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'Deborah Norville Tonight' for Sept. 8

Read the complete transcript to Wednesday's show

Guests: John Wroblewski, Sue Niederer, Ken Allard, Bill Arkin, Kristin Gore


DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  A grim milestone.  More than 1,000 American sons and daughters have now lost their lives in the war in Iraq...


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.


NORVILLE:  ... more than a year after the president declared “Mission accomplished.”  But the shooting and the bombing continues.  And so do the deaths.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re killing off our young.  We‘re killing off our future.


NORVILLE:  American soldiers are dying at an average of two every day in Iraq.  Was the opposition‘s power and will miscalculated?


GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN:  The enemy is becoming more sophisticated in its efforts to destabilize the country.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  The most catastrophic choice is the mess that he has made in Iraq.


NORVILLE:  Tonight, can the war in Iraq be won?  And how many lives will it cost?


BUSH:  We mourn every loss of life.  We‘ll honor their memories by completing the mission.


NORVILLE:  Plus: Her dad was once a heartbeat away from the presidency.  Now this Emmy-nominated comedy writer‘s got her pulse on the nation‘s capital with her first novel.  Tonight, Kristin Gore shares her humorous inside take on D.C. politics.

ANNOUNCER:  From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.

NORVILLE:  And good evening, everyone.  It is a number no one in America wanted to mark, 1,000 military deaths in Iraq.  And if you look at the numbers, it would appear that the situation in Iraq is only getting worse.  Attacks on American forces rose to 2,700 in August, 2,700 in just one month alone, which is up from about 1,000 just the month before.  And as these pictures indicate, the attacks can happen anywhere, at any time.  Iraqi insurgents shot this video of a roadside bomb exploding as a U.S.  Bradley fighting vehicle passed it in Ramadi.  Fortunately, no one was killed in that attack, but as you know, so many others are fatal.

Joining me now from Baghdad is NBC News correspondent Richard Engel.  Richard, as I‘m sure you‘ve heard, every paper in this country‘s got the 1,000 mark on the front page.  How‘s it being covered in Iraq?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  The soldiers are obviously talking about it.  But for the soldiers—I spent the day talking with some soldiers from the 1st Cavalry, which are based here in Baghdad.  And for them, it‘s not about 1,000, it‘s about the friends, their war buddies that they‘ve known who have lost.  It‘s very difficult for them because they—most people—the unit I was with today, for example, had lost five soldiers since January.  And they—one of the—the last soldier that they lost was two days ago.  He was killed in a roadside bomb.

And to give you about—the stress level that they‘re dealing with, some of the soldiers that were involved in—involved in this patrol that eventually got ambushed...


ENGEL:  ... not only did they have to bring the body back, take the—clean out the truck, but they were out on another patrol an hour later.  So a lot of people here have very—have a lot of horrific memories.  And it‘s not about a 1,000, it‘s about individuals here.

NORVILLE:  Having said that, the statistic now is there‘s about two Americans being killed every day.  How‘s the morale with the troops there?

ENGEL:  The morale—I think, these soldiers have to put up something of a barricade between what they see and what they have to do.  Most of the soldiers I spoke to today said they try and think it‘s not going to happen to them.  They—a lot of them don‘t talk about it, in fact.  The—it was quite emotional for some of them to talk, and didn‘t want to bring it up.  They thought it was easier not to address the subject because they know that tonight, they‘re going to go out on more patrols, and they don‘t want to end up like the people that they‘ve seen who have fallen in combat.

NORVILLE:  I can understand that the 1,000 deaths probably wouldn‘t be reported in Iraq, but it seems to me they would report the number of Iraqis that are being killed.  Is that a number that gets focused on over there?

ENGEL:  The Iraqi media certainly focuses on that.  And there‘s a lot of—a lot of—it‘s hard to pin down that number, but certainly, it is a lot higher.  There‘s been anywhere between 12,000 and 14,000 people who‘ve been reported to have died over the last—since the war began, civilians, and then about 4,000 to 6,000 military deaths.  So obviously, a much higher number of Iraqis, and it‘s something that they feel very strongly about.  And it‘s—there are some military analysts who wonder if—how sustainable this reconstruction effort is and this rebuilding effort to put a new government in place, when there are so many Iraqis, and also, obviously, so many Americans being killed every day, every week, every month.

NORVILLE:  When we look at the number of attacks and we see how it‘s more than doubled in just one month‘s time, it‘s difficult from this side of the pond to understand how much of Iraq is devolving like that.  Give us a sense of what percentage of the country is falling to the insurgents that we keep hearing about.

ENGEL:  I think “falling” would be somewhat of an overstatement.  The number of attacks don‘t really mean very much because it‘s—you can have an attack where someone opens fire on a car, nothing happens.  But then you could have the shooting down of a helicopter or two, which would obviously would be a much more serious incident.  So it‘s the kind of attacks.

But there are a lot of places in this country that are not in control of the government.  And if you—it really depends on the geography.  And in the Sunni triangle area, particularly in the north toward the Syrian border, there are cities around Mosul and towns that are not in control of the—the government is not in control of them.  There are other areas that have been widely reported about, Baqubah and Samarra, where al Qaeda-linked factions, like Tawheedwa Jihad (ph), which is the Zarqawi group...


ENGEL:  ... they have strong inroads there.  Fallujah, obviously, we‘ve talked a lot about, it being a virtual no-go zone.  And just today there are reports that the Fallujah Brigade, which was set up as kind of a patch to try and control the situation—there are reports today that that is collapsing.

Then we have other problems to the south.  And here in Baghdad, Sadr City, we have Shi‘ite militia groups who are making a power grab here in Baghdad, and then in Najaf.  So there are many pockets where militia groups, be they al Qaeda supporters or Shi‘ites or just other angry Sunnis who feel they have lost out after the war here, are running the show, and not the Americans and not the interim government.

NORVILLE:  All right.  Well, Richard Engel, as always, we appreciate the perspective you‘re able to give to us from Baghdad.  Stay safe.

ENGEL:  Thank you.

NORVILLE:  Before the start of the war in Iraq, the military planned for a swift and decisive victory, and for the most part, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was just that.  It has now been 16 months since President Bush delivered these now famous words on board the USS Abraham Lincoln.


BUSH:  Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.  In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.


NORVILLE:  But since the president said those words, more than 850 Americans have died in Iraq, including the sons of my next guests.  Marine 2nd lieutenant John Wroblewski of Jefferson Township, New Jersey, was killed in April of this year, just before his 26th birthday.  He was leading a convoy to help some other Marines under fire when his unit was attacked.  And 24-year-old Army 1st Lieutenant Seth Warren of Hopewell, New Jersey, was killed in Iraq in February.  His family says he was killed while defusing a bomb.  Joining me now is John‘s father, John Wroblewski, and Seth‘s mother, Sue Niederer.  Thank you so much for being here.

SUE NIEDERER, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  Thank you for allowing us.

NORVILLE:  It must be very difficult on a day like this, when it seemed every paper had the 1,000 deaths reported.  It must put you back to that day when you got the news.  How are you doing, John?

JOHN WROBLEWSKI, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  Well, first of all, let me say that my condolences, sincere and heartfelt condolences go out to Sue and to all the fallen.  It‘s just a tremendous grief that you go through.  I‘ll never forget, you know, the knock on the door.  And it was on a Wednesday, 8:30 at night, knock at the door, and went to the door, opened it up, and saw two Marines, a captain and a sergeant, and a chaplain.  I knew immediately why they were there.

What was part of that, too, is the day before, we had gotten a call also that our son was injured.  We did get a call that he was injured and that he had been shot.  But we were under the impression, or thinking positively, that we were going to go to Germany, and you know, go and meet him there.  Obviously, that never panned out, and on that Wednesday, we got the knock on the door.

And like I was saying to you earlier, every time I hear of any soldier, Marine, who falls, that goes through my mind, the grief that those parents and the wives and the brothers and the sisters are going to go through when they get that same knock on the door.

NORVILLE:  Sue, are you able to make sense of your son‘s death this year?

NIEDERER:  Not really.  I‘m not able to make sense of my son‘s death.  I really feel that Seth was out there definitely doing his job and what he was supposed to be doing.  But the reason, the actual procedure of what he was doing, I don‘t quite understand because I‘ve gotten three or four different versions of how my son actually was killed.  And they do vary.  And the official report has actually now been finished.  I‘m supposed to receive it within the next two months.  I don‘t think that it is going to give me any comfort or anything of that nature, but I am looking to see what they actually say.

NORVILLE:  Both of you come down, as America does, on very different points about where this war is, whether it should have started, and what the future should be.  Sue, you‘ve been very outspoken...


NORVILLE:  ... in your belief that this war is not good and needs to end.  John, you continue to believe that America should be in Iraq.  Why is that?

WROBLEWSKI:  I feel—and I‘ve felt this a long time, as my family does—that we made the right choice, we made the right decision.  It‘s not a war thing because no one‘s for war.  President Bush is not for war.  No president would ever be for war.  But I think when it finally came down to it, after the years of resolutions and things of that nature and what went on—and I know there‘s a dispute about the weapons of mass destruction, but they were there.  I mean, the U.N. said they were there.  France said they were there.  Germany said they were there.  Israel said they were there.  He used them on his own people, weapons of mass destruction.  Now, could all those intelligence services be wrong, OK?

I honestly feel that they were there, OK?  Where they are, I don‘t know.  Maybe he moved them out of the country or whatever.  Maybe they‘re buried somewhere.  But I don‘t think it‘s all about weapons of mass destruction.  Saddam Hussein was a modern Hitler.  Look at the graves that were uncovered, just the tremendous amount of people that he just arbitrarily killed and executed.

NORVILLE:  So you would agree, then, that your son‘s death to help those people who were oppressed by Saddam Hussein, was a huge, horrible, personal sacrifice, but the right sacrifice.

WROBLEWSKI:  Correct.  And also, too, I think he was fighting for the freedoms of this country that we all enjoy.  And I honestly feel that we brought the war to them and we‘re fighting it there.  If not, I think we would be fighting it here on our shore.

NORVILLE:  And Sue, as you know, six times as many men and women have been killed since the president was on that aircraft carrier as before that.  One of them was your son.


NORVILLE:  What do you think the answer is, just pack up the guns and come back home?  What would you like to see happen?

NIEDERER:  I would like to see us removed from that country as quickly as possible.  The country now has—we‘ve defeated Saddam Hussein.  Since we have defeated him, the people of Iraq want to run their own country.  It‘s time to allow them to do what they want.  We cannot continue, as a nation, to say, This is the way we want you to be.  This is our democracy put upon you.  Let them run the country the way they want to run their country.  That‘s their prerogative.

NORVILLE:  And yet you‘ve heard many people predict that if America left before Iraq was ready to take over its own affairs, it would be chaos, it would be anarchy.  There would not be Iraqis determining their own future, but under a different kind of oppression.  Some would argue that would make your son‘s death less meaningful.

NIEDERER:  As far as I am concerned, and many, many people I speak with, Iraqi veterans coming back right now who actually stayed at my home this past week—I listened to them and I listened to my son, and they all say the same thing.  The Iraqi people don‘t want us there any longer.  They want to govern themselves, and they want their country back to themselves.  When is it—and when will we be able to actually pull out of there and say that we‘ve accomplished something?  I firmly believe that this is going to continue on for years upon years upon years, and we are never going to have their country govern itself.

NORVILLE:  And that‘s the debate that is so prominent now in the presidential election.

We‘ll take a short break.  When we come back, more with Sue Niederer and John Wroblewski in just a moment.

First a question, though.  How well was the United States war planned.  And it‘s been a constant source of debate.  We‘ll get into that a little bit later on, as well.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) plan we worked on was—is—it was an excellent war plan.  General Franks and his team did a superb job, in my view, the joint staff did.  And all of us applied our best judgment, and we believe it was a highly successful war plan.




BUSH:  We appreciate the sacrifice of the men and women who wear the uniform.  They‘re serving in a great cause.

KERRY:  More than 1,000 of America‘s sons and daughters gave their lives in service to our country, more than 1,000 sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.


NORVILLE:  President Bush and John Kerry today talking about the United States military death toll reaching now 1,000 in Iraq.

Back with John Wroblewski.  His son was killed in Iraq, as was the son of Susan Niederer.  As you all both know, it‘s probably the big issue in the political campaign, and yet when you look at the news coverage, I wonder if people get what‘s going on, get the personal story.  On a day like this, we realize there are a 1,000-plus families who‘ve buried somebody, but do they get it?  Do they really understand what you‘ve gone through, Sue?

NIEDERER:  I think it‘s very hard for anybody to understand.  I believe that now people are understanding a little bit more, since they‘ve allowed the coffins to be shown and...

NORVILLE:  Did that leave you steamed...

NIEDERER:  Oh, that...

NORVILLE:  ... that that was a verboten photo?  My God, we can‘t show bodies with flags on them?

NIEDERER:  I was actually in Dover, doing the protest in Dover to say, Allow us to see our fallen come into this country, be able to welcome them back into the United States.  I wasn‘t permitted to do this.  Shortly after...

NORVILLE:  Were you, John?

WROBLEWSKI:  We never got into that, where we wanted—you know, we would have liked to go to Dover, but things happened so fast at that time that we never got that opportunity.  I never even knew that the families were not allowed at that point.

NORVILLE:  And when you heard that—and remember, there was the big hullabaloo when finally, that one photographer got the shot.  And it was—to me, not having lost anyone, it was beautiful to see the respect that was paid when nobody was looking.


NIEDERER:  Exactly.  Exactly.

WROBLEWSKI:  That is what I remember from that picture.  I remember—

I think it was the next day I got a call from one of the newspapers to comment on that, and that was exactly my words, that it was so reverent that it was done.  And the way I feel, and I‘m sure Sue agrees with me, any time any of our fallen can be given a tribute in a positive fashion, it‘s worthy.  And they should.  It should be done every day.

NORVILLE:  Yes.  You know, John Edwards spoke, as well, today.  And you want to talk about a moving tribute, he really, I think, hit the nail on the head.  Give a listen to the man who would like to be vice president.


SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  I think my great fear, and my fear for all of us and for the American people, is that this becomes a number, that it becomes a statistic.  Well it‘s not.  You know, every one of these men and women who died had family.  They had mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters who are mourning and struggling every single day with what‘s happened.


NORVILLE:  And Sue, I think that‘s why it was so important to me and everybody else who works on this program to invite you and John here, to remind us that there is a family left behind.  There is a wife of five days before Seth was shipped out.

NIEDERER:  That‘s correct.  See, that‘s the point that—working with Military Families Speak Out is something that we are trying to make people understand and realize.  There are families grieving.  There are families going through hard times and families who need to unite together to bring our troops home.  We are all for the same cause.  We don‘t want—as John said prior, every time there‘s another soldier killed, we‘re all grieving all over again, and...

NORVILLE:  And yet it‘s divided the country.  I mean, there was a Gallup poll that just came out this month that says 58 percent of Americans believe that the United States should continue the policy we‘ve got going in Iraq, and 37 percent believe we should speed it up and get out of Dodge.  There‘s a big disparity, John, out there.

WROBLEWSKI:  Well, you know, again, that‘s what makes America great and—where we can all have our opinions.  Like I said before, you know, this is something that we support.  We‘ve supported it from the beginning.  And like President Bush said—and I believe—you know, it‘s—he promises to finish the mission.  You alluded to it before.  I think we need to do that.  We‘re in it.  We should be in it now to win it.  Otherwise, I think I would feel that my son‘s death was might be in vain, and that shouldn‘t be.  You know, we‘re a great country, the greatest country in the world.

NORVILLE:  Absolutely.

WROBLEWSKI:  And you know, our fallen have given the ultimate sacrifice.

NORVILLE:  Well you both are very eloquent spokesmen for both of your sons and you do them both very proud, and we‘re grateful to you for being here.  Thank you so much.

NIEDERER:  Thank you.

WROBLEWSKI:  Thank you.

NORVILLE:  We‘ll be right back.

ANNOUNCER:  Coming up: The violence continues in Iraq, as things appear to be getting worse.


GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  Make no mistake, we will continue to pursue those who seek to disrupt progress in Iraq.


ANNOUNCER:  Can the U.S. win this war?  DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.




RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They‘ve won stunning victories.  They‘ve faced hard duty and long deployments.  And they‘ve lost comrades, more than 1,100 brave Americans whose memories this nation will honor forever.


NORVILLE:  Vice President Dick Cheney at the Republican national convention last week, talking about American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As the number of soldiers who have died in Iraq has now topped the 1,000 mark yesterday, one can only wonder how many more casualties there might be before the fighting stops.  President Bush has said that the United States will stay the course until stability is achieved in Iraq.  But is a change of strategy needed?  Joining me now is NBC News military analyst Bill Arkin.  Bill‘s a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.  And also with us tonight is NBC News military analyst retired Army colonel Ken Allard.

Gentlemen, I thank you both for being here.  You know, it‘s been 16 months since the president was on the aircraft carrier and said “Mission accomplished,” but what we hear is that the insurgents hadn‘t (ph) taken hold.  Shouldn‘t that have been planned for in the strategy, as the war in Iraq went forward, Colonel?

COL. KEN ALLARD, U.S. ARMY (RET.), NBC NEWS MILITARY ANALYST:  Yes.  There‘s no question at all, Deborah, the fact that we did not plan very well either for the insurgency, or for that matter, for post-war Iraq.  When you‘re in that kind of a game, you got to realize the fact that more than anything else, you have to take it to the enemy, and you simply have to expect him to fight back the best way he can.  That‘s what they‘ve done.

NORVILLE:  And the insurgents, we are hearing, Bill, are becoming more skilled.  Yesterday, General Myers talked and gave a press briefing, and he also said that one of the problems is that the insurgents are more sophisticated now than they had been.  Again, isn‘t that something that should have been anticipated?

BILL ARKIN, NBC NEWS MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, I wouldn‘t want the fact that bad planning was done to gloss over the fact that the United States got into Iraq and didn‘t understand the character of the Iraqi people and the fact that they would react so strongly to an occupation.  And for months, what we‘ve been watching is the United States first grasping at straws, saying that the insurgency was just former Ba‘athists, and then they called them “former regime elements.”  They even had an acronym for it, FREs.  And then they started blaming it on foreign fighters.  And now it seems that Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers have at least accepted that this is a broad-based insurgency and that the problem for the United States today is that the longer that we stay as an occupying force, the more that we feed the growth of the insurgency and its widespread base.  And so it‘s a vicious cycle.  If we stay, the insurgency is going to continue, a nationalist-based anti-American insurgency.  And if we go, that is going under the wrong conditions or without good planning—and I do support the withdrawal of the United States from Iraq...


ARKIN:  ... the end result is going to be that the insurgency is going to take over the country and we‘re going to see another Lebanon or we‘re going to see a Bosnia.

NORVILLE:  And then you are going to have people asking if the 1,000-plus deaths was really worth it. 

You know, you talk about planning.  And that‘s something that General Myers talked about yesterday during his press briefing.  I want to play this and then get both of your reactions. 


GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN:  There is no formula for combat.  There is no formula for war.  The best you can do is have a plan, execute your plan, see how the enemy confronts your plan and then adjust. 


NORVILLE:  Colonel, there should be a plan, I presume, by this point. 

What do you believe that plan to be? 

ALLARD:  Well, what was also said yesterday at that Pentagon briefing was that no plan survives contact with the enemy, which we have understood in military strategy since at least the 19th century. 

The point of this thing really is the fact that what you have to be prepared to do is not to have an exit strategy, but to be prepared to have the other guy to have the exit strategy.  And that simply means that you get to find an effective way of transferring political power to the Iraqis, real political power, and in addition to that, having the military power to back it up. 


NORVILLE:  Yes, but an important part of that power is the Iraqi security forces being able to maintain security in that country.  We have been told that there were 200,000 trained Iraqis.  Now that figure has been revised.  We‘ve been told there are 95,000 Iraqis, and that‘s not enough to keep the peace. 

ALLARD:  That‘s absolutely right.  And it‘s simply going to be a long matter of time before the Iraqis are trained and equipped and ready to take on that mission. 

The simple fact of life is, that is a very tough thing to hold a stopwatch to when you‘re trying to build that kind of a force.  Oh, by the way, in the middle of everything, they‘re also fighting a very respectable insurgency.  So you simply cannot do anything other than if you‘re going to do this, to settle in for the long haul. 

NORVILLE:  And, Bill Arkin, is that something that you anticipate happening, a long haul?  We‘ve heard earlier on in this conflict estimates that we could be there for a period of many, many years, a la Vietnam.  Do you really believe that to be the case, given the political sensibilities here now, when you have got 62 percent of the Americans saying the death toll is not worth it? 

ARKIN:  Well, my guess is that after 22 days of combat that constituted major combat operations, we are in the long haul. 

I don‘t think it‘s going to last that much longer, which is to say that whoever is elected in November, my guess will be that they will come up with some kind of graceful exit strategy for the United States.  Neither Democrat nor Republican wants to see another Vietnam.

And I think that the problem with General Myers‘ soothing remarks about planning and operations is that what the United States lacks is a policy on how to gracefully withdraw from Iraq and to transfer power.  And to me, it‘s a bit of a balancing act.  You have to on the one hand make Iraqis believe, which they don‘t today, that the United States is actually going to withdraw.  You have to give them some confidence that they are going to be in charge of their own futures.

And through that, the hope is that the insurgency will lose its steam, because the anti-American, anti-occupation quotient is gone, thereby increasing the viability of Iraqi security forces.  All of that has to be done in unison.  And if we merely want to fight another Vietnam and stay there for years, then I suppose we‘re going to be on the show again in a few months, Deborah, after another two Americans have died on average every day, talking about the 2,000th American casualty, with no major change on the ground. 

NORVILLE:  Numbers are an important part of this.  And I would like to get a fix on what we‘re talking about in terms of the numbers of insurgents.  I‘ve seen estimates that we‘re only talking about 20,000, 25,000 people, which doesn‘t sound like a lot, especially when it‘s a country of 25 million people. 

Colonel, is this a huge number of people who are wreaking havoc, and if it‘s not, is there a way that they can be overruled, if you will, by the majority, perhaps a silent majority?

ALLARD:  It is not a huge number.  And I really wish we could discuss these things without immediately having reference to Vietnam, because that‘s a very, very inapt metaphor. 

What we‘re not seeing is, we‘re not seeing main force, Viet Cong-style units pushing U.S. forces around on the ground.  That simply is not happening.  What you‘re seeing there, which I think is so terribly important, is an understanding of the fact that we have no choice but to understand this is an exercise in nation building.  Economics counts.  Politics counts.  And, oh by the way, the military counts, if what you‘re going to try to do is to trim down whatever number may be there of potential insurgents. 

NORVILLE:  And do you do it the way we‘re looking at the footage right now, house to house, door to door, insurgent by insurgent, man to man? 

ALLARD:  You win that the same way that a doctor fights cancer.  It is one cell at a time.  It really is one door at a time. 

What you‘re trying desperately to do is to convey an understanding to those people that this is a better way.  And, frankly, the only way that you can do that is to have that government in there, the Iraqi government now headed by Mr. Allawi.  And I think it‘s very, very clear to most of us who have considered this that we have no alternative except to work through the Iraqis to achieve the fundamental objectives that we see for that country. 

NORVILLE:  And the fundamental objectives are self-governance, democracy, the Iraqi people deciding their future for themselves.  But America was also told that we were at risk because of Saddam Hussein. 

Gentlemen, is America a safer place or are we at greater risk as a result of this war? 

Bill, you first.

ALLARD:  Well, I think we‘ve shifted the nature of the risk, Deborah.

I certainly was in favor of ending the standoff with Saddam Hussein.  I don‘t think that there was any rush to do that.  But now what we‘ve done is we‘ve replaced Saddam Hussein, essentially a contained dictator, by a broad-based counterinsurgency and by a broad-based movement against the United States provoked I think by our preemptive attack in Iraq.

And so, in many ways, in the long term, I think we‘ve created more of a problem for ourselves in the Arab world, while eliminating what probably was not a very dangerous threat in the first place. 

NORVILLE:  And, Ken, I‘ll give you the final word. 

ALLARD:  Well, Deborah, I remember 9/11.  And from that point on, we were absolutely determined we were going to play nothing except away games.  We are not interested in having that kind of conflict come to our soil. 

I‘d much rather fight them in Iraq than here. 

NORVILLE:  I like the away game concept myself. 

Lieutenant Colonel Ken Allard, Bill Arkin, thanks to you both. 


NORVILLE:  We‘ll be right back. 

ANNOUNCER:  Up next, her father, Al Gore, was almost president.  She‘s made a career not in politics, but writing political comedy like this. 


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Joe, will you be my running mate? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Yes, yes.  Oh, yes. 




NORVILLE:  Kristin Gore knows what it‘s like inside politics, but instead of using her experience with her father for political gain, she‘s using it to make you laugh.

Stay tuned. 


NORVILLE:  At the ripe old age of 27, my next guest is a veteran of a number of political campaigns and spent the last five years writing comedy for television, which means she‘s got lots of material to cull from in politics. 

Kristin Gore got a real insider‘s view of life on the presidential campaign back in the year 2000 with her parents Al and Tipper Gore.  And she made her prime-time television debut when she introduced her mother at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, that, of course, the night her father became his party‘s nominee for president.

First, it was television comedy writing.  And now all that time in politics has provided fodder for her first novel, a Capitol Hill-based comedy called “Sammy‘s Hill.” 

Kristin Gore, congratulations on the birth of your baby, this book.

KRISTIN GORE, AUTHOR, “SAMMY‘S HILL”:  Thank you very much.

NORVILLE:  What would anybody like you know about writing about politics? 


K. GORE:  I don‘t know.  I just made a lot of stuff up, I guess. 

Actually, growing up there, I didn‘t really ever have a choice except to know all about it, because my dad was elected to his first term in Congress before I was even born. 

NORVILLE:  Right. 

K. GORE:  So it was sort of always a part of my life, that that place and those people were kind of woven through it.  And so there was a lot of fodder there.

NORVILLE:  Which means you‘re the ultimate Washington insider, having grown up there, but the book you write, “Sammy‘s Hill,” is from the point of the view of the ultimate outsider who has come to town. 

K. GORE:  Yes. 

That was very important to me, because, Sammy, I wanted her to have this behind-the-scenes perspective, but be able to experience it and comment upon it as if anyone was plopped down there.

NORVILLE:  The story—and you don‘t won‘t to give anything away—but the gist of it is, it‘s been called sort of a D.C.-based “Bridget Jones‘s Diary.”  In this case, the neurotic girl, who sometimes has a hangover when she goes to work, works on the Hill, and bailiwick is health care reform. 

K. GORE:  Right. 

NORVILLE:  Are you trying to push a political agenda with that as her little issue? 

K. GORE:  Oh, no.  My only agenda is to tell an entertaining story.

But, actually, I found it funny that—because she was a pretty serious hypochondriac.  And that—she gets that fueled so much by her health care research, because she knows about all these different diseases.  And that just makes her even worried that she‘s going to come down with all of them. 


Just to give the listeners a sense of the prose, at one page in here, page 144, you write about Sammy who says: “Even in my brief time in Washington, I had witnessed countless examples of what appeared to be a shocking lack of collective sense of humor.  Only the corniest of one-liners were recognized as jokes.  Anyone attempting something more complex was generally doomed to be misunderstood.”

It sort of sounds like they‘re not real bright down there.


K. GORE:  Well, I think—not that they‘re not bright, but it‘s a reputation that D.C. has, that is sort of boring and stiff and impenetrable and not a funny, loose town.  And it shouldn‘t really be.  It is sort of the policy-making, agenda-setting leader of the free world, so it‘s understandable that it‘s serious.

But it‘s also a place where all these young people go to try to change the world.  And then a lot of them in their 20s and 30s, they‘re single and they do stuff after work. 

NORVILLE:  And they also sometimes ride into that brick wall when they think they‘re going to change the world. 

K. GORE:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  You said boring.  You said stiff.  Now, I have heard those used somewhere as an adjectives to described someone who was the vice president of the United States.

K. GORE:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  And yet you were instrumental when your dad was on “Saturday Night Live” in showing a side of Al Gore that people didn‘t see.  Is he really funny?

K. GORE:  He has a great sense of humor.  I understand why wasn‘t on display because it‘s important for our national leaders to be serious and kind of be in charge in an important way, but he has a great sense of humor.  He‘s totally game for everything.  And he had a blast doing that week on “Saturday Night Live.”  And I thought he did an excellent job. 

NORVILLE:  Well, here is a clip, because this was when “The Bachelor” was really hot on the television.  And of course it was time when Al Gore was trying to decide who would be his vice presidential running mate or who would get the rose. 

Take a look.


A. GORE:  Edwards might be a little too young.  Also, he‘s from the South.  And I love that, but I just came out of a long-term relationship with a guy from the South, so I‘m looking for something new. 

Joe Lieberman and I really hit it off. 

I think we need to take these Social Security funds that people have worked so hard for and keep them away from the volatility of the stock market. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I so totally agree with you. 

A. GORE:  These funds need to be protected.  They need to be put aside. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I know in some kind of metaphorical lock box. 

A. GORE:  Lock box.




NORVILLE:  That is just so hilariously stupid.  When you gave that idea to your father, did he look at you and go, what have I given birth to here?


K. GORE:  He was completely game for it, I have to say, one of the reasons I love him.  He thought it was funny.  And he did, as you saw, a really good job. 

NORVILLE:  Does he miss it?  Does he miss being out there on the


K. GORE:  Being in the hot tub? 




NORVILLE:  No.  The hot tub, maybe you got one at home.  But I mean the other stuff. 

K. GORE:  You know, I don‘t think so.  I think he misses some aspects of it.

But the really important things about it, he‘s still doing.  He still really cares about certain things that he works hard for.  He‘s still trying, along with lots of other people, to make the world a better place.  And he‘s just doing it in a different form now. 

NORVILLE:  What about you?  You were right there beside your mom and dad when the Supreme Court didn‘t rule the way everybody in the Gore family was hoping.  How were you at the age at, what were you, probably 23, get over the sadness, the sense of, I‘m not sure this was fair that I‘m sure you must have felt?

K. GORE:  Right.  Right. 

Well, yes, I think it was disillusioning to a certain extent, certainly.  But I was really lucky to be a part of a very close, warm, loving, supportive family. And that‘s really what got me through it, because they are so great and we just relied on each other, and also, you know, outpouring of support from so many people in the country, and just moved on. 

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Yes. 

Well, you‘re not out on the campaign trail stumping for dad, but there are some young ladies who are this year.  When we come back, we‘re going to talk about what it‘s like out on the campaign trail and get Ms. Gore‘s critique of the young ladies who are trying to get their dads elected to the White House. 


NORVILLE:  Back now talking with Kristin Gore, the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore.  She has got a new book out.  It‘s called “Sammy‘s Hill.”  And it‘s going to be turned into a major motion picture. 

K. GORE:  Yes, it is. 

NORVILLE:  How lucky are you?  This is like—talk about the fairy dust.

K. GORE:  I know.

NORVILLE:  You bump into Harvey Weinstein at a cocktail party and the next thing you know, you got a book deal? 

K. GORE:  Well, it was a little more complicated than that. 

That was great for the connection.  I had actually started writing the book, coming with the idea earlier when I wrote for “Saturday Night Live” that one week with my dad, and then I worked on a show with Nathan Lane.  He played a congressman. 

NORVILLE:  Right. 

K. GORE:  That was the first time I let myself thinking about writing for politics, because before, I just stayed away from it completely.  When I did that, I really liked it.

And then I also really wanted to explore a novel, where I could have my own story, my own character, and develop it in a more in-depth way.  So then—so that all happened.  And then it was great to run into the Miramax folks, who wanted to see some chapters, and it rolled from there. 

NORVILLE:  For a person who wanted to stay away from politics in their writing, I guess it‘s because you grew up—you said your dad was elected to Congress before you were even born—can you imagine what life would have been like not being a part of the stump as your dad campaigned, as he was nominated for vice president with Mr. Clinton? 


K. GORE:  Not really.  It‘s sort of hard to—I just—I went through what I went through, and that‘s the reality I knew. 

NORVILLE:  Was it hard?  Because we have got some tape that we found digging around, 1992.

K. GORE:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  Which was the first time—there you are, your little brother.  You guys are on the stage.  Do you remember what you were thinking standing there? 

K. GORE:  Yes, I do, because that was very surreal.  It happened really quickly, the night—the call came the night before, and then we were on a plane to Little Rock.  And I was 14, or just turned 15.

And then all of a sudden, we were on a stage, and there was national scrutiny.  And there was Secret Service.  And...

NORVILLE:  And you are 14.

K. GORE:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  Which is a horrible age to be when you‘re a girl anyway. 

K. GORE:  Right.  Right.  Right.

So there‘s already a lot of stuff going on there, but then add to it this crazy thing happening.  And it was definitely intense.  It was a weird thing to transition into, because, before that, my parents had really done a good job of keeping everything normal for us.  And I didn‘t think my dad‘s job was anything out on the ordinary. 

NORVILLE:  But you were on the stump, especially in 2000, when your dad was running for the big job.  Critique for me, if you will, how the Kerry girls are doing. 

K. GORE:  I think they are doing great.  It‘s different circumstances now and a lot of other things going on.  But they are playing a really important role, I think.

And they know their dad better than anyone, and the only people that know him as a dad.  And so I think they are very eloquent advocates for him and are able to connect with young voters in a really important way, too. 

NORVILLE:  And as you were sheltered as a young girl growing up, the Bush twins were also sheltered.  But now they are out there. 

And here‘s a little snippet of their remarks that they made just last week at the Republican National Convention. 


BARBARA BUSH, DAUGHTER OF GEORGE W. BUSH:  We knew we had something to offer.  I mean, we have traveled the world.  We have studied abroad.  But when we started coming home with foreign policy advice, dad made us call Condi. 


NORVILLE:  Did that work, in your opinion? 

K. GORE:  You know, I actually missed that.  So I don‘t know what the response was to it.  But I understand how intimidating it can be when you are up there on a stage in front of the convention, and there‘s so many people and so many people are watching from home.  It‘s a very surreal experience, so I can empathize with kind of being scared up there and just doing your best. 

NORVILLE:  And probably take some of those feelings and put in whatever the next piece of fiction that comes from Kristin Gore. 

K. GORE:  Yes. 

NORVILLE:  Congratulations on the book.  It‘s nice to see you.  We wish you well.

K. GORE:  Thank you.  It‘s great to be here.

NORVILLE:  Take care.

And we‘ll be right back.


NORVILLE:  We have gotten so many e-mails thanking us for our coverage of the Russian school massacre, which we devoted our entire hour to last night. 

Janice French wrote to say: “I want to say this for the people of the United States to the Russians.  We felt the same fear and grief as you for the children of Beslan.  You‘re in our thoughts and prayers.”

And Tim Kavanagh from Dallas wrote and said: “Your program Tuesday night on the Beslan school disaster was one of the best that you have produced.  I actually learned a few things.” 

We‘re glad to hear it. 

Many of you have asked how you can help the survivors.  The Russian Embassy has some suggestions on their Web page.  And we have got a link to that on our Web page.  That‘s  You could also donate to the American Red Cross International Response Fund.  Their number is 1-800-HELP-NOW for more information on that.

As always, we love to hear from you.  The address is

And that is our program for tonight.  Thanks a lot for joining us. 

I‘m Deborah Norville.

Coming up tomorrow night, people whose lives have been touched by tragedy, the result of assault weapons.  Many of them are converging on Washington as the national ban on assault weapons expires in just a few days.  And tomorrow night, we will hear from both sides, including police officers on the front lines and those who feel it‘s their right to carry and use those weapons.  That‘s coming up tomorrow. 

And now coming up next, Joe Scarborough with “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.” 

He‘s standing by.  Here he is.  Thanks for watching. 

See you tomorrow.


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