meeting and hash out some of these issues with President Clinton?
RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”: Oh, they think it was very significant. And actually, contrary to what you’ve just been talking about, they want to use Bill Clinton out on the campaign trail. They expect him to go campaigning in some of these small towns, revving up the base, revving up those white working class voters, as he did so successfully for his wife through the Pennsylvania primary.
GREGORY: Richard, talk about tonight. The last forum like this was at Saddleback with Rick Warren. You know, frankly, mixed reviews here for Senator Obama coming out of that. Senator McCain was thought to be very strong in that session.
Is tonight going to be about the war on terror or is it going to be more about serving the country in the aftermath of 9/11? What do they expect and what do you expect from both sides?
WOLFFE: Well, of course it doesn’t seem like a day for politics, and the forum is about public service. So it doesn’t sound like the forum is about politics. But you cannot escape politics at this stage of the campaign.
Expect Barack Obama to push back pretty assertively against the kind of rhetoric we saw in the Republican convention about his own public service, specifically his time as a community organizer in Chicago. Remember all that mocking that happened, specifically Sarah Palin’s speech?
Well, Barack Obama could well push back pretty heavily against that.
Now, he won’t make the kind of explicit political points I think that the campaign, some of the people in the campaign, would like him to talk about. For instance, contrasting his plan to double the number of places in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps compared to John McCain, who hasn’t enumerated, in the campaign’s view, a plan for public service, although he speaks about it a lot.
Those kinds of politics are off the table. But talking about his own public service I think is very much on the table.
GREGORY: All right. Richard Wolffe, he’ll be there. And we will bring it to you live here on MSNBC at 8:00 Eastern Time, that service forum coming out of New York.
We’re going to take a break here.
When we come back, seven years after the 9/11 terror attacks, how safe are we? That is the critical question.
I’ll be joined by David Ignatius of “The Washington Post,” and our own Richard Engel, our chief foreign affairs correspondent who is in Washington today, to talk about that question and its implications for this campaign. Seven years after 9/11, we mark it here.
RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE will come right back.
GREGORY: Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.
Seven years after the attacks of 9/11, Iraq is far from secure, bin Laden remains on the loose. There is Iran, Afghanistan, and news today on Pakistan, all leading to just one question: How safe are we?
Joining me now are Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and the author of “War Journal: My Years in Iraq,” as well as David Ignatius, columnist and associated editor for “The Washington Post” and author of the spy thriller, “Body of Lies,” now available in paperback.
Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.
Richard, let me start with you. We were just talking about the fact that you are based in Beirut, though you are rarely there. You have reported with such distinction from Iraq over these past years.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Thank
GREGORY: On the biggest question, here we are—we are here seven years after 9/11. We have not been attacked in this country yet again. Are we safer?
ENGEL: The security services have done a tremendous job, and the security services particularly in Iraq have done a tremendous job, the troops and all of the different Special Operations forces and things like that. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been, not dismantled, but been dealt a very severe blow.
The problem you have right now and I think the main problem facing the next administration, is going to be Waziristan. You have an enormous black hole there, and this is the border region in Pakistan. And it appears to be getting worse.
And you have a situation where U.S. forces are trying to deal with that situation through predators or incursions, but they have to deal with it in a covert way. So, in Iraq, everyone knows we’re there and everyone knows we are operating there, and we have a freedom to operate. In Pakistan, we have to play a balancing act with the new government, which is very weak.
We are entering into the post-Musharraf era, so no one is really in charge in this country. And you have a major al Qaeda problem there. That would ultimately raise that question, is America safer? Pakistan is a major problem.
GREGORY: David Ignatius, we have not been hit in this country again after 9/11, which is not to say there have not been other attacks elsewhere in the world.
Here in America are we safer?
DAVID IGNATIUS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think we are. I think as Richard said, the security services, our efforts at defense have been successful. It’s very tough to get into the United States if you’re a terrorists, if you’re anybody, quite frankly.
The thing that I take the most heart from, David, is that I think in the Muslim world, al Qaeda is losing. I think there has been a revulsion among Muslims of the tactics they have used. They think al Qaeda itself and some of its communications to its members says be careful.
They were very upset and unhappy by Zarqawi’s tactics in Iraq while he was still alive, blowing up mosques, attacking Shiite Muslims, the mayhem and carnage. And I think they were upset because they knew Muslims were turning away from this.
And I think if there is one thing that we can be a little bit hopeful about, it’s that there has been a turn in the world in the last seven years away from these people and the horrific tactics they use. It’s still a tough fight.
As Richard said, in Pakistan, we have a resurgent Taliban. In Waziristan and this border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, we have, again, safe havens from which our enemies could plot attacks that could kill thousands and thousands of Americans. That should scare everybody, but I would note that we may not be winning, exactly, but they may be losing.
GREGORY: Let’s talk for a second about Osama bin Laden. All the political infighting and the back and forth on the campaign trail can sometimes get back to this question. IN fact, Senator Obama released the following statement today with regard to that.
“Let us remember,” he said, “that the terrorists responsible for 9/11 are still at large and must be brought to justice. Let us resolve to defeat terrorist networks, defend the American homeland, stand up for the enduring American values that we cherish, and seek a new birth of freedom at home and around the world.”
Does the fact that Osama bin Laden is still at large, still on the run, does it matter?
ENGEL: Yes, it matters. It’s a big—it’s a major problem.
Al Qaeda has a new base in—not only in Pakistan, but also in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden and a whole other new generation of leadership. So that is a very significant problem.
The other part of the world to look at addressing this problem, is America safer, is the world safer or more stable, I think you would look at the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region. And going forward, I think we’re going to see a lot of attention focused out of Iraq and into this area.
The other place to look is Lebanon. It is Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has rearmed. It is as powerful as it has ever been. It has rearmed since the 2006 war with Israel. That is also another serious challenge that is going be facing the new administration.
GREGORY: The question though, David, is whether if you are on the kind of offensive that this administration has been on—and one of the central arguments they make is, if we are fighting them there in the Middle Eastern theater, and keeping the fight to them using American soldiers, they are less likely, groups like al Qaeda, to be able to come together and orchestrate the sort of spectacular attack that was 9/11.
Is that real? Is that a credible argument?
IGNATIUS: Yes, I think it is, but it’s two-edged. It is true that our expeditionary force going into these Muslim lands to fight this adversary has brought a very tough fight to them and showed them that, in fact, the United States wasn’t going to back down.
Bin Laden thought when he attacked, if you read his writings, America will fold up its tent. They run away. Hit them hard and they run away. Well, we didn’t run away.
The problem with the strategy that we have adopted—and this is really important when we think about the future in Afghanistan—is that we create antibodies by our presence in these societies. We create new problems. And, you know, I think we have to be very careful before we send thousands and thousands more troops into Afghanistan to fight this really tough adversary, that we don’t recreate the problems of the first couple of years in Iraq.
GREGORY: And that is the question about Iraq.
ENGEL: And just because it’s not as deep as it would be, I don’t think that you should take a lot of comfort in that, frankly. The 9/11 attackers used Hotmail to communicate with each other. It didn’t cost that much to carry out 9/11.
This is—you don’t need a massive infrastructure to do this kind of thing. You need 20, 30 dedicated people focused on this and some money. So it’s not that you need a huge organized bureaucracy all living in the same place.
GREGORY: All right. We’re going to take a break here. We’ll come back with our guests in just a moment to talk specifically about other threats, Iraq, Iran, and the future in Pakistan, when we come back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.
GREGORY: We’re just getting pictures now in the deployment ceremony for the first Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, in Alaska. Governor Sarah Palin’s son Track Palin is one of 4,000 soldiers to be leaving Fort Wainwright, Alaska, for a 12-month deployment in Iraq.
Governor Palin addressed the ceremony just a short time ago, and we have a portion of it now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Soldiers, we
honor you. Each one of these soldiers is here by choice. For some, it was a long-held ambition to serve. For others, a more recent decision, a call to serve something greater than self, something greater than self, especially in this time, when the need is so great.
But for every soldier who leaves us today, it is a choice that defines you and always will.
Wherever you go in your time of service and beyond, it will always be to your credit that you wore the uniform of the United States of America. And we are so proud of you.
You could have chosen an easier, more comfortable, certainly safer path. Instead, you have chosen service.
As you depart today, don’t mind us, your parents, your friends, your family, if we allow for a few tears, or if we hold you just a little closer once more before you are gone, because we’re going to miss you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: For Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, this is personal.
Back with me now, Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, and David Ignatius, columnist and associate editor for “The Washington Post.”
Her son is off to Iraq, Richard. The president announced this week that 8,000 troops will come out before the end of the year, but then that’s it. A clear sign he wants the next president to handle and address the issue of troop withdrawals.
Are security gains so fragile in Iraq that we should read something into the fact that only 8,000 troops can come out before the end of the year?
ENGEL: Well, I think you also have to look at the timing. They don’t want any kind of disruption right now. It’s a political season. And I think the calculation is, frankly, it’s not worth the risk pulling out that many troops right now.
Hold it off until the election, until there is a new administration, and then they can deal with this very difficult balancing act. That is going to be obviously one of the things that the new administration is going to face. But Iraq has other problems that aren’t as obvious.
There’s Iranian influence which is growing, which will remain even as troops get pulled back. And the corruption issue in Iraq. Iraq has become a cleptocracy, and that is fundamentally unstable. So even as troop levels go down, there are still other issues that are going to be probably be coming up into the forefront of the debate.
GREGORY: David Ignatius, the talk about Iran, we were in the Middle East together at the Saban forum, and a Middle Eastern leader said to us that Iraq is a slow burn, but Iran is a real threat, a threat to moderates in the region, and certainly just a threat because of nuclear capability.
How do you assess it now?
IGNATIUS: Iran remains a revolutionary Islamic society. It is a society that frightens its neighbors, that is seeking to influence Iraq in a decisive way.
Today, as we think about the anniversary of September 11th, we have to remember that in the fight against al Qaeda in the latter part of 2001, when we went into Afghanistan, a key silent ally was Iran. That Iran shares the United States’ interest in containing the Sunni fundamentalist violence.
It was a partner then. And if you were trying to think, how would we find some common ground to start a dialogue, how would the next president do that, you might start with the issue of our shared interest in containing al Qaeda.
GREGORY: All right.
David Ignatius, Richard Engel, thanks to both of you.
David, I know you want to mention this book that you have been part of here real quickly.
IGNATIUS: It’s a book that I moderated conversations between Zbigniew Brzezinski, a prominent Democrat, and Brent Scowcroft, a prominent Republican. And it’s amazing how many things they agree don.
GREGORY: All right. Thank you both very much for this discussion.
We’re going to take a break here.
Coming next, an in-depth look at how John McCain’s experience in Vietnam has shaped his views on Iraq and national security generally. “The Atlantic’s” Jeffrey Goldberg joins me talk about his cover story, “The Wars of John McCain,” out now in “The Atlantic Magazine” when THE RACE returns after?
GREGORY: What’s at stake? 9/11 is a stark reminder of the threats the next president will face. How would Obama and McCain fight the war on terror and meet America’s complex challenges in the Middle East and around the world?
Back now on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I’m David Gregory, time for the
back half. Seven years after 9/11, there are still looming questions. What is the next threat out there? How does our next president view that threat? How would a President Obama or President McCain approach the war on terror? Joining me now, Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for “The Atlantic.” He wrote the new cover story “The Wars of John McCain.” It’s in the very new issue of “The Atlantic,” on newsstands now. It looks at how the Vietnam War shapes the Republican nominee’s world view. Jeffrey is also the author of the book “Prisoners, A Story of Friendship and Terror.” Jeff, good to see you.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG, “THE ATLANTIC”: Good to see you.
GREGORY: I want to talk about the piece. You also penned an op-ed this week about the next big threat the country faces. We talk a lot about the war on terror since 9/11. You’re thinking about what is chapter two, the threat of a nuclear attack on this country launched by a terrorist group. This was the conclusion of your op-ed piece, which was rather stark, and we will put it up on the screen for everyone to see: “so what we have is one presidential candidate who still seems to be casting about for an overarching strategy and another one who is not entirely sure whom we are fighting. We can hope against hope that in the next two months these two men will discuss in an deliberative and encompassing way the best ways to protect America for what some non-proliferation experts believe is nearly an inevitable attack. We should, in fact, demand that this conversation should take place because nothing else matters.”
What are you talking about? What do you think McCain or Obama would do to counter-act it?
GOLDBERG: What I’m talking about is the threat of a nuclear attack on an American city, which is the ultimate nightmare of non-proliferation experts. The thought that sometime in the next ten, 20 years, a terrorist group that wants to destroy as much of America as possible will actually get their hands on a—an illicit nuke and smuggle it into New York harbor or downtown Washington. What I’m talking with these two candidates about this; in my conversations with Barack Obama and the things he has said publicly, it is not clear that he has an overarching strategy for how to deal with this kind of threat. He’s talked about this and he’s talked about it seriously. But sometimes he talks about using the law enforcement approach, sometimes the military approach.
With John McCain, what I’m referring to is something different. McCain has a tendency in conversations, at least in conversations with me, of conflating different terror groups, talking about the threat from Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda as the same thing, when they are, in fact, very different. None are particularly lovely organizations, but it seems as if sometimes he draws with too broad a stroke and talks about all of the Islamic world as a source of potential threat.
GREGORY: You know, there was a contrast that you saw in these conventions, Barack Obama saying I’m tired of the tough talk and failed strategy of the Republican, the Bush years. That was his attack. You hear Senator McCain talk about defeating evil, confronting evil, defeating it, sounding just as tough, just as strong as George W. Bush has, President Bush has over the past eight years. The question is how they approach chapter two on this war on terror.
In this piece in the magazine, you talk about McCain’s view of war and paint the contrast. Let’s put this up on the screen: “in one area he has been more or less constant: his belief in the power of war to solve otherwise insolvable problems. This ideology of action has not been undermined by his horrific experience as a tortured POW during the Vietnam War, or by the Bush administration’s disastrous execution of the Iraq War, but his willingness to speak frankly about the utility of military intervention sets him apart from his opponent. Senator Obama, though certainly no pacifist, envisions a world of cooperation and diplomacy. McCain sees a world of organic conflict and zero sum competition.”
It’s a pretty stark contrast.
GOLDBERG: I wrote that? Gee whiz. It is a stark contrast. The
interesting thing about John McCain to me is this belief that wars are
usually, if not always, winnable. If they don’t seem to be being won at a
particular moment, it is because there is a bad strategy and you need to
re-jigger your stream to make it work. The fascinating thing is to compare
John McCain’s experience in Iraq, with the Iraq war and the surge, in which he has been largely vindicated, to the experience of his father during Vietnam.
His father, if you recall, was the commander in chief of American forces in the Pacific. He was a huge advocate of what was essentially a surge in Vietnam in the early ‘70s, when, by the way, his son was a prisoner in Hanoi. The surge, of course, in Vietnam didn’t work, the equivalent didn’t work. I got the strong sense in looking at the history of the family and looking at what John McCain thinks and talking to him about this that for him Iraq was an opportunity to do right what was not done right in Vietnam, which was keep working on a strategy until you get it right.
GREGORY: I talk to McCain advisers who make this point about counter-insurgency in Vietnam; when it was starting to work, the country had already moved on. Is there not an analogy to the surge in Iraq, and yet the country had moved on?
GOLDBERG: It’s more than an analogy. Yes, it is incredible the eerie parallels are pretty amazing. General Creighton Abrams, who was the David Petraeus of his day, come in, replace the discredited William Westmoreland, and devised a strategy that many people think was working. By that time, the Johnson administration, then the Nixon administration, had lost the public. The public no longer had confidence, in part, because military leaders and civilian leaders were giving overly rosy pictures of what was going on in Vietnam. If that doesn’t sound familiar, then—yes.
GREGORY: Final thought. You talked to John McCain about the issue of pre-emption or prevention. Does he think it is possible for, after the Bush years, an American president to launch a pre-emptive or preventative war?
GOLDBERG: He does think it is possible. He thinks it’s also, in certain circumstances, it might be necessary. He was very candid about this. He said, this isn’t the best position to be running on right now. He recognized that. And yet, he is adamant the experience in Iraq has not changed his fundamental view that America, especially in this age of nuclear—the possibility of nuclear terror, that America might have to do this again.
GREGORY: Jeffrey Goldberg from “The Atlantic Magazine,” why article “Why War is His Answer, Inside the Mind of John McCain.” Thanks Jeffrey.
GOLDBERG: Thank you.
GREGORY: We’ll take a break here. Coming next, Governor Sarah Palin returns home to Alaska to see her son off to Iraq on the anniversary of 9/11. More on the impact she is having on the race when THE RACE comes back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN ®, VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: What we’ve been doing is
taking our campaign on the road, of course, across the nation. We’ve been carrying our message of reform to the American people. We’ve been talking all about Alaska and people are excited. What a trip it’s been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: What a trip, indeed. Welcome back to THE RACE. Governor Palin is back in Alaska to see her son Track Palin off, as his brigade heads to Iraq for a 12 month deployment, a powerful image for voters on the seventh anniversary of 9/11. Back with me here, Rosa Brooks of “The Los Angeles Times,” Pat Buchanan of MSNBC, and Stephen Hayes of “The Weekly Standard.”
Pat, let me start with you. We are looking at these pictures of Sarah Palin seeing her son off. This is personal. You want a war debate, here is somebody who has been thrust in the national spotlight who is going through, in a very personal way, the deployment of troops to Iraq. What impact does that have?
BUCHANAN: I think it is very dramatic that the American people see that. This woman has a 19-year-old son, volunteered for the military, is headed for Iraq. It is a possibility he may not come home. I think it suggests it’s a very serious woman. And I think the way she has handled this has been quite well. Frankly, she has had an extraordinary two weeks, the most extraordinary two weeks, I think, in politics I have seen of almost any individual.
GREGORY: John McCain, we should also point out, has had two sons in harm’s way. Isn’t that right, Stephen?
HAYES: That’s right.
GREGORY: Let’s talk about the weeks that she has had. But also the test that’s ahead of her. She is sitting down for her first interview, which already happened with ABC. There will be other instances that come up even before the debates where she faces the national spotlight. How is she going to do?
HAYES: These are big tests. Coming from Alaska, she is not somebody who is particularly well versed in foreign policy. She is not going to be able to talk about foreign policy like a Joe Biden, who has been doing this for three decades. What I think she really needs to do is make sure that she understand where John McCain is coming from on the broad philosophical points, particularly as it relates to foreign policy. Then I expect that she will hammer home the reform message, the Washington outsider message, the we are going to fight for you message that they seem to have come out of the convention really humping.
GREGORY: Rosa, here is an ad released from the McCain campaign going after Obama for going after and raising questions about Sarah Palin. This is how they framed it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Attacks on Governor Palin have been called completely false, misleading and they have just begun. The Journal reports Obama air dropped a mini army of 30 lawyers, investigators and opposition researchers into Alaska to dig dirt on Governor Palin. As Obama drops in the polls, he’ll try to destroy her. Obama’s politics of hope, empty words.
MCCAIN: I’m John McCain and approve this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: The reality is this is the tactics of politics, to try to throw people off the hunt here for real questions that ought to be asked of every candidate seeking national office about their record, about their readiness, about whether they’re able to meet the tests of office.
BROOKS: That is absolutely right. I think it is unbelievably depressing to me, and I assume it is unbelievably depressing to most voters that we have spent 24 hours talking about lipstick and pigs, rather than talking about Sarah Palin’s policies, her record, and frankly, much more important, John McCain and his policies, his record, his judgment. It is an incredible distraction.
GREGORY: It is interesting, isn’t it, Pat, that the issue for the Obama campaign against Palin is the readiness argument. That is the argument they want to make, at the end of the day, is she ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. The problem for him and advisers have said this, it is a delicate matter to suggest lest people think that you’re saying a woman can’t be ready. And two, they can flip the argument right back on him.
BUCHANAN: They have a very, very difficult way to travel here. The very fact what you showed, that woman sending her 19-year-old son off to war provides a member a bit of immunization, if you will, against the personal attacks. I agree with you. I think they are so stupid. I think Obama’s got to get this back into a battle between him and McCain and the direction they want to take the country and where the country has been. To the degree they keep attacking her, I think they are hurting themselves. They are making her an even more sympathetic figure. And I think Obama has had a horrible week.
HAYES: I think Pat is exactly right about this. Remember back when Barack Obama was talking about how Republicans were going to slime him and then one time he mentioned John McCain and George Bush before he introduced that and predicted this and said, and they might mention I’m black. At that point, the McCain campaign took great umbrage and said, look, we never attacked. I think the Obama campaign could really say the same thing with this ad.
Obama, in fact, was pretty gracious about Sarah Palin initially when they came out. Now, the first statement from the campaign was less than gracious, but Barack Obama himself said look, her family is out of bounds. We shouldn’t be doing this. Joe Biden issued a good statement about Sarah Palin. I think there is confusion. There is this torrid back and forth. But what really helps insulate Sarah Palin, as Pat points out, is these hideous and ridiculous attack from others on the left that are personal and over the top and plain stupid.
GREGORY: We have to take a break. Coming next, is Palin throwing a wrench in Obama’s plans to win the Rocky Mountain West. I’m going to put that question to Colorado Governor Bill Ritter when he joins me right here as THE RACE returns.
GREGORY: Back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. The road to 270 electoral
votes runs right through the Rocky Mountain West. The biggest prize, Colorado, with its nine electoral votes. Senator Obama is hoping to become the first president since 1992, that was Bill Clinton, to win Colorado. Democrats showed their commitment to the state by holding their convention in Denver this year. Now joining me is Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. Governor, good to see you. Thanks for being here.
GOV. BILL RITTER (D), COLORADO: Good evening, David. How are you?
GREGORY: I’m doing well. There is a little bit of a satellite delay between us. We hope that won’t interfere too much. I want to start by showing you a headline this week in “The Salt Lake Tribune,” and it reads this way: “Palin Pick May Have Torpedo’s Dems Strategy.” The Tribune reports, even before the giddy conventioneers left Denver, electoral math was turned upside down when Senator John McCain picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Republicans say she speaks the language of the West and will be a hit with its swing state voters.” Do you agree?
RITTER: Well, here’s what I believe, is that what has happened in the West is about people voting for the person and not necessarily the party. The fact that she’s a western governor from Alaska I think doesn’t really change Senator Obama’s chances, nor Senator McCain’s struggles, quite frankly, in the West. It was evidenced by a statement Senator McCain made just a couple weeks before picking Governor Palin, where he talked about renegotiated the Colorado River Water Compact. It showed a true even naivete about water issues in the West, particularly in the upper basin states.
In addition to that, David, we are still in a place where the governors of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, they’re all Democrats. They all succeed Republicans. But they succeeded them for a reason, because we had a message that appealed to independent voters, and I would argue even moderate Republicans. I think that remains the case.
GREGORY: You actually won and have talked a lot about the fact that you moved away from campaign debate that revolved around cultural social issues, those kind of wedge issues that have played all over the country, including in your state. In this case, do you think or would you like to see Senator Obama make an issue of Governor Palin’s views on abortion? The fact she would oppose abortion rights even if a young woman were raped? In the case of rape, she would still want to outlaw abortion. Do you think he has to make a point of that particular part of her position?
RITTER: I think the most important point that Senator Obama has to make is that he has a plan for the economy and one that includes economic development in the west. It’s really how we won and won in such a decisive way in 2006. We have oil. We have natural gas. We’ve increased drilling six or seven fold over a ten-year period. At the same time, in just 18 months, we made dramatic changes in our economy. We call it the new energy economy, in developing renewable energy, building wind towers, building solar panels, doing all these that are new 21st century economy.
Obama speaks that language. He makes that message part of his central message of the West and I think he just does extremely well, but in the West, particularly in Colorado.
GREGORY: Even on the energy question, governor the issue of drilling, at least trying to drill more aggressively within the United States for resources—even if there is not an immediate payoff, it seems to have some resonance with voters, including independent voters.
RITTER: I think we have to understand in Colorado, when you increase drilling seven fold in a ten-year period, it really feels like we are doing our part. A strategy that says of drill here, drill now, drill there, drill, baby, drill is what Coloradans would say a failed energy policy, where we are doing out part, but if that is all you’re talking about or that’s the most significant thing you are talking about, you are excluding a part of the energy economy that has been very productive for Colorado, and should be productive for the United States going forward.
While I think that in the West, we understand the importance of natural resources, what we also understand, David, and this is really important, is balance. How you balance the tapping of those resources with our concern that we pay attention to issues that involve water and air and wildlife and local communities.
GREGORY: Governor, I don’t have to tell you that you and other Democrats at the convention were on a Rocky Mountain High about Senator Obama worthy of John Denver. But there seems to have been some come down from all of that. Karl Rove, senior strategist to President Bush, writes in “The Wall Street Journal” today that Palin—Governor Palin has gotten into Obama’s head a bit. This is what he writes: “if Mr. Obama wants to win, he needs to remember he is running against John McCain for president, not Mrs. Palin for vice president. If he keeps attacking her, he could suffer the fate of his Democratic predecessors. These assaults highlight his own tissue thin resume, waste precious time, spent better reassuring voters he is up to the job and diminish him, not her.”
Has it been a mistake for him to target Governor Palin?
RITTER: I think part of that was a reaction to the celebrity status she achieved in being sort of—having the persona she has and evidencing that during in the convention week. It is something for me to agree with Karl Rove. But I agree with the part of his analysis that says Senator Obama is running against Senator McCain. Those two are going to battle it out. If it is Senator Obama against Senator McCain, he wins that.
But your first question was has Palin’s choice upset the strategy in the west? Not if Senator Obama focuses on Senator McCain.
GREGORY: Governor Ritter, always good to have you on. Thanks very much.
RITTER: Thank you. Thanks, David.
GREGORY: Finally tonight, a final thought about the attacks of 9/11. There are dates in our history that are so dramatic they are always part of our memories. The horrific images of that day seven years ago still play out in our minds, visions of unthinkable destruction and deeply troubling questions about why it all happened. Our spiritual traditions are largely based on memories, on reliving significant events in the past to affirm our values today.
The Hebrew Bible, one of the bedrocks of Western civilization, actually has no word for history, only a word for memory, zahor (ph). It appears 169 times in the Bible. Our job is to keep memory alive. When we remember those who died on September 11th, we extend their lives and we affirm our commitment to carry on the values they stood for.
I’ll be back later tonight at 8:00 p.m. for our live coverage of the Service Nation Candidate’s Forum in New York, featuring both Senators Obama and McCain. Until then have a good evening and stay tuned for “HARDBALL” right here on MSNBC. Good night.
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