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MEET THE PRESS
Guests: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), on the Democrats' view of Iraq, former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), World War II veteran on the WWII Memorial, plus a political roundtable.
Stephen Hayes, Weekly Standard, Author, "The Connection: How al-Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America"; Joe Klein,Time Magazine; Andrea Mitchell, NBC News; Roger Simon, U.S. News & World Report
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, May 30, 2004
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: The Democrats turn up the rhetoric against the president:
FORMER VICE PRES. AL GORE: President Bush's utter incompetence has made the world a far more dangerous place.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA): I think the time has come to speak very frankly about the lack of leadership in the White House, the lack of judgment.
MR. RUSSERT: With us, the leader of the House Democrats, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California. Then: the dedication of the World War II Memorial:
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Here in the company of the generation that won the war, I proudly accept the World War II Memorial on behalf of the people of the United States of America.
MR. RUSSERT: With us: one of the men who helped make it happen, Army second lieutenant turned Republican leader in the Senate turned presidential candidate, Bob Dole. And the very latest on the debate over terrorism warnings, and insights into the Bush-Kerry race for the White House. With us: Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard, Joe Klein of Time magazine, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News and Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report.
But first joining us is the House minority leader, Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California. Welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
REP. PELOSI: Good morning.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you and our viewers something that you said on May 20 and give you a chance to talk about it: "Bush is an incompetent leader. In fact, he's not a leader. ...He's a person who has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge of the subjects that he has to decide upon. ...He has on his shoulders the deaths of many more troops..." That's pretty strong.
REP. PELOSI: It is, and I said that with great reluctance and after a long period of time of asking the administration where their plan was. You be the judge. Here we have a situation where we put our young men and women in harm's way. And believe me, I said this for the troops. I said this for the troops, a cry for help for the troops. We put them in harm's way. We should--this was a war of choice that the administration went into, and we should have at least known the ground truth of what we were getting into. We send our troops in and we say that they're going to be greeted with rose petals; instead
it's rocket-propelled grenades. We say this is a country that can easily finance its own reconstruction, and here it is a year later; we're $200 billion in the hole and growing. It'll be approaching a quarter of a trillion dollars.
We did not adequately prepare for the post-Saddam situation in Iraq. General--don't take it from me. General Zinni himself said the level of sacrifice was not matched by the level of planning. And he also said that--and this was very--in the lead-up to the Iraq War--I'll just quote him here: "In the lead-up to the Iraq War and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence and corruption."
So we're on a course of action that is dangerous to our troops. We did not equip them well. A Department of Defense report said that a quarter of the troops would not have lost their lives or been injured if they were better equipped. This is just absolutely an unacceptable situation. And for over a year, it has existed. And so, as I say, with reluctance, I said I have to--I've been criticizing the administration over and over again. It had to get to who is responsible for this.
MR. RUSSERT: What message does this send to the troops in Iraq when the ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives says that the commander in chief is not a leader, has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge? How does that make the troops feel?
REP. PELOSI: I visited the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. I visited troops in the lead-up to the war, in Turkey and Qatar and all over the world, and I visited them in hospitals in Germany and, of course, in the United States. And I have a responsibility to the troops, that they, when they go into battle--yesterday, for example, this weekend, Memorial weekend, we worship at the shrine of those who gave their lives. We salute our troops for their courage, their patriotism, the sacrifice they're willing to make for our country. They are precious to us. We owe them at least a fair fight when they go into battle for
us. And that means they have to have leadership that knows what's on the ground when they get there, the equipment to make the fight, the intelligence to know who the adversary is.
The administration has now commissioned a report that the DOD, department of Defense, called "Who Is The Adversary?" You be the judge. Is that fair? Is that fair to the troops? So I am doing this for the troops, and I'm willing to take any attack that others may make to say that this isn't the right thing to do to criticize the commander in chief, because the commander in chief is responsible.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you think the people leading the resistance in Iraq or al-Qaeda think when they hear the ranking Democrat in the House say that President Bush has no knowledge, no experience, no judgment?
REP. PELOSI: They know that we are making an assessment of what we have put our troops into. I don't--I think that we have to have a change of leadership. Of course, I would like to see that be John Kerry. I think he has a better approach to this. But I will say this: Maybe the Republicans would like to rethink who is leading the charge for them because this cannot be an acceptable standard, a war of choice. A war of choice. Let's not even go into the lack of basis to go into the war. We go in. We are one team, one fight. We're with our troops all the way. But we owe them more than the lack of
preparation, the lack of equipment, the lack of intelligence, the lack of knowledge. Chalabi--we--or the basis of Chalabi. Is that good judgment that we--up until last Monday, he was on the U.S. payroll, according to press reports...
MR. RUSSERT: You say Republicans rethink--should the president resign?
REP. PELOSI: I'm saying that this leadership has taken us--don't take my words for it. General Hoar last week, May 20, said before the Foreign Relations Committee, "I believe we're absolutely on the brink of failure. We are looking into the abyss." This is a former chairman of the Central Command. This is the head of the Central Command. And then in addition to what General Zinni, who was also the head of the Central Command--there has to be some change in the personnel and the administration. If the president doesn't want to make those changes, then we're just going to have to have a new president
because I believe that we have a chance with a new president to go out there, talk to our allies, bring some ally troops, bring NATO into Iraq. We need more boots on the ground. We can't just have them be U.S. troops risking our lives, U.S. taxpayers paying the bill, U.S. reputation being tainted by what has happened under this administration, for example, in the Abu Ghraib prison.
MR. RUSSERT: Your counterpart in the House on the Republican side, Tom DeLay, said this: "Nancy Pelosi should apologize for her irresponsible, dangerous rhetoric. She apparently is so caught up in partisan hatred for President Bush that her words are putting American lives at risk."
REP. PELOSI: Well, I totally disagree. I made the statement that I did, and I think with great courage, if I might say about myself because I am worried about the troops on the ground in Iraq and wherever our troops serve. I...
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think that President Bush does anything well?
REP. PELOSI: Of course I do.
MR. RUSSERT: What?
REP. PELOSI: And this is not about a partisan--this isn't about politics. It's not even about personalities. It's about policy. It's a situation where the clear and present danger facing our country is terrorism, and we're in this abyss in...
MR. RUSSERT: But where does he show judgment, experience and knowledge?
REP. PELOSI: I think he's a nice person. I think he's true to his religious convictions. It's not about personality. I think we have to get away from that. Just because we think someone is a good person doesn't mean that they are capable. And I have no dislike for President Bush. In fact, I like him. In fact, I waited a year--I waited a year to say this, trying to give them the chance, "Where is the plan? Where is the plan?" Everything that they based their--all of their assumptions going into Iraq have proven faulty. Now, with this transition, it's very, very uncertain as to what's even going to happen in the transition. The president says it's going to be total and complete sovereignty. His own people say it will be sovereignty with limited authority.
MR. RUSSERT: What would you do in Iraq today right now?
REP. PELOSI: What I would do and what I think our country must do in Iraq is take an assessment of where we are. And there has to be a leveling with the American people and with the Congress of the United States as to what is really actually happening there. It's very hard to say what you would do. We need more troops on the ground. General...
MR. RUSSERT: American troops if necessary?
REP. PELOSI: ...Shinseki said this from the start, when you make an appraisal about whether you're going to war, you have to know what you need.
MR. RUSSERT: So you would put more American troops on the ground?
REP. PELOSI: What I'm saying to you, that we need more troops on the ground. I think it would be better if we could get them to be not American, that we could appeal to our European allies, NATO. I agree with Senator Kerry in that respect to come...
MR. RUSSERT: But if they say no, would you put more American troops on the ground?
REP. PELOSI: Clear and present danger facing the United States is terrorism. We have to solidify, we have to stabilize the situation in Iraq. As secretary of state has said, "You break it, you own it." We have a responsibility now in Iraq there. And we have to get more troops on the ground. But when General Shinseki said we need 300,000 troops, Secretary Wolfowitz said "wildly off the mark," because they knew a commitment of 300,000 troops would not be acceptable to the American people. So they went in with false assumptions about rose petals, not rocket-propelled grenades, and we're in this fix that we're in now.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, let's assume all that is wrong. In order to stabilize the situation, NATO has said they have no troops for Iraq, the French, the Germans and Russians saying no.
REP. PELOSI: We have to send...
MR. RUSSERT: Would you send more American troops in order to stabilize the situation?
REP. PELOSI: Yes. And let me just say this, we have--we must, though, internationalize the situation. We cannot take no for an answer. We have to use our diplomacy to the fullest extent to get more international troops on the ground. And we have to truly Iraqitize, internationalize and Iraqitize the situation. Before we can proceed, we have to know what we're dealing with. There's quicksand over there. It's Chalabi one day on the payroll, the next day we're raiding his house. It's Brahimi one day
making the selection of who the new prime minister will be. The next day it's the Iraqi Governing Council putting forth a name and he finds out about it after the fact. What is going on? What is going on? There's serious questions here that jeopardize the safety of our troops and their ability to accomplish their mission and come home safely and soon.
MR. RUSSERT: Vice President Gore on Wednesday, a week after your comments, had this to say. Let's listen:
(Videotape, May 26, 2004):
MR. GORE: We simply cannot afford to further increase the risk to our country with more blunders by this team. Donald Rumsfeld ought to resign immediately as the chief architect of this plan. Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, the intelligence chief Stephen Cambone all ought to resign immediately. Our nation is at risk every single day Rumsfeld remains as secretary of defense. Condoleezza Rice ought to resign immediately. She has badly mishandled the coordination of national security policy. This is a disaster for our country, and they are responsible along with the president and vice president.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that Secretary Rumsfeld and national security adviser Rice should resign?
REP. PELOSI: I long, weeks ago, called for the resignation of Secretary Rumsfeld, for a number of reasons.
MR. RUSSERT: All right. How about Dr. Rice?
REP. PELOSI: Well, that gets to the president. You're talking about the president's national security adviser. You're talking about the president. We're four, five weeks away--months away, five months away from the election. The public will make its verdict. But I want to tell you, Tim, one of the reasons that I did speak up, I don't think we can wait seven months until the inauguration of a new president for a change in policy. I hope the president will consider replacing the secretary of defense because he really has led this whole operation.
MR. RUSSERT: What did you think of Al Gore's tone?
REP. PELOSI: You see, I didn't see the speech until you just said it right now. I was traveling for the Democrats.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, you just saw it. What did you think of it?
REP. PELOSI: Well, we all have our own style in all of these things, and I think that he has reached the level that many of us have that we are risking our young people's lives in a way that is unfair to them and there has to be a change. So I share the frustration that he has. But I would say once you're calling for the resignation of all those people, it's about the president of the United States.
And I want to say one thing about the president, which also provoked me to say what I said. When I read in the Washington Times what he said about Iraq in one of the exclusive--several exclusive interviews with the Washington Times, Mr. Bush said his father had cut and run from Iraq in 1991. What he actually said was we'll have freedom in Iraq if we don't cut and run like they did in 1991. I think that that's pretty strong rhetoric for this president to say about his father and what he did in 1991. So the--shall we say, the attitudes are running very hot on this subject because there's a great deal at stake
MR. RUSSERT: The difficulty many Democrats are having, and this is how The New York Times captured it. "Iraq policies share many similarities. When it comes to Iraq, it is getting harder every day to distinguish between President Bush's prescription and that of John Kerry. ... It became evident with Mr. Bush's latest speech in Iraq on Monday night, which followed a detailed speech Mr. Kerry gave on Iraq's future some one month ago, the broad outlines of their approaches are more alike than not. That is particularly true as Mr. Bush moves toward giving the United Nations more authority, a move long advocated by Mr. Kerry. They both support the June 30 deadline for the beginning of the transition to civilian power. They both say they would support an increase in United States troop strength, if necessary. Neither has supported a deadline for removing United States troops."
John Kerry voted to support the war, and The New York Times analysis is that his position with George Bush, very similar.
REP. PELOSI: That's because, as you've just indicated, George Bush is moving closer to John Kerry's--President Bush is moving closer to John Kerry's position.
MR. RUSSERT: So what's your complaint?
REP. PELOSI: My complaint is that it's a year too late. We have a situation where if the president had made the speech he made a year, a year-and-a-half earlier, we would not be in the mess that we are in today. And that's the problem. People said to him, "You've got to internationalize it. You've got to make a case to the American people. You've got to make your case to the allies. And if you have a good case, then we can move forward with it," especially when you're talking about a war of choice. And a war of choice that will take resources and intelligence away from the fight on a clear and present danger, which is terrorism.
You saw the sense of community yesterday at the dedication of the World War II Memorial. I think it's really time for America to return to that spirit of community, and that has to be done in a bipartisan way.
And so that these young people will not have died in vain, as President Lincoln said, we have to recommit our country to a sense of community. He said freedom--a rebirth of freedom. I would say a rebirth of community at this time.
MR. RUSSERT: A group called Win Without War had this to say. "There is no military solution in Iraq. We, therefore, call upon our government to commit to ending the military and economic occupation of Iraq and withdrawing our troops by a date certain. There is no justification for letting any young Americans be the last to die for a mistake."
Do you agree with that?
REP. PELOSI: No, I do not. I believe that because of the mess that has been made in Iraq, we have to stay to stabilize Iraq. We have to secure the situation, because now, although it wasn't the case before the war--now it has become a hotbed of terrorist activity. And again we broke it, we own it, we have to do something about it. But it has to be done with great--with much more diplomacy to bring in other countries. Again, internationalize and Iraqitize. Give much more responsibility. This new government is going to have very, very little true sovereignty. I think the more responsibility we give to the Iraqis, the more we internationalize, the better. We cannot leave at this time.
MR. RUSSERT: John Murtha, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, a strong supporter of the war, expressed some real reservations the other day. And it ended this way in an article in The Hill newspaper: "Murtha's bleak analysis led many colleagues to surmise he believes a democratic Iraq is a lost cause."
Do you agree with that?
REP. PELOSI: What Mr. Murtha said precisely was, "Under the present plan, the war is unwinnable." His thinking is not unlike that of General Zinni and and that of General Hoar. We are going into an abyss. The president likes to say, "Stay the course." That's not a plan. That's a motto. And the course, according to General Zinni, that we're on, is taking us over Niagra Falls. And the course, according to General Hoar...
MR. RUSSERT: But can we ever have a democratic Iraq? Is that an honest objective?
REP. PELOSI: I'm not sure that it--we have to stay to see that out. We have to leave a secure Iraq. And if we leave an Iraq that has security and some level of energizing--internationalize, Iraqitize, energize--certain amount of the lights go on, then...
MR. RUSSERT: But if it's secure...
REP. PELOSI: Then I think...
MR. RUSSERT: If it's...
REP. PELOSI: ...we can leave.
MR. RUSSERT: If it's a secure country, but the Iraqis choose an Islamic theocracy, is that their business?
REP. PELOSI: That's their business.
MR. RUSSERT: And we accept it?
REP. PELOSI: That's their business. We said they would have elections, and now we cannot determine what the outcome of those elections would be. But we should have thought more seriously about this in the beginning. Again, a war of choice, based on a lot of information from Chalabi and others, which has proven to be unreliable. And that's why I come back to my criticism of the president. It's a question of judgment. And in order to have the judgment about whose judgment you trust, you have to have some level of experience and knowledge about the situation and not fall prey to those who would exploit our country for their purposes, in terms of why we should go into Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: On April 3, the Associated Press wrote this, that: "Nancy Pelosi had some advice for John Kerry. Pick a running mate."
REP. PELOSI: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: "Sooner rather than later. Do it by May 1." Well, it's May 30, and he still has...
REP. PELOSI: Still hasn't done it. Well...
MR. RUSSERT: Why did he ignore your advice?
REP. PELOSI: Well, let me say this, first of all, the timing on picking the running mate is, of course, the time that is comfortable for the presidential candidate. So when he's ready, we'll all be ready. I believe it was important, and I hope that it will be soon that he will name a running mate, because I didn't like to see John Kerry responding to the vice president and this person and that person, because you are running for president of the United States, and we're going to be so proud of him as president--the values that he brings, the knowledge, the experience, the political savvy, the knowledge of the people.
So I want to be sure that he wins. I don't want to see him in arguments with the vice president or anyone beneath the level of the president of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you support Dick Gephardt for vice president?
REP. PELOSI: I support him--I supported Dick Gephardt for president of the United States and was proud to do so. The person who should be the vice president is the one that the presidential nominee is comfortable with. So whoever he decides, I will celebrate and work very hard to elect so that in November we will have a Democratic president of the United States, one who can restore our national reputation for our country and grow our economy at home to create jobs. And we will have a Democratic Congress. We will have Tom Daschle as the majority leader of the Senate, and I'll be proud to be the first woman speaker in the history of our country when the Democrats take back the House of Representatives.
MR. RUSSERT: You're going to guarantee that this morning?
REP. PELOSI: Well, I'll guarantee you one thing, one guarantee a program: I will guarantee you that John Kerry will be president of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be watching. To be continued. Nancy Pelosi, thank you for your views.
REP. PELOSI: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the man who helped yesterday's World War II Memorial dedication happen: former senator and World War II veteran Bob Dole of Kansas. Then it's Bush vs. Kerry on the war in Iraq, homeland security and more. Insights and analysis from our political Roundtable, all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Former Senator Bob Dole, then our political Roundtable, after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Senator Bob Dole, welcome to MEET THE PRESS, your 62nd appearance. You're still number one.
FMR. SEN. BOB DOLE, (R-KS): I appreciate that.
MR. RUSSERT: Dick Gephardt, two, at 41, way behind you. You were a driving force for the World War II Memorial. I want to read something from Time magazine which talks about the situation then, and the situation now, and ask you to talk about it a little bit.
This is Nancy Given, Time magazine: "Where is the sacrifice? ... If you do not live in a military town or have a cousin serving overseas, the Iraq war can feel far away, so long as the TV is off. World War II was much more intimate, and not only because any son could be drafted to serve. Women went without their nylons and saved their bacon grease to make explosives and planted victory gardens. People the coastlines drove 20 m.p.h. after dark, their headlights partially blacked out, or volunteered as air-raid wardens or donated their rubber raincoats and tires and bathing caps. ... It has the effect of pulling people together, uniting them behind the cause."
MR. DOLE: She's right. No doubt. That's what happened. That was World War II.
MR. RUSSERT: And what do we have now with Iraq?
MR. DOLE: Now, we've got the families and the young men and women over there, they're the ones that are sacrificing. Nobody else. I mean, I don't. You don't. We go about our daily life. We read about somebody being killed or wounded and we're sorry.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the president ask for more sacrifice?
MR. DOLE: What would--I don't know what people would sacrifice unless you're talking about raising taxes. But I don't think that's--that's not sacrifice. I'm talking about giving up something, I mean, that you really care about. Like, you couldn't have meat, you couldn't have nylon stockings, all the things she mentioned. But that doesn't mean that our cause is not just.
MR. RUSSERT: Why is the country so badly divided over Iraq?
MR. DOLE: I don't know. It's just unfortunate we've got a war going on in a political--in a presidential election year. But it's--I think it's going to change. I mean, I'm not here to get involved in that, but I think it's looking a little better. There's a little bit of light. And when you see what happened yesterday in Saudi Arabia, that certainly plays into Bush's hand. When you start--you know, there is a global war on terror, and it's going to affect it. It affected Americans yesterday killed or hostages. And I think all that underscores what the president has been trying to tell us.
MR. RUSSERT: But when you hear Democrats say the president does not have the experience, the knowledge, that he's incompetent, what--how do you...
MR. DOLE: Well, I don't agree with that. But then I look at Colin Powell. I look at Donald Rumsfeld. I look at Condoleezza Rice. I look at the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he's got a lot of people. I mean, there are good people in every administration. I mean, let's face it. They get top people. Any president, whether it's Democrat or Republican, is going to need the top people to give them advice. They can't know every detail. And you don't have to be shot at to be president, you know?
MR. RUSSERT: Are you concerned that no weapons of mass destruction--that we did not have the troops that General Shinseki said we needed in order to control the area, that there were some mistakes made, misjudgments made?
MR. DOLE: Oh, I mean, look at World War II. And if we're going to try to compare the two, go back to D-Day, which is June 6; it'll be the 60th anniversary next week. You know, the gliders landed along Prays Head, people scattered all over the beaches. After all the planning--you talk about a plan. They had a plan. So mistakes happen. But I'm not sure this general's views are more credible than some other generals. They may have enough. So, I mean, I think it's--you look back on this in five years and if I'm still around, I look back on it in five years, the Iraqis are going to say thank God for the Americans and the Brits. And we're going to understand it better.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll have a democratic state in Iraq?
MR. DOLE: Well, not like us. But, you know, they'll be on--they'll take the first little step. But it's tough. I mean, it's--they don't want to be occupied. We've never been occupiers. I mean, we're liberators; we're not occupiers.
MR. RUSSERT: You think President Bush has bet his presidency on the outcome of the war in Iraq?
MR. DOLE: I think so. I mean, I don't think he's going to backpedal or, you know, change positions because it might cost him some votes. I think he's made the decision. He's going to stick with it. And that's the choice he should--and that's the choice I would make.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you Bob Dole from yesterday and share this with our viewers:
(Videotape, May 29, 2004):
MR. DOLE: In the first week of January, 1945, a hungry and lonesome second lieutenant from small-town Kansas dispatched a message to his folks back home. "You can send me something to eat whenever you're ready," he wrote. "Send candy, gum, cookies, cheese, grape jelly, popcorn, nuts, peanut clusters, Vick's Vapo-Rub, wool socks, wool scarf, fudge cookies, ice cream, liver and onions, fried chicken, banana cake, milk, fruit cocktail, Swiss steaks, crackers, more candy, Life Savers, peanuts, the piano, the radio, the living room, the suite and the record player and Frank Sinatra. I guess you might as well send the whole house if you can get it into a five-pound box. P.S., Keep your fingers crossed."
MR. RUSSERT: A lonely, hungry guy.
MR. DOLE: Yeah, well--yeah, I didn't know about that letter. We discovered my sister had a lot of those. My sister Gloria kept a lot of those letters, so--but that just reflects what your dad and this Frank Caraffa he's going to meet later, my buddy from Italy, you know, we all wrote home. We all got food boxes. We all had mail call. I mean, it was it was wonderful.
MR. RUSSERT: You were such a young man when you went over to fight, Senator Dole. You said, "Keep your fingers crossed."
MR. DOLE: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Then came April 14, 1945. Tell us what happened.
MR. DOLE: Well, that was not a good day for me. I mean, we were, you know, supposed to have our big push April 12. Roosevelt died. We were all in tears that we lost our commander in chief, and he was great, in our opinion. And so we had to postpone it two days. So April 14 we started the last big push in Napo Valley, and I was the second platoon leader, and we started up the hill. There was this big hedgerow up there, and there were all kind of German fire coming in. And my radio man, who always
goes ahead--your radio man generally ahead of you--was wounded, and I went out to try to get Ed Sims, my radio guy. And just as I sort of got him back, I felt this sting in my right shoulder, and it turned out to be some kind of explosive thing that fractured a couple of vertebra in my neck. And I couldn't move. I couldn't do anything, and then about four years later I get back on my feet.
MR. RUSSERT: Almost three years in the hospital.
MR. DOLE: Thirty-nine months, and some of it was on leave, of course. But I mean, I was--and even after that, my legs would shake, and I don't have any feeling in my left hand. People think "Well, you've got one good hand." I said "Yeah, but I don't have any feeling in it." I can't button my—you know, can't feel a buttonhole. So I use a buttonhook except for this little finger, I've got good feeling in it. But you know, I'm lucky. I'm here, and I think of the poor guys that never took another breath,
you know, just never got home.
MR. RUSSERT: When you walked into the World War II Memorial for the first time, what did you think?
MR. DOLE: First you go like this. And I remember taking down all the guys--World War II vets who are still in Congress. And here was Fritz Hollings and Frank Lautenberg, all these tough guys. And I could see, you know, like this. And I think, they were just--at least I thought--you know, I was young once, you know. I was a 19-year-old, 20-year-old platoon leader. And it just all sort of--you just sort of races through your whole life. You think of what happened, how lucky you are to be here, what a
great country we live in, what a big event this was that your dad participated in and my brother, my two brothers-in-law who have all since passed away.
MR. RUSSERT: Why did it take so long to get a memorial?
MR. DOLE: I don't think we really wanted one. You know, we were busy. We went back to school with the GI Bill. Eight million of us got into some kind of training, an education of some kind, and they had state memorials. It wasn't that we couldn't have had one. The government would have paid for it. The one thing about this memorial is that 90-some percent is privately funded. It didn't come from the government. So when people criticize it, they can't say it's a government waste. Because we said if we can't raise the money, we shouldn't build it. Save that money for veterans who need it.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Senator, you're part of an amazing generation. You survived the Depression. You won World War II and saved the world from Adolf Hitler and you came back home and built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.
MR. DOLE: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: There is someone you've brought in the studio today. His name is Frank Caraffa.
MR. DOLE: Frank Caraffa.
MR. RUSSERT: And he's sitting here, over in the studio.
MR. DOLE: Right over here.
MR. RUSSERT: This is the man who saved your life.
MR. DOLE: He and a guy named Ollie Manon looked after me. And I've got Frank on the recording just saying what happened. But I remember he took my own blood and put an M on my forehead to show that I'd had morphine, right, Frank? And so they wouldn't overdose me because you can die of an overdose of morphine. And he stayed with me until he found somebody name Booth to stick with me. I was there for nine hours before they picked me up, but he's one of the great guys. He lives in New Rochelle, New York, and he's got a great record himself.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, we thank you for coming and sharing this story with us, Senator Dole. We thank Frank Caraffa for joining us. We thank you both for your service.
MR. DOLE: Well, thank your dad for his service, too.
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, Big Russ.
MR. DOLE: Big Russ.
MR. RUSSERT: Nothing like it. Thank you very much, Senator.
MR. DOLE: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, our political roundtable. Steve Hayes of The Weekly Standard, Joe Klein of Time magazine, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, and Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report. Insights and analysis, coming up.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Welcome all. Want to talk about Iraq, the presidential race, but let me start with homeland security. This was the scene on Wednesday when the attorney general spoke to the nation:
MR. JOHN ASHCROFT: The Madrid railway bombings were perceived by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to have advanced their cause. Al-Qaeda may perceive that a large-scale attack in the United States this summer or fall would lead to similar consequences.
MR. RUSSERT: Andrea Mitchell, the attorney general saying, in effect, that al-Qaeda wanted to change the government in Madrid, a presidential election, and blew up a train station and a lot of passengers with it, and that would they try that here for similar consequences?
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, for one thing, the guts of his charge is something that had been completely discredited by American intelligence. He was crediting this to the Al-Masra Brigade, which is a group that has an e-mail address and claimed credit, claimed responsibility for the blackout in New York City, which was, of course, a technical, electronic problem. So it was a completely trumped-up news conference. You notice that Tom Ridge wasn't there. And this may have reflected more of the political agenda of John Ashcroft, as well as disputes, friction, tension between the FBI trying to protect its turf, and Homeland Security, which has taken over a lot of the former FBI functions. Here Homeland Security was supposed to coordinate and eliminate these kinds of dissidences within the security teams, and apparently it hasn't.
MR. RUSSERT: Stephen Hayes, what's your sense of this? John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge were forced to issue a joint statement the next day saying, "We really are on the same page."
MR. STEPHEN HAYES: Yeah, I think John Ashcroft just got out ahead of the administration on this again. I mean, he's done this in the past, and I think the fact that he cited this Al-Masra Brigade is troubling. But I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that these are serious threats, that it's perfectly rational to expect an attack, such as the one that they saw in Madrid. And overall I think it's hard to make the argument that this is a political--this news conference, I think, you can say perhaps political. The overall argument, the threats, the chatter is high--these are credible threats. I think we have to take it seriously.
MS. MITCHELL: Agreed on that.
MR. ROGER SIMON: But really--this is an administration that ought to tread lightly when it comes to using terrorism and tragedy for political purposes. The Bush campaign has already used 9/11 footage in political ads. The Republican Convention, the latest in history I believe, was positioned that way to put it close to the September 11 anniversary. And now you have John Ashcroft basically going out, based on very thin evidence, and saying, "Well, al-Qaeda may attack us again in order to, by implication, elect John Kerry." I don't think that strikes people as the proper use of these serious issues.
MR. RUSSERT: The convention date was also determined by the Olympics, however, which takes up the last couple weeks of August, which makes it pretty hard.
MR. SIMON: Well, but it is--still remains that it's the latest that they've ever done it. They didn't have to position it right before the September 11 anniversary.
MR. JOE KLEIN: They also didn't have to position it in New York. I think it's true what Ashcroft said may actually happen. There may well be an attack. The people I talk to in the intelligence community can't explain why there hasn't been one. The other reality is this: that the chatter is a little bit higher, but not as high as it was before September 11.
MR. RUSSERT: And it's impossible to predict how the American people would react. In Spain they chose one path where they wanted to change governments, although it was a close election going into that day. Here people may say, "Well, we didn't do enough to prepare," or "Let's stand behind our commander in chief." No one can predict.
MS. MITCHELL: Absolutely.
MR. KLEIN: Exactly.
MS. MITCHELL: They could rally around the president. It depends on timing. It depends on...
MR. KLEIN: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: ...what we learn about what leads up to it. So there's no way to predict the effect.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. This is how Ron Brownstein captured it in the Los Angeles Times: "Kerry Feels Squeeze On Iraq Policy. Sen. John F. Kerry faces a stark new challenge in the campaign skirmishing over Iraq: As President Bush has moved toward his position, the Democratic Party is moving away from it. From one side, Kerry confronts calls from growing numbers of Democrats to establish a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.... From the other direction, Bush has come
much closer to Kerry's view that the U.S. should rely more on the United Nations to oversee the transition from occupation to a sovereign Iraqi government, thus blurring the contrast between the two men. In the long run, these shifts in Democratic attitudes and Bush's strategy may pressure Kerry to break more sharply from the administration on Iraq, a step he has firmly resisted. More immediately, the squeeze is encouraging Kerry to subtly shift his critique of Bush on the war.... `Kerry's position is being eroded,' said one top Democratic foreign policy analyst who asked not to be named. `Kerry is in a position where the best he will be able to say is that Bush is finally doing what I said to do all along.'"
MR. KLEIN: Well, on the Kerry front, this is the way John Kerry runs campaigns. It's the way he campaigned against William Weld for the Senate in 1996. He's going to wait. He believes that it doesn't begin until Labor Day. And obviously, he's under some pressure here. But the bigger question here, and the biggest question of all, is--I don't think Kerry's been asked the right questions. You've had a radical change in the Bush policy in Iraq over the last month. There--and it hasn't been announced. The president certainly didn't say it on Monday. The change is that they're obviously giving control over security to the militias on the ground in Iraq. I'd like to know what Kerry feels about that and whether he thinks it's a good policy. The second thing is that they gave political control to Brahimi, and it's very clear from the events of the last 48 hours that he couldn't quite exercise it.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe, you write in your column tomorrow in Time magazine, "The truth is, we are in full-scale retreat both politically and militarily."
MR. KLEIN: I think that's absolutely true. I think that the president can't control the security situation on the ground, and so he's turned it over to the militias, especially in Fallujah, where he turned it over to some of the foreign fighters that he thinks we're at war against. And on the political side, I don't think that anybody really knows where that's headed. And the key figure there is Ayatollah Sistani, and we don't know how he's going to feel about the Governing Council's candidate.
MR. RUSSERT: Stephen Hayes, we're in a situation--we're in Fallujah. We have former Saddam's military people on the ground controlling that city. We have a U.N. negotiator named Brahimi who has been outspoken about Israel and U.S. support of Israel. And we have, as Joe said, a Shiite cleric having enormous influence over a potential theocracy. Is there any chance that the dream of a democratic state as espoused by George W. Bush can be achieved?
MR. HAYES: Well, I think there is a chance. I mean, I don't think that we can run away from it just because we've had some troubles on the ground--not to minimize those troubles; they're significant. I think the Fallujah problem was a significant obstacle in the beginning, and it remains to be a significant obstacle. I think Najaf is a little bit more settled. I think they're going after Sadr's militia. In the past week, we've seen the fierce Sadr army, the al-Mahdi Army, decimated, and he's now fighting with 14-year-old, 15-year-old children. And then at the same time they're conducting negotiations not with Sadr but with his followers, which may be too fine a distinction for sort of the broad perception across the country. But I think the situation isn't quite as grim as Joe makes it out. I certainly don't think we're in full military and political retreat at this point.
MR. RUSSERT: You have written a book called "The Connection: How al-Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America." The president has gone out of his way to say there's no evidence of Saddam Hussein linked to September 11. What's your thesis?
MR. HAYES: A agree. I don't think--I think it's too strong to say there's no evidence, but at the same time I think that one has to consider the fact that he may have had something to do with it on even a marginal scale. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that a man named Ahmed Hickma Shakir, who, it looks like, was a Saddam Fedayeen lieutenant colonel, was present at the January 2000 planning meeting for September 11 in Kuala Lumpur. Is that definitive? It's not. But is it interesting? It certainly is. And I think the 9-11 Commission really needs to look carefully into who Ahmed Hickma Shakir was, and what, if any, was his role.
MR. RUSSERT: But there's a growing perception in the United States that the war in Iraq is not a central part of the war on terror. But even, as the Democrats would say, a distraction.
MR. HAYES: Yeah, I wish the Bush administration would do a better job of making the argument, answering the criticisms today in the same way that they made the argument before the war, which was addressing Iraq as a threat, which I think it was. I think the evidence suggests that it was.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the president has bet his presidency on Iraq?
MR. HAYES: I think he has.
MS. MITCHELL: I think it's a referendum on Iraq. And in fact, as the economy picks up, assuming that it continues and doesn't get set back or detoured by another terror incident or by what's happening now in Saudi Arabia, it will be a referendum on Iraq. And what's interesting is that John Kerry is taking his time, as Joe says, to get his voice. He has a few interviews today. But I think what's most unhelpful to John Kerry in this regard is Al Gore. The Al Gore speech sets out what is a growing feeling in the Democratic base. We want out. We want quick withdrawal. And John Kerry has not signed on to that. And the more Al Gore speaks out in this fashion, emotionally pulling at the heartstrings of the Democratic liberal base, the more it sets Kerry apart from his own party.
MR. RUSSERT: And allows Ralph Nader to emerge as the peace candidate?
MS. MITCHELL: Exactly.
MR. RUSSERT: Roger?
MR. SIMON: Well, I agree about Al Gore. I don't agree that there is a growing feeling in the Democratic base to push John Kerry farther to the left. The Democratic left is doing exactly what the Republican right did in 2000, which is cutting the nominee some slack so he can get elected president. So I have to say it's always fraught with peril to disagree with Ron Brownstein, but I really disagree with the premise of his story. When John Kerry came out recently and said he might appoint judges who weren't for Roe v. Wade, you would have expected a huge eruption from the Democratic left. Instead he got slack absolutely cut for him. This is a party passionate about defeating George Bush. They are not yet passionate about electing John Kerry, but they are trying to get themselves there.
MS. MITCHELL: I think the distinction is that the leaders of the left are going along with this program. But the difference is that the rank-and-file Democrats out there who are increasingly frustrated don't feel passionate about John Kerry. And they don't feel passion increasingly when they hear people like Al Gore reaching to where their real core is. So I think it's whether or not John Kerry can really mobilize people to come out and vote. You're right, the leadership is not going to put him on the spot other than, of course, Al Gore.
MR. KLEIN: Well, I think--I agree with Roger about this. I think that the rank and file is on the same page as the leadership in this case. But there is a problem that Al Gore, you know, highlights for Kerry, and that is that Kerry hasn't--people say he has to have an alternative plan to the president's. He doesn't have to have an alternative plan. But what he has to do is make some sort of an emotional connection with the American people on this issue, to show them that he understands how upset they are. I mean, the most interesting statistic that came out this week was in an ABC-Washington Post poll that showed that the level of anger among Americans has increased from 30 percent to 57 percent about Iraq in the last two months. Now, that's a fairly abstract--anger over what? But I think it's--the frustration is really very, very high, and Kerry has to acknowledge that.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, let me follow up on that Washington Post poll, Joe. Here's some of the other numbers. President Bush, job approval--approve, 47; disapprove, 50. President Bush handling of the war in Iraq--approve, 40; disapprove, 58 percent--now disapprove of the president's handling of the war in Iraq. But he asked the horse race question. John Kerry, 46; George Bush, 46; Ralph Nader, 4.
Stephen Hayes, the president--nearly six in 10 Americans disagree with his handling of the war and yet he's dead even with John Kerry.
MR. HAYES: Well, I think it speaks to exactly what Roger was saying, which is that nobody's fired up about John Kerry. I mean, you can go out in the Midwest, I was there last weekend, nobody comes to you and says, "I love John Kerry. I'm a passionate John Kerry supporter." They are against George W. Bush and will remain against George W. Bush. But I don't agree necessarily with the fact that the Democratic base doesn't need to hear this from John Kerry, this sort of emotion. I think he's going to have a tough time making that argument because he was with the president. He was more hawkish on
Iraq than the president was before President Bush was elected. He was with the president on most of his policy up through the war and, as you point out, he's essentially where the president is today. So what is there for him to get emotion about? Al Gore was fired up before the war. John Kerry was not.
MR. RUSSERT: What is there for John Kerry to be emotional about?
MR. SIMON: I don't think he intends to win this campaign, this race on emotion. This campaign started out about being about strength, and George Bush wants it to be about strength. Who is strong enough to stand up to world terrorism? Who is strong enough to protect the homeland? John Kerry is making it about competency. Is George Bush competent enough to put together an international coalition having insulted many of our allies before September 11? John Kerry says no. Is he competent enough to have a plan to occupy Iraq and get us out of Iraq? John Kerry says no. And every time you see a bonehead play like Ashcroft at his press conference raise the issue of competency, it hurts George Bush and it helps John Kerry.
MS. MITCHELL: Take a look at the way they're handling this transition in the handover, which is going to be the next big test of competence. In the last couple of days, we've seen that their plan to have the U.N. designate leaders has gone amok because the Iraqi political figures there co-opted it. They basically kidnapped the leadership transition, and they're trying to designate their own people. And right now that's still in play.
MR. RUSSERT: But they have someone who's a secular Shiite supported by the CIA long ago, supported now by Sistani, the cleric who's very tough on the issue of security. Perhaps Allawi's a pretty good choice.
MS. MITCHELL: Allawi may turn out to be the right choice, except that he has "Made in America" stamped all over him, and whether or not he can really appeal to Iraqis--he hasn't been there for 30 years.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Klein, John Kerry, is he boxed on the war because of his support of the war resolution authorizing the president to go to war, in October of 2002?
MR. KLEIN: Well, if the issue is a simple sentence, yeah, he's boxed. But if the American people look at it in greater detail, he can run on the fact that the Bush administration has just blown this at every turn, that the question of competence is a real one. You know, when we saw Al Gore before saying Donald Rumsfeld should resign, so-and-so should resign, the president should fire some of these people. They've been dead wrong at every turn.
MR. RUSSERT: What about the economy? Job growth is coming back. Can't George Bush point to that as something that is worth re-electing him over?
MR. HAYES: Yeah, I think that's likely to come back. I don't think it'll come back as long as there are these kind of significant problems on the ground in Iraq and as long as we're all paying attention to the transition, which will, I think, take up a lot of the oxygen through the summer. But certainly looking forward to next fall, the economy is still the number one issue in polls, and it will be a big issue.
MR. SIMON: This is why the Kerry campaign, I think, is not too worried about the horse race at this point. We have an incumbent wartime president who is presiding over a booming economy, if you have a job, a soaring real estate market, and yet this guy should be 10 points up in the horse race. George Bush should be 10 points up. His approval rating should be in the 60s, not the 40s. I mean, what is depressing George Bush's numbers? Well, we know what's depressing the numbers. Iraq is depressing the numbers. And as long as that is a millstone around his neck, they're going to stay low.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. We'll be right back.
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