This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the guerrilla war grinds on in Iraq. What should the Bush administration do? With us, President Clinton’s secretary of State and author of her new memoir, “Madam Secretary,” Madeleine Albright.
Then, the very latest on the California recall and the Democratic presidential field expands to 10, as retired General Wesley Clark jumps into the race:
Group of People: (In unison) We want Clark!
MR. RUSSERT: Insight and analysis from Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times, William Safire of The New York Times and Robin Wright of the Los Angeles Times.
And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, the first secretary of State to ever appear on MEET THE PRESS was John Foster Dulles 47 years ago this very weekend:
SEC’Y JOHN FOSTER DULLES (State Department): ...old adage that says that “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” And that’s something you’ve always got to remember in this game of trying to retain world peace.
MR. RUSSERT: But first, joining us now is the first woman secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Welcome back.
MS. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: What should the Bush administration do right now about Iraq? The president calls you up, “Madam Secretary, advise me.”
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I’m very glad that he’s got the opportunity to go to the United Nations and give a very important speech next week, because that is where the action has to come in terms of getting some support for this internationally. We are losing people every day. I cringe every time in the—I get up in the morning and I hear that another American has been shot, and also the cost of this war and we are being made responsible for everything. So I think what has to happen is to mend diplomatic fences, make very clear that we need the other countries and figure out a way for there to continue to be U.S. military control over Iraq, but cede some of the political control, humanitarian and economic, to the United Nations. That works, and I think that is the line that should be taken now.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that even if we get a United Nations resolution and international support, it’ll only mean an additional 20,000 international troops, that the operation will be primarily American for years to come.
MS. ALBRIGHT: I’m afraid it will be because of the way that this was handled in the first place in order to make it seem as if we could do everything ourselves and never admitting that we could use some help. But I do think that making it more international, and the political, economic and humanitarian part will help in the long run to try to show that this is an international concern and that the U.S. cannot take responsibility for everything or be blamed for everything. That’s what worries me, Tim. Every single thing that goes wrong in Iraq is now viewed as our fault, and I don’t think that should be the way.
MR. RUSSERT: What should the president say in his speech? How does he reach out to France and to Germany and to Russia?
MS. ALBRIGHT: I think he has to, while being strong, be conciliatory. I think that there may be those who are advising him to go in and say, you know, “You people have to do this with us or stand up with us, or you’re out of the game.” I think instead he ought to reach out and say, “This is an international problem. This is the time we’re all being tested. I want a strong United Nations resolution. I understand where we are. This is the business of all of us,” and not kind of some of the statements that have been made which are, you know, “We don’t really need you, but if you want to come along with us, OK.”
MR. RUSSERT: Well, we cannot surrender military control.
MS. ALBRIGHT: I don’t think we should, and there are various models for that, where, in fact, the United Nations gives authority for there to be a lead country. They did it in Haiti, it was done for Australia on Timor, and there are ways to do this. There are a variety of models for peacekeeping operations.
MR. RUSSERT: As you know, Madam Secretary, the debate is getting very bitter. Senator Ted Kennedy on Thursday had this to say: “There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud.” Do you agree with that?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I have said the following, that I understood the why of the war, because I said similar things about Saddam that President Bush has said. I think he was an evil dictator, he invaded and trashed another country, he gassed his own people. All those things were true. But I also said that I didn’t know why now. I thought we had him in a strategic box. We were bombing regularly in the no-fly zones, and I’m surprised that President Bush didn’t really capitalize on what was a victory, which was to get the inspectors back in. They had been out for two and a half years. It was important that he get them back in, and then I think the part that is very hard to deal with is the administration keeps changing the rationale for why the war, which is very confusing and does lead people to wonder why we did it at the time that we did.
MR. RUSSERT: But to suggest the whole thing was a fraud, is that a little too strong?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, my take on it is that there were people in the administration who decided that this war had to be done now for whatever reasons, and I think that the switching of signals about the reasons leads to statements such as Senator Kennedy has made.
MR. RUSSERT: Hans Blix, the former U.N. weapons inspector, weighed in again this week. He said that “spin and hype lay behind American and British allegations that Baghdad had unconventional weapons. Washington and London had said that Iraq’s possession of such banned weapons was an important reason to attack Iraq. Mr. Blix, who said...that he believed Iraq had destroyed its unconventional weapons 10 years ago, said on BBC radio that Britain and the United States had ‘overinterpreted’ the intelligence.”
“Comparing them to medieval witch hunters, he said the two countries convinced themselves on the basis of evidence that was later discredited. ‘In the Middle Ages, when people were convinced there were witches, they certainly found them,’ Mr. Blix said. ‘This is a bit risky.’” What’s your reaction to that?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I know Hans Blix. That’s very hot language for him. He’s kind of a cool Scandinavian. But what I think is that we believed that there were still weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The inspectors were kicked out in 1998. All the weapons had not yet been accounted for throughout the war, though I always noted that the inspectors that came in after ’91 actually destroyed more weapons than the war itself. So we didn’t know what was still there, and I think one of the reasons that they should have allowed the inspectors to work longer was for this very reason, to see whether they still existed. It could be, you know, that they dissipated or were destroyed, but I’m surprised that we just did not allow the inspectors to work longer. I also think that there was reason to treat Hans Blix, who is a great expert, with a little bit more respect so that he doesn’t get this hot.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you surprised that we have not found weapons of mass destruction?
MS. ALBRIGHT: I am surprised, and I think part of the problem here is that, as I understand it, the kinds of things that are missing are not necessarily the kind where some brave American soldier goes and kicks in a door to find a canister of something, but is something that needs to be looked through by people with scientific backgrounds, some of the inspectors kind of following the paper trail. But what worries me the most now, if one assumes that everything was not destroyed, where is it, and could it be in the hands of terrorists? And that I think is of great concern.
MR. RUSSERT: There’s a debate which is waged in political and diplomatic circles about September 11. Could more have been done by the Clinton administration prior to September 11—and you write about some of that in your book. Another book called “Losing Bin Laden” is out and it talks about, the Clinton administration, you specifically. Let me go through that and give you a chance to respond. In October 12, 2002, the USS Cole was blown up. “An American warship had been attacked without warning in a ‘friendly’ harbor—and, at the time, no one knew if the ship’s pumps could keep it afloat for the night. Now, they had to decide what to do about it.
“[Clinton administration counter-terrorism czar Richard] Clarke had no doubts whom to punish. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had compiled thick binders of bin Laden and Taliban targets in Afghanistan, complete with satellite photographs and GPS bomb coordinates...The detailed plan was ‘to level’ every bin Laden training camp and compound in Afghanistan as well as key Taliban buildings in Kabul and Kandahar. ‘Let’s blow them up,’ Clarke said. ...
“Around the table, Clarke head only objections—not a mandate for action...
“Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was also against a counterstrike—but for diplomatic reasons.
‘We’re desperately trying to halt the fighting that has broken out between Israel and the Palestinians,’ Albright said. Clarke recalls her saying, ‘bombing Muslims wouldn’t be helpful at this time.’...
“Albright urged continued diplomatic efforts to persuade the Taliban to turn over bin Laden. Those efforts had been going on for more than two years and had gone nowhere. It was unlikely that the Taliban would every voluntarily turn over its strongest internal ally.”
And nine months later, after that discussion, September 11.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think it’s very important to understand what our record was. We had, in fact, known that bin Laden was behind many activities and, if you remember, after the bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August ’98, we launched 79 cruise missiles against his camp, almost got him. We also bombed a pharmaceutical company in Sudan that was associated with bin Laden.
And if you remember this, Tim, people thought we’d overreacted. We then kept very close watch on what was going on. There were submarines that were around the area. Ultimately, we launched a Predator to try to track everything. And we spent a great deal of time trying to catch bin Laden.
President Clinton put out executive orders to use lethal force against him whenever possible.
The issue was whether we had actionable intelligence. And this particular meeting, that—after the USS Cole, there was no proof at that time that it was bin Laden. It was possible that it was some other groups. And one of the things that—and, in fact, the investigation wasn’t completed until we were out of office. And the question was whether you just strike without having actionable intelligence, and that it’s important to know what you’re doing. You don’t just kind of bomb for no reason whatsoever. I have examined my soul, as well as a lot of the papers, and I feel very comfortable that we did everything we could to stop terrorism when we were in office, to the extent that we had the intelligence. And, in fact, as I said, we’re criticized for overreacting. Now, there are 8,000 troops in Afghanistan on the ground after we really did bomb a lot, and they still haven’t found Osama bin Laden, the proof that it is really difficult to do so.
MR. RUSSERT: There’s a very interesting passage in your book, which I want to talk about a little bit. And I’ll show you and our viewers on the screen. And this is talking about Kosovo and Bosnia. “Time and time again [Colin Powell] led us up the hill of possibilities and dropped us off on the other side with the practical equivalent of ‘No can do.’” This was when General Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“After hearing this for the umpteenth time, I asked in exasperation, ‘What are you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?’ Powell wrote in his memoirs that my question nearly gave him an ‘aneurysm’ and that he had had to explain ‘patiently’ to me the role of America’s military. “In the face of all his medals and prestige, I found it hard to argue with Powell about the proper way to employ American force. Even though I was a member of the Principals Committee, I was still a mere female civilian. I did, however, think then as now that the lessons of Vietnam could be learned too well.”
The lessons of Vietnam could be learned too well. Explain that.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, what I thought was that we had—we were in kind of a mode of thinking that we were never going to be able to use our military effectively again. And I come from a different background. I—everybody has their baggage, and mine is Munich where, in fact, in 1938, the West did not stand up to Hitler and, consequently, as a result of many steps, the country I was born in, Czechoslovakia, was dismembered and, ultimately, Hitler had a free hand throughout Europe. So I believe in the goodness of American power, used properly.
I also believed that bombing in Bosnia and later in Kosovo was an appropriate way to sideline a dictator who was involved in ethnic cleansing. It isn’t easy to argue with Colin Powell, and I have the greatest respect for him, but there really was this sense in those meetings that the numbers put down were so high, and the cost of it so high, that it was done in a way that we would never use force. And I believed that we could use limited force in this situation to achieve what in the end we did achieve in Bosnia and later in Kosovo.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s the most important thing you learned as secretary of State?
MS. ALBRIGHT: I think it was that—first of all, it’s the world’s greatest job. There’s no doubt in my mind. But the power of the United States is so huge and so unlimited that, in fact, in order to have what we need and want, we sometimes have to self-censor, to understand that our power needs to be used in conjunction with others. I said that we were an indispensable nation and I fully believed it, but I also learned that strength comes from having allies. It is not a weakness and we are not tied down as Gulliver by Lilliputians. So I learned the greatness of American power and the importance of using it in conjunction with others.
MR. RUSSERT: Madam Secretary, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Thanks, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, Iraq, presidential politics, and the California recall, through the eyes of Robert Novak, William Safire, Robin Wright and Ron Brownstein. They are all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Brownstein, Novak, Wright and Safire next after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Welcome all. Robin Wright, you just returned from Baghdad. What did you see and find over there?
MS. ROBIN WRIGHT: Well, even though it was a lightning trip by Colin Powell, it was very interesting to see the enormous gap between the area controlled by the coalition provisional authority and the rest of Baghdad. You know, there’s air conditioning with the Americans. “Monday Night Football” is beamed in.
You have a sense of this little America. And the other side is the Iraqis struggling to get back some kind of economic life, struggling just to make ends meet and deal with the daily access to food, all the enormous problems of a postwar situation. And that gap in many ways is what has fueled the kind of—not just the sense of uncertainty but the antipathy toward the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: That uncertainty has certainly spilled over into the American political debate, Bill Safire. I showed Secretary Albright Ted Kennedy’s comments about the war being a fraud. Senator Kennedy also offered this. ”[Sen. Ted] Kennedy said the administration has failed to account for nearly half of the $4 billion the war is costing each month. He said he believed that much of the unaccounted money is being used to bribe foreign leaders to send in troops,” which prompted this response from Tom DeLay, Republican leader in the House, “It’s disturbing that Democrats have spewed more hateful rhetoric at President Bush than they ever did at Saddam Hussein.” How big of a political issue has the Iraq war become?
MR. WILLIAM SAFIRE: Do you suppose we could bribe Jacques Chirac? I don’t think so. That’s not the right approach.
MR. RUSSERT: How about Putin?
MR. SAFIRE: Well, you know—well, no, but how big a political issue?
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah.
MR. SAFIRE: It’s now become a pure political issue. You saw Ted Kennedy taking the super-dove, isolationist line and saying essentially, “You lied to us. We should never have been in this war. We were flummoxed and misled.” OK. That’s a position. If Ted Kennedy had been president, Saddam Hussein would be in office right now and tens of thousands of Iraqis would have been killed this year as they have been in previous years. And as far as we knew, terrorists would be online to get weapons of mass destruction.
You’ve got to remember that every intelligence agency had come to the conclusion that there was a very strong possibility that the weapons of mass destruction were being produced in Iraq. And for a president of the United States to say, “Well, let’s wait until they attack us again and really be sure that they’re producing weapons of mass destruction,” would have been irresponsible.
MR. RUSSERT: Bob Novak, the administration settled on weapons of mass destruction as the primary rationale for the war. They haven’t been found. In light of that and in light of comments like Senator Kennedy’s, what is the political state, if you will, of the Iraq war in the body politic?
MR. ROBERT NOVAK: Republicans I talk to are very worried about it politically. They’re worried about it because of the casualties and they’re worried because of constituents, Republican voters who are saying, “Hey, how come we can’t have money for local projects and we’re spending these billions in Iraq?”
Now, I would say to that difficulty—the greatest antidote to that difficulty is Teddy Kennedy. His talk about fraud, politics, to say that the president of the United States has risked the lives—not risked the lives, but cost the lives of American soldiers for political means I think is bad politics. I think Democrats think it is bad politics. The senator is a powerful member of the United States Senate, is untouchable in Massachusetts. And I think he uses this heightened shouting rhetoric, such as he used against (technical difficulties) report to disadvantage his own party.
MR. RUSSERT: Ron.
MR. RON BROWNSTEIN: (Technical difficulties) Ted Kennedy (technical difficulties) political leadership exactly what’s going on already in the country. This has become like almost everything else in the Bush era, an enormously polarizing event that has divided the country (technical difficulties) consistently now three-quarters or more of Republicans say we should have gone in, it was the right thing to do, and for months, 60 percent or more of Democrats are saying we never should have gone to war in Iraq at all.
Opposition to the war in Iraq, I believe, has become the driving force in the Democratic presidential race. And what you’re seeing in Ted Kennedy, I think, is the pressure on Democratic leaders to take a more and more antagonistic position toward the war. The Democratic presidential candidates who voted for the war are clearly on the defensive right now because of the postwar events and the sense in the party that Ted Kennedy reflects that we were misled. And until they find weapons of mass destruction and until they improve the conditions on the ground in Iraq, those candidates are going to be on the defensive. Probably the best thing that could happen to John Kerry is George Bush getting his act together in Iraq.
MR. NOVAK: Well, what happens to the swing voters, Ron, when that kind of rhetoric is used?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And that’s the problem. I mean, that’s it.
MR. SAFIRE: And the question is: Are there swing voters?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: There has to be a few.
MR. SAFIRE: Everybody’s saying no, we’re totally polarized, and the only way to win an election is to energize your core support. I disagree. I think there’s still a—20 percent of the American public undecided and swing voters and...
MR. RUSSERT: So the 50-50 nation is a 40-40 nation with 20 swing voters.
MR. SAFIRE: That’s—yeah, 10 yards on each side of the 50-yard line.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I’d go smaller.
MS. WRIGHT: But you have a whole year until the election and there is so much that can happen, and it’s very unlikely that things are going to increase dramatically over that next year. There’s an enormous amount of uncertainty. Iraqis have to write a new constitution, a very divisive issue that you have to distribute the balance of power between rival ethnic and religious factions. They have to hold a public referendum. They have to have an election. This is a very complicated process and that as long as Americans are there as the security guarantor, they’re likely to become targets. And this is a period that, you know, there’s no question that Wes Clark has an appeal. He rises very quickly in the Democratic poll almost overnight for a reason.
MR. RUSSERT: I’m going to get to Wes Clark in just a second. But, first, there was an interesting development within the administration this last week. Vice President Cheney was on this program last week and let me show you the question I asked him and his answer.
“The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and this is what they said: 69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks. Are you surprised by that?”
“VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: No. I think it’s not surprising that people make that connection.
QUESTION: But is there a connection?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: We don’t know.”
George Bush, the president, this week, came out, a few days later, and said this: “We’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th.”
MR. SAFIRE: I thought Cheney was terrific on this show last week. Better than us, even. And...
MR. RUSSERT: But The Washington Post had a cartoon, Bill Safire, which showed him at the table and the first box says, “We didn’t underestimate the troops.” Next box, “We didn’t underestimate the cost.” Next box, “We didn’t underestimate the resistance.” And the fourth box is, “Was this taped six months ago?” That was a different perspective than you had.
MR. SAFIRE: I’ve always believed the Czech intelligence that said Mohamed Atta met in Prague four months before the September 11 attack with Saddam Hussein’s top intelligence agent in Europe. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m right. Nobody has definitively answered that. So that when Cheney was asked, he said, I think quite properly, “We don’t know.”
MR. RUSSERT: Then why did the president say something different?
MR. SAFIRE: The president abandoned that position and said, “We have no evidence on it.”
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
MR. SAFIRE: I don’t know.
MS. WRIGHT: Look, Iraq and Afghanistan were always very different parts of American security issues. Afghanistan was related to the war on terrorism. Iraq, at the end of the day, isn’t. It’s about a much different kind of phenomena. Whether it’s weapons of mass destruction or the fact that the, you know, Arab world is the last bloc of countries to hold out against the democratic tide in its dealing with its worst tyrant. It was always a separate issue. And that’s now come to the fore.
MR. NOVAK: Well, one of the worst things you can do in Washington, I think, politically, and Dick Cheney is a very experienced Washington politician, is to say, “We don’t know.” Because that is then subject to any kind of interpretation you want. And people will say, “Ah-ha! He’s saying something, that there is some proof that there was a connection,” or “He’s not saying there was a connection...”
MR. SAFIRE: Well, what if it’s true, what if he doesn’t know?
MR. NOVAK: But—oh, truth is a defense?
MR. SAFIRE: Yeah.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: You know, the whole tenor of this discussion is so different than what really I think any of us, really anybody in the political world would have imagined six months ago when we were going into this war and the bombs were going off on television. I remember all the Democratic complaint about George Bush landing on the aircraft carrier, whether Karl Rove was in effect staging a commercial for the general election. Right now, which party do you think would be more likely to use footage of that landing in a commercial in the general election? I mean, the Democrats are probably more likely to say George Bush was guilty of premature, you know, exultation, and in effect what has happened is that the entire debate of this has turned around, the most immediate effect is on the democratic presidential race.
Obviously, repelling Howard Dean, making a Wesley Clark possible. We don’t know, because it may depend on events yet to occur, as Robin suggested, how it will radiate through the presidential race. But it clearly is not going to be exactly the way people in the White House thought when this commenced.
MR. NOVAK: But I don’t want to be premature on talking about General Clark, but I asked a very prominent New York liberal who has fallen in love with Wesley Clark. I said, “Why do you love him so much?” And he said, “Because he is an inoculation on what the Republicans did in the 2002 election.” So it’s a little more complicated than that, Ron.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: No, no, no, I agree. I agree.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, let’s go into that. OK?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. I agree with that.
MR. RUSSERT: One point on the Navy carrier, the sign behind the president said “Mission Accomplished.”
MR. BROWNSTEIN: “Mission Accomplished.”
MR. RUSSERT: The Bush White House is quick to point out the president never uttered those words and they’re trying to very much make that distinction.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: A picture would help on that if somebody wants to use it.
MR. SAFIRE: We are in the midst of a historic mission. These are huge stakes we’re playing for here, and if the Democratic answer is pull out, bug out now and cut the costs and cut the casualties and let the Ba’athists win, which is what essentially the thrust of Ted Kennedy’s comments is, I think, number one, politically they’ll lose on it, but much more important, the United States must finish the job. We can’t bug out. And the job is a great, historic mission to turn around the Middle East.
MS. WRIGHT: Yes, but the...
MR. NOVAK: And there is not—the mainstream Democrats are not saying pull out.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: No presidential candidate, yeah.
MR. NOVAK: What they’re saying—and I thought Madeleine Albright said it essentially, is twist in the wind. We don’t have any suggestions for you, but you messed it up, and you’ve got to live with it.
MR. RUSSERT: Robin?
MS. WRIGHT: Well, look, you and I often disagree about this issue, and it’s true that the United States now has to stick it through but it was the Republicans said, “Look, this is a mission that will be quite clean, quite quick. The Iraqis are going to welcome us when we move in, they’re going to help us.” And basically, you know, assumed that their—you know, they would celebrate one night and people would go back to work the next day. That didn’t happen. And it’s not just the May 1 statement on the aircraft carrier.
MR. SAFIRE: Therefore, we shouldn’t have done it?
MS. WRIGHT: It’s also all the other statements—that’s not the issue right now. The fact is we did it and there was an assumption that things were going to go well and we’d get out and wouldn’t have to spend $87 billion more, and that’s just the beginning. It’s going to take a lot more to...
MR. SAFIRE: So we shouldn’t do it?
MS. WRIGHT: ...rebuild Iraq. That’s not the issue now.
MR. SAFIRE: But that is the issue.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: The question is whether that will be the issue. The Democrats, I think, are really divided on this question. Do you debate the fundamental premise? Do you want a candidate who will say it was wrong in the first place? Or do you want a candidate who basically says—moves past that issue and challenges Bush on the way it has unfolded in the aftermath? On the planning, on the coast, on the casualties, on the lack of international cooperation. And they really are divided. You get the sense that the energy in the party is a lot of the activists want someone to just simply say what Ted Kennedy did; this was a fraud from the outset, and the candidates who supported it are trying to push back against that, but it’s very hard for them while things aren’t going well in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s talk about that Democratic presidential race, because that’s how the race has crystalized, Howard Dean saying we shouldn’t have done it and Kerry and Lieberman and Gephardt and Edwards saying we should have done it but we should have done it differently and better. General Clark, he’s on the cover of Newsweek: “Who Is This GI?” What is his position on the war? This last week there’s been some headlines about it. This was the first one: “Clark Says He Would Have Voted for War.
Gen. Wesley K. Clark said that he would have supported the Congressional resolution that authorized the United States to invade Iraq, even as he presented himself as one of the sharpest critics of the war effort in the Democratic presidential race. ‘...on balance, I probably would have voted for it.’
“...General Clark said he saw his position on the war as closer to that of members of Congress who supported the resolution. ...Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Senators Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina—than that of Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who has been the leading antiwar candidate in the race.”
Then the next day was this headline: “Democratic Candidate Seeks to Clarify Comments on Iraq Resolution. Wesley Clark backtracked from a day-old statement that he probably would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, saying he ‘would never have voted for this war.’ The retired Army general, an opponent of the conflict, surprised supporters when he indicate in an interview with reporters Thursday that he likely would have supported the resolution. On Friday, Clark sought to clarify his comments... ‘Let’s make one thing really clear, I would never have voted for this war,’ Clark said... ‘I’ve gotten a very consistent record on this. There was no imminent threat. This was not a cause of pre-emptive war. I would have voted for the right kind of leverage to get a diplomatic solution to the challenge of Saddam Hussein.’”
MR. NOVAK: Well, he’s showing the characteristics that made him very popular—unpopular, I should say—unpopular in the Pentagon, with his colleagues. I’ve been talking to people at the Pentagon and it’s very hard to find many good words about him. General Shalikashvili did like him, but he was a kind of a minority of one. I think that the—as I said before, the liberal Democrats who have fallen in love with him— and that’s why he shot up so high—think he’s an inoculation. You’ve got a four-star general and you don’t have the problems that a Howard Dean would have.
I think I’m amazed, Tim, that savvy experienced politicians, like Congressman Charlie Rangel, have bought this guy without due diligence. They have not looked at his record. They have not seen that he was not on any promotion level list for a four-star general until he used his own internal maneuvering and then he was fired by Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen as supreme commander. There’s just a lot of baggage this guy has.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, a couple of things. I’m not here to carry Wes Clark’s water. First of all, I fundamentally agree with you...
MR. NOVAK: Go ahead. Carry his...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...that the appeal of Wes Clark to Democratic voters is the prospect of a general saying the things that they really believe.
MR. NOVAK: A liberal general.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: That combination of—you know, it’s not Howard Dean, the governor of Vermont, with a, you know, military force able to repel Canada. I mean, it is a general who served in combat, saying, “Yes, you know what? I agree with you, this war was a mistake. It’s left us less secure,” and so forth. I mean, that is the potential appeal. And when people say, “Well, is he going to develop his positions on education or health care or any other domestic issues?”—does anybody really believe that in the end if Wes Clark takes office, it’ll be because large numbers of voters thinks he has better ideas on domestic issues than John Kerry or John Edwards or Howard Dean? No.
I mean, the only plausible way this candidacy develops is around the possibility of offering the critique in the most unsparing terms and yet having this defense of the stars on the shoulder. The question will be, as we saw in the first 48 hours: Is he skillful enough to carry that off? Does he have the skills of a candidate?
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire, it is in many ways the bio: “Soldier, Scholar, Maverick.” That’s what Wes Clark is presenting and there are some people in the Pentagon, Bob, as you’re right, who have a very negative view, but there are a lot of people who will say quite positive things about Wes Clark. Based on what you’ve observed this past week, how serious of a candidate is he?
MR. SAFIRE: I see a delicious Machiavellian dynamic underneath this.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...(Unintelligible) television, yeah.
MR. SAFIRE: You’re right.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I felt it. I felt it coming. I felt it coming.
MR. SAFIRE: There was a party, a dinner party, in the Clintons’ home. The conversation was leaked by a close Clinton friend, probably with Bill Clinton’s enthusiastic endorsement. That former President Clinton said there are two stars in the Democratic Party: Hillary and Wes Clark. Now, of course, he meant there were eight stars.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. SAFIRE: Now, why is Bill Clinton pushing Wes Clark? The Clinton people are climbing on the Clark bandwagon. This is the way to stop Howard Dean. Now, why does Clinton want to stop Howard Dean? Could it be that he wants to wait and see and perhaps Hillary will get into this with General Clark as her vice president? Will he prefer to let someone else run and lose and, thereby, have a clear field for Hillary Clinton to run in 2008? What’s going on underneath the coverage? It’s just terrific.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, let us add a few logs to this Safire conspiracy fire...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...because Bill Clinton went to California this past week, to the Panetta Institute, the home of his former chief of staff, and this is the news account from The New York Sun. “President Clinton stoked speculation that his wife, Senator Clinton, will run for president in 2004. Asked by his former chief of staff, Leon Panetta, where there was ‘a chance’ that Mrs. Clinton would run for president next year, Mr. Clinton left the door open. ‘That’s really a decision for her to make,’ he said at a public forum [in California]. The former president also said he believed many New Yorkers would have no objection to her breaking her pledge to serve a full six years in the Senate. ‘I was impressed at the state fair in New York, which is in Republican country in upstate New York, at how many New Yorkers came up and said they would release her from her commitment if she wanted to do it,’ Mr. Clinton said. ‘But she said...she doesn’t understand how to walk away from that. So I just have to take her for where she is right now.’”
MR. NOVAK: Well, you know...
MR. RUSSERT: Then there was a conversation, clearly, between husband and wife, and the president put out this statement the next day. ”[President Clinton] has said it is her decision, and she has decided.”
One last point, the Quinnipiac National Poll...
MR. SAFIRE: You didn’t say what she has decided.
MR. RUSSERT: That she’ll serve a six-year term. This is the latest poll from the Democratic primary if Senator Clinton entered, 45 for Hillary Clinton, 9 for Dean, 8 for Kerry, Gephardt, Lieberman. You see it all. Bob Novak.
MR. NOVAK: President Clinton is an expert at breaking his word and, as you remember, when he ran for governor the last time, he said he would serve out his term and he didn’t. Secondly, I’m not sure how often he sees her. My information is they don’t spend much time together and so he might have as much knowledge about it as Bill Safire does about Hillary’s intentions. Seriously...
MR. RUSSERT: You could cover the social beat now, Bob, huh?
MR. NOVAK: Just speculating. And the third thing is that everybody I talked to in the Democratic Party feels it would be a disaster for the party, it would be a disaster for her if she were to run this time. And that she is not going to run. And I think, Bill, I’m sorry, the former president, is just having a good time.
MS. WRIGHT: I think it’s not, though, just this stage in her career and the timing of it, but it really is the whole national issue, the national mood. And the issues that are defining the next year and the next presidential election really don’t—aren’t pegged to Hillary’s strength and—which is why we see Wes Clark emerge. There is an appeal, there is that sense of insecurity and uncertainty. And I’m not sure that Hillary has the credentials yet or that this is the right political mood for her to get involved.
MR. RUSSERT: And she also voted for the war resolution.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: She did, absolutely.
MS. WRIGHT: But...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Whatever else you think about Bill Clinton, he usually has pretty good political instincts. I would think in this case they are deserting him, because if you think of Hillary Clinton’s problems as a potential candidate, clearly high on the top of the list would be this sense among many Americans that she is a consummate politic al creature who is driven by ambition, who’s made all these compromises in her personal life to get ahead, and all—everything she’s done has been about ascending the ladder to reverse her promise to the people of New York. Even Pete Wilson, a lesser figure as governor of California, when he reversed it in ’96, it was a huge problem for his campaign, and I think it would be very difficult for her.
But also, Bill, you realize your two arguments are in a head-on collision with each other. Either they want Wesley Clark in the race to stop Howard Dean so that the field can be cleared for Hillary or they want Howard Dean to win so that they can lose in ’04 and the field can be cleared for Hillary in 2008. The fact is it’s almost too complicated for them.
MR. SAFIRE: That’s the delicious complexity of it all. Isn’t that terrific?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: That’s ...(unintelligible), right? OK. All right. That’s really either/or, covering all the bases.
MR. SAFIRE: But here we are talking—we’re not talking about Howard Dean, who was on the tip of everybody’s tongue two weeks ago, and now suddenly we’re talking about General Clark.
MR. RUSSERT: But John Kerry has been talking about Howard Dean. This is the same Howard Dean who, one week from today, ladies and gentlemen, will announce to the world that he has raised probably close to $15 million for the quarter, two or three times more than any other Democratic candidate. John Kerry said this the other day, according to The New York Times, “Kerry Says Dean Is ‘Imploding.’ John Kerry...sharply criticized...Howard Dean, asserting that some of his recent pronouncements show that his ‘bubble’s bursting a bit.’ ... ‘You can’t make 15 gaffes a week and be president.’ ... ‘Dean’s been imploding,’ he said. Asked what he meant, Mr. Kerry said Dr. Dean had asserted that the United States should not take sides in the Middle East conflict and that suicide bombers from Hamas were ‘soldiers.’ ‘It just catches up,’ Mr. Kerry said. ‘Someone’s going to write it. People will see it. And you know, the poll numbers are going to show it.’”
MR. NOVAK: Well, it really is a terrible thing for any American politician to say that we should have an even-handed position in the Middle East, that we should be on the side of peace instead of on the side of war, that we should not...
MR. SAFIRE: That’s not what Dean said.
MR. NOVAK: ...we should—pardon me—that we should not take the advice of Prime Minister Sharon, that if we got into Baghdad it would solve the problem of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. And, of course, when Joe Lieberman says that 50 years of American presidents have all sided on the side of Israel, I think he’s forgotten General Eisenhower and a few other presidents who have tried to be even-handed. So I think that there is no question that John Kerry is playing the old Jewish card on this, and whether it works or not, I don’t know.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire?
MR. SAFIRE: The old Jewish card happens to be American policy for the last 50 years and the notion that we can’t take sides against terrorism is anathema.
MR. RUSSERT: Ron Brownstein, it’s more than just...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Go ahead.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I mean, look, the arguments against Howard Dean are coming on two completely different levels. All of his opponents are going after him on specific issues. Dick Gephardt attacked him on Medicare and Social Security; John Kerry on the Middle East; Joe Lieberman on trade.
MR. NOVAK: Because he’s...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: But beneath it, beneath it, they are trying to make a common argument, really, with two pieces. One, do you know who this guy really is? And, two, is he ready to be president? Which is what John Kerry was getting at in that statement. It’s the same attack that every insurgent candidate has faced, once they’ve emerged, whether it was Gary Hart in 1984 or any other. Only in this race, it is so incredibly accelerated and speeded up. We’re seeing all this before the New Hampshire primary.
Look, I bet John Kerry would like to be imploding the way Howard Dean is. I mean, you know, he’s—you know, I’m reminded when we I go to—I’m a Red Sox fan. I go to Fenway Park and they always chant “Yankees—blank.” You know, the Red Sox should—blank—like the Yankees. It’s the same kind of thing. $15 million, perhaps, in the third quarter, leads in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, yes, there could be vulnerability because he’s showing that under the spotlight he will make mistakes. And I think that’s pretty clear. But he’s got a lot of momentum and a lot of energy and no one else really is moving forward right now.
MR. NOVAK: Ron, it was a mistake to say that we should be for peace in the Middle East?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: No, it was not. I think what he said later was he didn’t—the choice of phrase that he used was a problem. But, clearly, Bob, on a variety of issues he has misstated himself. For example, on trade, where he had to go back and say, “No, I didn’t mean what I said.” So it’s different.
MR. SAFIRE: Don’t you get the feel that the media is helping to drive this whole thing of—we get bored with somebody after a month, and we need something else and so we switch over from Dean to a new pendulum swinging with Wes Clark and two weeks from now it will be somebody else? Or the reemergence of history. Whatever happened to Al Gore? And...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yes and no. Yes, to an extent, but the fact is, Bill, the candidates are becoming much more aggressive. They’re the ones driving it and they were not doing it as much earlier in the summer. They’re all out there now.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to another race, the California recall. And the Public Policy Institute of California has these latest numbers released just this morning. Should Gray Davis, the governor, be recalled? Yes, 53. No, 42. Don’t know, 5. If he is recalled, replaced by—Lieutenant Governor Bustamante, 28; Arnold Schwarzenegger, 26; Tom McClintock, a state representative, is 14; don’t know, 18 percent.
Robin Wright, you work for the Los Angeles Times. What’s happening in the great state of California?
MS. WRIGHT: Mercifully, I cover foreign policy. And I think all of these guys are very lucky that their future does not depend on Iraq.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Do you weigh the dysfunctional quotient between California and Iraq? Could you at least do that for us about the moment? Look, I mean...
MR. NOVAK: Two sides.
MR. SAFIRE: Two sides.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...Davis feels that they have momentum. Clearly all the polls show, if it was held today, the recall would pass and he would be defeated. They feel that by October 7—which is probably when it’s going to happen. I mean, most people feel that the full 9th Circuit is going to overturn this and we’re going to go ahead on October 7. They feel they might be able to squeeze by. What they’re doing successfully now, Tim, is they’re consolidating the Democratic base. They’re bringing out a lot of bigname Democrats. It’s a Democratic -leaning state. That’s getting him within range. He still has the problem of those last few points once he gets within range, probably having to come from Independents who continue to give him negative ratings on his job. That poll that came out today had 53 percent for the recall but he still has a 65 percent disapproval rating. Which means an awful lot of people who think he’s doing a bad job are going to have to conclude that all the alternatives are worse and we want to keep Gray Davis there. The candidates are cooperating on that because none of them are running a very good campaign. But that’s still a big hurdle.
MR. RUSSERT: Bob Novak, if Gray Davis is recalled, can Arnold Schwarzenegger win the race as long as his fellow Republican, Tom McClintock, stays in?
MR. NOVAK: Yes, he certainly can. I think that Senator McClintock is starting to fade because a lot of Republicans are beginning to look upon this as: Do you want Schwarzenegger or do you want Bustamante? And Bustamante is a terrible candidate financed by the Indians. His negatives I believe in the Los Angeles Times poll are—What?—about 50 percent?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Fifty percent, yeah.
MR. NOVAK: And I was out for several days reporting in California, as Ron was, and the Democrats, who I talked to, privately, none of them believe that Gray Davis can survive. So the Democratic Party has got themselves in a terrible position where they have a lot of very good candidates holding statewide office and the least impressive of them is a guy that they’re putting all their money on. So if the judges—and who knows what that 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is ever going to do—I mean, filled with Clinton judges and liberal judges, if they decide to let this go on on October 7, I would say that you ought to put your money on Schwarzenegger.
MR. RUSSERT: Here’s the ballot, Mr. Safire. Look at this. Look at this.
MR. SAFIRE: I take two from Column A.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s like a phone book.
MR. SAFIRE: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: And it’s not in alphabetical order. The California recall in 30 seconds.
MR. SAFIRE: I think that a recall is a terrible idea. If you want to impeach a president or a governor for breaking the law, that’s one thing. But if you suddenly fall out of love with him, you’re stuck with him. An election counts. So I’m rooting for the recall to fail. If it does not fail, then I’d be rooting for Schwarzenegger to learn how to be a candidate. That’s why pushing it off to March I think for him would be a good idea.
MR. NOVAK: Let me just say I love recalls, and I love anything where the people void the politicians.
MR. RUSSERT: We got to go. Ron Brownstein, Bob Novak, Robin Wright, William Safire.
We’ll be right back with our MEET THE PRESS Minute after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. On July 26th, 1956, Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, causing France, Britain and Israel to threaten war in order to reopen the important waterway. John Foster Dulles, the United States secretary of State, played a instrumental role in seeking a peace plan to prevent war over the Suez crisis:
(Videotape, September 23, 1956):
MR. KINGSBURY SMITH (International News Service): Mr. Secretary, the British and the French seem to be rather upset because you have brought them to the brink of peace. What, in your opinion, would have been the consequences of British and French military intervention at the time it was apparently contemplated?
SEC’Y DULLES: Well, I’m no military expert but of course I talked these things over with people who were military experts, and I think our feeling was that there was great danger, at least, of getting bogged down in the war which one could not foresee an end. These wars in countries like this are in a way different and in some ways harder than just fighting a war against organized forces. We saw the difficulty that the French had in Indochina and finally they decided to pull out as being better than just staying on there, fighting a kind of hopeless operation. The French are having a great difficulty. They’ve got 400,000 troops today fighting in Algeria against a relatively small number. And, of course, there are different military opinions as to whether a collapse could quickly come about or not. But certainly there is great danger that war has started there. We’ll bog the parties down for almost an indefinite length of time. It would be a terrible drain upon their economies and the end is not readily to be seen.
MR. RUSSERT: How ironic, 47 years ago, the United States trying to restrain France from going to war in the Middle East. War did break out, and the canal was reopened in April of 1957. Today, the Suez Canal is controlled by Egypt but is open to international shipping. And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: This Thursday, CNBC and The Wall Street Journal sponsor a Democratic presidential debate. All 10 Democratic candidates will be there. That’s Thursday, 4 p.m. Eastern on CNBC.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS. Go Bills. Squish the fish. Hold the e-mails. I know dolphins are mammals, but, you know, squish the fish.
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