Nov. 2 — NBC News
MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, November 2, 2003
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS. (202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Is Saddam himself orchestrating the violent resistance in Iraq? Where do we go from here? With us: the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Then, a Democratic United States senator from Georgia has endorsed Republican President George W. Bush for re-election. His new book, “A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat,” is a stinging rebuke of his own party. An exclusive interview with Senator Zell Miller.
But first, some tragic news from Iraq this morning. This is the scene: 13 American servicemen were killed, 20 wounded or injured when an American helicopter crashed. It is expected it perhaps was shot down. We will find out now from our guest, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEC’Y DONALD RUMSFELD: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: What can you tell us about this tragedy?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: I’ve seen the early reports, and early reports are often wrong. They’re often adjusted later. And the early report indicated essentially what you’ve said.
MR. RUSSERT: Thirteen dead?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: The number I saw was 10, but there were a large number of wounded. And as time goes on, some of the wounded may very well have been moved over to killed in action.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe it was a surface-to-air missile?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: That’s the speculation at the present time. But again, first reports are often wrong. And we get used to characterizing first reports as first reports so that people know that. And we’ll just have to find out.
MR. RUSSERT: If, in fact, it was a surface-to-air missile, what does that tell us about the level of resistance we’re now encountering in Iraq?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Well, we’ve known about surface-to-air missiles since before we went in, so there’s nothing new there. They’re dangerous and they exist in that country in large numbers, as they do in that part of the world. So it’s always a risk.
MR. RUSSERT: Reuters is reporting that townspeople celebrated in the streets, yelling, “They’ll never be safe until they get out.” What’s your reaction to that?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Oh, we know that the overwhelming majority of the population of Iraq favors the coalition and wants them to stay and appreciates the work in progress that’s taking place. We also know that there is some fraction of the population that prefers Saddam Hussein and was benefited by his regime
and had the opportunity to enjoy the things he enjoyed: palaces, cars, killing people, mutilating people. And those people obviously would celebrate in the street.
MR. RUSSERT: So far, we have lost 377 Americans in Iraq; 2,130 have been wounded our injured. How would you explain to the American people this morning that it is worth that price for the war in Iraq?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Tim, the battle we’re engaged in, the global war on terrorism, is an important one. It is a different one than we’ve been in previously, although terrorism’s not new. But the nature of terrorism is that its purpose is to terrorize. Its purpose is to alter people’s behavior. And to the extent free people end up behaving in a way that is different from the way free people behave, they’ve lost. And therefore, the only thing to do is do what the president has announced he’s doing, and that is to take the battle, the war on terrorism, to the terrorists, where they are. And that’s what we’re doing. We can win this war. We will win this war. And the president has every intention of staying after the terrorists and the countries that harbor terrorists until we have won this war.
MR. RUSSERT: How do you respond to those who suggest that the war on terror should have been focused on al-Qaeda, and that the resources that are now applied to Iraq are misapplied, that Saddam was not the threat that he was presented by the administration, and the war should have been focused on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Tim, we said from the outset that there are several terrorist networks that have global reach and that there were several countries that were harboring terrorists that have global reach. We weren’t going into Iraq when we were hit on September 11. And the question is: Well, what do you do about that? If you know there are terrorists and you know there’s terrorist states—Iraq’s been a
terrorist state for decades—and you know there are countries harboring terrorists, we believe, correctly, I think, that the only way to deal with it is—you can’t just hunker down and hope they won’t hit you again. You simply have to take the battle to them. And we have been consistently working on the al-Qaeda network. We’ve captured a large number of those folks—captured or killed—just as we’ve now captured
or killed a large number of the top 55 Saddam Hussein loyalists.
MR. RUSSERT: But Syria, Iran, North Korea all harbor terrorists. We were told Iraq was unique because they possessed weapons of mass destruction. What if that has proven not to be true?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: It hasn’t proven not to be true. We’ve seen an interim report by David Kay and it was a thoughtful report. There are some 1,200 or 1,300 Americans there working on the weapons of mass destruction effort. He came back with an interim report that reported on the things he’d found thus far. It did not prove that there were—he did not come in and say, “Here are weapons of mass destruction,” nor did he come in and disprove the intelligence that we had had and other countries had had
before the war. It seems to me that the sensible thing to do is to let them continue their work and produce their final report. When they do, we’ll know.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Secretary, you will acknowledge that there was an argument made by the administration that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons and could have been well on his way to reconstituting his nuclear program. There doesn’t appear to be significant amounts of evidence to document that presentation that was made by the administration.
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: This administration and the last administration and several other countries all agreed that they had chemical and biological weapons and that they had programs relating to nuclear weapons that they were reconstituting, not that they had nuclear weapons. No one said that. It was believed then. We know they did have them because they used chemical weapons against their own people. So it’s not like it’s a surprise that those programs existed. Furthermore, the debate in the United Nations wasn’t about whether or not Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons. The debate in the United Nations was about whether or not he was willing to declare what he had and everyone agreed that that declaration was a fraudulent declaration. Even those that voted against the resolution agreed with that. So it seems to me that the thing to do is to wait. Let the Iraqi survey group, David Kay and his team, continue their work. You’re not going to find things by accident in a country the size of California. The only way you’re going to find them is by capturing people who know about them and interrogate them and find out what they think they know as to where these weapons are and what the programs were.
MR. RUSSERT: Could it be that the inspections, in fact, did work, that the enforcement of the no-fly zone did work and that Saddam, in fact, no longer had a weapons of mass destruction capability?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: The theory that he took his weapons, destroyed them or moved them to some other country, that argument—is that possible? I suppose it’s possible that he could have hidden them, buried them or moved them to another country or destroyed them. The destroyed them part of it is the weakest argument. Why would he do that if by not allowing the inspectors to see what he was doing and making an accurate instead of a fraudulent declaration—it makes no sense because he was foregoing billions and billions and billions of dollars that he could have had had he acquiesced and allowed the inspectors into the country in an orderly way such that they could see really what was going on. Other countries have allowed inspectors in. South Africa did. Ukraine did, but he didn’t. He fought it and deceived them
consistently. Why would he do that if, in fact, he was innocent? Unlikely.
MR. RUSSERT: Go back prior to the war in March, where the argument was being made that there’s no need to go to war with Saddam Hussein. He’s in a box. He’s confined. We have sanctions. We have inspections, and then the administration decided to go to war and opened up that box and that America is now less safe, less secure than we were prior to the invasion.
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: I think that that’s not correct. I would say America is more safe today. If you believe the intelligence, which successive administrations of both political parties did and other governments in the world, that he was progressing with these program and that this is a country who’s used the weapons before, that’s used them on its neighbors, used them on his own people —I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the tapes more recently of what they do to their own people —of cutting off people’s
heads and cutting off their fingers and their hands and pulling out their tongues and cutting them off, throwing them off three-story buildings. This is a particularly vicious regime, Saddam Hussein’s regime.
It is true, we have terrific young men and women being killed and wounded today, as we did yesterday. And your heart goes out to their families and to their loved ones. But what they’re doing is important. What they’re doing is taking the battle to the terrorists. There are foreign terrorists coming into Iraq. That’s true; we know that. We’ve captured 200 to 300 of them from various countries.
MR. RUSSERT: But let me stop you there. Would that have happened, would they have gone to Iraq, but for the fact that we went in there?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Why, sure. The Ansar al-Islam was already in Iraq. There were al-Qaeda already in Iraq. The Iraqis were engaged in terrorism themselves. They were giving $25,000 to suicide bombers’ families, who would go in and kill innocent men, women and children. They are a part of that. And certainly the work in Iraq is difficult. It’s tough, and it is going to take some time. But good progress is being made in many parts of the country. The situation’s the worst in the Baghdad area and the area north
of Baghdad. Up above the green line in the Kurdish area, it’s been relatively calm. In the southern area, it’s been relatively calm. And people see central services coming back on track. We now have over 100,000 Iraqis providing for their own security, and they’re getting killed, too. I mean, some 85 Iraqis have been killed who are providing for their own security and the police and the border patrol and the civil defense and the army.
Indeed, the people being killed in Iraq today are overwhelmingly Iraqis by Iraqis. And the terrorists and the criminals that were released by Saddam Hussein, some 100,000 of them, are out killing other Iraqis, trying to target successes. When a police academy is having a graduation, they’ll try to have a bomb go off there, or if there’s a woman who’s being successful on the Governing Council, they’ll kill her. And so it is not easy, but I believe that the Iraqi people are intelligent, they’re well-educated. They’ve got
resources; they’ve got water and oil. And they have a chance at making a modern society a success.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you ever say to yourself or wonder, “My God, the intelligence information we got was wrong”? And, “What have we gotten ourselves into?”
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: You know, in my lifetime, I’ve said that many times because intelligence is never really right or wrong. What it is is it’s a best effort by wonderful, hard-working, intelligence people, overtly and covertly, trying to gather in the best information they can and then present it to policymakers. It’s never perfect. These countries are closed societies. They make a point of denying and deceiving, so you can’t know what they’re doing. So it’s a best effort, and it’s pretty good. Is it perfect? No. Has it ever been perfect? No. It will never be perfect, our intelligence information. But we’ve got wonderful people doing a fine job, and it seems to me that it’s adequate for policymakers that then look at it and draw conclusions and make judgments.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think that Saddam Hussein intentionally rolled over in March and let the United States roar into Baghdad, planning that he would come back six months later with an armed resistance of the nature we’re seeing now?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: I don’t. I think they fought hard south, when the movement was so fast, and then when some forces came in from the north, a great many of his forces decided that they couldn’t handle it, and they disappeared. They disband themselves, if you will. Left their weapons, in some instances, and unformed their formations, and went home. The idea that his plan was to do that, I think, is far-fetched. What role he’s playing today, I don’t know. We don’t know. Very likely, Saddam Hussein is alive. Very likely, he’s in the country. His sons are killed. Forty-two of his top lieutenants, out of 55, have been captured or killed. So it’s a skinny-downed organization, what’s left. And is he interested in retaking his country? Sure. Is he going to? No, not a chance.
MR. RUSSERT: The New York Times reports that senior American officials say that Saddam is playing a significant role in coordinating and directing attacks, and that he is the catalyst for what’s going on now.
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: I don’t know what—how to take the word “catalyst.” I don’t doubt for a minute that his being alive gives encouragement to the Ba’athists and the regime murderers that you see in those tapes, killing people.
MR. RUSSERT: He may be directing the resistance?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: If he’s—I think he’s alive. I think he’s probably in Iraq. He’s probably in northern Iraq. And he is—undoubtedly, has ways to communicate, imperfect ways, but probably by couriers, with some other people. Is he masterminding some major activity? Diffic ult to know, but unlikely. Is he involved? Possibly.
MR. RUSSERT: He still a threat?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Personally, no. No. I mean, is it a threat to have released 100,000 criminals in a country with 23 million people? You bet. Is it a threat to have foreign terrorists coming across the borders? You bet. Is it a threat to have the leftovers of the Fedayeen Saddam and the murderers of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Ba’athists, who benefited from his regime? Sure. It’s a threat. And there’s a lot of them. And there’s a lot of weapons in that country. It was just—there are weapon caches all over
the country. So is that a danger for people in Iraq? Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to your memo of October 16, which has been leaked, and share it with our viewers, and ask you to talk about it. “With respect to global terrorism, the record since September 11th seems to be: We are having mixed results with Al Qaida... Today we lack” the “metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas”—the schools—”and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us? ... It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog.”
Don’t know if we are winning or losing.
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Let me explain that. It’s not that we don’t know if we’re winning or losing in Iraq or Afghanistan. We know what’s happening there. The point I was making is this: If there are 90 nations engaged in the global war on terrorism, and if they’re out arresting, capturing, killing terrorists, if they’re out there putting pressure on their bank accounts, making it harder for them to raise money, making it harder for them to transfer money, making it harder for terrorists to move across borders, all of which is true, good progress is being made. The question is, that I posed, and I don’t know the answer, is: How many new terrorists are being made? How many of these schools are being led by radical clerics, and are teaching people that the thing they should do with their lives is to go out and kill innocent men, women, and children, to stop progress, to torture people, to prevent women from being involved in their countries’ activities? How many schools are doing that? And how many people are being produced by that? And the question I posed was you can’t know in this battle of ideas how it’s coming out unless you have some metric to judge that. And there isn’t
such a metric; it doesn’t exist.
Therefore, my point was, in the memo, that I think we need, the world needs, to think about other things we can do to reduce the number of schools that teach terrorism, not just continue—we certainly have to continue doing what we’re doing and going after terrorists wherever they are, and capturing them and killing them, but I think we also have to think about how we, the world, not just the United States—this is something well beyond our country or the Department of Defense—how we reduce the number of people who are becoming terrorists in the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Win the hearts and minds. You also referenced to—”The coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or the other.” What did you mean by that?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Oh, that it is—we’re on a track, and we hope the track works, and I believe it is working. You take Afghanistan; Mr. Karzai and the Loya Jirga have produced a bond plan, a way ahead; it’s under way. Will it stay on track exactly? I don’t know. I hope so. I think they’re doing a good job and we’re doing everything we can to help them and so are a lot of other countries, including NATO now. But, however that sorts out, one way or another, that country is not going to go back and become a terrorist training ground for the al-Qaeda.
MR. RUSSERT: That appears to be a much more pessimistic assessment than you have made publicly.
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Not at all. I believe we’re doing well in Afghanistan, and said so.
MR. RUSSERT: And in Iraq?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Well, I was going to come to Iraq. Iraq is what it is. It is a tough, difficult situation. When you’re having people killed in the coalition—and we are—and our Iraqi allies being killed that are providing security, and Iraqi people being killed by these terrorists, it isn’t a pretty picture. It’s a tough picture. And we’ve said that.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you underestimate the intensity of the resistance?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: I don’t know. You know, I don’t know that we—you don’t sit down and make a calibration that the resistance will lead to X numbers of Iraqis being killed per week or so many coalition people being wounded per week. You know, that isn’t the kind of calibration you make. What you do is, you say, “Here’s what you have to do to prevail. You’ve got to get the sovereignty transferred over to the Iraqi people, you’ve got to get the essential services going and the economy on a path upward, and you’ve got to get the security responsibility transferred to the Iraqi people.” That’s—because it’s their country. We’re not going to provide security in their country over a sustained period of time. So we’ve gone from zero to 100,000 Iraqis providing security in that country, and our plan calls for us to go over 200,000 by next year.
MR. RUSSERT: Will we reconstitute the Iraqi military at a more rapid pace?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: I use the words “security forces.” If you think about it, the Iraqi army is oriented to external threats. Iraq doesn’t have any significant external threats at the moment. Its problem is internal. And we’re using police, we’re using some Iraqi army forces, but we’re also using border patrol, civil defense and site protection people. That’s less expensive. You can do it faster; you can train people for those functions much faster. That’s how we got from—how do you get from zero to 100,000 Iraqis providing security in that country? You couldn’t do that with the army, because the army takes much longer training, much more equipment, much more expensive. We were able to do it by using these other Iraqi security forces.
MR. RUSSERT: Rather than dismantle the Iraqi army, should we have converted it into a security force much more quickly?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: We didn’t dismantle the Iraqi army. The Iraqi army dismantled itself. There’s no question but that the fighting took place south of Baghdad. As it got to Baghdad, many of the army units disappeared into the countryside. They just disband and went home. These are people who, in many cases, didn’t want to serve in the first place; they were conscripts and they weren’t paid very well, and they just left. And...
MR. RUSSERT: And Mr. Bremer didn’t want to keep it that way?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: What he did was, he—after that happened, he technically abolished the Iraqi army—disband it, is the word—and then began recruiting—paying people from the Iraqi army some stipend so that they wouldn’t go out in the street and just kill people, and began the process of recruiting many of those same people into the police force, into the site protection, into the various security activities that I’ve described.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to some of the concerns expressed by Republicans in the Congress. This was Frank Wolf: “Republican allies complain of administration arrogance toward Congress. ‘Pride goeth before the fall.’” And this: a “prominent Republican” Hill staffer: “‘Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz’”—your top deputy—”‘just give off the sense that they know better than thou, and they don’t have to answer our questions.’”
And this from Chuck Hagel on the Intelligence and foreign Affairs Committee, Republican: “The Bush administration did miscalculate the difficulty of the war in Iraq. I think they did a miserable job of planning for a post-Saddam Iraq. They treated many in the Congress, most of the Congress, like a nuisance. When we asked questions, we wanted to be helpful; we wanted to participate. And now they are finding out that reality is dominating.” Arrogance, nuisance.
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that a full appreciation of your fellow Republicans in the Congress?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Well, you know, there’s 535 members of the House and Senate, and you’re going to find every viewpoint across the spectrum and it’s always been so. You’ve served there. I’ve served in Congress. And there’s always going to be someone who has a different view, and we accept that. We have spent enormous numbers of hours up there. I do, Secretary Powell does, others in the administration briefing senators, briefing House members, briefing staff members. And, overwhelmingly, they have been appreciative of those briefings and felt that they were helpful. We’ve sent up intelligence briefing people on a regular weekly basis. I think probably there’s been more information back and forth in this conflict during Iraq and Afghanistan than in any conflict in the history of the country. Now, when people are having their constituents killed and they see things happening that worry them, understandably, they’re going to be worried and concerned about it. And I accept that. And these are tough issues. These are not easy issues. And the fact that there are a variety of views in Congress simply reflects the country. There are a variety of views in the country, and that’s understandable.
MR. RUSSERT: Time magazine reports this today. This question was asked in the closed briefing with senators. “‘What troop levels do we expect to have in Iraq a year from now?’ asked Senator Bill Frist, the Republican leader. And with that, the Pentagon chief began to tap dance.” Do you believe that you have an obligation to tell our leaders in Congress what your best estimate is for troop levels in Iraq a year from now?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: You know, since any war, when it starts, the questions are obvious. The questions are: How long is it going to last? How many casualties will there be? And how many troops will it take? Now, those questions can’t be answered. Every time someone has answered those questions, they’ve been wrong. They’ve been embarrassingly wrong. I’ll use another word. They have misinformed. By believing they knew the answers to those questions, they’ve misinformed and misled the American people. I made a conscious decision at the outset of these conflicts to not pretend I knew something I didn’t know. And what I have said is just that. I have said, “It is not knowable.”
Now, if you think about Bosnia, we were told by the administration back then that the American forces would be out by Christmas. That was six and a half years ago. They’re not out yet. The effect of that was not consciously misleading. I’m sure they believed it. They were that wrong, six and a half years wrong. I don’t intend to be wrong six and a half years. I intend to have people understand the truth and the truth is no one knows. Why is that question not answerable? And Bill Frist knows this. He asked it because others were interested in that question. He’s been very supportive and very complimentary of what we’re doing, and it was not a critical question at all. It was a question that should have been raised.
And what I said was this: The security situation on the ground is going to determine the total number of security forces that are needed in Iraq. The total number of security forces is made up of three categories—U.S. forces, coalition forces and Iraqi security forces. Now, the answer as to how many U.S. forces will be there a year from now depends entirely on what happens in the security situation on the ground, first and foremost. Second, it depends on how fast we’re able to build up the Iraqi forces. What’s happening is the total number of security forces in that country have been going up steadily. We’ve come down from 150,000 to 130,000 troops. The coalition troops of about 30,000 have stayed about level. And what’s changed is the Iraqi troops have come up from zero to 100,000, heading towards over 200,000 next year. Now, I have trouble believing that the security situation in that country will require additional U.S. troops.
We’ll have to rotate our forces and take the ones who’ve been there a while out and put additional troops in, but the total number of troops are going up because the Iraqis are going up. And then someone says, “Well, how many will we have?” And the answer is I don’t know. Nobody knows. And that’s a fair answer.
MR. RUSSERT: It could go down?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Of course. It’s come down. It’s come down from 150,000 to 130,000, and I suspect it will continue going down. That depends on if the security situation in the country permits it.
The president sbaid he’s going to stay there as long as it takes and not one day longer. And he has said repeatedly, “We will put in as many U.S. troops as are necessarily and no more.” And instead of putting additional U.S. troops in, we’ve been able to build up the Iraqi forces, pass responsibility for security in that country to the Iraqi people, who in the last analysis have the responsibility and the obligation to provide for their own security.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, The New York Daily News had this article about you and your future:
“The President feels let down,” one well-placed source told The Daily News. “He feels as if Rumsfeld was unwilling to come and get help [for the postwar effort] and thinks his inability to trust anyone other than his immediate subordinates created a serious, ongoing problem in both Afghanistan and Iraq. ...After the war, Rumsfeld wanted to get back to [Pentagon] modernization and transformation and took his eye off the ball.”
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Not true. The transformation process is something that has gone forward steadily since the week that this administration arrived, and it’s going well. And, indeed, there is a possibility that if the conference report is passed, the authorization bill is passed, sometime this week, which it could be, in the House and Senate, that we’ll have made major strides in transformation. The entire inner agency has been involved in both Afghanistan and Iraq from the beginning, and the idea that people in those departments could take their eye off the ball and concentrate on transformation as opposed to the war on terror reflects, I suppose, just a fairly typical misunderstanding of the situation.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you want to stay in your current position?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: I serve at the pleasure of the president, and he’s doing a terrific job. He’s solid as a rock. He intends to see that this goes to a successful conclusion, and I’m delighted to be serving him.
MR. RUSSERT: At the end of his first term, you’ll be 72 years old. Would you want to serve another four years as secretary of defense?
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: I serve at the pleasure of the president, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: We’ll leave it there. Mr. Secretary, thank you for your views.
SEC’Y RUMSFELD: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia speaks out against his own party. Our exclusive interview is next right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Conservative Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia—his support for President Bush’s reelection and his new book after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Zell Miller, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. ZELL MILLER, (D-GA): Thank you. Honored to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me quote from your book, page nine to be exactly. I’ll share it with our viewers:
“Once upon a time, the most successful Democratic leader of them all, FDR, looked south and said, ‘I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.’ Today our national Democratic leaders look south and say, ‘I see one-third of a nation and it can go to hell.’”
What do you base that on?
SEN. MILLER: I base it on history. Look at what has happened. In 1960, John Kennedy carried the state of Georgia by a larger percentage than he carried his home state of Massachusetts. I think it was the second-highest percentage in the nation, next to Rhode Island. And John Kennedy was popular in Georgia. He could have been re-elected because he stood up to the Russians, and he cut taxes; he was a tax-cutter. And Southerners liked him. He carried other states: North Carolina, South Carolina. But that was in 1960.
And if you look at all the cycles since then, in four of those elections they didn’t carry a single Southern state; in two of those elections, the Democrats carried one Southern state; in three of those elections, they managed to carry a handful and they got elected. And only one time since 1964 have they carried the South, and that, of course, was in ’76 when Jimmy Carter was a favorite son. Also, these so-called national leaders, none of them can come South and try to help a fellow Democrat.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not?
SEN. MILLER: Because they’re considered too liberal. They do more harm than good. Terry McAuliffe can’t come down there and try to help us Southern Democrats. Neither can Bill Clinton or Al Gore or Tom Daschle or Nancy Pelosi because this party has been pulled by these special interests with their own narrow agenda so far to the left that they’re completely out of the mainstream. These special interests, they see their narrow agenda as being more important than the sum total of the party.
MR. RUSSERT: This is how you assess the current Democratic field. “But, Lord, those current presidential candidates in my party! They are good, smart”—”able folks, but if I decided to follow any”—”of them down their road, I’d have to keep my left turn signal blinking and burning brightly all the way. All left turns may work on the racetrack, but it is pulling our party in a dangerous direction. ... They are convinced most Americans will like”—that. “Joe Lieberman, steadily and surely plodding along, one labored step at a time, like Aesop’s tortoise. John Kerry ... posing for Vogue in an electric blue wet suit with a surfboard tucked up under his arm like a rail just split.” “Howard Dean of Vermont...Clever and glib, but deep this Vermont pond is not.”
I take it you don’t respect Governor Dean.
SEN. MILLER: I respect all of them, and they’re good and decent people, but they are so far afield in wherever they’re going in this campaign. I mean, here they have adopted the worst possible features of the McGovern campaign. That is, get out, at any cost. Give up, come home, quit. And, the worst possible feature of the Mondale campaign, raise taxes. Tim, I was there in 1972 at Miami Beach when—here you had this crowd, chanting about the president of the United States, “Liar, liar, liar.” And they had on these T-shirts, “Make love, not war.” And Willie Brown was going around, shouting, “Let my people go.” And then in the wee morning hours, they nominated George McGovern. He carried one state, one single, solitary state. And I was there in 1984 at San Francisco when Walter Mondale looked out and told the nation, “I’m going to raise your taxes.” What? Goodness gracious, that’s not the way to campaign. He carried one single, solitary state. They have managed, except a, somewhat, Lieberman, Gephardt, a little exception—they have managed to make this a double feature of the worst of the Democratic Party.
MR. RUSSERT: The Democratic candidates will say they’re not for pulling out of Iraq but they’re for going to the world community and letting the United Nations and other countries in the world pay their fair share.
SEN. MILLER: There are 32 or 35 nations already over there that are working in Iraq. It’s not a unilateral action, like some say. Sure, we should try to get more people to work with us on that, but I don’t think we ought to do a backflip.
MR. RUSSERT: You then say that, again, on the candidates about the war, “I fear some of the Democratic presidential candidates are treading on very dangerous ground for the party, and, more importantly, for the country. I do not question their patriotism; I question their judgment. ...”
“My concern is that, without meaning to, they are exacerbating the difficulties of a nation at war. A demagogue is defined by Webster as ‘a political leader who gains power by arousing people’s emotions and prejudices.’ Isn’t that exactly what some of them are doing? ...”
“Howard Dean, while not alone, is the worst offender...He likes to say he belongs to the Democratic wing of the”—party—”I say he belongs to the whining wing of the Democratic Party.” Let me show you what Howard Dean said yesterday, and get your reaction.
“I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks...We can’t beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats.” Is he making sense with that statement?
SEN. MILLER: Howard Dean knows about as much about the South as a hog knows about Sunday. This must be his Southern strategy. And I can tell you right now, that that’s the same kind of stereotype, that’s the same kind of character trait that I write about in this book. I write about in this book in 1988 Michael Dukakis coming to Georgia and having this rally, and they had all these bales of hay stashed around here and there, like it was some kind of set from the television show “Hee Haw.” That’s not what the South is. The South right now, if you took its economy, it would be the third largest in the world, next to the United States as a whole and next to Japan. Fifty-five hundred African-Americans right now hold office in the South. In Georgia we have several statewide elected officials who are African-American and who were elected last year in a race where a senator and a governor were being defeated. They were being elected in a state that’s 70 percent white. This is not the South that Howard Dean thinks it is. Sure, we drive pickups, but on the back of those pickups, you see a lot of American flags. It’s the most patriotic region in the country. And you see hardworking individuals that want to instill values in their children, and you see a very, very strong work ethic in the South. He doesn’t understand the South.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the Confederate flag should be flown in public places?
SEN. MILLER: Maybe at a museum or somewhere like that. I think you may know—it’s in the book— that whenever I was governor, early on I tried to remove the Confederate emblem from the flag in Georgia.
MR. RUSSERT: Wesley Clark, the general: What do you think of him?
SEN. MILLER: Well, as you know, Tim, there’ve been 12, I think, generals been elected president of the United States. Only one of them has been a Democrat; 1828, Andrew Jackson. And with all due respect to Wesley Dean, he is no “Old Hickory.” I can tell you that. I have a tremendous respect for anyone who wears the uniform, anyone who has been shot at by our enemies. But when your last boss, in this case General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that you lack integrity, that’s a pretty strong indictment. No integrity? I mean, how would you like to be taking that reference around whenever you’re looking for a new job?
MR. RUSSERT: General Clark will say many other people in the military have a lot more favorable things to say.
SEN. MILLER: Well, this was his last boss. This was a man who’s known him for years.
MR. RUSSERT: What if Howard Dean or the Democratic nominee selected someone like former Georgia Governor Sam Nunn as vice president? Would that be helpful?
SEN. MILLER: Well, I don’t think Sam Nunn would run on that ticket. I would be very surprised if he did. But no—see, that’s also what they think. They think that they can ignore the South and not pay any attention to the South, and then the last six months of the campaign, maybe they can find a Southerner that they will put on the ticket, and that that’s going to be the magic silver bullet that does it all. That is not how you campaign in the South. That’s the old strategy that has failed all this time.
MR. RUSSERT: Some Democrats in your home state are hopping mad about some of your comments, or not taking kindly to them. David Worley, the former Georgia Democratic Party chairman, had an open letter printed in your local Atlanta paper. This is what he said: “Now, with the hot political wind blowing from conservative networks, talk radio and corporate boardrooms, when it’s become the fashion to bash the Democratic Party, you’ve joined in, writing a book betraying the people who stood every one of your campaigns—not party activists, but hardworking Georgia families. You cast stone after stone at Democrats. Your silly, petty and often personal attacks remind me of no one more than your old boss, Lester Maddox.”
SEN. MILLER: Well, everybody has to write to their opinion, but I think that I am much more in touch with the people of Georgia than the young man who wrote that column. You know, I’m trying to help this party. I’m trying to throw them a life preserver. I’m trying to tell them how to do it. They can call it “Bush lite” and “Republican lite” if they want to, but it’s where the people are. I mean, if David Worley doesn’t want to reach out and take that life preserver, then so be it. To heck with him.
MR. RUSSERT: You wrote a—it was a compilation of your speeches, “Listen to This Voice: Selected Speeches of Zell Miller.” Let me refer you to one from 1976, Governor—or Senator, now Governor—now Senator, former Governor. And this was Zell Miller in 1996 before the Democratic Party Training Academy: “The real story of what happened to ‘We the people’ is that the Republicans sold us out, with a generation of trickle -down economics that blew the deficit sky-high, drove poverty through the roof, squeezed the middle class like a lemon at a county fair. They gave themselves the gold mine and they gave the rest of us the shaft.”
And Democrats would say, “That’s the real Zell Miller. That’s the old Zell Miller, because he now voted for the Bush tax cut and that’s what the Bush tax cut has done to the country, what he was telling us the Reagan tax cut did.”
SEN. MILLER: Here’s what the Bush tax cut has done to the country, that kind of economy right now. I know The New York Times had a time printing this, but “Economy records speediest growth since the mid-1980s.” That’s what the tax cuts have done. I have always been a tax cutter. I was a tax cutter whenever I was governor. I took the sales tax off of groceries and I cut the income tax twice. I came up here intending to be a tax cutter.
MR. RUSSERT: What about the deficit...
SEN. MILLER: We...
MR. RUSSERT: ...$500 billion?
SEN. MILLER: The deficit is there not because of the tax cuts. The deficit is there because we have been in a recession and we’re a country at war. And you always run a deficit in those kind of times. Also, a deficit I would say is there because of a lot of wild spending by the Democrats.
MR. RUSSERT: And the Republicans.
SEN. MILLER: And the Republicans, of course.
MR. RUSSERT: The Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt had this to say. “This veteran Democrat (Miller) has adopted” this “approach: Cut any tax in sight, back every popular spending measure...Oh, yes: Zell Miller supports the balanced budget constitutional amendment” as well.
SEN. MILLER: I tell you what you can do. Al Hunt can go back and research or you could go back and research. In the last four years that I’ve been up here, over three years that I’ve been up here, I bet I have voted against more increases in spending than any Democrat and voted against more increases in spending than a lot of Republicans.
MR. RUSSERT: But you were for the farm bill, for prescription drugs. Even your hometown paper had this to say. “Back when he was governor of Georgia, Miller used to make fun of those who refused to face fiscal reality. As he put it back then, they like to drink that free bubble up and eat that rainbow stew. Now, that he’s up in Washington, though, Miller has found that the free bubble up” while “quite intoxicating, and that” the “rainbow stew real tasty.”
SEN. MILLER: That’s a good line from Merle Haggard about the free bubble up and rainbow stew. I go back to what I said a while ago. I have voted against more spending up here than any Democratic senator serving and more than a lot of Republicans serving. As far as the farm bill, look, one of the most important things that we can do for this nation is to keep a safe and affordable supply of food. What if we were having to import as much food as we are oil? There would be rioting in the streets. That was .5 of 1 percent of the total budget. Whenever we spend money on highways and other infrastructure, we call it investments. This is one of the best investments that this country can make.
MR. RUSSERT: We have to take a quick break. We’ll be right back with more of our discussion with Zell Miller and his new book “A National Party No More” right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator, many Democrats are saying you vote with the Republicans, you’ve endorsed George W. Bush for re-election. Why not just be intellectually honest and change your registration to be a Republican?
SEN. MILLER: I know this is hard to understand for anyone, and I thought about it a lot. It’s kind of like living in this old house. You’ve lived in it all of your life. It’s getting kind of run down, and it’s drafty, and the commodes won’t flush. And last week a family moved in down into the basement, and you don’t even know who they are or where they came from. And I would be comfortable probably in some other house much more than I am where I am, but I have been here all these years. I haven’t got many more years to live in it. It’s home. It’s always been home. And I’m not leaving it. Now, I know that doesn’t make sense to everybody that is just so tied up with political parties, but it makes sense to me and it makes sense to my family and it makes sense to my neighbors. And that’s all that matters with me.
MR. RUSSERT: What could a Democratic candidate for president or a future candidate, like Hillary Clinton, do—what one issue or two issues could they seize on that you think would resonate with Southern Democrats?
SEN. MILLER: Well, the road map is out there. The battle plan has been tested and shown to work. Look at how Kennedy ran in 1960. He ran on tax cuts. He was tougher on national security issues than Richard Nixon was. That’s how he won, and he could have been re-elected, as I said a while ago. Look at 1992 and 1996 when Bill Clinton ran. In 1992, he was talking about changing welfare as we know it. He was talking about punishing criminals, not explaining away their behavior. In ’96, he was saying that there’s not—”You can’t have a federal program for every problem.” And he even said that, “The era of big government is over.” That’s how you run, not like McGovern and Mondale did.
MR. RUSSERT: That has to be the last word. The book, “A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.” Senator Zell Miller, we thank you for your views.
SEN. MILLER: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming up on MEET THE PRESS, two major presidential candidate interviews. Next week, Democratic Senator John Edwards returns to MEET THE PRESS for the first time in nearly a year and a half. Then, the following Sunday, General Wesley Clark, his first Sunday morning interview since announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination.
Edwards and Clark both coming up on MEET THE PRESS. That’s all for today. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.
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