Guest: Dana Rohrabacher, Leon Panetta, John Harwood, Jon Meacham
ANDREA MITCHELL, GUEST HOST: Terrorism attacks in Iraq just weeks before the election. Will fear and intimidation keep Iraqi citizens from voting?
Plus, it happened to Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton. Will President Bush beat the second term curse?
And the White House announces Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Governor Jeb Bush will visit the devastated regions of southern Asia.
For Chris Matthews, I‘m Andrea Mitchell. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
MITCHELL: Good evening. I‘m Andrea Mitchell sitting in for Chris Matthews. He will be back next week. We‘ll have more on Secretary Powell and Governor Jeb Bush‘s joint trip to Asia later in the show. But first, another top CIA official was forced out of the agency this week. As insurgents in Iraq killed at least 28 people in the powerful house bombing. And as militants in Saudi Arabia set off two car bombs in the Saudi capital.
Now that President Bush has signed the intelligence reform bill into law, how will the overhaul of the intelligence community affect our ability to fight insurgents in Iraq and hunt town other terrorists? Bill Harlow served as the top spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency for seven years. He worked closely with former CIA director George Tenet who also recently left, of course. And prior to working for the CIA, Mr. Harlow was a naval officer and he served as the White House‘s assistant press secretary for national security during both the Reagan and first Bush administrations. He is now an NBC News analyst and tonight marks his very first interview.
BILL HARLOW, NBC NEWS ANALYST: Good to be with you.
MITCHELL: Will this intelligence reform make us any safer?
HARLOW: Well, we certainly hope so. And but I think it is a myth to say that it has made us safe so far. And right now all we have is a bill which has been signed. But much more work needs to be done. The bill, it ranges several hundred pages in length, it actually leaves more questions unanswered than answered. And so it remains to be seen, once the president nominates a director of national intelligence, gets that person in the job. Then they‘re going to have resolve a lot of the issues that are still hanging out there.
MITCHELL: What are some of those issues, what are some of the questions that are not answered?
HARLOW: Well, among the questions that are unanswered is exactly what that role of that director of national intelligence will be. How will he interface with the White House? Will he be the person who briefs the president every day? If he does that, will he have to have a support staff under him that will help prepare him to do that? How can he do that without establishing another layer of the bureaucracy that stands between him and the working people of the intelligence community? How will he relate to the director of central intelligence? How will he relate to the head of the new national counterterrorism center? Both of whom will report to him but also have other alternative chains of command where they report directly to the White House in some circumstances. That person is going to have a lot on his plate. He is going to have to figure out how to do all that and to rally the people within the intelligence community.
MITCHELL: The point was to streamline the information process so that one person would be speaking to all 15 intelligence agencies, because it goes far beyond the CIA, and be able to deal with both the spies in the field and the analysts at home. But what if there is just another level of bureaucracy? What if this creates more problems, more confusion?
BARLOW: Well, that certainly would be a downside of this reorganization. The creation of this person has placed him further from the people in the field, further away from the analysts who would be doing their work. And in order for him to be able to speak, him or her to speak to the president knowledgeably about it, they‘re going to have to establish mechanisms so that it can keep in touch with those people and have their fingers on the pulse of what‘s going out in the field.
MITCHELL: So there could be a lot of duplication. Access to the White House is the key thing here. The president has to be well informed. Will the CIA director be kept so far removed by this other level of new super intelligence czar, that the CIA director will become less powerful and less able to do his or her job?
BARLOW: Well, I think it is clear that the CIA director will be somewhat less powerful if that person is one notch further down on the chain of command. But that person still needs to have access to the White House, because they have responsibilities and authorities for certain operational issues, which report directly to the president. And so that person has to be in the loop while keeping the new director of national intelligence fully informed.
MITCHELL: What kind of person, what kind of qualifications should this new national intelligence director have? Should it be a military person? We understand that Tommy Franks is one of the people being considered.
BARLOW: Well, I don‘t think it has to be a military person, although a military background certainly would be helpful to somebody in that job. First and foremost, the person has to be somebody who has complete trust and authority from the president. In order to do that job, you‘re going to have to exercise some great deal of initiative. And that person has to be a very energetic person. Has to be an inspirational leader. Has to be able to gather all of the various elements of the intelligence community and get them working together. Get them to worry about the terrorist threat outside and not worry about each other and who is eating who‘s—other person‘s lunch.
MITCHELL: For that to happen in Washington is a tall order. Let me show what you 9/11 Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said yesterday, when I asked him whether he had been considered for this job.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: Just to button this down, have you been approached for this job, Lee Hamilton?
LEE HAMILTON, 9/11 COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN: Well, I have no comment about that.
MITCHELL: Aha! We will have to follow up. Is it something that you would be considering or that you might...
HAMILTON: I would not—look, I‘ve been in this business a long time, over 30 years. I‘m at an age now where I probably ought not to tackle a major effort. So there are plenty of good people in this government and I think the president will pick a good one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: In our business, we call that a non-denial denial.
BARLOW: It certainly sounds as if he has been approached on it, although by telling you that he‘s not sure that he has got the energy at his age to tackle a job, I think anybody who is not certain that they really want the job that can handle it probably ought not to take it.
MITCHELL: Yes. How hard is this job going to be?
BARLOW: It‘s going to be a very difficult job. It is—whenever you start any new organization, it‘s always difficult. To start one as important as this, as widespread as it is, I think it‘s going to be awfully demanding on the person who takes it. And it‘s going to require some really exceptional people to fill these jobs.
MITCHELL: We‘ve been seeing also some new signals from Osama bin Laden. Since September 6, there have been so many messages from bin Laden or from Ayman Zawahiri, his top deputy, this is really an escalation of the pace of messages from them. What do you think they‘re trying to communicate, because the tone seems to be different as well?
HARLOW: Both the tone and the pace have changed lately. And it‘s a little bit difficult to know exactly why they were communicating more often than they have been in the past. Perhaps simply because they can, because Zawahiri and bin Laden have not been particularly active. And so they may be trying to keep their name and faces out before their supporters.
I think the tone is changing somewhat dramatically. They tailor their message to their audience. So if they‘re talking to a Saudi audience, they have one message. If they‘re talking to the Iraqis, another message. And to the Americans, you have yet a third message.
Before, in years gone by, immediately after 9/11, you heard an awful lot from bin Laden about what he was going to do. Now you seem to hear more and more from him about what he‘s urging others to do. He‘s urging people in Saudi Arabia to stand up against the Saudi regime.
MITCHELL: Do you think he has less command and control and is less able to mount a major operation?
BARLOW: I think that there is a possibility that he‘s less able to do so. One should not be complacent and think that he is not going to, or not able to conduct operations. But I think his ability to do so at will has certainly been diminished, in large part, due to the efforts of U.S. and allied and intelligence communities.
MITCHELL: The president has very carefully, for the past few years, avoided talking about bin Laden since the initial reaction, of course, the angry reaction that he had after 9/11. But just the other day, just yesterday in Texas, this is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His vision of the world is where people kill innocent lives in order to affect their behavior and affect their way of living. His vision of the world is one in which there is no freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and/or freedom of conscience. And that vision stands in stark contrast to the vision of by far the vast majority of Iraqis and leaders like Prime Minister Allawi and President al-Yawar whose vision includes the freedom of expression, the freedom of the right to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: My read on that is that they are really concerned about this potential disruption of the election and wanted to send a signal about how important the election process is. And that Iraqis should not be intimidated by this.
One of the changes in the bin Laden message seems to be shifting a little bit away from speaking as a terrorist, and speaking more in a role as a political influencer. And he seems to be trying to tell people how to grasp the political initiative. And so I think it is entirely appropriate as that message comes out from bin Laden and Zawahiri and others, that the administration respond in kind, remind people that there are two different visions of this. And a vision that the administration is supporting is one where the people of Iraq can speak for themselves.
MITCHELL: It strikes me that this shift in tone is almost since last spring with the Madrid bombing and the resultant political change in Spain, where bin Laden may have inferred from that that he can have some impact politically.
BARLOW: Certainly, he hopes to—desires to, and I think it is in the interests of democracies around the world, to do everything they can to prevent him from succeeding in altering elections.
MITCHELL: And do you think this is a deliberate attempt—a deliberately thought-out response by the White House to show bin Laden that he cannot have this political impact?
HARLOW: I think it is, yes.
MITCHELL: More with Bill Harlow in just a moment when we return.
And still ahead, how does the $35 million that the U.S. is giving countries stricken by the tsunami compare to other financial aid packages? We‘ll have a report when we return.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MITCHELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow.
Bill, since you‘ve left the CIA, the Porter Goss regime has not exactly been a friendly takeover. There‘s been people exiting Langley and not even having the tour slam them in the back as they head out. What is going on? Is there a real morale problem?
HARLOW: Well, first, I think, it‘s fair to say that every director of central intelligence has the right and expectation to have their own team surrounds them. And so no one should expect any different than Director Goss, can put in his own team should he choose to.
I would hope that they, when they make changes, they do so for good reasons and not just to change them because they were there for the past regime. One of the most important things that a D.C.I. has to do is make personnel decisions to decide who are the right people in the right spots. Another important thing that the D.C.I. has to do is communicate to his own work the force what his expectations are.
MITCHELL: Has he done that?
HARLOW: Well, I don‘t know. Not being there now, I can‘t say for sure. But I would urge him to use every opportunity to communicate to his own work force about what he expects of them, where he plans to take them and how they‘ll get there.
MITCHELL: From a national security perspective, do we have a lot of demoralized people out there who don‘t feel terribly valued, and perhaps, well, perhaps they are already beaten down because of all the criticism, some of it justified, of things that the CIA got wrong?.
HARLOW: No doubt that the agency has gone through some tough times and nobody enjoys being criticized or being blamed for things, whether they were partially or fully responsible for them. But the people out there are good, hard working loyal Americans who are ready to follow their leader. If their leader tells them what he wants them to do, I‘m sure they‘ll listen and carry out his orders and directions.
But they need to be led. They can‘t just be left adrift and be criticized without having good positive leadership from the very top.
MITCHELL: Americans do have a right to ask, how could the government have gotten the weapons of mass destruction issue so wrong? And I was talking to Lee Hamilton yesterday. We in the media got it wrong, the administration got it wrong, congress got it wrong.
The CIA, though, has to take some central responsibility for misreading the signals of Saddam Hussein.
HARLOW: The CIA, like every other intelligence agency in the world, probably including Saddam Hussein‘s believed that Iraq had WMD. If you talk to military officials in the Iraqi army, they would have told you they had WMD. The CIA did apparently believe the signals which were being sent out probably intentionally by Saddam...
MITCHELL: So, this was a great hoax?
HARLOW: Well, there‘s no doubt that had Saddam stayed in power and had the sanctions been lifted, which would have happened fairly quickly if he had simply gone along with the inspection regime a little more, that he would be in a position today to be in a palace instead of a jail cell. And he would be in the position to quickly reconstitute the W.M.D. that he wanted to have. So, it I may have been a hoax, it was also a huge miscalculation on his part.
MITCHELL: What do we do about countries where we are so blind, where we don‘t have enough human intelligence, we don‘t have enough Arabic speakers or speakers of other dialects and languages over there? I mean, how do we rebuild that capability? George Tenet testified I think last February that it would take five years. Do we have five years?
HARLOW: Well, you know, the intelligence community was systematically taken apart over a period of about a decade where it was starved of funds and resources. And it will take that you long again to recover from where you need to be.
You just can‘t instantly hire people and instill in them five or 10 years worth of experience. It will take you years to develop people. Even if you can find them and hire them, to train them and give them the expertise they need.
So, a lot of people have been working on it for a long time. The Tenet regime started a huge program of recruiting new people back in 1998. And that program is paying dividends today. The number of people coming through doors is much greater than it was in years gone by. But it still will take us years before those people are fully able perform the missions that we need them to do.
MITCHELL: Why do you think Osama bin Laden has not hit the homeland, the American homeland since 9/11?
HARLOW: Well, that‘s an excellent question. And one that I don‘t think anyone really knows the answer to. There‘s no doubt that he still wants to hurt us, and hurt us badly.
I think one reason that he may not have been able to is because of the disruption efforts that have been conducted by the CIA and its counterparts around the world. There are a number of operations that have been disrupted. Some that you know about, some that you don‘t know about. And it is a much harder environment for him to work in.
He‘s lost his sanctuary in Afghanistan. He can‘t operate and travel freely as he did before. He‘s lost access to a lot of his funding. We‘ve gotten support from people who in the years prior to 9/11, who wouldn‘t have supported us. And great support from the Saudis, from the Pakistanis, from others who have supported us all along.
So there‘s a lot of reason that go into it. But the short answer is we don‘t know. We know he is still trying. We know he would love to hurt us and we can‘t let our guard down for a minute.
MITCHELL: And how vulnerable is Saudi Arabia? We saw a number of attacks there. A situation where they have not been able to really get all of the al Qaeda elements still...
HARLOW: Well, they may not have been able to get all the al Qaeda elements, but they‘re doing a wonderful job since may of last year. They‘ve really stepped up their efforts. They‘ve taken down a large number of the al Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia. They‘ve taken a large number of their most wanted people off the streets.
And they‘ve taken off the top layer of the leadership there. So some of the attempts that you‘ve seen, while they are deadly and damaging, were not particularly successful, because the Saudis fought back very valiantly. And the people who conducted the attacks were not nearly as skilled as those, the previous leaders who had been taken off the scene.
MITCHELL: All right. Thank you very much, Bill Harlow. Good to be with you.
HARLOW: Good to be with you.
MITCHELL: I look forward to more interviews in the future.
And up next, a look at the political battle over U.S. aid pledged to the victims of tsunamis when we come back. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANE SEYMOUR, ACTRESS: Happy holidays and thank you for everything you‘re doing to protect us. We‘re thinking of you, and know it must be really hard being away from your families. Just know that we really appreciate everything. I‘m Jane Seymour. Happy Holidays.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: The disaster in South Asia has prompted an outpouring of aid from governments and private corporations. But there‘s also been this hot running political debate about the contributions from the wealthiest governments, including the United States. HARDBALL political correspondent David Shuster joins me now. David, of course, initially there was a $15 million contribution. Secretary Powell was reportedly concerned about that. It was quickly increased to $35 million. Take it from there.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when you look at where the U.S. contribution ranks, $35 million, it is more than every other industrialized nation, with the exception of Spain. Spain has pledged $68 million. The U.S., $35. France, $31. Japan, $30. Great Britain, $29 and so on.
But in context of just part of the debate here, the $35 million from the U.S. equals about the cost of the occupation of Iraq for five hours. As you know, the United States is spending more than $5.5 billion a month to try to help the Iraqi people, which translates to about $8 million for every hour. There are some who suggest, well, Iraq is not a good comparison.
Well, if you look at the previous set of hurricanes that went through the Caribbean and Florida, after that, the president asked Congress and received a $13 billion appropriation. And most of that going to the United States.
Again, the big argument today on the Internet blogs, the political Web sites has been the degree to which the United States cares, compared to other countries, when the human misery does not involve Americans.
MITCHELL: And this was an opportunity to communicate caring and compassion to a largely Muslim constituency.
SHUSTER: Well, that‘s right. And one of the things that‘s been so interesting, Andrea, is that it has not only been now the American people who are trying to pick up the slack, but you have a lot of corporations.
Altogether, when you push aside the $35 million from the U.S. government, more than $65 million in corporate donations. For example, the $10 million from Pfizer, $2 million form Johnson & Johnson, $4 million from Abbott and so on. For cynics, though, they would suggest, well, some of these corporations, some of the drug companies in particular, they‘ve had something of a PR nightmare the last couple of months, and so there is plenty there for people who want to make the point that maybe these corporations have a duty to try to somehow fix their image.
MITCHELL: And as “The New York Times” was pointing out today, the numbers of—the number on foreign aid is really much smaller than the administration claims, because if you look at the non-military portion of foreign aid in general, it‘s de minimus.
SHUSTER: And what‘s so interesting, Andrea, is the energy there is much greater than it has been for other tragedies. We‘ve talked about the hurricanes in Florida. The aid groups, such as CARE and the American Red Cross—Red Cross, for example, they said they raised as much in private donations, something like $21 million in three days, as they did the entire month of August with these hurricanes. So clearly the energy is there with the American people, but for whatever reason, the U.S. government feels that this $35 million is an appropriate response right now.
MITCHELL: Do you think the politics have anything to do with why we‘re now seeing Colin Powell going this weekend, and Jeb Bush—that‘s an interesting choice for a presidential envoy.
SHUSTER: Especially because Jeb Bush had previously said that he was not interested in 2008. And one of the risks that I think this identifies is, when Jeb Bush goes along, it sort of sets it up for us to make the point, well, wait a second, the United States is only giving $35 million to this part of the world. We gave $13 billion to Jeb Bush‘s Florida before the election. There doesn‘t seem to be a lot of equity there.
But maybe on the other hand, having Jeb Bush sort of gives the administration some experience, some experience on the ground of somebody who‘s been through this, who knows how best to organize a region to try to get people some help.
MITCHELL: And it also gives him a little international experience if he does have any future political ambitions on a national scale.
SHUSTER: We won‘t suspect that.
MITCHELL: No, no, no, we wouldn‘t do that.
Thank you very much, David Shuster.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Andrea.
MITCHELL: Good to see you. And up next, more on the politics of U.S. aid to the countries hurt by the tsunamis with Leon Panetta and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MITCHELL: This half hour on HARDBALL, President Bush‘s handling of aid to countries ravaged by the tsunamis. And will President Bush fall victim to the so-called second-term curse? Leon Panetta and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher join me, but first, let‘s check with the MSNBC News Desk.
MITCHELL: This half-hour on HARDBALL, President Bush‘s handling of aid to countries ravaged by the tsunamis. And will President Bush fall victim to the so-called second-term curse? Leon Panetta and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher join me.
But, first, let‘s check with the MSNBC News Desk.
MITCHELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It happened to Nixon in the ‘70s with Watergate, Ronald Reagan in the 1980s with Iran-Contra, and most recently, of course, with Bill Clinton and impeachment in the ‘90s. In addition to potential scandals, presidents tend to lose political capital after being reelected. Some call it the second-term curse. What can President Bush do to avoid it?
For answers, we turn now to Leon Panetta, a former member of Congress and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who represents the 46th District of California and was a senior aide and speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan.
Welcome to both of you.
To you first, Congressman Rohrabacher.
What can presidents do, what can George Bush do to avoid this kind of second-term curse?
REP. DANA ROHRABACHER ®, CALIFORNIA: Well, there is a mentality I think that when someone is reelected, they feel that, well, I‘m home free now. I don‘t have to run for reelection.
And it does—I guess there is a relaxation of the strict standards that someone would have to protect themselves politically in the second term. But I would suggest this, that there are many of us in Congress, and I believe this is probably historically true as well, that have given President Bush a lot of leeway on, for example, the issues like illegal immigration, where I haven‘t raised that at various times, specifically because I knew that the Democrats would be worse on that issue than our current president and I wanted to protect him in reelection.
Well, now that he‘s been reelected, there‘s a lot of us who are not going to give him that leeway anymore. And so he‘s going to face some tough challenges that he didn‘t face in his first term.
MITCHELL: Leon Panetta, that means that presidents, even if they have their own party in control in Congress, which of course Bill Clinton did not have when he was reelected in 1996, they face some tough sledding.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER BILL CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, there‘s no question. And I think Dana has hit some of the points.
One, there tends to be an arrogance factor by virtue of winning a national election that sometimes makes you feel overconfident about what you can do with the American people and with the Congress. Secondly, you have got a legacy factor which kind of drives you in the sense of, what do I do now to secure my position in history?
But, thirdly, there is this issue of being a lame duck. And to that extent, members of Congress who are not lame ducks, who expect to be there for a long time, are going to be more willing to challenge the administration on policies that come home to roost in the second four years. So, all of those factors put together make it a lot tougher in the second term than people mostly imagine.
MITCHELL: Congressman, what leeway and what political capital does the president really have? He said that he now has political capital. It was a close election. How much political capital does he have, even with his own party, to take on tough choices, if he wants to, when it comes to making deals on Social Security that might require changing some of the benefits structure or even doing something with the payroll tax?
ROHRABACHER: Well, the president now has achieved a political status that he didn‘t have before. And that was true of Ronald Reagan as well, whose victory in the second term was a tremendous reelection victory.
So, he has a certain status with the American people. And, thus, he can use the bully pulpit to promote some very fundamental reforms that he might not have been able to do because of the political costs during his first term. But, during the second term, you can accomplish a lot. Ronald Reagan—Leon remembers this—got through a tax simplification and tax reform in 1986, which was I think a pretty important piece of legislation, and as well as his foreign policy successes, although he was hampered by Iran-Contra.
A lot of the tough foreign policy decisions he made early on came to fruition by the end of his term. And by the end of Ronald Reagan‘s term, the Soviet Union was collapsing and people were giving Ronald Reagan justly the credit for that.
MITCHELL: But, of course, Leon, at the same time, Reagan was able to achieve that tax reform with bipartisan support. Bill Bradley, the Democratic senator, was a big piece of that. How much bipartisanship do you see right now on Capitol Hill?
PANETTA: Well, that is going to be obviously the great challenge.
You know, Ronald Reagan had a wonderful personality. And he was someone who got along not only with members from both sides, but he got along very closely with the American people. People loved him. And so they gave him a lot more room. I think this president has a bit of an edge. And although he comes across as being very decisive, knowing what he wants to do, I think that only takes you so far.
He doesn‘t have the ability to use the bully pulpit as effectively as Ronald Reagan did. And he hasn‘t established the kind of bipartisan credentials that Ronald Reagan did either. So, he is going to have a greater challenge. It doesn‘t mean he can‘t do the job. It just means that he is going to be viewed I think with a much more jaundiced eye as to whether or not he can get the job done.
MITCHELL: I want to ask both of you about what‘s been going on this week with this extraordinary tragedy, unprecedented scale, the tragedy right now in Asia.
Congressman, is there going to be a will in Congress to put up the kind of aid to replace funds that have been depleted from the AID and from other agencies, and has the president done enough already?
ROHRABACHER: Well, there‘s no doubt that the American people, at times like this, that the charitable heart of our people is always demonstrated. And I don‘t know anyone who hasn‘t been touched by this horrible tragedy that‘s gone on.
I think that it is outrageous, however, that we have a representative of the United Nations who is in charge of relief questioning America‘s willingness to help people out who are in horrible circumstances. We have always been there when the world needed us. Forty percent of all the world‘s emergency relief is given by the United States government; $35 billion, that‘s more than all these other nations give, is given charitably just by people through voluntary organizations.
And yet this guy from the United Nations called us stingy. We give the United Nations 22 percent of their budget, and that fellow, I might add, doesn‘t pay income taxes.
MITCHELL: Leon, what about it? Are we stingy? “The New York Times” in their editorial today pointed out that, in terms of per capita contributions, the U.S. is not in terms of our own gross domestic product doing as much as some other nations.
ROHRABACHER: That‘s only in government. That‘s only per capita, what the government gives. We give a lot personally.
PANETTA: I think the other thing “The Times” mentioned was that what we‘re giving is about half of what the inaugural will cost.
I think the reality is, look, the United States is going to respond. We‘ve responded in the past to these kinds of disasters. I don‘t think there‘s any question that the president, the secretary of state and others are going to pay attention to that part of the world, because it is important to us, not only from a national security point of view, but it is important in terms of a humanitarian effort to reach out to people who are in desperate need right now.
I think, ultimately, the Congress and the president are going to respond to that disaster in a significant way.
MITCHELL: All right, thank you very much.
MITCHELL: Yes, Congressman.
ROHRABACHER: I was just going to say, Andrea, that these things people don‘t give us credit for when we go over to countries like Bosnia and spend our blood and our treasure and trying to create stability. We‘ve lost 250 Marines down here at Camp Pendleton in Iraq.
And that‘s a contribution. We‘re out there trying to help the world. We‘re not trying to create a new state or a new piece of territory for the United States. We don‘t get credit for any of that.
MITCHELL: All right, well, thank you both very much.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, good luck with those new triplets.
MITCHELL: Leon Panetta, congratulations on your new grandbaby. And happy new year to you both.
PANETTA: Thank you. Happy new year to you.
MITCHELL: We‘ll have more on the politics of aid—thank you.
We‘ll have more on the politics of aid relief and President Bush‘s second term with journalists John Harwood of “The Wall Street Journal,” Jon Meacham of “Newsweek” and historian Douglas Brinkley.
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MITCHELL: Coming up, a look ahead at the president‘s second-term agenda on foreign and domestic policy with Jon Meacham, John Harwood and Douglas Brinkley—when HARDBALL returns.
MITCHELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Second-term curses have been written about by journalists and historians alike.
And now our panel, “Newsweek” managing editor Jon Meacham, whose book “Franklin and Winston” is out in paperback, “Wall Street Journal” political editor John Harwood, and presidential historian Doug Brinkley.
John, first to you.
The president is going to send Jeb Bush, his brother, and Colin Powell to Asia. Are they overreacting now? Or do they have to send a signal of concern because of criticism that they didn‘t do enough in the first two or three days of the crisis?
JOHN HARWOOD, POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Andrea, it was clear to political people in Washington that, as soon as the tsunami disaster hit, it was an opportunity for the administration to try to earn some goodwill around the world, which it needs as it movies into the second term.
It was sort of a stumbling start, as we all saw. There was some criticism of the United States. The president reacted personally to it yesterday. But we see today, this is a pretty strong response, sending Colin Powell, who happens to be the most popular political figure in the United States, and Jeb Bush, the president‘s brother, as a personal signal of what it means to George W. Bush. So I think this is a strong rebound from the initial difficulty.
MITCHELL: Jon Meacham, why Jeb Bush? Because of his experience with hurricanes? That‘s what the White House is saying. But is there more to it? Is there a political resume issue involved in this?
JON MEACHAM, MANAGING EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK”: I don‘t think explicitly, but, certainly, it has that affect. Obviously, Governor Bush did very well with I think was it four hurricanes in the past—in the run-up to the election, which was in fact Florida paying the debt for 2000, whether they wanted to or not.
And I think that he seems to have established himself as a credible figure doing this kind of work. Obviously, given that his term expires in 2006 and what the family business is, we have to wonder whether he is in fact looking at that race harder than he‘s indicated before.
MITCHELL: Doug Brinkley, here, the president is starting his second term with an international disaster of historic proportions. Does this become a distraction from some of the domestic policies that he wants to pursue?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, NBC ANALYST: No, I don‘t think so.
I think it can be an opportunity for this administration to show that they really do have a caring about the world. This is—I think this is very good news today that the governor of Florida is going to go and be in direct contact with the White House about what‘s happening. I mean, we‘re here talking. The death toll—I get chills every time I turn on TV and see that it could be over 100,000 people.
We still don‘t know where this is going to end up. And just the disease that is going to have to be taken care of—diseases don‘t know borders. And so I think it is a global and also an American crisis here. And so I think that President Bush has to act strongly with it.
MITCHELL: Now, we‘ve seen, as all of you know, presidents stumble in the second term, all the way back to George Washington, who had difficulties. We see presidents even as popular, Jon Meacham, as FDR, when he was packing the court.
What is it about that second term? Is it a hubris, an arrogance? Does the staff fail the person in the Oval Office? Do they feel entitled in some way after they have that additional power?
MEACHAM: A second term.
I do think that there‘s a war between hubris and history that goes on in a second term. By my count, we‘ve had 17 presidents in the 20th and 21st century. We‘ve only had seven of them actually be in the position that President Bush is in, which is an elected second term. So, the odds are against you to get reelected in any event.
And then, once you‘re there, two things happen. You either have a
terrible debilitating scandal, like President Clinton did, like Iran-Contra
· President Eisenhower had to cancel a summit with Khrushchev because of the U-2 crisis. But you also have, in the case of President Reagan, as you well know, a case where someone is liberated from having ever to run again. I don‘t think it‘s any mistake that the first big summit with Gorbachev was in 1985, which was after the president had been reelected.
And he got the real important arms control agreements once he was looking forward to a legacy and didn‘t have to think about the voters again. So I think there are two polls here.
MITCHELL: Of course, his explanation was, when asked why he had not met with Andropov and Chernenko, well, they keep dying on me. But that‘s another story.
John Harwood, what are the risks for this president?
HARWOOD: Well, the risks for this president are that he‘s trying to do too much at the same time while juggling a very, very difficult military conflict overseas.
I think the closest analogy is George Bush‘s situation is Lyndon Johnson, who began a second term. It wasn‘t a second elected term. But, nevertheless, he started a fresh term, like George Bush, had control of both houses of Congress. That enabled him to get some things done, although he had a bigger majority on the Democratic side than George W. Bush has now.
But he had this tremendously ambitious domestic agenda, Medicare, Voting Rights Act, civil rights advances, tried to balance that with the conflict in Vietnam, which escalated out of hand. George W. Bush has got to juggle Iraq with Social Security reform, tax reform, and trying to do something about this budget deficit, which is very, very big.
And they‘re going to attempt to grapple with that in the budget. So, how he juggles that, how well the supplemental appropriations bill—in February, after the Iraqi elections, he‘s going to ask for another $80 billion. He has got to very much hope that that situation doesn‘t get out of control and sink the rest of what he wants to do.
MITCHELL: Doug Brinkley, what is the concern or the likelihood that Iraq and the continuing violence and potentially the post-election violence there will overwhelm all of these domestic priorities?
BRINKLEY: Oh, I think that‘s a very likely possible scenario. We‘re all waiting to see what is going to happen in the January elections.
I want to just say about this curse, jinx of the second term, I think president have to look at it not as a curse, but an opportunity. And, really, when you look at the two-term presidents, Eisenhower, two terms, since World War II, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, that were elected, they leave office with very high public opinion marks.
They may have had bad things that occurred in their second term, but they had terrible things that occurred in their first term. I hope and pray that George W. Bush doesn‘t have anything like 9/11 happen on his second-term watch.
The danger, I think, is the curse of Richard Nixon. And that is the fact that you keep too many of your cronies around you for too long. You start seeing the media as the enemy. You start feeling that you can manipulate the American people and you start lying or having policies of deception. And Nixon of course won by a landslide his second term in 1972, but the seeds of dishonesty that were there, particularly dealing with his policies in Cambodia and Laos, doomed him.
And I think the Bush administration has to be careful in dealing with the Middle East, that they speak very clearly and bluntly to the American people and don‘t fall into this thing that, because we don‘t have to run for office in ‘08, that we can start hiding and keeping our cards close to our chest.
HARWOOD: But, Andrea, one thing to remember on the scandal fronts, and scandal is one common element of some of these difficulties presidents have had, is that, because Republicans control both houses of Congress, that means they control the investigative machinery of Congress, limits opportunities for Democrats to try to take political skin out of George W. Bush.
BRINKLEY: But Nixon went down by the media, the press going after him, and people in his own party, the Republicans. It‘s when Barry Goldwater on Nixon is when he started going down.
And you can see the fact that already, right after an election, two leading senators like McCain and Hagel are already questioning what this administration is doing, calling for Rumsfeld‘s resignation, the trouble that the Bush administration is facing is not the Democrats. It‘s people within his own party.
MEACHAM: Well, I think we‘re a long way away from Bush and Nixon being a particularly close parallel.
But I would just argue that perhaps we see in both this horrible story that‘s unfolding now in South Asia and some of these questions a connection, which is that the president needs to rebuild some global capital, the idea that, though we moved unilaterally in Iraq because the president and the Congress, which voted to give him the authority, believed that that was in our—ultimately, in our national security interests, this is an opportunity to show that we do in fact care and that we‘re not simply these rather hawkish, insensitive people over here.
And I think the more the president tries to present that face to the world, the more successful he‘ll be.
MITCHELL: Hold that thought.
More with Jon Meacham, John Harwood and Doug Brinkley when we come back.
And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MONICA CROWLEY, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, I‘m Monica Crowley.
And I want to say to all of our brave men and women in uniform serving this country around the world, thank you for your very selfless sacrifice. God bless you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: We‘re back with Jon Meacham of “Newsweek,” John Harwood of “The Wall Street Journal” and Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian.
Jon Meacham, if the president really were going to take this opportunity and not only reach out overseas, but do big things here, wouldn‘t you have thought that he would have reached beyond the immediate circle of the White House and brought in, you know, more stellar people into the Cabinet? I‘m trying to be very diplomatic here.
MITCHELL: But this isn‘t exactly the best and the brightest.
MEACHAM: Well, it‘s the holiday season, so we should be kind.
MEACHAM: I think it is interesting. George W. Bush has now become one of our few second-term presidents by consistently doing exactly what he wanted to do, despite what people like us say. And I think there‘s something to that.
I think he wants people he‘s comfortable with. We know we‘ve learned one thing about this president in the last five years. It‘s that he has a very—he‘s almost persnickety in a way about who is around him, who he talks to. And it could, as we saw I think in Bob Woodward‘s book so well detailed, that can lead to a certain lack of debate.
Now, the president likes to say that he has plenty of debate inside. No one else seems to say that. So, I think that‘s the great risk here, is that he‘s brought in people who aren‘t going to argue with him.
MITCHELL: And if loyalty is the most important component, then you get policies that sometimes go off track or you don‘t get brilliance. You don‘t get the spark of someone who is really provocative and can perhaps get shouted down in an internal discussion.
HARWOOD: That may be so.
But one thing that we‘ve seen is that discipline and cohesion with this team count for a lot. George W. Bush ran for a second term in difficult circumstances. And the team that has been with him since his first election, who have been planning for that second-term campaign all year long, took a situation where the American people were in a bad mood. We had an expensive and difficult conflict overseas. And they muscled through to 51 percent of the vote by changing the composition of the electorate.
MITCHELL: Oh, no, granted, it wins elections.
MITCHELL: I‘m asking whether it is best for policy.
HARWOOD: Right. But he‘s going to try that same formula—he‘s going to try that same formula legislatively, trying to start with that Republican base and build out just enough to get majorities to try to do these things like Social Security reform, which he‘s known since before he was president he wanted to do.
He doesn‘t want new ideas on that subject. He knows what he wants to do. Now he‘s going to try to ram it through.
MITCHELL: Douglas Brinkley, is this a good formula for success for a second term?
BRINKLEY: Well, I don‘t think the domestic agenda is going to be the main thing the next few years.
Yes, we may get Social Security reform. I hardly think that is the event that history remembers. We remember grand events. And a big one is the war in Iraq right now. It is up in the air what is going to happen there. I think that the Bush legacy is going to be determined on what does occur in the Middle East. Was this the right way to go?
And I think it is up in the air right now. But I don‘t feel that the domestic agenda is suddenly going to be sweep in and we‘re going to have a New Deal or a Great Society or even something like a Contract With America of Newt Gingrich during the Clinton years. I think the stakes now are what‘s happening in Iraq.
HARWOOD: If he fundamentally changes the Social Security system, that‘s a plenty big achievement.
MITCHELL: And Jon Meacham...
MITCHELL: Go ahead, Doug.
BRINKLEY: It‘s a big achievement. But you‘ve got Franklin Roosevelt in creating it or you have Johnson creating Medicaid and Medicare. They are achievements and I think that will be one. But it is not what his legacy is.
If we fail in what we‘re doing in the Middle East right now, yet we have Social Security reform in here, I don‘t think you‘ll see Bush going down as one of the great presidents.
MITCHELL: Jon Meacham, in the minute we have left, do you think that the president, since he‘s not willing apparently to appoint a Middle East envoy, do you think he‘s moving in the Middle East aggressively enough, given the opportunities with Arafat‘s death?
MEACHAM: He seems to be. And I think that he has a friend in General Sharon and he is going to push ahead on that.
I think that Douglas is right. Bush has made an enormous bet in the Middle East. We may not know for 10 or 20 years—Andrea, you know this better than anybody—whether this is going to pay off or not. This is a huge investment he‘s made. And if he transforms the region, which is not out of the question, then he will go down as a great and transformative president. If he doesn‘t, he won‘t. I think it‘s that simple.
You know, it‘s funny. It was about arms control and about a big bet that Churchill once said, never flinch, never weary, never despair, which was his last great speech. And I think that we should all hope that the president never despairs and that the rest of us don‘t either as we push for peace in that part of the world.
MITCHELL: All right, well, thank you very much, Jon Meacham. Thank you, John Harwood and Doug Brinkley.
MITCHELL: And join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for a special edition of HARDBALL, “A Soldier‘s Journey Home.” Chris Matthews visited some of the brave men and women who were wounded in Iraq and are now recuperating at Walter Reed Hospital.
And be sure to tune in on Monday, January 3. Chris‘ guests then will include Generals Wayne Downing, Barry McCaffrey and Montgomery Meigs.
For Chris Matthews and all of us here at MSNBC and NBC News, a happy new year to all of you.
And right now, it‘s time “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”
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