Guests: Sen. John McCain, Sen. Bob Graham, the Washington Post’s David Broder, the BBC’s Katty Kay, the New York Times’ William Safire, and the Los Angeles Times’ Robin Wright.
Moderator: Tim Russert - NBC News
Copyright 2003, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Please credit any quotes or excerpts from this NBC television program to “NBC News’ Meet the Press.”
Tim Russert: Our issues this Sunday, a heated Senate debate over Iraq:
Sen. Ted Kennedy, (D-Mass.): Until the administration genuinely changes course, I cannot in good conscience vote to fund a failed policy.
Sen. Ted Stevens, (R-Alaska): Those who vote against this bill will be voting against supporting our men and women in the field. They’re still in harm’s way.
Russert: President Bush wins the vote for more money. Republican Senator John McCain voted yes. Democratic Senator Bob Graham voted no. We’ll find out why. McCain and Graham square off on Iraq. Then, insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, Katty Kay of the BBC, William Safire of The New York Times and Robin Wright of the Los Angeles Times.
But first, we are joined by Senator John McCain, Senator Bob Graham. Welcome both.
Senator McCain, let me start with you. As you well know, the Senate voted 87-to-12 in favor of providing the $87 billion that the president requested for Iraq. But on an amendment which would say that part of the money would be a loan rather than a grant, the Senate agreed 51-to-47. Your Republican colleague Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said this, and we’ll come back and talk about it:
Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.): It’s very hard for me to go home and explain how you have to give $20 billion to a country that is sitting on $1 trillion worth of oil and the net result of this policy we’re pursuing is that the people who died to liberate Iraq are going to be left holding the bag, and the only people to get paid back are the people that lent money to Saddam Hussein.
Russert: What’s wrong with that logic, if anything?
Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.): Well, it’s very logical, when you have bridges that need to be built and schools that are in disrepair, etc. But the fact is that, one, the Iraqis don’t have any government. Second of all, there is very little money and there’s a great deal that needs to be done. But most importantly, this will authenticate — if this amendment were carried through and signed into law — this would authenticate all those bad people that are doing terrible things in Iraq and trying to undermine our position there, to stop democracy from flourishing, and that is that you see the United States was there for the oil; they only came there for the oil.
Look, things aren’t as good as some would hope in Iraq, and they aren’t as bad as some allege. There are-things are good in the north, things are good in the south. In the Sunni triangle, a very, very tough situation remains, and we’ve got to restore the services and the basic functions of government to these people, or we will see greater casualties inflicted on the United States. If the Iraqi people believe that the United States came there to take their oil, we’re going to have great difficulty.
Russert: Senator McCain, as you know, there are about 22 attacks on U.S. troops per day in Iraq. Are you surprised by the level and the coordination of the resistance?
McCain: Unfortunately, I have to say, yes. I’d hoped we’d do better. The rapidity of the collapse of the Iraqi military, in a way, was a curse as well as a blessing, because the military melted into the population. There’s terrorists coming in from outside and there’s a lot of thugs and bad people running around. As you say, within the Sunni triangle, things are very tough. And we’ve got to win the hearts and minds of the people and to say, “By the way, you don’t have elected government, but we’re going to make sure that you pay us with your oil” authenticates the argument that these people are making that the United States is not there for the noble purpose that it is there for.
Russert: Senator Bob Graham, you voted against the $87 billion in funding the president had requested for Iraq. You heard Senator Ted Stevens earlier in the soundbite saying that to vote against that money was not to support the men and women on the ground in Iraq. How can you disagree with that?
Sen. Bob Graham, (D-Fla.): Tim, first, I’m very pleased to be here with my good friend and thoughtful American, John McCain, to discuss this important issue. But I come to a different conclusion. Based on the question of which course of action will allow us to leave Iraq honorably and expeditiously, I think the current course, which is to do it alone, to ask for another $87 billion that will largely take any pressure off this administration to negotiate seriously for internationalization of the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq is a course of action for a much prolonged U.S. stay in Iraq. I think that the only way in which we are going to leave with honor and with expedition is to add to the U.S. forces, a significant number of international forces which will both bring the total numbers up to what’s required to secure the peace in Iraq and to provide additional other troops who will be able to relieve the U.S. troops who are now carrying virtually the whole burden. This is very similar to what happened in places like Bosnia, where it started with a substantial U.S. presence and gradually it was internationalized. I think we should do the same thing in Iraq.
Russert: But if every Senator had voted the way you did, would our troops be left with nothing on the ground?
Graham: No, we would have had enough to have continued to support the troops at the current level, which is approximately $1 billion a week, for a reasonable period of time for the administration to re-engaged with the international community, to develop a resolution in the United Nations which not only could receive a unanimous vote but it could also result in some actual troops on the ground and francs or rupees into the treasury to support the reconstruction. The interesting thing last week was, yes, the U.N. passed a resolution, and then immediately thereafter, countries like Russia, France, Germany, Pakistan all stated that they would not send any troops and they would not provide any of the financing.
Russert: Well, if they’re not going to provide any of the financing or send any of the troops, and if you didn’t want to fund or increase funding for the American troops, we’re left with nothing.
Graham: No, because I believe that if we were willing to share responsibility with other countries, if we’re asking them to take on some of this burden, the burden, as you described, of the shooting gallery which Iraq has become and the financial burden of Iraq, that we would be able to get other countries to join us and bring some of their troops. And I hope that we could get as many as 100,000-plus non-U.S. troops in Iraq to both increase the numbers to the level necessary to secure Iraq, and second, provide some relief for the U.S. troops who have been there a long, long time under very danger circumstances.
Russert: Senator McCain, what do you think of that argument?
McCain: There’s only two arguments you can make with regards to Iraq, is we shouldn’t have gone there in the first place and so therefore we should pull out, or pay for and do whatever is necessary to win. It’s not intellectually honest to say that-to make an argument that somehow the United States doesn’t have to carry the burden here. Everybody here who thinks that the French are going to contribute money and troops, raise their hands, please. The fact is that we will, over time, get some international support but, as always the case in these kinds of crises, the United States of America is going to have to carry the load. And let me point out that if we succeed here, and we must — this is not Beirut and Somalia where we can leave — when we succeed, it will mean that democracy and freedom can flourish in a part of the world where there is none today. It will send a message to the dictators, including the Saudis and the extremists, that their day is done. There’s a huge amount at stake here. We can and we must prevail.
Russert: Senator McCain, if so much is at stake — here’s the front page of The Washington Post today, “Reduction in U.S. Troops Eyed for ’04,” saying that there are some who are hoping and planning to reduce U.S. troops down to about 100,000, almost by a third, in time for, in effect, the 2004 presidential election. Is that a political decision or a military decision?
McCain: In my view, it’s not a military decision. I hope that things go better and that we can have a reduction in troops. Right now I don’t believe we have enough of the right kind of troops there — Special Forces, Marines and others, and the people to enforce the border security, etc. But I can’t explain that kind of thinking. Perhaps you have to plan for all contingencies, but I don’t see that happening under the present situation. But I do see, with reconstruction and restoration of the basics, goods and services, to Iraqi society, that over time we will be able to.
Russert: But as of now, you think it’s premature to be talking about troop withdrawals from Iraq.
McCain: Oh, we need more, and we need a larger Army.
Russert: Senator Graham, let me show you a survey from the Stars & Stripes newspaper which is funded in part by the Pentagon. “How do you rate your military unit’s morale?” This is asking U.S. service members in Iraq. Low, 49 percent; average, 34 percent; high, 16 percent. How much does that concern you?
Graham: Well, it concerns me a great deal because there are other consequences to our unwillingness to share responsibility and, thus, get others to accept part of the burden of occupation and rebuilding of Iraq, and one of them is that I am concerned about a loss of domestic support for the war in Iraq, that we may be going on a track similar to that which we did in Vietnam. As recently as April of this year, 75 percent of the American people supported our position in Iraq. As of October the 14th, it was down to less than 50 percent. And this report from the morale of the troops is very worrisome, about an erosion of support for the war among those who are actually bearing the burden of the war. And let me add one other issue. We’ve essentially abandoned the war on terror since the spring of 2002. We have made very limited progress other than capturing a few of the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership. We need to get re-engaged on this war on terror. The terrorists are becoming more dangerous. They’re now targeting U.S. citizens in Israel, as they did a few days ago. The groups that are being given sanctuary in Syria have grown in strength while we have not laid a glove on them. I think we need, as part of our strategy of an honorable and expeditious exit from Iraq, to restart the war on terror.
Russert: In fact, you have said that we are approaching a 21st century sequel to Vietnam and called Iraq a quagmire. That’s a little strong, isn’t it?
Graham: I think it’s absolutely descriptive, that it is a quagmire. We’re losing one soldier a day. We had, I believe on Thursday or Friday of this week, four soldiers killed. We’re having 10 Americans maimed per day. We’re spending a billion dollars a week, and under this appropriation, it will go up to $1.3 billion a week. This is a quagmire. And if we don’t have a strategy to exit honorably and expeditiously, I think it has the fingerprints of another Vietnam.
Russert: Senator McCain, quagmire, another Vietnam, and what do you think of the morale as indicated by the survey, by Stars & Stripes, of the military units in Iraq?
McCain: I think the men and women serving are doing a magnificent job under extremely difficult conditions. I’m proud of them. And, of course, there is going to be some morale problems over time, particularly with our Guard and Reserve forces, which is why we have to increase the size of the military. Having said that, these men and women will do their job and they’ll do it very well. Look, we’re either going to pay up or pull out. And if we tell the troops there that we’re going to pull out “expeditiously” and depend on the generosity of others in order to carry this burden, then their morale will really go down because they know that we’re on the way out.
Comparisons with Vietnam are grossly overdrawn. We were having hundreds of casualties a week in Vietnam over many long period of conflict. It just is not applicable at this time, but we cannot continue to experience casualties and that’s why the reconstruction has to move forward. If you cut off the money to reconstruct Iraq or announce that we’re going to pull out, then, of course, things would descend into a quagmire. But it will not, when we send the signal that we’re there to stay and we’re going to have a free and democratic Iraq and we’re going to do whatever is necessary and the American people, I’m happy to say, the overwhelming majority, still believe we did the right thing.
Russert: Some comments you made last week have found their way into the Democratic primary debate. This is what you said about former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. “I’m not surprised that Governor Dean would opposed [the $87 billion to fund Iraq reconstruction] ...I’ve lost confidence that he has any understanding of the national security responsibilities of a President.” Why did you say that?
McCain: Because I don’t believe that he has any understanding of the international role that the United States has to play in the world. I think it’s a kind of a pseudo-isolationism that appeals to the base of the caucus voters. I do not believe that particularly in the case of Iraq that Governor Dean has any fundamental understanding of what’s at stake here.
Russert: General Wesley Clark is quoted today in Time magazine, an aide to him is saying that General Clark would have voted against the $87 billion. How would you respond to that, Senator McCain?
McCain: I would respond that General Clark knows better.
Russert: Senator Graham?
Graham: All right. Tim, first, I don’t believe our options are to either pay up alone, go it alone in Iraq or get out. There are other countries in the world which have an interest in what’s going to happen in Iraq, important allies which have real capability to help finance and provide troops in Iraq. What’s happening now is this administration wants to maintain full control over the political and economic circumstances of an occupied Iraq and has been unwilling to enter into those sharings of responsibility which are concurrent with the sharings of burden in Iraq. Second, going back to an earlier question about this issue of whether we should try to finance some of this reconstruction by loans, the practical effect of us making all of our money grants is to increase the security of the loans, which are currently outstanding, from a number of other countries. One of the things that inflames me is the fact that if one of those countries which has a major debt position with
Iraq is a country which, at the least, cooperated with and may have been complicit with the terrorists who led the attack on September 11, and now we’re about to use American taxpayers’ money to secure their loan. It’s outrageous that we are acting in a manner that’s requiring the American taxpayers, really, the children and grandchildren of the American taxpayers, since we’re not proposing to finance this war now but rather we’re adding it to the national debt...
Graham: ...to do so to the benefit of a country which has not been an ally of the United States.
Russert: Both of you were very outspoken for a national commission to look into the events of September 11. As you know, the Bush administration initially opposed such an idea. Tom Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who is chairman of that commission, had some very strong comments this week, and let me show you both on our board here: “Agency Has Kean Feeling Frustrated; Key 9/11 Documents Still Not Handed Over. The problem; The [9/11] panel is still trying to gain access to intelligence reports that might shed some light on the Sept. 11 attacks. The day also found the usually affable Tom Kean barely hiding his frustration as another obstacle blocked efforts to obtain documents his commission wants in order to look into how the 19 Islamic militants managed to hijack four jetliners and kill more than 3,000 people two years ago.” Senator Graham, is the administration stonewalling this commission?
Graham: Well, that’s exactly what they did to our congressional bipartisan, bicameral commission which spent a year looking into the events leading up to 9/11, and we had some ability to counteract the administration through our involvement in appropriations and other matters. This commission is naked out there alone. In our case, even after we finished the report, what I considered to be the most significant chapter, the chapter about foreign involvement in the incidents leading up to 9/11 and the administration’s involvement in actions subsequent to September the 11th was totally censured, and I would bet that this commission, if it gets into those issues, is going to find the same result, withholding important information from the American people.
Russert: Senator McCain, are you satisfied with the level of cooperation the commission has shown the 9/11 national commission?
McCain: No. I have talked to members of the commission and they have not gotten the degree of cooperation that they deserve and if they don’t, then I’m sure that Joe Lieberman will agree with me and we’ll go to the floor and try and extend their life. Could I just say the United Nations just passed a resolution that’s very supportive of what we’re trying to do in Iraq. The United States is going to a donors conference next week, and it will be very hard, in my view, to ask them to give money if we’re only loaning money. I still say, again, we either should pay up or pull out, and we cannot afford to do the latter.
Russert: Senator McCain, I want to ask you about some comments...
Russert: ...that you made about President Bush in The New York Times, and let me show you: “I’m not sure [President Bush is] on the wrong course as perhaps at least not enough on the right course.”
Where is the president not on the right course in your judgment?
McCain: I think that the spending that is increasing the national debt to such a terrible degree and the burden we’re laying on future generations of Americans is absolutely intolerable. I think the elephant in the room is Medicare and Social Security, and the first baby boomer is going to retire at the year 2010. I think that he should veto some of these terrible pork-barrel spending bills and I think he should weigh in heavily as we go through this appropriations process as we leave the year-as Congress wraps up for this year, among other issues.
Russert: Are you also concerned about the administration’s position on global warming, and are you going to break, in effect, with the administration over the next few weeks?
McCain: I’ve already broken. Senator Lieberman and I have an amendment that would be a modest effort to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases. No, I do not believe that this administration has acknowledged that climate change is real. It is real and we have to start trying to do something about it. And I’m very worried, and most Americans are, too, about the effects on our climate that we are having as a result of human activity.
Graham: Tim, can I say...
Russert: Your friend and colleague, Senator McCain, Chuck Hagel, added in the same article the following: “There surely is not a day that goes by that Senator McCain doesn’t think, ‘If I was in that situation as president, I think I could do a better job.’” You...
McCain: I love Chuck Hagel. You can’t spend your time doing that. I support...
Russert: Is he right?
McCain: No, of course not. I put that behind me. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to run. I try to be a good senator. You can’t-intellectually, that’s very debilitating to do a thing like that. I support President Bush’s re-election and I will do what I can to help him get re-elected.
Russert: Senator Bob Graham, Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, had this to say about you the other day: “I think a lot of Florida voters have looked up and are wondering, ‘Who is this person? This is not the person we voted for repeatedly for statewide office.’ I think a lot of the support that Bob Graham has enjoyed from independent voters and, frankly, many Republican voters in the past is not going to be there for him next November and he’s very likely to be defeated,” if, in fact, you run for re-election as senator from Florida.
Graham: Tim, the reason that I felt so passionate and have expressed myself with, I hope, clarity, is the fact that I think this country has tremendous opportunities. America is a great country. The Cold War is over. We have passed through the period of increasing the productivity of our economy. We have a tremendous future ahead of us, if we don’t fall into the wrong track. And I think, as Senator McCain just said, it is the wrong track to be adding these enormous amounts to our national debt. It is the wrong track to not pursue aggressively the war on terror, where we could eliminate the people who really have the capability of killing Americans. Those are the messages that I tried to carry in my presidential campaign and will continue, whether it’s on the Senate floor or in a campaign.
Russert: But do you believe your pointed criticisms of the president will harm you with Independent and Republican voters in Florida when you run for re-election?
Graham: I think the American people, and certainly Floridians, want their leaders to be frank and to talk about the facts as they see them and the judgments that they apply to those facts. I believe that this administration, in case after case, whether it’s from the environment to the economy to our national security, has given the American people misleading information and then based a policy on that information. That is not the standard that this great nation expects of its president.
Russert: So you will be running?
Graham: I will make a decision in the next period as to what my political future will be, but whatever it is, I will continue to speak out strongly about the opportunities that America has and how we are now squandering those opportunities by the actions of this administration.
Russert: Senator McCain, before we go, you know the Democrats who are running for president. Who do you believe would be the strongest challenger to George W. Bush?
McCain: I don’t know the answer to that because this campaign is really starting to get under way. Democrat voters are starting to focus-look, these are all good and decent people, and they give up a great deal when they enter into a presidential campaign. I just happen to disagree with them, particularly on the issue of Iraq, or everybody except Lieberman and Gephardt. But they’re good and decent people. I hope that they run honorable campaigns and I hope they’ll be able to look back, win or lose, and say they did the right thing.
Russert: That has to be the last word. Senator John McCain...
Russert: ...Senator Bob Graham, thanks very much.
Graham: Thank you.
McCain: Thank you.
Russert: Coming next, California, Iowa and New Hampshire, and Iraq. Insights and analysis from our political roundtable. They are all coming up next, right here on Meet the Press.
Russert: David Broder, Katty Kay, William Safire, Robin Wright-after this brief station break.
Russert: And we are back. Welcome, all.
David Broder, you’ve been out on the campaign trail. What are you hearing about Iraq? Is it on people’s minds? Will it be an issue-a big issue in this presidential race?
David Broder: It is a big issue already, and I’m afraid it will probably become even more worrisome to the American people. The worst part of what people are hearing are the casualty reports, this daily drip, drip, drip of American lives being lost. I think the money is secondary at this point and I-from what I gather, most people think, with Senator McCain, that now that we’re in, we have to pay the bill.
Russert: Katty Kay, a headline in The New York Times, Elizabeth Meuller’s piece, “The buck stops where? For better or worse, it’s becoming Bush’s war.” What’s your sense of how the American people are feeling about that?
Katty Kay: Well, I think there was an interesting poll from the Stars and Stripes which suggested that the morale is so low amongst American troops in the field that half of them are thinking of not re-enlisting after they finish their terms of duty. And that is filtering back, I think, as David says, much more than the question of money. People are very concerned about the number of people being lost, military families here-I’ve spoken to military families who are really feeling the pinch, both-wives being left here at home trying to raise families by themselves while their husbands have been gone for months and months. And I think that will start having more and more of an impact across voters.
Russert: Robin Wright, the suggestions before the war that we would be greeted as liberators, not conquerors, and people surprised, as Senator McCain said, by the level of resistance we’re encountering. How is that playing across our country?
Robin Wright: Well, again, you go back to the Stars and Stripes survey showing that the troops themselves, a third of them, who are questioning whether this intervention was worth it, has any value-little or no value, a third of them said, to the United States. I think in many ways, what we’re seeing today in the United States is the debate we would have had before the war in any other circumstances. But the coming out of 9/11 and the fear that Saddam had these weapons of mass destruction, there wasn’t the kind of questioning and national debate that you usually have before a conflict. And so that’s going to play out particularly in the run-up to the election, the next three months.
And I think if we continue to see the level of casualties that we have and the resistance that seems to grab the headlines on a daily basis now, that there’s going to be more and more focus on Iraq and, with it, the economy and the costs it will take to actually end up winning. Americans are idealists. They want to do good in the rest of the world, but they also have to face the very tough realities of the costs it’s going to take. And that’s how it’s going to play out in the run-up to New Hampshire.
Russert: Bill Safire, the president’s unhappy about the media filter, that there’s a lot of good news, he says, that’s occurring in Iraq, but the American people are hearing a lot of bad news. What’s your sense?
William Safire: Well, we’re getting a perfect example of it this morning right here. Everybody is pulling their chins and saying, “Well, people are complaining and the troops are griping,” and the fact is, and I hate to credit the State Department with anything, we’ve come up with an enormous victory in the United Nations. This vote, which everybody has forgotten, went 15-to-nothing in the Security Council to give the United States the imprimatur of the United Nations in political and economic control and occupation of Iraq.
Russert: But the French, the Germans, the Russians couldn’t wait to get to the microphones after the vote to say, “That doesn’t mean we’re sending troops or money.”
Safire: That was an apology and an explanation for a vote. That’s like going into a judge and saying guilty with an explanation.
Wright: But now the United States has to deliver. Bush has received the support of the United Nations and the U.S. Congress to a certain degree in giving him the assets and the kind of mandates he wanted, but they have to deliver in very short period of time. And when you look at why Russia, France, Germany, even Syria voted for this resolution, it was not so much support for George Bush as it was-they didn’t want to be seen as the spoilers. They didn’t want to foment instability in the region.
Safire: Yes. But, Robin...
Kay: It certainly wasn’t a reflection of the fact that the rest of the world is suddenly supporting Iraq policy or this administration. I mean, the headlines in the French press the day after that vote were, “U.S. Snatches Victory At The United Nations.” There’s still a lot of antipathy towards the Iraq policy, and I think because of that, you are not, at least in the short term, going to see the rest of the world coming up with either troops or money. Now, it’s possible from what I’m hearing from diplomats up at the U.N. that they’re a little bit optimistic that six months down the line, maybe a year down the line, or a respectable period after this vote has happened so that it doesn’t look too much like kowtowing to Washington, other countries might start coming up with some help in time for an election year perhaps.
Safire: The French are grumbling because the French lost. You’ve got to remember 48 hours before this vote, everybody was saying, and we were all reporting, that the French would abstain and the Germans would go along with the French and the Russians would also abstain. What happened? I think there’s a great story to be told that I don’t know, I suspect, and we’ll see it come out in the next month or so of how Bush did it.
Russert: Let me ask you the question Senator McCain said: “If you believe the French are going to send troops to Iraq, raise your hands.”
Safire: Oh, they’ll probably be the last ones in line, but what happened two weeks ago at Camp David, there’s a great story that hasn’t been covered and that was when Putin was together with Bush.
And we don’t know what happened there, but Bush came out with this encomium about Putin’s vision of democracy and freedom, and it kind of turned all our stomachs, but evidently he got from Putin the willingness to vote for the U.S. resolution and to be the bridge to the French and Germans to pull them along.
Kay: But whatever the resolution, the administration still has a lot of work to do to persuade the rest of the world, and particularly the Middle East, that the Iraq war was the right thing to do.
Broder: Imprimatur is a wonderful word that you used, but imprimaturs don’t pay bills. Imprimaturs don’t walk patrols in Iraq. I’m really surprised that you think that this kind of symbolic action is going to count for very much.
Wright: And it’ll all come down to the reality this week in Madrid when some 50-plus nations gather to come up with funds, and we’re going to find that even our good allies in the Gulf, who have a lot to gain or lose if Iraq is unstable, are not anteing up, that Japan, the Europeans with their miniscule contribution, are going to be the only ones providing tangible funds. This is going to underscore the really tough realities despite the triumph at the United Nations.
Kay: And the administration is out in Asia at the moment touting the fact that it got $1.3 or was it $1.5 billion from the Japanese. After the last Gulf War, the Japanese gave $9 billion and they were expected to give $2 billion this time. So even the Japanese aren’t coming up with as much as we’d hoped.
Safire: But they’ve given $5 billion in the course of four years. That’s what they’ve said already.
Wright: But $55 billion needed to reconstruct, and that’s probably a conservative estimate. Where are you going to make up the shortfall? I mean, is it going to come back to the United States?
Kay: It is.
Wright: And then we get back to the whole issue of the election and the cost of this conflict.
Safire: Doesn’t this answer your question, Tim, about what President Bush is talking about in terms of a filter? Here we’re getting the filter. And we’re all legitimately interpreting it as we see it, but the people who are supporting the president on this one are a minority in the press.
Russert: No stronger supporter of the president in Iraq than John McCain, and yet, when I asked him this morning about this article in The Washington Post, “Reduction In U.S. Troops Eyed For ’04,” whether that would be a military or a political decision, he seemed to suggest, David, that now is not the time to be thinking about removing U.S. troops, and that to suggest so is not, in his mind, a military decision.
Broder: Well, Senator McCain has been consistent in saying we need to put more force in there, so he was reflecting a long-held position there. But I think that most people reading that story would say, “’04—now I wonder why they’re thinking ’04?”
Russert: And that, in order to-Bill Safire, you worked in the White House. Is a president thinking, “You know what? I have to show some progress, some movement here. I have to deal with concerns. If I can get those U.S. troop levels down before an election, that’s not a bad thing.”
Safire: Well, as we know, no president ever concerns himself with re-election. But in this case, I think, quite frankly, Rumsfeld has been talking for some months about, “We have enough troops there, we want to reduce the number over the course of the months through 2004 into 2005.”
Wright: But they face the reality of these daily attacks against Americans, and the insecurity, and the fact is, you cannot hope to hold elections and make a political transition to a stable Iraqi environment without security first and so, whatever the desire-and this is a plan; this has not been signed on by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld yet-whatever the intent, the fact is the realities could make it very difficult to reduce troops at that rate.
Russert: Let me show you some polls which are quite striking and pick up on some of the things that David and Katty were saying. This is about Democratic voters in New Hampshire, right here. “What type of Democratic nominee do you want?” One who opposed the war from the very beginning, 35, or one who supported military action but was also critical of the way the president handled it, 58. And then this question: One who opposes the $87 billion because we need the money to take care of America, or one who reluctantly supported the $87 billion for Iraq because we must support the troops. Pretty strong preference, Katty, for Democrats who are pro for the war, if you will, and yet a little bit cautious and break with Bush on the nuance.
Kay: And surely those polls aren’t good news either for Dean or for Clark because, clearly, what voters are saying is-on the other side of that poll, is that we’re not voting uniquely on Iraq and what bad news Iraq was, and that we do want somebody who’s a bit more nuanced in this. And both Dean and Clark are going to have to pull away from being candidates who are seen as just being the opposers of the Iraq policy. I think they then have to come up with something bigger than that. They can’t be Johnny One-Issue candidates anymore.
Russert: And John McCain cited Senator Joe Lieberman and Congressman Dick Gephardt as the only two Democratic candidates who voted for the war authorization and for the $87 billion.
Broder: Tim, there’s some history to this. New Hampshire is a hawkish state. Remember in 1968, when Eugene McCarthy ran so well in the Democratic primary up there, survey was taken after the primary about what policy people and even people who had voted for McCarthy said that they were in many cases, they were voting for him because they wanted the war prosecuted more vigorously and brought to an end that way. It’s not an anti-war state.
Safire: Once in a while, David Broder puts his finger on it. If we had to follow...
Russert: That’s a filter.
Safire: Yeah-the polls of New Hampshire voters, we would have had President Buchanan following President Gary Hart, or, you know, people who win in New Hampshire don’t necessarily go on to get nominations or elections.
Russert: And yet, the two first states, Iowa and New Hampshire, are important. Let me show you the very latest in those two states: In Iowa, Gephardt, who must win the state by his own admission, is now barely ahead of Howard Dean, and then John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman. In New Hampshire, Howard Dean significantly ahead of John Kerry and Wesley Clark, Gephardt, Edwards and Lieberman.
Katty, what do you make of all that?
Kay: I think it’s interesting the difference in Clark’s pollings particularly, in New Hampshire and Iowa and his national pollings, that he’s so liked nationally, that he’s steamed ahead. He isn’t making much impact in the primaries, and I think it goes back to the previous poll that we said where people wanted a more nuanced vote on Iraq, and here’s Clark already coming out and saying, “I wouldn’t have supported the $87 billion.” That’s not going to help him, in either Iowa or New Hampshire, it looks like.
Russert: Time magazine has an article this week that there’s another speech that Wesley Clark gave on January 22, 2002—this is different than the Pulaski County Republican dinner he had spoken at-where he was effusive in his praise of President Bush. This is what they provided us:
(Videotape, January 22, 2002):
Gen. Wesley Clark: I tremendously admire and I think we all should the great work done by our commander in chief, our president, George Bush.
Russert: Now, the Clark campaign says General Clark was referring to President Bush handling of Afghanistan, post-September 11. Howard Dean, however, Bill Safire and Robin Wright, has said “The biggest problem Clark’s going to have to have is convincing people he’s a Democrat.” Is that a problem for General Clark?
Safire: I don’t think so. If he can convince Democrats that he’s a winner, they’ll forgive him his nice statements about the Bush administration in the past. Frankly, I think Clark is going to turn out to be a flash in the pan, to use a military metaphor. And...
Russert: Why do you say that?
Safire: He came on too quickly. He’s a sudden-you know, we’ve fallen in love with Clark and we’re attributing national polls to real strength in primary states, and that’s not the way it works. David knows this better than I do, but when it comes to the actual primary states, don’t you have to have an organization? Don’t you have to have...
Broder: It helps.
Russert: Robin Wright, you’ve covered General Clark.
Wright: I think he actually has one advantage over the other candidates, and that is, as a former military man, he can deal credibly in commending a commander in chief for his military activities and differentiate that from a political position. He also, because of his experience in recent conflicts-Kosovo, the Balkans and so forth-has particular credibility as the issue of Iraq becomes even more contentious during what’s likely to be a very volatile period. So that kind of thing is not going to reflect, I think, on him. And I don’t agree with you-surprise, surprise-that he’s a flash in the pan. I think he actually has durability. And every candidate has highs and lows, but I-I mean, Dean was the darling and then Clark came on and Dean went down. You know, it’s going to be up and down.
Safire: But don’t you think he’s the stalking horse for Hillary Clinton?
Broder: I don’t know General Clark, but I think it’s becoming clear that he has one vulnerability, which is that his brother officers, in many cases, seem to have a low opinion of him, and that’s where people are going to turn to say, “Well, who is this fellow? What’s his reputation with the people who know him best?”
Russert: And General Clark did release over 100 pages of documents this past week and testimony from other military people attesting to his character and professionalism as a soldier. In response to these kinds of criticisms, David, is that your suggestion?
Broder: Well, they were very eager to get those reports out before the profile of the general that ran in The Post today. They knew that was going to be published and they knew that our reporter, Lois Romano, had heard some very critical comments about him from other officers.
Russert: Katty, let me pick up on Robin’s point, however: If you are a four-star general, no matter what your position on Iraq may be, it’s very difficult for a Republican candidate to accuse you of being weak on defense in a general election.
Kay: Yeah. I think he-and as Robin said, he can stand up there, which perhaps none of the other Democratic candidates can do, and say, “I’m supporting my commander in chief.” It’s almost one military man to another. And I think within the military framework you stand by other military officers.
But I think there is a broader question here, which is: If Iraq is not going to be the defining issue in the primaries in either Iowa or New Hampshire, then all of the candidates, it seems to me, haven’t come up with a defining Democratic domestic policy. They have to be stronger on domestic policy and they have to somehow distinguish themselves from the other leaders. And that they haven’t done yet.
I don’t get a sense that either the American public or the voters in either Iowa or New Hampshire are convinced that one of these candidates has come up with the big idea. I know that both Gephardt and Lieberman have had their ideas, but I’m not sure that those ideas have translated into front-runner status, or even possible front-runner status, amongst any of the voters. And I think it’s going to have to be a domestic issue, not Iraq.
Russert: We have to take a quick break. We’re going to come back and talk about President Bush’s trip to California to see the new governor-elect, and the president’s comments about leaks out of the White House, right after this.
Russert: And we are back.
Let me show you a campaign button that emerged in California when President Bush arrived there: “Taking Back! California ’04,” governor-elect and the president of the United States. And this is what Mr. Schwarzenegger said upon the president’s arrival:
Gov.-Elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, (R-Calif.): After speaking with the president this morning at great length about the problems of California, I can tell you one thing: that there is no greater ally that this Golden State has in Washington than our president.
Russert: Robin Wright, you are working with the Los Angeles Times, at least for the next few weeks until you join The Washington Post. What’s your sense of that visit by the president to California?
Wright: Well, they didn’t really talk any substance. This was a meeting of, you know, two men who had not had a whole lot of contact, despite the fact that Schwarzenegger had worked for the first President Bush. You know, Schwarzenegger talking about California being an ally-having an ally in the White House-boy, that’s a real shift. I mean, this is a traditionally Democratic state. It was so interesting. I mean, here you have the “Terminator” and what many of those in the outside world see as “the terminator” when, you know, the president deals with foreign policy. It was a fascinating blend and especially on the eve of President Bush’s trip to Asia, where his primary message has been, “We’re going to continue this war on terrorism.” He’s framed the whole economic forum. He’s redefining so many of our allies in terms of security and terrorism. It was a fascinating stop in some ways, despite the fact there wasn’t much substance accomplished.
Russert: David Broder, we have a $500 billion deficit. Can Governor Schwarzenegger expect President Bush to open up the purse strings and let federal funds flow to California?
Broder: I doubt that he’ll get much extra aid, but there is federal money that always goes to California, as the biggest state and most populous state in the country. But what we saw in that little clip was, I think, described as “buttering up.”
Russert: And hoping for the best. Let me turn to a very interesting article from the Knight Ridder newspapers. And here’s the headline:
“Bush orders administration officials to ‘stop the leaks.’ Concerned about the appearance of disarray and the feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush, living up to his recent declaration that he’s in charge, told his top officials to ‘stop the leaks’ to the media, or else. News of Bush’s order leaked almost immediately.”
Kay: Wonderful story and congratulations to the Philadelphia Inquirer for picking it up. But, of course, everybody uses leaks. Look, let’s admit, it’s a two-way process, isn’t it? They use us, we use them. The leaking system works generally in Washington, and this one was going to be leaked as well.
There was something else that popped up in that article later on, which was apparently Bush turned to one of his aides and said, “But, look, you know, the infighting in my administration is not as bad as between Weinberger and Shultz, is it?” And somebody said, “Yes, it’s much worse.”
Russert: Bill Safire, time for some plumbers to stop those White House leaks?
Safire: There’s an old saying in politics that the ship of state leaks from the top. And remember I was told by President Nixon when I was a speechwriter, “Hey, we’re getting no play at all in the press on welfare reform. For God’s sakes, leak it to somebody what we’re going to do.” And so Henry Brandon of the London Times called about something else and I said, “Hey, you want a leak?” And I gave it to him. And at that point, the FBI was tapping Henry Brandon’s wire, and there I was saying, “OK, want a leak?” And they started tapping my wire. And the whole leak investigation involved me, until Haldeman and the president said, you know, “This was an authorized leak. Relax.”
Russert: About welfare reform.
Russert: Relax some more. Robin Wright, leaks forever?
Wright: Oh, leaks forever, even in this administration. This administration has such a tight hold on information generally, and yet we all still manage to continue in our professions and get the odd story here and there.
Russert: Although, David Broder, last week on this program, Republican Senator Dick Lugar, loyal Republican, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the president has to take charge. And the president responded, “I am in charge.” What is going on? Why is the president so sensitive to that kind of suggestion or, some would say, constructive criticism?
Broder: Well, consider the source. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of the most loyal Republicans on Capitol Hill, comes on to this program and says, “You’ve got four different senior officials saying four different things. Somebody, namely you, Mr. President, better tell them what the line of the day is and what the policy is.” That’s more than a hint. That is a-right in the ribs, saying, “Act like a president.”
Wright: That’s one of the big problems, in fact. It’s that the leaks reflect such huge differences within the administration. It’s not the fact that leaks on policy get out there or intentions, it’s the fact that leaks reflect-they get out to us because there is this real problem within the administration on virtually every important issue it faces.
Russert: To be continued. Robin Wright, Bill Safire, Katty Kay, David Broder, thank you.
We’ll be right back.
Russert: If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. It’s lonely here. Go, Bills. Get those Skins.