MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: The Democrats say U.S. troops should leave Iraq within six months if the Iraqi government does not reduce the violence. With us, Congressman John Murtha, Democrat from Pennsylvania. The Republicans want a surge of more American troops and dare the Democrats to cut off funding for the war. With us, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina.
And in our political roundtable, 42 years ago, the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. Today, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama journey to that city.
And Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney address the Conservative Political Action Conference. But not John McCain.
Insights and analysis from John Harwood of CNBC and The Wall Street Journal and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post.
But first, an original supporter of the war in Iraq, he has now become an outspoken critic of it. With us, Congressman John Murtha.
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D-PA): Thanks, Tim. Nice to be back.
MR. RUSSERT: What are the Democrats going to do to try to stop the war in Iraq?
REP. MURTHA: Well, the, the details haven’t been released yet. Until the members see it, we’re not going to talk about the details of what’s going to happen. That will be released tomorrow. But let, let me talk about what, what I think needs to be done. The other day, General Pace said, the chief of the Joint Chiefs said, look, you’re going to hurt the troops deployment overseas if you do what Murtha wants to do, what he’s recommended to the committee. And I said what he didn’t talk about was our strategic reserve, what he didn’t talk about, we’re sending troops back without a year at home, what he didn’t talk about was the fact they’re going in without the equipment they need to fight in combat. That’s unconscionable, and the Congress is going to stop that. The White House is finally beginning to recognize they don’t have the troops, as I predicted they wouldn’t have, to sustain this deployment. They certainly don’t have the troops to increase and to have a surge without breaking every rule that they set, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: But you believe that, unless the violence subsides, our troops should come home within six months.
REP. MURTHA: Yeah. They’re, they’re in a civil war. We’re caught in a civil war. Any way you look at it, it’s a civil war. There’s no way that we can continue our troops in harm’s way in a civil war. I supported an extra 200,000 troops in Vietnam when I came back from Vietnam. It didn’t work. This is not working. It—it’s, it’s one of those things. When I was over in Iraq just a month ago, I said to the prime minister, “Mr. Prime Minister, we’re not going to put more money in—I’m not going to recommend that a committee put more money in unless you step up yourself.” Well, he said, “Well, we’ll go to someplace else.” Well, he may have spoken out of turn. But then he said, when I came back, they put an extra $7 ½ billion themselves into equipment for the Iraqis. Now, that’s what I like to see. We need to give them benchmarks. We need to give them an incentive. They need to take over. This would be internationalized, and, and the Iraqis need to take over this effort. We can’t solve this ourselves.
One other thing, Tim, that’s so important. When, when you talk to the generals over there, they think the Iraqis aren’t up to standards yet. Let me tell you something, they don’t need to be up to our standard. They know the culture, they know the geography, they know where the, the al-Qaeda is, so they don’t need to measure them by our standards. And a surge just won’t work. And that’s what we believe, and, and I think, in the end, this is what you’ll see will happen.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think most Democrats support bringing home the troops in six months?
REP. MURTHA: I, I think they—most of the Democrats do. I think most of the public supports that. The public spoke in the election. They said, “We want this thing to end; it’s not working.” There’s been too much rhetoric, there’s too much optimism about this whole thing. We need to get this thing out of the way. And, and this next election, if they don’t it over, it’s going to be all about what’s going on in Iraq. And I’m convinced only the Iraqis can do it. We need—we’re finally talking to Syria, we’re finally talking to Iran. Those are the type things they should have been doing a long time ago. Direct calks—talks with North Korea. This is international. This is more important to the Europeans—and you saw the British pulled their troops out. Tim, the British pulled their troops at a time when we’re surging. Does that make any sense at all? And they’re putting more troops in Afghanistan. Well, I think we need to pay attention to Afghanistan. That’s where this whole thing started, and where we should’ve kept our attention.
MR. RUSSERT: Besides setting the deadline of six months and bringing troops home, you’ve also said that a U.S. soldier should not spend more than a year in Iraq, this whole notion of the stop-loss, where young men and women are kept in the service after they serve in Iraq. You also talked about the level of preparation that a soldier should have before they’re sent to Iraq. And you referred to Peter Pace. He responded to you, and this is what he said before the committee on Tuesday: “If the one year rest at home, the no-extensions in the battlefield and the no stop-loss were implemented,” we’ve “done our homework on that ... if those are the rules, that instead of being able to have the 20 brigades on the ground in Iraq that we require, ... we would have somewhere between 14 and 19 brigades, at most. ... It would have enormous effect on the battlefield with regard to what’s required versus what’s available. ... I can simply tell you what the effect is. And the effect is damaging on the battlefield.” He’s saying that you are going to damage our ability on the battlefield.
REP. MURTHA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. What, what he’s saying, in answer to a leading question by a Republican senator—they kept badgering him to answer this question. Now, what is he doing? He’s violating every rule, every, every rule they set up for themselves. The troops have to be home for a year. Is it wrong to insist they have equipment? Is it wrong to insist they have training before they go into Iraq? And the other thing that I’ve said, and everybody’s lost sight of, we’ve lost our strategic reserve. We could not respond to a threat to our national security, China or Iran or any other country that were to threaten us, we couldn’t respond, because we’ve completely depleted it and it’s readiness. You saw an article in The Washington Post the other day, National Guard, 90 percent of the units are, are below the readiness level to be deployed. It’s almost exactly the same in the regular forces. We have no active reserve, no ground forces that can be deployed. So he’s breaking all his rules by, by reducing the standards, taking people and keeping people in, and then sending them back without equipment. The public agrees with me, we should not send troops into combat if they don’t have equipment and if they don’t have the training they need.
MR. RUSSERT: You are going to withhold the money unless those troops were—had readiness or were prepared, but now you’ve changed your view. You will allow those troops to go to Iraq in that situation or condition, as long as the president certifies that. Correct?
REP. MURTHA: Well, he’s got to certify that—at least this is what I’m recommending to the committee—he’s got to certify that these troops are equipped, and they are trained, or it’s in the national interest. I am absolutely convinced the public and I agree, and the Congress agrees, we don’t send one troop into combat that doesn’t have the training they need.
Now, let’s, let’s talk about what happened at Walter Reed. Why did that happen at Walter Reed? It happened because the resources are so much in, in Iraq. They’ve spent so much money over there, ignored the very thing that’s so important to our troops at home.
Abu Ghraib’s another example, untrained troops in that area. They’re talking, Tim, about taking 2500 Air Force people to guard the prisons who will be untrained to handle the prisons in Iraq. We’ll have the same type of a problem we’ve had before. So we can’t send troops into combat without training, without equipment, and, and we can’t send them more than a year. We had a psychologist come in before the committee in a hearing, he said four months in intensive combat is too much. They, they can’t stand this, it’s too hard on them. We’re going to have all kinds of psychological problems and emotional problems when they come home.
MR. RUSSERT: But if the president certifies that they are prepared, you will not withhold the money.
REP. MURTHA: I don’t think the president will certify that. I don’t think the president will say that—I don’t think he’ll send troops back into combat that aren’t trained and aren’t ready. I, I am absolutely convinced he’s not going to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s talk about a withdrawal. The national intelligence estimate came out in January and said this: “If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly ... we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.
“If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the [Iraqi Security Forces] would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighboring countries ... might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable; [al-Qaeda in Iraq] would attempt to use parts of the country—particularly al-Anbar province—to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq.” Are you prepared for that?
REP. MURTHA: Well, let me say—tell, tell you something, Tim. They said this about al-Qaeda in Iraq, they said they have weapons of mass destruction. The same intelligence agency—we’re, we’re spending more money than all the other intelligence agencies in the world—came to the conclusion that it was in our national interest to go into, to Iraq. Now they’re saying this. The public in Iraq says the opposite. They say we’re the ones that are inciting riots—demonstrations. We’re the ones—they, they want us out of there; 64 percent of the public in Iraq wants us out of Iraq. The, the world wants us out of Iraq, because we’re focusing on, on—caught in a civil war. So it—there’s going to be instability. They’re, they’re going—but they have to settle it themselves. What I’m saying is we can’t do it ourselves. The Iraqis have to do it. The international community has to get involved. Sure, there’s going to be some problems. But it’s not going to be any worse than it is now.
MR. RUSSERT: Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said this in The Wall Street Journal: “Congress’s overall efforts are misguided for one fundamental reason: We cannot yet be sure that the situation in Iraq is totally hopeless. It is” “bad”—“indeed bad, very bad. ... But there still may be a glimmer of hope—if not to ‘win,’ then at least to achieve some minimum level of stability.” Do you believe it’s totally hopeless?
REP. MURTHA: Tim, I, I believe that we can’t win this militarily. I believe it has to be done diplomatically. That’s why I think redeployment is the first move. I suggested to the administration they ought to get our troops out of the palaces, Saddam Hussein’s palaces. We ought to bulldoze Abu Ghraib, we ought to close Guantanamo. Those are the kind of things that get worldwide attention because of what happened in those tragic incidents. So it’s a matter of, you can’t win it militarily. It has to be done internationally; it has to be diplomatically. And in the meantime, we’ve lost our ability to respond to a threat to our national security down the road. And that’s just as important as what’s going to happen in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: But to the point, why not take the chance, the glimmer of hope?
Or do you just think it’s totally hopeless?
REP. MURTHA: I, I don’t see any chance of us winning this militarily. I think they’re going about it the wrong way. They’re finally starting to change. They’re talking to Iran. That’s what’s going to—going to prevail there. That’s where you’re going to have stability. You’re going to have international communication. This is just as important to the Europeans as it is to us. But why did the British pull their troops out? Because they came to the conclusion, in these kind of wars, you can’t win it militarily. You have to win it diplomatically, and you have to use the international community.
MR. RUSSERT: Vice President Cheney weighed in on your thinking. He said, quote, “I think, in fact, if we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we’ll do is validate the al-Qaeda strategy. The al-Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people—in fact, knowing they can’t win in a stand-up fight, try to persuade us to throw in the towel and come home, and then they” can “win because we quit.” How does it feel to be linked with al-Qaeda by the vice president?
REP. MURTHA: Yeah. Well, it’s, it’s unfortunate that the vice president does not have the—he doesn’t listen to what I’m saying. We can’t send troops into combat without equipment. We can’t send troops into combat without training. We can’t extend them past the one-year boots-on-the-ground policy that they have. And, and we can’t continue to have them over there in Iraq more than—more than a year. That’s what he’s, he’s not saying. That—he’s not—and he’s not saying our strategic reserve and the future threats to this country significantly increased in the last year because we have no ground strategic reserve. That’s what he’s not saying. So he attacks my, my differences, but he doesn’t attack the policy. He doesn’t talk about the policy and the results of what I’m saying.
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re a Marine. You like being linked with al-Qaeda?
REP. MURTHA: Well, they’ll take care of al-Qaeda. Let me—let me tell you this, Tim. Al-Qaeda will be taken care of by the Iraqis. They know who—there’re only 2,000 al-Qaeda. They’re Iraqis fighting Iraqis. It’s a civil war between the Shias and the, the Sunni. And they won’t negotiate. The Shias won’t negotiate with the Sunni. What, what I—what I found out when I was out there last time just a month ago, the Sunnis are not going to help in this whole process as long as the Shias control it and won’t negotiate with the Sunnis. Now, this may seem like an incidental point, but this is probably the most important point. They won’t change their constitution to give the Sunnis some influence in this whole thing. They’ve got to work it out themselves. We cannot do it for them.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the vice president’s questioning your patriotism?
REP. MURTHA: No, I don’t think so. No, I, I, I met with the vice president the other day. We talked about the money. We talked about some of the things that, that I felt were important. And I said to him, “We can’t send these troops in without equipment, without training. It can’t be done. If you do that, it’s a disservice to our troops and to the families, the small percentage of families that are fighting this war.”
MR. RUSSERT: Did he apologize to you?
REP. MURTHA: Oh, no. No, no. That, that, you know, this is one of those things where, where he said that overseas. He didn’t blame me for, at least, getting the British out. You know, I thought he might blame me for getting the British out. But he didn’t do that.
MR. RUSSERT: John Murtha said something back in 2004 that is a little bit different than, than your thinking today. And this is what you wrote in the epilogue to your book: “A war initiated on faulty intelligence must not be followed by a premature withdrawal of our troops based on a political timetable. An untimely exit could rapidly devolve into a civil war, which would leave America’s foreign policy in disarray as countries question not only America’s judgment but also its perseverance.” Isn’t that exactly what’s happening?
REP. MURTHA: Yeah, I, I believed that at the time, and, and I believed that when there was a chance of solving it. I just say you have to solve it a different way. It can’t be done militarily. In this case, it has to be done diplomatically and internationally. The only way this can be solved—the progress that we make is measured by economics, it’s measured by, by the fact that, that you have no oil production—it’s below prewar level, electricity below—all the things they measure are below prewar level. So it’s not working militarily. Only a third of this thing could be done militarily. The rest of it’s got to be diplomatic and international. That’s what I’ve been saying. So, so the fact that redeployment, I think, is first step towards, towards stability in the Middle East.
MR. RUSSERT: On Tuesday you sat down with David Rogers of The Wall Street Journal, who’s been covering this issue very carefully, and, and said this:
“‘They want to end the war, but they want to fund the war,’ said Mr. Murtha, frustrated by his party’s reluctance to exert its power over spending.” Deep down, you’d love to cut funding for the war?
REP. MURTHA: Yeah, what, what I’d like to see is a change of direction. What I’d like to see is more diplomatic effort. What I’d like to see, more international effort. That’s not happening. I’d like to see a redeployment. I said that a year ago. But also the reason I want deploy—redeployment is not only because it, it would get our troops out of there, but we’d start an international effort, which has to be done, and we’d start to put money into our strategic reserve. I think that’s the most important part about it. We could not respond to an international incident that threatens our national security because we’ve depleted our national reserve, our ground reserve.
MR. RUSSERT: But why not cut off funding for the war?
REP. MURTHA: Well, you don’t have the votes to do that in the first place. We don’t have the votes to do it. You can’t—you, you can’t go forth. And the public doesn’t want—they, they don’t want that to happen. They want the troops to be entirely funded. What I’m saying is you got to follow the guidelines that you set up yourself for the troops. That’s the thing. You can’t send troops into combat without, without the appropriate equipment, without the training they need, and, and we have to do some things that makes the world understand we’re changing. Get them out of Saddam Hussein’s palace. Get them out of the Green Zone. Get our troops out of Iraq. Let them worry—work this out themselves. Let the Iraqis work it out themselves.
MR. RUSSERT: But you got way out front. You gave an interview to an Internet anti-war group, and many of your colleagues said, “Hey, Murtha...
REP. MURTHA: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...we’re not for cutting off funding. Come on back.” And you, you came back into the fold.
REP. MURTHA: Well, you got to have the votes to pass legislation. That’s always part of the problem we run into, and...
MR. RUSSERT: But you would prefer to cut off funding.
REP. MURTHA: Well, what, what I prefer to do is to make sure that our troops are prepared, make sure they have what they need when they go into combat. That’s what I say. And if they break their guidelines, then, then obviously it’s a different story. I say they, they shouldn’t be reducing the guidelines to go into the service, they shouldn’t have stop-loss, they shouldn’t send troops overseas if they don’t have a year at home, and they shouldn’t extend troops over—that’s what affects the families, that’s weeks—what affects the morale. And, and I was just out at Bonhomme Richard, which is an aircraft carrier out, out, out in the Pacific. I opened a door of a seven-ton truck, the seat fell out. The seat was—the, the—all the foam rubber fell out from under the seat. I, I talked about the humvees. They said, “These humvees are inadequate because they’re fixed up, but they don’t have the suspension system, the engines they need.” Now they’re not going to Iraq, but that’s the type of equipment we have in the United States, which they’re working on. They’re not working with the same equipment they go overseas with, which makes them unprepared when they go into combat and that’s—they can’t do that.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were on this program in 2006, you predicted a significant number of troops would come home by Election Day 2006. That did not happen. Do you believe a significant number of troops will come home from Iraq this year?
REP. MURTHA: Yeah, I, I think the president’s beginning to finally recognize that this is not working. This policy, the military side of it’s not working. He’s starting to use the diplomacy which the bipartisan commission recommended. He’s starting to talk to Syria, he’s starting to talk to Iran, he’s starting to talk to North Korea. This is a worldwide problem. What happened internationally, the Chinese have bought 23 submarines they’ve built in the last four years. They’re increasing their defense spending to $90 billion. We don’t have to worry only about Iraq. We got to worry about Afghanistan. We got to wa—long-term future of this country. And we got to address the fact that we have no ground reserve to take care of those strategic problems.
MR. RUSSERT: And Democrats will go on the record for the next few weeks that troops must be trained and the president must certify that and that our troops should come home within six months.
REP. MURTHA: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman John Murtha, thank you for your views.
REP. MURTHA: Nice to see you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the view of the Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Then, our political roundtable with John Harwood and Eugene Robinson. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both in Selma, Alabama. Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney courting the conservative Republicans, coming up on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Iraq through the eyes of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Then our political roundtable, Obama and Clinton in Selma, Alabama, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Lindsey Graham, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thank you, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you some latest polling data on the war in Iraq with the American people.
SEN. GRAHAM: OK. Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: The war in Iraq, the president’s proposal for more troops, 32 percent support it, 67 percent—two out of three Americans—oppose. And look at this, was the war worth the fight? Thirty-four percent say yes; not worth fighting, 64 percent. Can the president continue the war in Iraq when two out of three Americans are against the war?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, and I think those polls also say that two out of three Americans do not want to cut off funding. What do—what are the polls telling us? I’m no expert, but here’s what I think’s going on, based on conservation talks in South Carolina, is that people are frustrated. They’re beginning to doubt whether the Iraqis can get their act together among themselves. Are we’re in the middle of a group of people, no matter how long we stay and how much money we spend and how many Americans are killed, are they capable of pulling this off? I think people doubt that. And they’re frustrated that—based by our own expectations. The biggest mistake we made early on was underselling how hard it would be. I think people have lost sight due to frustration, that it’s part of the overall war on terror.
The president’s going forward based on an assumption that a failed state in Iraq is a mighty blow in the overall war on terror. He’s going forward based on the assumption that, if you put military reinforcement, political and economic reinforcement, you can turn it around. You’re never going to have democracy with this much violence. General Petraeus has come up with a plan that requires more troops. The goal is to surge on all fronts—militarily, politically and economically—to give the Iraqi government the capacity and the breathing space to make these hard decisions. Americans don’t want to lose in Iraq. That’s why they don’t want to cut off funding. But Americans are not so sure we can win. And I can’t guarantee that we win, but the best chance we have left is to follow General Petraeus. Eighty-one-to-nothing, the Senate confirmed him. And all these resolutions and all this talk about what to do, if you don’t cut off funding, the Congress is getting itself in a dangerous situation Constitutionally, and every resolution has the effect of delivering a death blow to General Petraeus’ plan, which I think is our last, best chance to win.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, the—but the Democrats are saying we should spend only a year in Iraq; and if you complete your service you shouldn’t be kept in the service, you should be allowed to come home; and that you should be ready, prepared to go over there with the proper equipment. How could you be opposed to that?
SEN. GRAHAM: The truth is that Jack Murtha’s a wonderful fellow. He is using the readiness issue to stop the surge. And I want to work with Jack on readiness, but this is not about the readiness issue. He said publicly this is about stopping something he’s against. The Democrat Party is the dog that caught the car. What do you do now? The left is saying get out yesterday. The reason we don’t have a vote on cut off funding is because the American public understand that’s responsible. So all of these efforts to micromanage the war—I’ve been a military lawyer for 20-something years. Some of these resolutions are just nightmares for a commander. You can fight al-Qaeda, but you can’t fight people involved in sectarian violence. You can go here, and you can’t go there. The Congress cannot—there’s a reason there’s only one commander in chief. So, if you’re not willing to cut off funding, which is the Congress’ responsibility, then everything else really hampers General Petraeus. It’s really a signal to him that, “We have no faith in you.” Either stop him from going or give him the resources to do their job. Everything is else is just political theater. That’s dangerous.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, the Democrats are also going to propose, according to Congressman Murtha, that the troops come home in six months if the Iraqis do not stop the violence. And here’s where the American people are on that. Should U.S. withdraw troops? Yes, 42; 56 percent, a solid majority, say withdraw the troops.
SEN. GRAHAM: All I can tell you is that we’re not going to win this war through polling, and we’re going to learn through our mistakes or we’ll lose this war. The biggest mistake we made early on is not having enough troops, letting the situation get out of hand. Assuming the best, never planning for the worst. Now we’re adjusting, late in the game. Whether it works, I don’t know, but I can promise you this: This is our last, best chance. General Petraeus has a plan that makes sense to me. It’s not more of the same. Thank God there’s not 535 commander in chiefs, there’s only one.
So what I am saying is give this a chance. No guarantees it will work. But if you start putting time limits and deadlines and benchmarks, then it is a road map for al-Qaeda and other extremists in Iraq. If you pass these new resolutions that say, “We’re coming out unless A, B, C and D is achieved; if this level of violence exists in six months, we’re going to leave,” you’re telling the terrorists and the extremists exactly what they have to do to win. All of these benchmarks, designed by patriotic people to tell the Iraqis you got to get your act together is also a signal to the people we’re fighting and are killing our kids. They know what they’ll have to do, because you’re giving them a road map as to what make America—what will make America leave.
So here’s what I’m saying. If you can’t cut off funding, if you’re not willing to stop the troops from going, quit putting out one idea after another that cripples the commander, invades the commander in chief’s responsibility, and tells the enemy exactly what they have to do to win. I am going to fight these ideas because they’re not responsible. If you don’t like this war, if you think it’s a lost cause, then cut off funding. Otherwise, let the generals be the generals.
MR. RUSSERT: But many Americans will say that those who supported the war are saying, “Trust us, see this through,” the same people who said, “There are weapons of mass destruction. General Shinseki’s wrong, we don’t need hundreds of thousands of troops. We will be greeted as liberators.”
SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: “The cost of the war,” according to Lawrence Lindsey, “won’t be more than $200 billion.”
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: “There won’t be any sectarian violence.” All those judgments were wrong. Why should the American people continue to belive in those same people who had so many misjudgments leading up and executing the war?
SEN. GRAHAM: I’m here on your show, and you can get clips from my past appearances, I was wrong about certain things. The weapons of mass destruction issue, the whole world was wrong about it. I think Saddam believed he had the weapons, but apparently he didn’t. Here’s what I can promise you, and no one wants to talk about this. Do you leave in six months, do you put benchmarks, do you pull out 50,000 now and wonder what happens? Last week, Senator Edwards says, “I’m not so sure what would happen if you bought into my idea of taking 50,000 people out of Iraq now. I’m not so sure what would happen if you say we’re going to leave it X amount of time unless benchmarks are achieved by the Iraqi government.”
Here’s the one thing I can guarantee you, that if a failed state in Iraq occurs, the war gets bigger, not smaller. Here’s what I’d like to do going forward. Give the commanders what they haven’t had in the past, the resources they need, give them the breathing space to do it, allow the Iraqi people to regroup, but insist that they do better, and understand that a failed state is a nightmare for this country. Plan for the worst, and don’t assume the best. All these democratic resolutions, none of them think through what happens if we leave Iraq in six months or a year. I believe very passionately that the worst thing this country could do is have a failed state in Iraq, because it’s part of the war on terror. The war doesn’t stop the day we leave Iraq, if it fails, it gets bigger and wider, that the Shia south becomes a puppet regime for Iran—they’re the biggest winner of a failed state—that the Turks are not going to sit on the sidelines and watch Iraq degenerate into chaos and allow an independent Kurdistan. That the Sunnis are going to be slaughtered. Do you think it’s bad in Baghdad now? We leave—I talked to a citizens group on my last trip made up of Sunni, Shia and Kurds living in Baghdad. The one thing that united them was, “Please don’t leave. If you leave here, there’s going to be a bloodbath.” There are four million Sunnis; there are two million Shias in Baghdad. If this thing fails, they’re going to be slaughtered, they’re going to be pushed into Anbar Province. Sunni Arab states are not going to sit on the sideline. Plan for the worst. Reinforce Iraq politically, economically and militarily because this is our last best chance, and think about the consequences, the future presidents, future commanders. We’re living for the political moment. All the polls you put up is what everybody’s focused on. I’m not focused on the polling for the moment. I’m focused on what happens to Iraq if it fails, long-term national security interests.
MR. RUSSERT: But there is a contrary view, and some express it this way:
We’ve been there for four years, the Iraqis have not taken control of their own destiny.
Our own National Intelligence Estimate said this: “Iraqi society’s growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides’ ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism.” That our presence in effect is making things worse, and that if we got out then the Iraqis would have to take control of their own destiny.
SEN. GRAHAM: Here’s what I believe. We’ve been there four years, and, within that four-year period, we’ve gone from a dictatorship, brutal, and we didn’t realize how much Saddam Hussein raped his country economically, politically, how much he destroyed the capacity of this country to govern itself. The police under Saddam Hussein were protecting the dictator. Four years later we’re trying to get police to protect the people. The rule of law that we’re trying to create now is for all Iraqis, not just for the dictator. It took us from 1776 to 1789 to write our Constitution. The Maliki government is less than a year old. Yes, they need to do more. Why don’t we solve Social Security and immigration? Because special interest groups give us a hard time. Can you imagine being an Iraqi politician, Tim, where the opponents of your plan don’t just come after you politically and run commercials, they try to kill your family. We will not have the rule of law as long as you assassinate judges. We need reinforcements politically, economically and militarily. Forty percent unemployment in Baghdad.
Mistakes, we have made plenty. It has made this war more difficult. It has cost us more in blood and treasure. We make mistake in every war. The biggest mistake is yet to come, and I’m not going to sit on the sidelines and be silent about it. We’re not going to allow the Congress to become the commander in chief. We’re not going to send a signal to the terrorists that, if you do the five things in these resolution, you win. The biggest mistake would be leaving Iraq as a failed state. There are some early signs of success. General Petraeus is a general I have confidence in. I love my colleagues in the House and the Senate on both sides of the aisle, but I don’t have confidence in them being generals. I have confidence...
MR. RUSSERT: How much time do you give General Petraeus?
SEN. GRAHAM: Whatever resources he needs and whatever time he needs, he’s going to get. How much time did we have to win World War II? Did we ever think about just fighting the Germans and not engaging the Japanese? This to me is World War III. This is a central battlefront in a global struggle against terrorism. Moderates are fighting extremists in Lebanon, they’re fighting extremists in Palestine, they’re fighting extremists in Afghanistan, they’re fighting extremists in Iraq. It is my belief that our long-term national security interest is to stand with moderates, as imperfect as they are, wherever we can find them and say no to the extremists.
MR. RUSSERT: But Iraq is Sunni fighting Shiites.
SEN. GRAHAM: Iraq...
MR. RUSSERT: So who’s the extremists?
SEN. GRAHAM: Iraq is Sunnis and Shias wanting to live together under the rule of law and democracy and elements of Sunnis and Shias that want to destabilize the country. I have talked to military members who’ve been there. I’ve been there five times. I have met people on my first trip who are now dead. There are plenty of Iraqis who want to live together in peace and want the same thing for their family you want for yours. But the moderates are being shut out by the extremists. Small in number in terms of the overall population, but a desire to win at any and all cost. Do we have the desire to win? Do we have the desire to stand beside imperfect moderates, who I think are the future of the Mideast? Are we going to let car bombs and extremists run us out of Iraq? And where do you go? Where do you deploy to if you lose in Iraq? Because if al-Qaeda tastes the blood of Americans leaving and they can say with certainty they broke our will and ran us out of Iraq, and we go to Kuwait, they come wherever we go. The Gulf states are next. If we lose in Iraq, the moderate Gulf states are next. People like King Abdullah in Jordan, they’re on the hit list. We cannot allow Iraq to fail, because if you fail in Iraq, every moderate voice in the Mideast has a death sentence on their head.
MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like the domino theory that we heard in Vietnam.
SEN. GRAHAM: It’s not a domino theory, it’s their own words. It’s not me saying what they’re going to do, it’s them saying what they’re going to do. And I believe them. I believe the president of Iran, if he had a nuclear weapon, would attack Israel. I don’t believe in sitting down with him and talking about world problems until he acknowledges the Holocaust exists. This is 2007. The president of Iran, sitting on a sea of oil, has openly said in the United Nations, “My goal is to wipe Israel off the state—the face of the earth,” and their nuclear weapons program is not about peaceful power, it’s about a nuclear weapons...
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the Iraqi government is closer to Iran than they are the United States?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think the Iraqi government is a lot closer to Iran, because they’re their neighbors. The Iraqi government...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, ideologically.
SEN. GRAHAM: No. I—here’s what I—Sadr represents a Shia view. Maliki and others represent the—what’s best for Shias? Is it to have the country partitioned, and Iran become stronger, where other—every Sunni Arab state would be threatened? No. What’s best for the Shias, according to Maliki and others, is to be the dominant political force in a democracy. What’s best for the Sunnis in Iraq? To be run out of the country? No. To have part of the oil. The oil revenue sharing deal is on the verge of being successful. It could change everything. What’s best for the Kurds in the north? To live in a confederation where your, your children can be prosperous and you never have to worry about Turkey invading you. It’s in all of their interests to live together in a loose confederation under the rule of law and democracy. I believe that.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, you are a very strong supporter of the John McCain for president campaign.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Rudy Giuliani has pulled significantly ahead in all the polls...
SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...we have seen over the last few months. Why is that?
SEN. GRAHAM: I think people admire Rudy because he was the American mayor—America’s mayor during 9/11. He’s truly an American hero. And he has a lot to offer to the Republican Party. But comparison shopping hasn’t started. This is early in the game, and we’re talking about straw polls of, you know, 1,000 people at, at the most. We’re going to have a comparison shopping going on in the Republican—here’s what Republicans got to do. Why did we lose in 2006? We need to nominate someone that can get our party right with the American people and get us back to fiscal conservatism. We need to put somebody who can stand up to the Clinton machine, if she’s elected. We need somebody to be the commander in chief without doubt. Rudy Giuliani is electable in general election. Can he get through the primary because he’s so different on the core social issues? I don’t know, that’s his problem. Can John McCain get through the primary? He’s made people mad in the past. Can Mitt Romney prove to people that this is what I believe today, and this is why, and I can be commander in chief? We’ve got a lot of talented people in our primary. But if we don’t get back to the basics of being a Republican on the fiscal side, and elect someone that can stand up to, to the test of being commander in chief, we will not do well in ‘08. But we have good candidates, and our Democratic friends have an array of very good candidates. It’s going to be an exciting election.
MR. RUSSERT: Lindsey Graham, we thank you for joining us.
SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, speaking this very morning at black churches in Selma, Alabama. Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain, all fighting for the support of the Republican base. Our roundtable, John Harwood, Eugene Robinson are next right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
John Harwood, Gene Robinson, welcome both. Let’s go right to it. Republican conservatives gathered in Washington, the Conservative Political Action Conference. All spoke, major candidates spoke, except John McCain, who was fund-raising, other part of the country. There was a straw vote, and here are the results: Romney, 21; Giuliani, 17; Sam Brownback of Kansas, 15; Newt Gingrich, 14; John McCain, 12. The McCain forces hasten to add that they won the Spartanburg, South Carolina, straw vote.
John Harwood, does this mean anything?
MR. JOHN HARWOOD: No. It is a nice thing for Mitt Romney. It’s, he brought a lot of people down. He did well in his speech. Among other things, he put a very, very heavy accent on his personal life, his 38 years of marriage and his children and grandchildren, which is a nice contrast for him to draw with twice-divorced Rudy Giuliani, once-divorced John McCain. So it was a good day for Mitt Romney, but there are very, very powerful cross-currents within this party, within this field, and he’s not going to get over it with one straw vote.
MR. RUSSERT: Gene Robinson, Time magazine talked to Republicans all across the country, little broader profile, if you will, universe. And this is the result of their poll: Giuliani, 38; McCain, 24; Gingrinch, 12; Romney, 7. Giuliani showing surprising strength in the Republican primary, according to some. His people say, “We expected this all the time.”
MR. EUGENE ROBINSON: Well, I’m not sure they did. I mean, these numbers are getting better and better for Rudy Giuliani and kind of worse and worse for John McCain. The question, I think, is we still don’t know how Giuliani will do in the South. I, I don’t know, at least, in South Carolina, for example. There’s been—there’s been a little polling that indicates people really don’t know him that well. And I think, as they learn his positions on abortion, on guns, on gays, on the kind of three sacred issues, it’s hard for me to imagine those numbers staying the same. And it’s really early.
MR. RUSSERT: He is on the cover of Newsweek magazine, entitled “The Real Rudy,” and I’ll show it on the screen there. The subtitle is, “The hero of September 11th is a man of strength and skill, but can be stubborn and abrasive. The question for 2008: Do his virtues trump his vices?”
And Mitt Romney, one of his opponents, gave an interview for the Christian Broadcast Network, John Harwood, and had this to say about Rudy Giuliani.
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): He is pro-choice and, and pro-gay marriage, and anti-gun. And that’s a—that’s a tough combination in a Republican primary.
MR. RUSSERT: Giuliani will say, yes, he’s pro-choice, yes, he’s anti-gun, but he is pro-civil unions, but not pro-gay marriage. But, nonetheless, Mitt Romney drawing the line on those social cultural issues.
MR. HARWOOD: Well, he’s got a great point. Look, Rudy Giuliani has steel in his spine. He’s got a strong security profile. All that’s a good thing. But he is very vulnerable to what’s going to happen in debates, in negative advertising. One thing he’s doing that’s positive for the Republican Party right now is, one, he’s presenting a different face to the party, to the country; secondly, he’s running very strongly in these horse race polls against Barack Obama, against Hillary Clinton, giving his party a little bit of confidence that maybe all isn’t lost after that disastrous 2006 election. So all that’s a good thing. But he’s got a very rough road to hoe once, once the rubber really hits the road in this primary.
MR. RUSSERT: Gene:
MR. ROBINSON: There was one other interesting thing in a—in a Washington Post poll last week. When, when voters were asked what things would make you less likely to vote for X candidate, the bad news for John McCain was, if the candidate were going to be 72 at the time of being inaugurated, they would be less likely to vote for him. The bad news for Romney was if, if the candidate was a Mormon, scored quite high, people said they would be less likely to vote for him, and I wonder if that will be an issue going forward.
MR. HARWOOD: And by the way, on that vices and virtues thing, the opponents of Rudy Giuliani, who are, of course, like everybody in this race, compiling very extensive opposition research dossiers, they think that not just on social issues, but also on Giuliani’s business dealings that there’s going to be a lot of fodder for them—who paid him at this firm that he established after leaving office as mayor of New York City—and they think there’s some, some headway to be made on that.
MR. RUSSERT: And there’s opposition to Mitt Romney. He is now outspoken as opposition to abortion and gay rights, gun control. At the conservative meeting they were passing out these flip-flops, saying that Mitt Romney has evolved on these various issues. So the Republicans are mixing it up.
Back to John McCain, this flyer was distributed saying that John McCain was absent from the National Review Institution’s Conservative Summit meeting, absent from the Heritage Foundation meeting, absent from the Conservative Political Action Committee, but did make it with the “Late Show with David Letterman.” However, the cover of the National Review magazine this week, “The Case for John McCain.” So there is a mixed view in the conservative community about John McCain.
MR. ROBINSON: There is, and I kind of sympathize with McCain in terms of CPAC, because he was kind of, you know, what, what is he to do? Either go and be criticized for pandering to the conservatives or stay away and be criticized for dissing the conservatives? You know, he’s a formidable, experienced campaigner. I can’t imagine his numbers will remain as low as they are now, but they’re, they’re heading in the wrong direction. He’s got to turn it around.
MR. HARWOOD: And, Tim, I think this cover story makes this a good week for John McCain with conservatives, not a bad week because he skipped CPAC. And it’s reflective of a broader phenomenon the campaign is counting on, and that is after these other—Republican voters shop around with these other candidates, Giuliani and Romney, they’re going to come back to the guy who’s got the fewest defects, who is pro-life, has been pro-life, and is—also has a very strong profile in the national security issue, which is likely to be dominant in the election.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s turn to the Democrats. This was the scene this morning at the Martin Luther King Jr. community breakfast, Selma, Alabama. Barack Obama has arrived. But someone else is also coming to Selma, Alabama, Hillary Clinton. And this is how The Washington Post described that: “Obama announced several weeks ago that he would deliver the keynote speech at” the “ service honoring the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. ... Reluctant to give any ground to Obama ... Clinton decided early last week that she, too, would go to Selma this weekend.” “Arranged a simultaneous appearance at a church just steps away from the one where Obama will speak Sunday morning, and she agreed to accept a civil rights award on behalf of her husband.
“Late yesterday,” on Thursday, “after organizers initially said that the former president had not committed to attend, the Clinton campaign announced” he, too, “would be making the trip after all.”
Gene Robinson, Barack Obama, not having Selma all to himself. The Clintons are coming to town.
MR. ROBINSON: They are. If—you know, if they’re having a meal at church after the speeches, it could be a reverse kind of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” The, you know, the, the Clintons are not going to, going to willingly cede the African-American support they’ve had. A couple of questions. I mean, does Bill Clinton’s relationship with the—with the black community, going back over many years, and his ability to speak kind of to and, at times, for black America, as he did at the Coretta Scott King funeral, gave that amazing speech, does that really translate to Hillary Clinton? Do people feel the same way about her? And, you know, in the end, I’m not sure that people won’t end up going with Obama. I think he’s—he, he has a lot of traction in black communities. I’ve seen him in Southern African-American crowds, and he does very, very well.
MR. RUSSERT: Let’s look at that polling data, John Harwood. Here’s The Washington Post: “Clinton continues to lead Obama and other rivals in the Democratic contest, according to the latest” “Post-ABC poll. But her once-sizable” majority “over [Obama] was sliced in half during the past month largely because of [his] growing support among black voters.” ... Clinton “and Obama’s support among white voters changed little” “but the shifts among” “black Democrats were dramatic.”
And here they are on the screen. In December/January, Hillary 60 to 20 over Obama amongst black voters. Now, Obama 43--44, Clinton 33. A plus or minus of eight points because it’s a small sample, but nonetheless it’s quite significant.
MR. HARWOOD: Clinton campaign believes they’re still ahead among black voters, but this is a real movement that’s going on. And there’s no doubt that the juxtaposition of the images of that march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 and Barack Obama’s real shot at becoming president is very, very strong and works in his favor. And you’ve got to wonder whether or not increasing the, the tension to this moment is not a—an advantage to Barack Obama.
The other thing you have to wonder is how does it look for Hillary Clinton to follow him down there. First, she tried to pick a fight with him with her active participation with—over the David Geffen remarks. Then—now she’s following him down to some—she also this week, when the market was turbulent, she tried to jump on the stock market with her proposal about foreign debt and the trigger alarm for the country. The, the point is, active is good, not being complacent is good, but jumpy isn’t so good. I talked to one top Democrat in the Congress who’s neutral in the race who said he looks confident, she looks scared.
MR. RUSSERT: Here’s the Time magazine poll, which talked to Democrats all across the country: Clinton, 36; Obama, 24; Gore, 13; Edwards, 11. A very competitive race. Congressman John Lewis, well-known civil rights leader, congressman from Georgia, said he was prepared to endorse Barack Obama. Then the phone rang. It was William Jefferson Clinton saying, “Hold on a second.”
Gene Robinson, if Obama stays competitive...
MR. ROBINSON: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...will black leaders make the plunge behind his candidacy or will they stay neutral?
MR. ROBINSON: I think they will make the plunge behind his candidacy. You know, people like John Lewis have personal relationships with the Clintons going, going back, have kind of fought in the trenches with them. The Clintons have, have been there for them. Bill Clinton has. And it would be difficult, at this stage of the race, to throw that away. I—I’m—right.
MR. RUSSERT: Toni Morrison said Bill Clinton, the first black president.
MR. ROBINSON: That’s right. There’s a say—of course, she didn’t say Hillary Clinton, the first black first lady, which was interesting. I was—I was talking to Vernon Jordan the other day, great friend of Bill Clinton, and he said, you know, “I’m too old at this point in my life to pick race over friendship.” Nonetheless, he’s had a fund-raiser for Barack Obama. He’s introduced Barack Obama to, to, to Democratic power brokers and, and money raisers, and so this is—it’s going to be an interesting time for the—for the John Lewises..
MR. RUSSERT: Pretty...
MR. HARWOOD: Let’s remember...
MR. ROBINSON: ...of the world. And...
MR. HARWOOD: Let’s remember this, as well, Tim, there are almost twice as many white women within the Democratic electorate as there are black voters. So she’s got a claim on another big constituency.
MR. RUSSERT: That poll I mentioned to you, in third place was Al Gore.
MR. ROBINSON: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: He said he’s not—excuse me, he said he has no intention of running for president. Here he was last week, last Sunday. He won the Oscar, Academy Award, widely viewed here in the country, around the world.
John Harwood, any chance he’ll get in?
MR. HARWOOD: I think there’s a chance. I don’t think it’s a very large chance. It’s certainly very flattering for any politician to be appreciated, to be wanted, especially after what he went through. It would be feasible for him to jump in late in the race. He’s got a network. He could raise the money. But it—from all appearances, he’s enjoying his life an awful lot right now, having a big impact on the debate. I don’t expect that, and the people close to him don’t expect it either.
MR. RUSSERT: And he probably wouldn’t welcome a race with Hillary Clinton, someone who he’s known a long time and, and tangled with in the White House, frankly.
MR. ROBINSON: Talk about awkward. That would—that, that would be awkward. So I don’t—I don’t see it happening. But it would be interesting, wouldn’t it?
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Gene Robinson, John Harwood, thank you. We have a race in 2008 of historic proportions.
MR. ROBINSON: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s amazing. It’s only—it’s only March.
MR. ROBINSON: Going to be fun.
MR. HARWOOD: And it’s already in full swing. It’s amazing.
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, let’s go live to Baghdad. While most of us slept, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams made his way in the dark of night. He is in Iraq.
Brian Williams, tell us what you plan to report on today and throughout the week.
BRIAN WILLIAMS reporting:
Well, Tim, thanks. And first of all, we thought it was a good time to take another good, hard look at the situation here. The situation on the ground, as you know, there has been a change in the tempo of the violence of late, which brings us to check in on the progress of the so-called troop surge. As you know, some elements are already here, and not far from our current location here in Camp Victory, they are clearing a lot of ground for the new home of the Third Infantry Division, doing another tour here. So we’ll look at all of this. We’ll look at safety, life on the streets. You notice, no body armor required where we’re talking to you. That’s a change from past years. So the safety issue has changed. We’ll take a good, hard look at all of it. We should quickly add we’ve taken every precaution to guarantee our own safety and that of our team while we’re here. So we’ll see you each night most of the week, live here from Baghdad.
Tim, for now, back to you.
MR. RUSSERT: Brian Williams, all week long talking to the military leadership in Iraq, both U.S. and Iraqi soldiers on the ground. We look forward to a week of reporters. Brian, please be safe.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.