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Meet the Press
Sunday, December 7, 2003
Guests: Senator Hillary Clinton, (D-N.Y.), Armed Services Committee
Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House
Moderator/Panelist: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with meet the press - NBC News (202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)
Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, December 7, 2003
Tim Russert: Our issues this Sunday: Iraq. What should we do? The economy: How strong is it? The race for the White House: Can George W. Bush be beaten and who would be the strongest Democrat? With us, the former first lady, now Democratic senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Then the view from the Republicans, the once speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, former representative from Georgia. Clinton and Gingrich, only on MEET THE PRESS. And joining us now just back from Afghanistan and Iraq is New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Senator, welcome back.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY: Thank you, Tim. Glad to be here.
Russert: Let’s go right to your trip. When you came back, you had a briefing and said some things that caught attention of a lot of people. Let’s listen and come back and talk about it.
Clinton: It is clear that there is some concern that the process in Iraq for elections is being driven not by the conditions on the ground in Iraq but by the time table for our own elections. That the administration is intent upon some kind of exit strategy, some kind of transition before our elections.
Russert: Do you believe the president is tying his policy in Iraq to his own re-election?
Clinton: I hope not, Tim. But I did hear on the ground that there is concern about that and I know other observers, people who have been there in the last several weeks, have had the same kinds of conversations, picked up the same sort of signals. The problem, of course, is that we’ve got a difficult situation. There is no easy answer to it. But we should be looking for ways to transition to an Iraqi governing system that are more likely to guarantee success than not and if you look at the time table, there are some big problems. Starting in late January, February, we’ve go the haj and there’s going to be a pent-up demand on the part of the Iraqis to go to mecca. I understand that and there will be a lot of pilgrims wanting to transit Iraq. If that’s not handled correctly, that could be a huge problem. In addition, starting in March and April, our troops who, by the way, are doing a fabulous job on the ground, much of the credit for building schools, opening hospitals, building relationships with Iraqis really is due to our troops at all levels. But they’re going to be transitioning, and all those relationships that have been built up, those kind of trusted commitments that people have made one to the other on the ground are going to be at risk because new people are going to be coming in. So there’s just a lot to worry about.
Russert: You said that we have to be prepared for a much longer run to accomplish our goals than we’ve been discussing. What does that mean?
Clinton: I think that the administration has from the very beginning not leveled with the American people. There is no doubt that we have seen a rather disastrous aftermath of the military action. No one that I know seriously questioned whether we would be successful on the ground militarily. We do have the most highly trained, professional military probably in the history of the world. But the fact that we were not prepared for the day after, that we didn’t take a stand against the looting, which I heard a lot about when I was in Iraq, because that sent a signal that we might have had the number of troops to win militarily but not to dominate the country and establish security. And we’ve been playing catch-up ever since. And I don’t think that the kind of cooperation between the military on the ground and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad has really meshed. So I would hope that we would begin getting some straight talk from the administration. While we were there being briefed by the Coalition Provisional Authority, they showed us a chart comparing the progress they’ve made in Iraq to the progress that we made in Germany post-World War II. And the purpose was to show that, well, you know, they have a central bank up going faster in Iraq than they had in Germany, but the most telling comparison was that it took 10 years to establish a stable, sovereign government that was democratic in Germany, and we still have troops in Germany. We still have troops in Bosnia and Kosovo. We still have troops in South Korea. If we’re going to undertake these kinds of very difficult missions, we should le vel with people about cost and time.
Russert: Based on what you saw and heard, do you believe the Iraqis will be ready for self-government by July?
Clinton: You know, I have no way of really substituting, you know, my judgment on a brief trip. I can tell you what I’ve heard and what others who’ve been there have reported. We should be moving toward some kind of sovereignty. We did it successfully in Afghanistan, and then we didn’t put in the support and security that the Karzai government needed. But we started with the conference in Bonn, we established a Loya Jirga process. It did produce Karzai. We will have a constitutional process, and then have elections in Afghanistan. We still have a long way to go there, and I don’t want anybody to forget that as an American soldier said to me, “Welcome to the front lines in the war against terrorism.” And we for too long have not been paying attention. In Iraq, I still believe we would be smarter to have some kind of transition that was an internationalized transition, that would give legitimacy to this process. But we do need some form of Iraqi sovereignty that people can look to, that we can then work with. How we get there and how we guarantee minority rights, how we guarantee stability are the open questions.
Russert: You also said that the outcome in Iraq is not assured. Is failure an option?
Clinton: No, absolutely not. But what I mean is how can we be assured that the path we’re taking is more likely to lead to success? I know your next guest is Newt Gingrich and he recently did an interview which I guess is going to be in the news magazines this week in which he raised a lot of questions about what’s happening on the ground and, you know, as I told him in the green room, I never thought I’d be agreeing with Newt Gingrich on these issues, but the administration has not been willing to make midcourse corrections or listen except what they recently did with this moving up the time table on sovereignty which I think struck a lot of people as, you know, a little bit hasty and improvised. And what bothered me when I was in Kirkuk meeting with local elected officials who are there largely because the American military there created the conditions for that to occur, they have never had any real contact with the Governing Council. They were surprised to learn that what was being talked about was a provisional step that would rely on caucuses and appointments as well as eventual elections. What they want is authority to govern themselves insofar as that’s possible and that should be guaranteed, too.
Russert: After your trip you came back and talked to reporters. This is how the Buffalo News captured it. “Sen. Hillary Clinton said the United States ‘must stay the course’ in both Afghanistan and Iraq and called for more military personnel to finish the job.” The president has said that the United Nations is no longer willing or capable of giving any more troops. NATO has said we’ve committed our troops to Afghanistan, none for Iraq. You’re the president right now. Would you commit more U.S. troops?
Clinton: Well, I’m not, but as a senator from New York with a great concern about the direction we’re going because of the horrible effects of the attacks on us, what I do believe is that although NATO made a commitment in Afghanistan, it has not fulfilled that commitment. We do not have the expanded troop and equipment presence that the extension of the mandate beyond Kabul called for. And for the life of me I don’t understand that. I appreciate Secretaries Rumsfeld and Powell going to NATO in this last week, but they were asking for help in Iraq. What they should first be asking for is to fulfill the commitment that NATO made to Afghanistan. Because what has happened is that we have a neither fish nor fowl, so to speak, in Afghanistan. I don’t think we have enough American troops and we certainly don’t have the promised NATO troops. When it comes to Iraq, I support the administration’s request to NATO that they become involved in Iraq. They’re not going to unless there’s some kind of international legitimacy. Now, we did a couple of things right in Bosnia and Kosovo. We had the friends of Bosnia and Kosovo, we had regional powers, we had many more troops in Bosnia and Kosovo than we have in Afghanistan, and we had more multilateral commitments than we have in Iraq. So why don’t we set up some kind of international bridge? The U.N. can be playing a role, NATO can be playing a role. We can create some new entity, the Iraq, you know, Reconstruction Stability Authority. We can do something that then gives frankly cover to other countries to come in and support us.
Russert: But if other countries say no, they just don’t have the troops, would you, as the president, send more Americans to Iraq and Afghanistan?
Clinton: Well, the highest priority is to stabilize Iraq and provide security. I heard that from everybody. You know, a woman said to me that, you know, she hated Saddam Hussein. She, frankly, was relieved that she had been removed from what she called “the repression machine.” But now, you know, women are afraid to go out on the streets; girls are afraid to go to school in many parts of the country. So that the addition of not only the terrorists and the former regime loyalists, but the common criminals, has made a very difficult security situation for everybody. Many of my colleagues who are quite expert in this, like John McCain, like Jack Reed with whom I went, believe we need more troops, and we need a different mix of troops. We need more intelligence, more MPs, more civil affairs, more engineers. We’re in a bind because we’re about to rotate out, and then have to substitute when we know we’ve depleted our reserves and our Guard. We don’t have enough end strength in the Army to continue doing this mission. Everybody needs to take a deep breath and say, “OK, what is it we have to do given our superior military position in the world to fulfill these missions that we undertake?” Whether you agreed or not that we should be in Iraq, you know, failure is not an option.
Russert: So if the president came forward and said, “We need another 50,000 American troops for Iraq,” you’d look at that favorably?
Clinton: I would look at it very carefully and I would say, “You know, let’s get the job done.” How do we define the mission? The mission is provide security and stability if we can’t get help from others. And I know every time that, you know, the administration speaks, they say, “Well, our folks on the ground say we don’t need it.” And they are doing a very big effort to try to stand up an Iraqi army, to do the Civil Defense Corps, who I heard a lot of good things about, the police, and now they’ve gone and decided they’re going to legitimize the militias that the parties have had. I think we’re in for a very difficult time. And we need to make sure we’ve got the troops there in whatever numbers are needed to do it.
Russert: If the Iraqi people choose an extremist, fundamentalist Islamic regime, would that be acceptable?
Clinton: Well, I would hope it wouldn’t happen because I don’t think that would be in the best interests of the Iraqi people. It certainly would not fulfill the expectations or the hopes that the administration had going into this, but we can’t know how the democratic process is going to play out until we get a much better working arrangement with the different populations in Iraq so that they feel that they are going to be protected no matter what the ultimate outcome is governmentally. And, you know, it’s frustrating because we know that right now we’ve got Ayatollah Sistani saying, you know, “One man, one vote. Give us the vote. We don’t want any of this caucus and provisional governmental transition.”
Russert: So you could have a Shiite regime?
Clinton: That could be the outcome if you had a real democracy where people were voting and they were voting without a constitution or without the sense of minority rights and religious freedom that you would want to have in an eventual government. These are all questions that have to be worked out. And what I regret is that we’ve lost a lot of time. We were in a better position, you know, six or eight months ago. I mean, in hindsight, because we had enough troops to win militarily but not to dominate Iraq, because we let the looting go on, because we didn’t grab hold of that immediately and not only try to provide more security but, frankly, provide a sense to every party in the country that we were there in sufficient force to make sure that whatever process was going to occur would be orderly and people could trust it, that it would create conditions that would maximize the freedom that they had been offered.
Russert: Do you believe that Iraq is more or less a terrorist threat to the United States now than it was nine months ago?
Clinton: I don’t think we know that. I think that Saddam Hussein was certainly a potential threat. I mean, he had, after all, not only invaded his neighbors and gassed the Kurds and Iranians but had tried to kill former President Bush, was seeking weapons of mass destruction, whether or not it ever turns out he actually had them. He had not made any direct attacks on our homeland, but we don’t know what the future would have held. It is, however, fair to say that now we have a very unstable situation with not only the former regime loyalists but terrorists and foreign fighters coming in to try to use Iraq as a basing point against us.
Russert: Where are the weapons of mass destruction, Senator? When you voted in favor of the resolution supporting the president in October of 2002, you cited Saddam’s possession of biological, chemical, developing nuclear weapons. Where are there? Were you misled or were the intelligence agencies just plain wrong?
Clinton: I think that it has to be said that our intelligence was wrong, and it wasn’t just our current intelligence, though, Tim. This was intelligence going back into my husband’s administration, going back to the first President Bush’s administration. And let’s not forget that we know we took out a lot of stuff starting in 1992 after the first Gulf War all the way through the inspection being ended in ’98. There was certainly adequate intelligence without it being gilded and exaggerated by the administration to raise questions about chemic al and biological programs and a continuing effort to obtain nuclear power.Now, my biggest issue is: Why hasn’t the administration literally moved heaven and earth to find out what went wrong? And if they are, they certainly have been doing it behind the scenes. I know there’s a review of intelligence going on. The CIA—we’ve had all kinds of issues in the Congress about what we knew, what we should have known, whether we could have trusted it. But what really makes this important is not only what’s happening in Iraq and the fact that I think the majority of Americans and certainly the majority of the Congress were willing to give the president authority to deal with a threat that could very well have affected us. And now we have to find out what went wrong because in an administration that uses a doctrine of pre-emption and prevent of war as one of the first tools instead of something of last resort, you’ve got to have good intelligence, and I’m not sure that we know yet what went wrong.
Russert: When you stood up on the floor in October 2002, you said, “It’s with conviction I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. It’s a vote that says clearly to Saddam, ‘This is your last chance. Disarm or be disarmed.’” Do you now regret your vote giving the president the authority to go to war in Iraq?
Clinton: No. I regret the way the president used the authority. I believe in presidential authority to deal with threats. I wish that the Congress had been, you know, more supportive of my husband when he did what he had to do in Bosnia and Kosovo and elsewhere. So I have no second-guessing about giving the president authority. And, in fact, in the immediate aftermath of that vote, he did exactly what I would have expected and what the White House told me they would do: going to the U.N., getting a Security Council resolution, going back in with inspections. What I do regret and what I think has been unfortunate is the way that that process was short-circuited and the military action was taken without any adequate understanding or planning about what the aftermath would be. And that’s the consequence we’re living with right now.
Russert: There has been some reaction to comments you made on the ground in Iraq. Let me go through that. This is the dispatch from The Buffalo News: “‘The morale of the troops,’ Senator Hillary Clinton said, ‘is very high,’ but she said the military personnel with whom she spoke in meetings wanted to know, ‘how the people at home feel about what we are doing.’ ‘Americans are wholeheartedly proud of what you are doing,’ Clinton said she replied, ‘but there are many questions at home about the [Bush] administration’s policies.’” Was it appropriate for you to criticize the president while in Iraq?
Clinton: You know, I find this so interesting that this has now become an issue, and largely fueled by a lot of the talk shows and the other sort of right-wing apparatus. You know, when a soldier asked me a very direct question—you know, “How do people feel about us and what we’re doing here, Senator?”—especially a soldier from the 10th Mountain Division, which as you know is based in Ft. Drum, New York, I wasn’t going to lie to that young man. And what I said is what I believe. We are wholeheartedly supporting our troops, and that is exactly as it should be. The American people, I think, understand that they are performing superbly under difficult and dangerous circumstances. But you know, these young men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, they’re on the Internet, they get the media; they know very well that there is a debate about our policies. That’s part of being an American. And from my perspective, it is fully appropriate in talking with our soldiers to have that kind of conversation with them.
Russert: This is the way one Republican, Scott Reed, responded. He said the comments you made were “un-American.” “Any member of the U.S. Senate should be supporting our troops 100 percent. It sounds like Senator Clinton has been stung by the fact that President Bush overshadowed her trip to Iraq and left her as an after-story, so to break into the debate, she had to take the low road.”
Clinton: Oh, that’s so sad. You know, I think that that’s reflective of the efforts by this administration to deny and divert attention from what everybody knows. I mean, it is like the old children’s story, “The emperor has no clothes.” I mean, you know, if you say there are serious questions on the ground raised by our troops, raised by Afghans, raised by Iraqis, raised by our friends around the world, somehow that is not appropriate. You know, I find that sad because, to me, we have a lot at stake: not only the lives of American men and women, not only the lives of Afghans and Iraqis, but about the future leadership of this country. And I think that, given the globalization of information and communication, we have to be very forthright in saying, you know, “Failure is not an option. We are going to stay the course,” but we’ve got to figure out what the course is. And I feel very strongly that in the last several months, this administration has had a lot of happy talk and a lot of rosy scenarios instead of dealing in a forthright way about the challenges that we face. I don’t think that does anyone any good, particularly the men and women who are serving with such bravery abroad.
Russert: But if someone suggests you’re undercutting morale by criticizing the commander in chief to these soldiers in Iraq, it doesn’t trouble you?
Clinton: Well, I don’t think that’s what I did, first of all, from my perspective. You know, answering a direct question by an American soldier who, you know, knows very well that in previous conflicts in our country we didn’t always support our troops. There was, unfortunately, a divide between the policies of an administration and the support that we should always give the men and women who are sent into harm’s way. And from my perspective, it is important for us to support their mission and, frankly, I’d like to do more to support them. We haven’t given them enough body armor, we didn’t give them enough armored Humvees. We didn’t do what was necessary to give our men and women on the ground the full support that they deserve. Now, are we supposed to pretend that that’s not an issue? I think that would be doing a disservice to these brave young men and women.
Russert: I want to take a second on Afghanistan. Based on what you learned while you were there, do you believe Osama bin Laden is still alive and do you think he’s in the region?
Clinton: I believe he is alive and I believe he is in the region. I’m glad you turned to Afghanistan, because as, you know, one young soldier said to me, “Welcome to the front lines in the war against terrorism,” we have forgotten that that’s where those horrible attacks against us were planned and implemented from.
Russert: Will we get bin Laden?
Clinton: We better. We better, because the failure to get him fuels the kind of myth of fundamentalism and extremism and serves as a recruiting tool for people who would wish us ill.
Russert: Why has the poppy crop, which makes heroin, more than doubled in Afghanistan and the money from that is used by the warlords to fund narcoterrorism around the world?
Clinton: Well, Tim, this is one of the issues that I probed very deeply. Again, I don’t think we’ve put in enough troops in Afghanistan, and NATO hasn’t done its part. And I’m calling on NATO to do its part. You know, this is a war that had universal acceptance among our friends and allies, they should be there. But because we don’t have enough troops and because frankly we diverted special ops, intel and other kinds of troops to Iraq, we are trying to fulfill many missions at one time. We’re not only still after bin Laden, we are trying to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban, the al-Qaeda and the Hiig, a third terrorist group which we are basically responsible for, one of the Mujahedeen that we armed and created in the war against the Soviet Union. We are trying to do reconstruction and political and economic work. We don’t have the troops to protect the people who are doing that.
And then we’ve got the resurgence of the poppy crop, which is exactly, as you say, fueling the funding of terrorists and narcotraffickers. And we are not doing enough to either provide an alternative to these poor farmers who see a cash crop, or are we doing enough to eradicate and eliminate the poppy crop. So we don’t have enough people to do everything that needs to be done to try to stabilize Afghanistan and we’re moving into a very important period with the constitutional Loya Jirga, with elections. We have to be successful there, too. We cannot let Afghanistan become a failed state again.
Russert: Let me turn to the domestic situation. Leon Panetta, who was your husband’s chief of staff, had this to say about Howard Dean the other day: “There clearly are concerns about Dean’s ability to appeal to the entire country, particularly on national security issues. ...There is concern about how does [Dean’s anti-war campaign[ play out a year from now? How can you compete with President Bush on the national security front? There’s some concern about whether Dean can rise to the occasion on these issues.” Do you believe that Howard Dean has the experience in foreign policy and national security and the temperament to be president of the United States?
Clinton: Well, Tim, I’m not going to comment on any of the nominees, because I have taken a neutral position. I’m going to support whoever the nominee is. I am absolutely convinced that our nominee will have a good chance to win, and we need to have a change in administration. I think any American president is going to protect America’s interests. Any American president would have done what needed to be done after 9/11 and certainly would have taken on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. There is a debate going on about what else needs to be done in order to protect us in this war on terrorism. I think that’s a healthy debate.
What I’m concerned about as a senator from New York is that we protect ourselves. And there are different ways of doing that. We need to do more on homeland security than we’ve done and not only do we need to use our military, but we’ve got to be doing a better job in conveying our values and our ideals to those around the world that would otherwise perhaps side or be indifferent toward terrorists. So I think we’ve got a very healthy debate going on in the Democratic nominating process, and I also remember very well that when Bill Clinton ran, when George Bush ran, when Ronald Reagan ran, a lot of people raised questions that they put to rest during the general election campaign.
Russert: This is the latest poll of the Democratic candidates across the country: Howard Dean with 20 percent; Wesley Clark, 15; Gephardt, 15; John Kerry, 14; Joe Lieberman, 9. When your name is placed before the American Democrats, this is it: Hillary Clinton, 43; Howard Dean, 12; Clark, 10. When you see those numbers, what do you think?
Clinton: I think that that’s very flattering and I appreciate the support that Democrats are showing for me. And I’m going to try to use that base of support to help elect a Democratic president, because I’m going to support the nominee of our party, and I feel as strongly as I’ve ever felt that we’re on the wrong direction in this country. We are being taken down some very dangerous paths, both at home and abroad, and we need to change the White House’s occupant.
Russert: If one of the leading candidates falters or the convention becomes deadlocked, would you, under any circumstances, accept the Democratic nomination in 2004?
Clinton: You know, Tim, I’ve ruled it out. I’m going to continue to rule it out. You know, my view is that we’ve got people who have been competing, they have put their ideas out in front of the American people, the process will finally, finally start next month in the primaries and the caucuses, and someone’s going to emerge from that and I’m going to work for whoever that nominee is.
Russert: So no matter what happens, absolutely, categorically, no?
Clinton: You know, I am going to do everything I can to support this nominee, whoever that person might be.
Russert: But just say no. You would...
Clinton: I have said no and no and I’m trying to think of different ways of saying no and no. And I hope that in ’08, I’ll be supporting a Democratic president for re-election.
Russert: But you would never accept the nomination in 2004?
Clinton: You know, I have said over and over again—and, you know, my view on all of this is that...
Russert: You’ve said over and over what?
Clinton: That I’m not running, I’m not in this race.
Russert: But you wouldn’t accept the nomination?
Clinton: The nomination—it’s not going to be offered to me, that’s one thing.
Russert: But if it is...
Clinton: Oh, Tim, you know, I—it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen.
Russert: Well, but if it did happen?
Clinton: You know, I have—I am...
Russert: I think the door is opening a bit, Senator.
Clinton: Oh, no, it’s not. Now, don’t you try to make something out of nothing.
Russert: Oh, no, no, no.
Clinton: No, no. I’ve said, no. I’ve said no, no, no, no. And I...
Russert: OK, so the door is sealed.
Clinton: The door is shut. The door is shut.
Russert: “I will never accept the nomination in 2004”?
Clinton: I am not accepting the nomination. I am going to work for whoever the nominee is.
Russert: How about 2008? This is what you told the German magazine Bunte, and I have the German translation that—Georgetown University did this for us. “Why aren’t you running for president?” “I am a senator from New York. That is my job and I am happy with it.” Next question. “But there are many people who are disappointed because you are not running this time.” Answer: “I know. (She smiles coyly.) Well, maybe next time...”
Clinton: You know, that’s not exactly the way we translated it in my office. You know, I have been asked this so many times...
Russert: Oh, something was lost in the German?
Clinton: Yeah, may have been lost a little in translation. But I have said many, many times that, you know, right now I am focused on my job. I mean, you know, as a native New Yorker, we have a lot that we have to deal with from, you know, Long Island to Buffalo. And I’m trying to do the best job I can for my constituents.
Russert: The president repealed his steel tariffs, and you’ve said this is another blow to a struggling steel worker. But you didn’t support the imposition of those steel tariffs, did you?
Clinton: Yes, I did.
Russert: That’s totally contrary to your husband’s position.
Clinton: Well, I think that times have changed to some extent. I believe very much that overall free trade is absolutely in America’s interests. I also believe we’ve not addressed the losses from globalization and free trade where we’re the only free traders in the game. I was convinced that in the—particularly with respect to the steel industry that other countries did dump illegally, that they did undersell, that they did bait and switch, that they would send steel to our country below market prices in order to basically drive our steel industry out of business. I believe you need a steel industry in order to be competitive. I also...
Russert: So you’d keep the tariffs on?
Clinton: Well, I think that was, you know, obviously a difficult issue for the administration once the reprisals were threatened, but I think all in all, we should have pushed back and said, “We’ve made progress the last 18 months with the steel industry, we are back on our feet, and unless you can guarantee us that you’re not going to be undercutting our market and unfairly competing with us, we’re going to continue to give a little breathing space to our domestic steel industry.” It’s not so much the tariffs as it was to give some space to a very challenged industry that is beginning to get its feet back on the ground and being able to compete again. I fault this administration for not being more aggressive in enforcing existing trade laws.
Russert: But you’d keep the tariffs on?
Clinton: I think that I would have pushed back a little more publicly before I would have made the decision that the administration made.
Russert: You gave an interview to the Houston Chronicle yesterday where you said the president was radical and extreme. What do you base that on?
Clinton: I think it’s apparent that the kind of policies this president is pursuing for which he did not have a mandate, he was not elected to...
Russert: Like what?
Clinton: ...fulfill. Well, you know, I disagree greatly with their environmental policy. I disagree with their economic policy that has pushed us into $1/2 trillion deficit now for this year. I disagree with what they’re doing with Medicare, that I do believe some reform and modernization was called for, but I don’t think this will work, and I think it will undermine the guarantee of Medicare.
Russert: But, Senator, 12 Democrats voted for the Bush tax cut, 11 Democrats voted for his Medicare. So it’s bipartisan. If it’s radical or extreme, then these Democrats are radical and extreme?
Clinton: Well, I think, Tim, that the agenda is set by the majority in Congress. You know, I’ve only been there for a little less than three years. I’ve been in the minority, the majority, and now the minority again. You vote on what’s presented to you and sometimes that’s a very difficult choice to make. But I think that this administration clearly has moved far to the right on many of their appointments, on many of their policies. I think that’s regrettable because it is out of the mainstream not only of Democratic presidents in the 20th century but of Republicans, including the president’s own father.
Russert: You went so far as to say that you think there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy. Your only regret is using the word “conspiracy” because there’s absolutely nothing secret about it.
Clinton: That’s right. Exactly.
Russert: You believe that?
Clinton: I certainly do believe that. I think...
Russert: Who is it?
Clinton: Oh, it’s vast and wide. I think that part of it is that we now see that there’s a tremendous infrastructure that supports these quite radical ideas and that the administration is peopled with officials who are working to implement them. And I regret that, because, you know, we’ve made progress as a country when we, you know, maybe went a little right, a little left, but we ended up kind of in the middle, which is where most Americans live and work and raise their families. I worry very much that we are undermining the ladders of opportunity for the American middle class. I mean, if you look at doing away with overtime for eight million workers, I mean, what on earth is that about? Why would we do that?
Russert: What if Republicans or conservatives said that environmental groups, labor groups, women’s groups are part of a vast left-wing conspiracy, that they have an inordinate amount of influence on a Democratic president and Democratic senator?
Clinton: Well, again, I would say if they are, they’re doing not as good a job as the other side. And I think part of the challenge is to look at where we’ve come as a country. You know, when I first saw the Bush administration in action, I thought that they wanted to undo everything Bill Clinton had done. Basically, I took that a little personally because I thought that a lot of good had happened during the 1990s. Then I realized that, you know, they’re taking aim at the New Deal. They really do have a mission in mind to radically restructure the social safety net, the kind of consumer and worker protections that have been at the base of building the American middle class. I don’t think anybody voted for that in 2000, and I regret that it has been pursued so relentlessly.
Russert: Is that what’s at stake in the 2004 presidential race?
Clinton: I think it is. I think that if you...
Russert: Then why don’t you go out there and present it?
Clinton: Oh, my goodness. I think...
Russert: If you feel that strongly...
Clinton: ...the Democrats believe that and I think our candidates are supporting that.
Russert: If you believe that and feel that so passionately, don’t you have an obligation to go, step forward and present it as head of the Democratic Party?
Clinton: Well, I’m trying to do it every day. I’m on your show and, you know, I promised I’d come back and here I am making this case and hoping that we can put together a winning campaign against the president.
Russert: Before we go, the Buffalo Bills vs. the New Jersey Jets.
Clinton: The New Jersey Jets, that’s right.
Russert: Who you for?
Clinton: Well, I’m for the Buffalo Bills. Is there any question? That’s the only New York team we have, right?
Russert: You see, hope springs eternal. We finally have gotten that across. Senator Hillary Clinton, we thank you very much for joining us. Coming next, the man who led the Republican revolution of 1994, the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
Russert: The view from the Republican side: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, after this brief station break.
Russert: And we are back. Speaker Gingrich, welcome back.
Former Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-GA: Good to be here.
Russert: You gave an interview to Newsweek magazine, which will be on the newsstands tomorrow, and you said, “The administration has gone off a cliff” in terms of Iraq. Explain that.
Gingrich: No, what I said was that after the brilliant military campaign of 23 days, that we went off a cliff after that in the sense that the small military worked and was right if you were going to rapidly convert Iraqis into policing their own country and if you were going to be the reinforcer of an Iraqi system, not the enforcer of an American system. And the mistake we made—if you look at Afghanistan, it took us three weeks from the fall of Kandahar to recognize Karzai, and five weeks after that, he was at the State of the Union sitting next to Mrs. Bush. And from that point on, it was clear that the Americans were helping the Afghans; they weren’t trying to police Afghanistan, which is an impossible challenge.
I think the cliff we have gone off that we need to get back on is to put the Iraqis at the center of this equation, not foreign governments, not the U.N., not more American troops. Put the Iraqis at the center of this equation and recognize that most Iraqis do not want to go back to a brutal, murdering, raping dictatorship. Most Iraqis want to have an organized way of governing themselves, but they want to be in charge of their own country.
Russert: But there are those who say if you try to do that today or in the next few months, you would have chaos, anarchy and a civil war, because the Iraqis are not capable...
Russert: ...of securing their own country at this point.
Gingrich: Look, I didn’t see the—I don’t believe we should be arguing about American commitment in Iraq. The only exit strategy in Iraq is victory. Now, if that’s true, then we should be able to reassure every Iraqi we’re not leaving till the bad guys are defeated. But the key to defeating the bad guys is having enough good guys who are Iraqis. I mean, the Iraqis know their own country. The Iraqis know the language. The Iraqis know the tribal and family relationships. You know, we should have gone into Iraq with Iraqis who live in America who are American citizens who are fluent in Arabic with every unit. We should have gone in from day one—even as of this morning, there is no Iraqi television station on satellite, which means that if you’re out in any of the smaller towns, you’re picking up only television stations critical of the effort to defeat the dictatorship and the terrorists.
Russert: Whose fault is this? The president’s? The secretary of Defense? Who?
Gingrich: Look, if you read the president’s speeches, President Bush is historically right, at least as much as Ronald Reagan was, about the cause of freedom, about democracy, about the right things to do. And somewhere in the bureaucracy, that gets translated into an implementation that does not resemble the speeches. And the White House has to get a grip on this. This is a—I mean, I went public this weekend because this is a very serious problem.
Russert: The headline of today’s New York Times: Tough new tactics by U.S. tightens grip on Iraq towns. Barriers, detentions, and razings begin to echo Israel’s anti-guerrilla methods. Is that the way to go about it?
Gingrich: In my judgment, it’s not. I mean, I think it’s fine if that’s being done by Iraqi policemen and Iraqi soldiers with American forces standing right behind them. I think it’s fine if you have a person who’s an Iraqi. And I think there’s some virtue to making clear in the area around Tikrit that those people may be Kurds and they may be Shias, that we’re going to find people who are Iraqis that we’re going to— where we favor an Iraqi nation. And you want to bring in people from other neighborhoods because the truth is if you have a local person who tries to help the Americans in these hostile areas, they may well get killed. So you want people who come from the south or who come from the north helping you clean out the last remnants of what is—and it’s important to remember, this is a torturing, murdering, raping, dictatorial gang. And as Jim Hoagland said, this is a gangster regime. Those people are truly evil and we have to finish hunting them down. And until we finish that, we shouldn’t say another word about an exit strategy. We are there to stay until the job’s done.
Russert: The Pentagon was placed in charge of overseeing this operation. Should it have been the State Department trying to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people?
Gingrich: First of all, I think that the key is for the National Security Council and the White House to be in charge. I think that, as I’ve made clear, if you go to the CPA’s, the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Web page, up until last week, you did not see a single Iraqi on that Web page. Today you see one Iraqi, a woman who lives in Washington, D.C., who is their ambassador, which they finally got around to five months later. I think that the key problem is that from the time we finished the professional military campaign and we entered into what is a societal transformation—and it’s important to understand that we’re not trying to stabilize the Iraq of the dictatorship, we’re trying to help create the first democracy in the Arab world. This is a hard job. And I think that the structure of the CPA, the way it’s operated has frankly been out of sync with the job in society.
Russert: What would you do? You’re the president. What would you do today?
Gingrich: Well, I’m not the president, but my advice...
Russert: If you were.
Gingrich: But my advice to the president would be to say put the Iraqi people at the center of this issue. Make sure, for example, that your Web page is mostly about Iraqis...
Russert: Which Iraqis? Which? Who?
Gingrich: Look, we created a Governing Council, we created a Loya Jirga system, which we aroused, which picked Karzai, by the way, I believe in Germany. Karzai has two brothers who run restaurants in the United States. Karzai is a good figure, he’s a Pashtun, he’s the right kind of choice, but he didn’t emerge suddenly, magically because there was this massive nationwide, you know, campaign for Karzai in Afghanistan. His power base has been that all of the various international agencies are willing to support a government that he is in charge of.
Russert: But if we install a puppet government, do you think the Iraqi people would respect it?
Gingrich: You don’t need—it doesn’t have to be a puppet government, Tim. You understand Boston—I mean, Buffalo ward politics. And you come out of a background of the Democratic Party of local organizations. You—we could...
Russert: Who would it be?
Gingrich: We had a series of meetings all through the summer. There are tribal leaders, there are local community leaders, there is a governing coalition right now. It is less well of it in the short run who they were—remember in the Second World War at one point we backed Giraud, eventually we backed de Gaulle, but the free French evolved and Eisenhower understood that it was the free French who had to govern France, not the Americans.
Russert: What if the Iraqi people choose an Islamic fundamentalist regime?
Gingrich: Well, first of all, there’s no evidence that they’re likely to do that. And I think it’s important to not automatically rush into the worst case. It’s more likely, because of the nature of the country, to be some kind of loose governing coalition that has a strong Kurdish component, a strong Sunni component, and a relatively slight Shia majority. And I think there are way—you know, we have-for example, you just had the senator from New York, who’s elected by the state. OK? Originally, they were elected by the state legislature for a very, very long time, over 100 years. The senator from California represents 53 times as many people as the senator from South Dakota. That’s a system we seem to live with quite well. I think it’s possible to arrange a structure of power, which is a major step towards representative government, which would be broadly seen as legitimate and which, by the way, would argue with us all the time. I mean, that’s the other thing that I think the administration has to understand.
Russert: Is time short to get this done?
Gingrich: I think it’s very dangerous, because the longer we keep Americans front and center, the greater the danger that Iraqi nationalism will decide it has to be anti-American.
Russert: Let me turn to the domestic front. Here’s the headline of yesterday’s paper: Conservatives Criticize Bush On Spending.” You ran in 1994 with a Contract with America, pledging a balanced budget. Deficit’s now $500 billion.
Russert: You supported the president’s Medicare bill, another $400 billion entitlement. What happened to balanced budgets and Republicans?
Gingrich: Look, there are three things happening to the balanced budget, and I—having authored the only consecutive large balanced budget since the 1920s, I think I can talk about this with some directness. You had a recession, you had the beginning of a real long-term global war on terrorism, and you have the continuous rise of health costs. Now, as a fiscal conservative who wants to go back to a balanced budget, until you get economic growth up, until you win the war, or at least decisively contain it, and until you transform the health system, you’re not going to get back to a balanced budget. I mean, fighting at the margins over the next appropriations bill is almost irrelevant in the strategic issue. And that’s why we were so successful in ’95, ’96 because we understood you had to reform Medicare or you had to reform welfare, you had to do big things if you wanted to get to a balanced budget. I strongly supported the Medicare bill because it is a very significant step in the right direction. Health savings accounts where people will be able to have an insurance policy that allows them to save $2,600 an individual, and $5,100 a couple, is an enormous step, the biggest step since 1943 towards re-establishing the health system where you are, in the market, you’re making the decisions, you’re informed and involved. If we don’t transform the health system, you cannot balance the budget. I want to say one other thing, though. You and I for the first time in our lives are living in a potentially deflationary environment. All of our life when we studied public policy in college and all that stuff, we worried about inflation. There is a very real possibility that the scale of productivity improvement combined with the rise of China and India create a 25- or 30-year cycle that could well be deflationary rather than inflationary. And I think that requires us to think about very different monetary policies and very different fiscal policies.
Russert: In your Contract with America, it’s now 10 years old, the Republicans prefer a balanced budget. That’s not going to happen for the foreseeable future. You were for term limits; those have been forgotten.
Gingrich: Actually, for chairman in the House, they haven’t.
Russert: Oh, but that’s not what you promised, Mr. Speaker.
Gingrich: No, we voted on it. We didn’t pass it.
Russert: What Professor Ross Baker from Rutgers says the Republicans have gone native. Having won the battle, they don’t want to relinquish power, and that’s why they’re not implementing many of the reforms you suggested.
Gingrich: Well, I mean, first of all, I don’t think we ever got elected to relinquish power. We were the first re-elected majority since 1928. We were quite happy to stay in power. But second, I think, we passed tax cuts which were in the Contract with America. We continued to pass tax cuts. We did talk in the contract about passing welfare reform. It has been extraordinarily successful. Over 60 percent of the people on welfare shifted into schools and into jobs, and it has—well, virtually everybody agrees it has been the right thing to do. We said we would strengthen defense and we did. The only increase in the intelligence budget in the Clinton years came because I personally insisted on it, and against the opposition of the Clinton administration. And I think the people I talked with in the House and the Senate and then at the White House are committed to very large-scale continuing reform. I mean, my prediction is that at the end of the Bush administration, we will have moved more decisions—I mean, again, this health savings account thing, which has not gotten much coverage because of the Medicare bill, but is a key thing, that by itself transfers more power back to the average citizen on health care than anything that’s been done in the last 60 years. If you follow that up with a Social Security personal savings account in the next few years and you continue to improve Medicare, this will be a country of much more personal choice in a few years.
Russert: Let me counterintuitive here. You’re no longer in office. Who’d be the strongest Democratic candidate against George Bush?
Gingrich: I’m not going to pick a Democratic candidate.
Russert: Do you think Howard Dean would be a strong candidate?
Gingrich: Look, I think that you have no way of knowing what next October will be like. I mean, my instinct is it’s probably going to be Dean and Gephardt in the final round, and in some ways, it’s actually a repeat of the campaign you had in 1984 with Dean and the Gary Hart role in a sense and Gephardt and the Walter Mondale role but without Gephardt having been vice president. And probably with the new employment unions being stronger than they were in 1984 and the professorate, the literati, the people who form the new class for the Democrats being relatively stronger. So I assume we’ll face either Dean or Gephardt and I think President Bush will probably win a surprisingly large victory.
Russert: If the Democratic Party was chaotic and disorganized at the convention and turned to Hillary Clinton, do you think she’d accept the nomination?
Gingrich: Probably not.
Russert: Probably not.
Gingrich: I think Senator Clinton is almost certainly going to be the Democratic nominee in 2008.
Russert: Why do you say that?
Gingrich: Well, ‘cause I looked at the same poll you showed her. I mean, there’s no reason to believe she’s going to grow any weaker. And she is serious. She is hard-working. She is a first rate professional.
Russert: Who will be the Republican nominee in 2008?
Gingrich: Oh, there could be a lot of people. I mean, you’d have to say that Senator Bill Frist is extraordinarily attractive. You’d have to say that Governor Jeb Bush is very, very attractive. I mean, you could have an interesting opportunity there. A lot of things can happen between now and then. You can’t—you know, you also have to also say that Vice President Cheney could decide, you know, sometime in early 2008 that, gee, he really is doing great, he kind of likes it. It’ll be about...
Russert: Will Newt Gingrich ever seek elective office again?
Gingrich: I doubt it very much.
Russert: You doubt it?
Gingrich: Listen, I’m a historian. You never say never. But I doubt it very much.