1. Headline
  1. Headline
updated 9/25/2006 7:48:02 PM ET 2006-09-25T23:48:02

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: In his second annual Global Initiative conference, former President Bill Clinton convenes leaders from around the world to discuss poverty, religion, the environment and more.  Participants include first lady Laura Bush, Pakistan’s President Musharraf, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, and former first lady and current New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Policy and politics through the eyes of our guest, the 42nd president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.

Then, another speaker at that conference, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, joins us to talk about the Taliban insurgency, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the war on terrorism.

Plus, a discussion of the role of conservative Christians in our political process with former Republican senator and ordained Episcopal priest John Danforth, author of “Faith and Politics.”

But first, on Friday, I sat down with former President Clinton at the conclusion of his second annual Global Initiative conference in New York City.

Mr. President, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: The second year of the Clinton Global Initiative. What did you achieve this year?

MR. CLINTON: Well, in dollar terms, as we left we had 215 commitments worth over $7 billion. Last year at this time, when we left we had about 170 commitments worth $1 ½ billion. We wound up with 300 worth $2 ½ billion, so we’ll have some more come in. We’ll probably get up to 300 commitments, maybe more.

MR. RUSSERT: Do people keep their commitments?

MR. CLINTON: Almost all of them do. In this last year I would say there are only—of the people who came last year who were what you called commitment-eligible—that is, the experts that we come—that we bring in, or the people representing low-income countries and poor people around the world, or the heads of the state that, you know, they don’t have to commit—but of the people that did, we only had about 15 who either didn’t make a commitment, or did—or made one and then made no effort to keep it. So the overwhelming number of people come here because they’re going to be asked to do something, and because they want to do something. And they either want to select or perfect their commitment while they’re here. So we’ve got some people we’ll work with over the next month or so, and then we’ll have more of these commitments come in.

MR. RUSSERT: And you focus on poverty, religious and ethnic conflict, energy and climate change, and global public health.

MR. CLINTON: That’s right.

MR. RUSSERT: People make a commitment to invest in one of those programs...

MR. CLINTON: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: ...somewhere in the world?

MR. CLINTON: Money, volunteer time, expertise. Something.

MR. RUSSERT: Time is important, almost as important as money.

MR. CLINTON: Absolutely. I—that’s why I always say—I’m a little bit reluctant to even emphasize the aggregate amount of money we raise, because some of our most important things don’t cost much money. And I—for example, today, I talked about this group of people who devised a way for Afghan farmers to switch out of growing poppies—and they grow 92 percent of the world’s poppy now, that makes the opium and heroin...

MR. RUSSERT: Up 60 percent in one year.

MR. CLINTON: Up 60 percent in one year. And the central government losing control. So what—we decided that if we wanted to have an impact there, it would have to be a private sector initiative. It would have to be more economical for poor, insecure farmers.

So we’ve—this project developed a model to use orchards or woodlots in a way that would support a family of eight with a higher return per acre than poppy to the actual farmers. So that’s a big, big deal.

MR. RUSSERT: If it worked in Afghanistan, you could roll it out around other countries.

MR. CLINTON: Yes. You know, our country, our government has spent quite a lot of money in Colombia, and in countries—in the Andean countries, not only helping to build up the security forces to fight the narco-traffickers and their guerrilla supporters, but also trying to help farmers in that region convert off of growing coca. And it—the economics have been quite challenging. So we know we might find out some things in Afghanistan that could change that all over the world.

MR. RUSSERT: As we sit here in September of 2006, what do you think is the biggest problem confronting our world? The biggest?

MR. CLINTON: In the short term it is the illusion that our differences matter more than our common humanity. That’s what’s driving the terrorism.  It’s not just that there’s an unresolved Arab/Israeli conflict. Osama bin Laden and Dr. al-Zawahiri can convince young Sunni-Arab men who have—and some women—who have despairing conditions in their lives that they get a one-way ticket to heaven in a hurry if they kill a lot of innocent people who don’t share their reality. That means they—by definition, everything about them is, the differences are more important. And that’s driving the terror, that’s driving the attempt to acquire for terrorist groups small-scale chemical and biological and maybe even someday nuclear stuff.

In the longer term, climate change is the biggest threat, because if it’s allowed to come to fruition—and particularly if we’re, at the same time, running out of affordable, recoverable oil—you’re going to have a—almost over night—a dramatic change in the way we live, and it will cause millions of food refugees, it’ll cause probably food and water wars, and it could change the underlying conditions on which our civilization rests. So I’d say terror, based on human difference today, climate change over the long run.

MR. RUSSERT: As you travel around the world, what do people say about the image of the United States?

MR. CLINTON: Well, different people say different things. But I think that the real problem—it’s generally assumed, I think, in Washington, that, that the problem the American image has is that a lot of people disagree with President Bush, and it’s basically about Iraq. I, I think it’s a little more complicated than that. That is, I think it—it’s true that in the Middle East and many places out the un—in the independent, unaligned countries, they don’t necessarily agree with our Iraq policy, but I think it’s more the feeling that that’s just the most severe example of a country that is more committed to doing what it wants when it wants, and not listening to other people and working with them whenever possible. And the bigger you are and the wealthier you are and the more traditional power than you have, the more you have to be sensitive to how you’re perceived by other people, the more you at least have to want to have people think that even if you don’t agree with them, you’re kind of on their side. And I don’t think America has any significant image problems that couldn’t be turned around rather quickly with a different way of dealing with people.

I also believe that, in the Muslim world, at least, if there were a resumption of serious Israeli/Palestinian peace talks, that would help a lot, because everybody knows that in the end, that situation can’t be resolved, in all probability, unless we’re involved in a supportive way in what happens after they sign the deal.

MR. RUSSERT: What did you think when Colin Powell said, “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism”?

MR. CLINTON: I think he was referring to the, the questions that have been raised about the original evidence, which plagues him and in which he was, I think, unwittingly complicit. I don’t think—I think it’s pretty clear, based on what all the people that worked for him have said. I think he was most worried about the question of torture and the conduct of the prisons at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. And of course, he weighed in in this debate about the extent to which the CIA or others could engage in conduct which clearly violates the Geneva Convention.

Now, we—as you and I talk, and we hear that they’ve reached an agreement, the senators and the White House, and I hope they have. But Colin pointed out that, you know, we’ve got soldiers all over the world. If we get a reputation for torturing people, the following bad things are going to happen: We’re as likely going to get bad information is good, just for people to just quit getting beat on; two, we’re likely to create two or three or five enemies for every one we break; and three, we make our own soldiers much more vulnerable to conduct which violates the Geneva Convention. That is, we can’t expect our friends, much less our enemies, to accept the fact that because we’re the good guys, we get to have a different standard of conduct. And most people think the definition of a good guy is someone who voluntarily observes a different standard of conduct, not someone who claims the right to do things others can’t do.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you outlaw waterboarding and sleep deprivation, loud music, all those kinds of tactics?

MR. CLINTON: Well, I—here’s what I would do. I would figure out what the, what the generally accepted definitions of the Geneva Convention are, and I would honor them. I would also talk to people who do this kind of work about what is generally most effective, and they will—they’re almost always not advocate of torture, and I wouldn’t do anything that would put our own people at risk.

Now, the thing that drives—that, that gives the president’s position a little edge is that every one of us can imagine the following scenario: We get lucky, we get the number three guy in al-Qaeda, and we know there’s a big bomb going off in America in three days and we know this guy knows where it is.  Don’t we have the right and the responsibility to beat it out of him? But keep in mind, in 99 percent of the interrogations, you don’t know those things.

Now, it happens like even in the military regulations, in a case like that, they do have the power to use extreme force because there is an imminent threat to the United States, and then to live with the consequences. The president—they could set up a law where the president could make a finding or could guarantee a pardon or could guarantee the submission of that sort of thing ex post facto to the intelligence court, just like we do now with wire taps.

So I, I don’t think that hard case justifies the sweeping authority for waterboarding and all the other stuff that, that was sought in this legislation. And I think, you know, if that circumstance comes up—we all know what we’d do to keep our country from going through another 9/11 if we could. But to—but to claim in advance the right to do this whenever someone takes a notion to engage in conduct that plainly violates the Geneva Convention, that, I think, is a mistake.

MR. RUSSERT: Two weeks ago, Vice President Cheney was on this program, and I said to him that we’ve spent $300 billion on Iraq. Now in hindsight, could that money, that $300 billion, been spent more effectively in other places?

MR. CLINTON: Well, if you mean could it—could it have strengthened us in a war against terror if spent elsewhere, I think there’s no question that’s true. I think it could have been spent more effectively in Iraq, I mean, we still don’t, don’t know what happened to about 9 billion of it, I think.

But if you—if, if you look at what we could have done, we could have had more troops in Afghanistan to secure a moderate Muslim, pro-American, pro-Western government; it could have kept the Taliban from coming back across the border; it could have intensified the hunt for bin Laden; it could have paid for all the 9/11 recommendations on homeland security; and it could have helped us build a world with more partners and fewer terrorists by, you know, investing in education in Pakistan so that kids go to public schools instead of the madrassas, and thousand other things we could do.

But what’s done is done and I, I, I still think it’s important to recognize that if this Iraq experiment could be made to work now, it would be better than if it can’t. No one knows yet whether it can. But I believe you can’t make a serious case that that’s the best, most effective way to spend $300 billion to fight terror or make a world with fewer terrorists.

TEXT:On Iraq

“It was a mistake.”

Former President Bill Clinton

New Yorker magazine

September 18, 2006

MR. RUSSERT: You said the Iraq—Iraq was a mistake. Why?

MR. CLINTON: He did.

MR. RUSSERT: You did.

MR. CLINTON: I did. No, I—here’s what I believe: I think it’s fine to get rid of Saddam and I think it’s fine to try to build a multi-party democracy.  I, I spoke to President Talabani today. I think the Kurds are doing pretty well as it is. What I believe was an error was for us to unilaterally invade before the United Nations had finished its inspections. Because we said the reason the Congress was asked to vote to approve this was to give teeth to the U.N. inspections and then to use the authority to invade if he flunked the inspections. I’m glad he’s gone, but I think we have to realize every time you’re someplace, you’re not someplace else; every dollar you spend here, you don’t spend it there. So—but we are where we are now, and since we have broken this egg, as General Powell used to say, we got to try and make an omelet. I think that, that whether this succeeds or fails now depends more on Iraqis than Americans.

I think most of the really big political and military mistakes made by the American forces in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam have been learned from and corrected. I think that now it’s just a question of whether the various Shiite factions and the Sunni can make a political accommodation sufficient to overcome the insurrection. And I think that, for us, we have to try to keep our footprint as low as possible so as not to inflame things, but our impact as high as possible.

And I think that—there’s only—the best piece of news I’ve seen coming out of there lately was that, after we said from our point of view we couldn’t win in Anbar anymore—that’s what at least a Marine intelligence officer said—because we had to send our troops to Baghdad, then 25 of 31 tribal leaders in Anbar got together and said, “We will throw the foreign jihadists out.” So I hope it works. I hope the thing can be made to work. But I think we would have been better off had we finished the job in Afghanistan against bin Laden first, done the homeland security recommendations first and gotten more global support. That’s what I believe.

MR. RUSSERT: You say, “We may have to decide it’s a lost cause.” How close are we to declaring it a lost cause?

MR. CLINTON: You know, I would have to know more than I actually know. I, I, I must tell you I was very profoundly impressed by Thomas Ricks’ book “Fiasco,” the chief Pentagon correspondent of The Washington Post. But I do not—I am not conversant enough with the facts on the ground to know. But I know this is like every insurgency ever, where there is an outside force attempting to provide stability. The good news is we’re not the, you know, we’re not the French, we have no colonial, imperialist, permanent ambitions, but the fact is we’re still guys who are not from there. And therefore, we have to remember that the people are always the prize.

That’s another point I didn’t make on this torture business. It’s one thing if you’re talking about bin Laden and an attempted attack in America. But if you look at Iraq, any time we do something that makes 50 more enemies, even if we catch one bad guy, that may be a, that may be a net bad thing. We could win every single battle and lose the war, because the people are the prize here.

So I, I think that we know what to do, and we—I am not yet prepared to say it can’t prevail, but I, I don’t know that I have enough information to know when we should cut the cord. I just think that we should not yet give up on it. I think there’s still a chance that these political leaders will be able to make a deal.

MR. RUSSERT: After the 2002 midterm elections, you said that Democrats “failed to offer a convincing case that they could manage national security during difficult times.” Do you think the Democrats have made the case in 2006?

MR. CLINTON: I think we’re doing better. I think, I think every Democrat I know—first, we have nine Iraq war veterans running for House seats. We’ve got President Reagan’s former Navy secretary running a great race in the Senate in Virginia. And every Democrat I know—now, I just heard Amy Klobuchar, a candidate in Minnesota, a prosecutor, speak, and they say something like this: “We face a serious threat to our security from terrorism. The question is not whether we meet it, but how. I do not agree with a lot of decisions made in Iraq,” and then the candidate says whatever they say. “I believe that we have made a mistake not intensifying our efforts in Afghanistan to stabilize a moderate pro-American democracy, to fight—to hunt bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. We made a terrible mistake favoring big tax cuts instead of implementing the 9/11 Commission’s homeland security recommendations. And if we really want to be more secure, we need to have a more vigorous effort to get this country independent of foreign oil. So I will fight for the security of America, and don’t believe them when they say, ‘If we don’t agree with everything they’ve done in Iraq, we can’t be trusted.’” That is, once you say that, once you lay that predicate, then I think our differences on everything from energy to the economy to the deficit to the minimum wage to you name it will carry the Democrats to a substantial victory.

But what they were able to do in 2002 was a great shell game. I mean, you’ve got to give Karl Rove political credit. I mean, they were against the Homeland Security bill for eight and a half months, then they decided they were for it. Then they decided—because they couldn’t make any votes on us, because we’d been supportive of them in Afghanistan, in the weapons inspections in Iraq—so they said, “We’ll just take all the job rights away from 170,000 federal employees, and then when they don’t support this bill, we’ll say, ‘If you’re not for this bill just the way we wrote it, you obviously don’t want to protect America from terror.’” And it was, you know, a lot of people bought it, but I think it’s because we didn’t effectively address it.

In other words, Mr. Rove, and you know, the, the Republican leaders now, and his predecessors too, Mr. DeLay, all those guys, they’re in business to beat us. They believe in what they’re doing. And our job is to tell the American people that we, too, want to protect their security. And we have different ideas about how to do it, and then to trust the people to decide. But if you leave people with the impression that your disagreement with the president’s Iraq policy is not part of a broader campaign against terror, then you get in trouble. I think if we do it this time—and I think we will—we’ll do fine.

MR. RUSSERT: You said that you weren’t sure that if Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton, ran for president, she’d win. I’m curious why you said that. And if she does run, are you, are your family ready for an intense, perhaps even negative campaign?

MR. CLINTON: Well, first of all, my gut is that she would win. When I said that, I said that in a way of being humble. It is, it is the same way when I ran for president in ‘92, I wasn’t at all sure I’d win. And then I, I wanted to make the point that number one, I don’t know if she’s going to, number two I’m not going to talk to her about it until after we get this election out of the way. And number three, I don’t think you run for president because you know for sure you can win, because no one knows that. It’s totally unpredictable. That’s all I meant. Actually, my instinct is that she’d do quite well.

But I always say that to make two points. One is we shouldn’t be talking about it or thinking about it now, and two is if by whatever means she wound up being president, I think she would be a superb president. I’d be very amazed if she weren’t just great. But I don’t know if she’s going to run, I—and I don’t want to talk to her about it, and I don’t want her thinking about it until we get this election out of the way.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you be ready for an intense negative campaign again?

MR. CLINTON: Well, if she decides to do it someday, then I will be fully supportive, and happy to do whatever I can. And like I said, I’m really proud of her. I think she’s been a great senator, and I, you know, whatever she wants to do I’m for. But I think, you know, people will always ask that, because especially in the last 25 years, our campaigns have gotten increasingly more negative with, really, it corresponds with the rise of the political right, the extreme right, among the Republicans and the greater complicity in the press and such things. But I think—I’m not sure the American people don’t want us to do better this time.

Very interesting. In this election, it’s the first time since ‘92 where I go to these big political rallies. Everybody’s cheering, you know, like they do at political rallies. But then all of a sudden, when I talk, it gets quiet as a church. And it’s because people know this is a time where we’ve got these challenges, they know nobody’s got all the answers and they really want to think and talk. I think there’s a real yearning for somebody just to go through and explain things.

So I’m not so sure that the kind of personally negative campaigns we’ve seen a lot of in the past would be all that effective. But I think an issue attack is always effective if you don’t answer it. That’s why we got to deal with the security deal.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President, we thank you, as always, for sharing your views.

MR. CLINTON: Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, an increasing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, the war on terror and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. We’ll talk to the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Coming up next right here on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, after this brief station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS. Americans read every day something about Afghanistan. Here’s an editorial in The New York Times. “Losing Afghanistan.” More than 2,000 people have been killed this year; a close friend of yours, a governor of a large province, blown up. Is your country in a chaotic state?

PRES. HAMID KARZAI: No. It has difficulties, but it is not in the chaotic state. I believe all of us, the Afghans and the international community, after the initial success that we had in throwing out terrorism and the Taliban and their foreign sponsors in less than a month and a half in 2001, and then the subsequent tremendous success in the fulfillment of all the objectives set for us by the world agreement, expectations went very high, in Afghanistan, especially, where the Afghan people felt that the world is here now. With a lot of help, we will rebuild the country in, in, in less than the time that we expect to be. The world also saw a lot of Afghan successes—the constitution, the presidential elections, the parliament arriving, democratic institutions, freedom of the press, welcomed by the Afghan people of the international community—all of that made us forget one thing, that while we had thrown terrorism away from Afghanistan, we had really not gone after their sources, their training grounds, where they were paid money, where they were given motivation, and that they were still there. And we’re now paying for that.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, in July, NATO came to Afghanistan. This is what the NATO commander said that he “has set a six-month deadline to reverse a Taliban insurgency terrorizing southern Afghanistan.”

PRES. KARZAI: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: “British Army Lieutenant General David Richards said ... 70 percent” [of Afghans] “won’t declare their loyalty until they ‘see which side will win. They can’t wait forever. We’ve got to show them we will win.’” suggesting people are sitting on the sidelines.

PRES. KARZAI: No.

MR. RUSSERT: Rather than siding with your government...

PRES. KARZAI: No, no, no.

MR. RUSSERT: ...over the Taliban.

PRES. KARZAI: No, no, no. No, no, no. That’s not what General Richards meant. I know General Richards. I meet him almost every week.

MR. RUSSERT: That’s what he said.

PRES. KARZAI: He’s a—he’s a very capable general, that’s not what he said.  That’s not what he meant. What he meant was that the Afghans are having a tremendously high expectation of the international community and of their own government. And that they don’t understand when there still is an attack coming across the border into Afghanistan, terrorism crossing the border into Afghanistan and hurting the international community and the Afghan people, they don’t understand how a group of people can come and attack the whole international community without us having the ability to stop them where they are groomed, where they are trained. So that is, yes, a concern in Afghanistan. The Afghans don’t understand the rise in violence. They felt, four years ago, that terrorism was gone and they were thrown out and that they would not be allowed to return across Afghan borders. That is what the Afghans are angry about. That’s what the Afghans are confused about, as a matter of fact. That’s why the international community must take a much tougher action. By that I mean the international community should go to the sources of terrorism.

MR. RUSSERT: They are also concerned, however, about your government. Let me read you something and then tell you where it came from. “It’s not that the Taliban were strong. It’s that the government was weak. They have moved into a vacuum. There was protracted negligence on our part of those” southern “provinces.” That’s your chief of staff.

PRES. KARZAI: That’s true.

MR. RUSSERT: So you allowed the Taliban to gain strength by being the only form of government that helped the people.

PRES. KARZAI: No. That—not in that sense. They don’t help the people.  They kill people. They burn schools. They burn clinics. They kill aid workers. They kill teachers. They kill clergy. They behead teachers. They kill those who are helping the Afghan reconstruction. By that, what is meant is that the Afghan security institutions are weak. And indeed, that is a problem.

MR. RUSSERT: Here’s what the Taliban says: “The Taliban had established a true peace in the country with law and order. But now, the country has become a center of instability, killings, plundering, obscenity and drugs. There’s no protection for the life or property of any individual. Everybody has seen the true of the U.S. and its allies. Therefore, the Afghan people are supporting the Taliban.”

PRES. KARZAI: The Taliban were a terrorist associates. Al-Qaeda was there in Afghanistan. There was no life to be secured in Afghanistan. It was a death trap for the Afghan people. Schools were closed, universities were closed, women were not allowed to come out and work. People could not even whisper. People were not allowed to listen to radios. They would climb over your walls and night and beat you and arrest you and even kill you if you listened to the radios. It was an occupied country in the name of the Taliban. The Taliban was there in name only.

Now those thugs and terrorists and their foreign sponsors who were ruling Afghanistan with terror and exporting terror from Afghanistan to the rest of the world, are today the ones that are blowing bombs. So the bombers and the suicide bombers and the people who are committing crimes now were then the government.

Today, you have six million children going to school. At that time, there were only 700,000 children going to school. Only boys then. Today, you have almost all the country’s roads paved. At that time, you had no roads. Then, in 2001, there was only 9 percent of health service available to the Afghan people. Today, it’s 80 percent.

MR. RUSSERT: Must you eliminate the Taliban by the end of the year? Is General Richards correct?

PRES. KARZAI: It’s not eliminating the Taliban, it’s ending terrorist violence in Afghanistan. We must differentiate. Those Taliban who are—Talib means a student of the religious school in Afghanistan. Now, there are thousands of students of religious schools in Afghanistan who are just like you and I, people who have a feeling for their country, who want to have a good life, who are—who are participating on a daily basis in, in Afghan reconstruction and, and, and political and social life.

There are those elements of them who are outside of the Afghan border, in association with al-Qaeda and their sponsors, who are the ones that are hurting us. And that is the first issue we’re talking about, that is the one we should get rid of as soon as possible.

MR. RUSSERT: Of grave concern to the American people are the reports that the opium cultivation is up 60 percent in one year in Afghanistan. Enough to create 610 tons of heroin, some of it which comes to the United States. Why is that so out of control? Is Afghanistan become a narco state?

PRES. KARZAI: No. Let’s go a little bit into the history. Thirty years ago when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Afghan people lost hope for the future. There was complete despair. No Afghan family was sure if they were going to have their own house the next day, if they were going to have their children alive the next day, if they were going to be refugees or if they were going to be in their own country the next day. I know people, I know families in southwestern Afghanistan who destroyed their pomegranate orchards, which is among the most beautiful fruits and the most beautiful of orchards, to replace it with poppies. Thousands of farmers lost their vineyards that were replaced with poppies.

So poppy came to Afghanistan out of an extreme desperation in the Afghan people, and out of promotion by mafia from outside of Afghanistan. By now, it is an economic reality. As menacing as it is, it is an economic reality.  More than 30 percent of the Afghan economy runs on this. The farmers live on it.

Now, we are ashamed of it. It embarrasses us like hell when, when I’m asked, when, when the international community comes to speak to me about this. Four years ago, I was naive about this. I thought we would go and destroy, eradicate poppies, and next year, they will not be there. And we tried that, but next year they came again. And when I was inaugurated as the elected president of the country two years ago, I asked the Afghan people, stop growing. A lot of them did stop growing, but that was an emotional response to a newly elected president of the country. This year, the economic reality has set in again. Add lack of rain, drought to the country. Poppy is easily grown and easily sold.

MR. RUSSERT: There has been much discussion in the United States that the U.S. took its eye off of Afghanistan, and distracted by Iraq. Could the $300 billion that we have spent in Iraq have been better spent stabilizing Afghanistan and rebuilding Afghanistan?

PRES. KARZAI: Three hundred billion dollars? You give that to Afghanistan, and we’ll be heaven in less than a year.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you need more money for reconstruction?

PRES. KARZAI: We definitely need more money for reconstruction. We’ll be very happy if more money’s given to us for reconstruction. Afghanistan will be—will be a very prosperant country if, if that sort of assistance is given to Afghanistan. With what we have received now, we are already a very good country. Where there were no roads at all four years ago, now we can travel on, on, on paved roads all over the country with schools, with clinics, with, with better life, better economy. And, and if we were to get the kind of money you mentioned, we’ll be the best country in that part of the world.

MR. RUSSERT: Where is...

PRES. KARZAI: And I hope that happens.

MR. RUSSERT: Where is Osama bin Laden?

PRES. KARZAI: He is not in Afghanistan, I can tell you that for sure.

MR. RUSSERT: Is he in Pakistan?

PRES. KARZAI: Probably he is there, that’s, that’s what the reports say now, that we—that come across us.

MR. RUSSERT: The RAND Corporation did a study, and this is part of their report, and let me read it with you. “‘The evidence suggests the [Pakistani intelligence] is involved in [assisting Taliban insurgents] in several ways.’ ... Pakistani intelligence agents have provided intelligence to the Taliban about coalition plans and tactical operations, he said, tipping off Taliban forces and allowing them to flee. Western military forces have intercepted the tips and know they are from people connected to Pakistani intelligence, [Seth Jones, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation] said ... ‘The U.S. government also believes they have given monetary assistance and maybe weapons [Jones], said.’” Do you agree with that?

PRES. KARZAI: We have a serious problem in this regard. When I said we must go to the sources of terrorism, where they are trained, where they are equipped, where they are given money, where they are given motivation, and sent to kill international coalition forces—engineers, doctors, Afghans—that’s what I meant.

MR. RUSSERT: You’re talking about Pakistan.

PRES. KARZAI: Wherever the source is.

MR. RUSSERT: But President Musharraf just signed an agreement with the tribes in Pakistan to, in effect, create a sanctuary, to allow the people to stay there and conduct their business, which would allow them easily to go in and out of Afghanistan.

PRES. KARZAI: That is what he mentioned to me, President Musharraf when he was in, in Kabul. The first item in that agreement with those terrorist networks there in Pakistan and Waziristan area of Pakistan, is asking the, the terrorists not to cross over into Afghanistan for operations. Now, if that is implemented, we’ll be very happy. But unfortunately, right after the signing of the agreement, we saw that two tribal chiefs in Pakistan were killed in that area by the terrorists, by the Taliban. And an Afghan governor in the neighborhood of that area was assassinated, killed by a suicide bomber. So the trend since then is not good. But we’ll have to wait and see as to whether the truth as it is agreed upon is going to be implemented, or will be violated. If it is violated, then we’ll be very skeptical, and that will exactly mean a sanctuary for terrorism in that part of Pakistan.

MR. RUSSERT: The last question: Did you not give President Musharraf intelligence information as to where al-Qaeda and perhaps Osama bin Laden may be residing?

PRES. KARZAI: We have provided from time to time for the past so many years information to our friends, our brothers, our neighbors in Pakistan about sanctuaries, about training grounds, about personalities associated with terrorism.

MR. RUSSERT: And what was their reaction?

PRES. KARZAI: They came back to us to say that some of the information was old, but that it was true sometime before that. And that—we hope that more action will be taken in this regard.

MR. RUSSERT: Could the Pakistanis capture bin Laden if they wanted to?

PRES. KARZAI: I, I, I don’t have so much information to speculate on that, but if you all tried collectively, he would not be able to hide.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President, we thank you again for joining us, and have a safe trip home.

PRES. KARZAI: Welcome, sir. Good to talk to you.

MR. RUSSERT: Next up, a discussion of the upcoming elections, and the influence of conservative Christians with former Republican Senator John Danforth, author of “Faith and Politics: How the Moral Values Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together.”

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back, joined by former Senator John Danforth.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. JOHN DANFORTH: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: You are a former United States senator, a former ambassador to the United Nations, an ordained Episcopal priest, and you’ve written a book on “Faith and Politics.” And we take particular note of it this morning because of things that you have said. Let’s share that with our viewers. “By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians. The elements of this transformation have included advocacy of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, opposition to stem cell research involving both frozen embryos and human cells in petri dishes, and the extraordinary effort to keep Terri Schiavo hooked up to a feeding tube. Standing alone, each of these initiatives has its advocates, within the Republican Party and beyond. But the distinct elements do not stand alone. Rather they are parts of a larger package, an agenda of positions common to conservative Christians and the dominant wing of the Republican Party.” You’re suggesting the Christian right has taken over the Republican Party?

MR. DANFORTH: Yeah, I think it has. This is the base of the Republican Party, and the nature of politics in America now is to appeal to the political base, to the exclusion of everybody else. I think that’s what’s—it’s happened in both parties, the Democrats have their base, our base is the Christian conservatives.

MR. RUSSERT: Why has this happened, and shouldn’t the Christian conservatives be saluted for standing up and exercising their democratic franchise?

MR. DANFORTH: Well, they certainly have the right to speak out. And I, I would hope that everybody who speaks out from the standpoint of religion would do so with, with some degree of humility, recognizing that they don’t have a monopoly on truth. But the problem is, when a political party becomes a sectarian party, when it becomes the party of one branch of one religion, and I think that that’s what’s happened to the Republican Party. And I, I would hope that the Republican Party would get back to its moorings.

MR. RUSSERT: You write with real conviction, senator, this is what you say, “When Christians claim special knowledge of God’s truth, when they advance wedge issues, when they divide America between ‘people of faith’ and their ‘enemies,’ Christians become not the means of peace but the cause of conflict.  In that case, Christians are far from being powerless. They are powerful contributors to what has gone wrong in American politics.”

MR. DANFORTH: Well, I think that that’s true. And I mean, to me, one of the messages of religion, in fact, the, the meaning of the world religion has to do with holding people together. It’s the same root as, as the word that “ligament” comes front. But I think, in fact, religion in various part of the world—Iraq, for example—has become the means of division and, and bloodshed.  And in our own country, when it’s used politically—and we’ve always seen this, our founding fathers saw it when they wrote the Constitution—religion has the capacity to divide us. So if it—if religion is presented as sort of, “My way is God’s way and your way is not, you’re, you’re against God,” there can be no more divisive factor in politics than that.

MR. RUSSERT: Christian conservatives who step forward and say, “However, senator, I believe that abortion is the taking of a life. I believe that there is a life in that petri dish and that’s why I’m against stem cell research. I believe that the Bible teaches me that homosexuality is immoral.  How can you ask me to compromise on those kinds of life and death and moral issues?”

MR. DANFORTH: Well, I—I’d say, “Take your position and take it strongly.  I’m sure you’re going to do that. But recognize, also, that you’re not God and that there is a difference between anybody’s political position or moral position and God. And that we have to try to recognize that other people also are trying to be faithful, even though they don’t agree with us.” And if you have that kind of humility, it makes the art of politics possible. Whereas, if it becomes, you know, “I know God’s will and you don’t,” then, it seems to me, that we’ve got a very divided country.

MR. RUSSERT: Is is the certitude that bothers you?

MR. DANFORTH: It is the certitude. It—it’s the total lack of—of humility.  It’s the belief that “I do know God’s will and I can—I can put that in the political agenda. I can cram God into my own political point of view.” And that is what I think has happened in our Republican Party.

MR. RUSSERT: As you might expect, some of the conservative Christians have spoken out. “Richard Land ... of the Southern Baptist Convention ...  describes [Danforth] as ‘what was wrong with the Republican Party and why they were a minority party.’

“Votes reflect moral values. The struggle for hearts and minds gets reflected in the ballot box. ... It just sounds to me like Danforth’s sore that he lost the argument with a majority of the American people.”

MR. DANFORTH: I, I don’t think I’ve lost the argument. I think—the point of writing a book is to evoke a response. And that’s what I’m trying to do.  I would—I want people to think about and talk about the role of religion in politics. Clearly, there is a role of religion in politics. What is it? And I think when most people in America think about it, they do not want our country divided on religious lines. They do not want a political party that takes one religious point of view. Most Americans believe that we’re all in this together. Whether we’re Catholics or Protestants or Jews or Muslims or whatever we are, we’re in this together as a country, and we have to try to build some common ground. And when religion is used as a political wedge to drive us apart, it’s doing us a disservice.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe you could be nominated for president by the Republican Party without the strong support of the Christian right?

MR. DANFORTH: I doubt it right now, but I think that it’s a point worth making because I think this identification with the Republican Party and, and the Christian right isn’t sustainable for very long. It might work for a time. And I think that that’s the view of it. “Hey, it works. This is a—this is a consortium of people and it works pretty well.” But I don’t think it will work very well for long because I think the more people think about it, the, the more they’ll recognize this is not what America is.

MR. RUSSERT: You also talk in your book about collegiality and bipartisanship and civility. You wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times and this is how you structured it, “In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God’s side and you are not, that I know God’s will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God’s kingdom is certain to produce hostility.” Do you think that’s the primary reason for the breakdown in collegiality?

MR. DANFORTH: Yeah, I think it’s a lot of it. I, I think, in general, politics in America is too polarized now. I mean, it’s always been a contact sport, but I think it’s too polarized. I think that the center has collapsed in American politics and that we’ve lost something because of that. And I think religion has been used as a wedge to drive us apart rather than something to bind us together.

MR. RUSSERT: How do you get that bipartisans—that center? How do you get it back?

MR. DANFORTH: Well, I, that, that’s the reason for writing the book, because I, I think that that’s where the American people are. And when they see political campaigns, they are not seeing their point of view represented.  They’re seeing two extremes: the extreme left and the extreme right. When they watch the talking heads on the all-news channels, they’re seeing two extreme points of view. And I think most people would say “That’s not where we are. We, we are sort of none of the above.”

So I think that the center has to reassert itself. And how do you reassert yourself? You speak out. You speak out in every forum you can find, and you say this, this kind of divisiveness in America is unable to deal seriously with serious problems like terrorism, like dependence on foreign sources of energy, like the pending collapse of Social Security and Medicare. And those are hard political problems in any event, but at least we have to try to establish some common ground. And the common ground exists in the middle of the political spectrum, and that middle has been eroded.

MR. RUSSERT: You end your book—and the way I’d like to end our conversation this morning—talking about the role of peace for a Christian. You write:

“In our seminaries, in our churches, in our thoughts and prayers we should give rigorous attention to whether Christianity is a religion of peace. And if it is, we should think about how we can be more effective peacemakers than we have been to date.” Do you write about that in the context of the war on terror, or much more generally?

MR. DANFORTH: Well, it’s got a long history. Ever since the Book of Joshua, you know, where the people who were on the other side were slaughtered, the Crusades—it’s got a very long history. But certainly we see it now in Iraq where it’s sectarian violence, Sunnis and Shiites are killing each other. So what do we do about this?

And I think if religion is a good part of the problem in the world now, people killing each other in the name of God, then religious people are going to have to do just a little more than sing hymns and write letters to members of Congress. They’ve got to figure out strategies for trying to pull the world together, creating dialogue between the religions, and solving some of these religious disputes that we’re having.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator John Danforth, Reverend John Danforth, this is one table where we can discuss faith and politics. And we thank you for joining us this morning.

MR. DANFORTH: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back, right after this.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week at our regular time with another special MEET THE PRESS Senate debate. Ohio. Incumbent Republican Senator Mike DeWine vs. Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown.  That’s next Sunday: Ohio, the Senate Debate.

If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

More on TODAY.com

  1. AFP-Getty Images file

    Prince William dares to call Kate's dream hair a 'nightmare'

    12/17/2014 5:34:33 PM +00:00 2014-12-17T17:34:33
  1. Handout / Reuters

    'Glorious day': Freed American Alan Gross says it's good to be home

    12/17/2014 7:35:11 PM +00:00 2014-12-17T19:35:11
  1. Courtesy of Karen Adell Scot

    Transgender teacher reveals joy, heartbreak of new life as a woman

    12/17/2014 2:58:41 PM +00:00 2014-12-17T14:58:41
  1. Scott Wintrow / Getty Images

    'I miss him all the time,' Robin Williams' son says of late father

    12/17/2014 7:08:03 PM +00:00 2014-12-17T19:08:03