MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, the president's foreign policy briefly overshadows America's economic troubles. It's time to nation-build at home, Mr. Obama says, as he announces the withdrawal of the remaining troops serving in Iraq by the end of the year.
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PRES. BARACK OBAMA: After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over.
MR. GREGORY: More than 4,000 American servicemen and women killed, at a cost of more than $700 billion. But does withdrawal now risk more bloodshed in Iraq?
And Libya, Khaddafy is dead. What now for the United States in that country? Joining me, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Then, the Republican race for the White House. The hands-on debate moment that signals a nasty turn in the primary fight over taxes, health care, and immigration.
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): Rick, I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I'm afraid--I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that because that just doesn't...
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX): I'll tell you what the facts are.
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Rick, again...
GOV. PERRY: You had the work...
FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: Rick, I'm speaking, I'm speaking.
GOV. PERRY: You--your newspaper.
MR. GREGORY: And this morning, our Meet the Candidates series continues with Texas Congressman Ron Paul. He's raised $12 million this year, came in a close second in the Iowa straw poll, and is now spending millions on television ads in early primary states attacking rivals Romney, Perry, and Cain. This week he unveiled his prescription for the economy. Can he energize voters and break into the top tier of candidates?
Finally, our political roundtable. Are Republican voters closer to making up their minds after this week's debate? And where will the leadership come from to get the economy growing again? With us, former chairman and CEO of General Electric Jack Welch, columnist for The New York Times David Brooks, former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, and NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning. This week as the president suffered a setback on his jobs bill, he argued that his duel foreign policy milestones in Iraq and Libya are "powerful reminders of how we have renewed American leadership in the world." A few hours ago, I sat down with his chief foreign policy adviser, the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who is wrapping up a weeklong overseas trip to countries such as Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan.
Secretary Clinton, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS. I want to start with Iraq and the president's decision about withdrawal. As you know, Republicans have already piled on, suggesting that the prospect of sectarian violence once U.S. troops leave is real. Among them, Mitt Romney saying that it unnecessarily endangers the success that the United States has had in Iraq by withdrawing all the forces by the end of the year. How much of a concern is it to you that we face the prospect of civil war once U.S. troops come out?
SEC'Y HILLARY CLINTON: You know, David, I think that Iraq is a very new democracy, of course, but it has made tremendous strides in taking care of its own security. And let's put this into some context here. President Obama has said from the beginning that combat troops would leave by the end of this year. That should not surprise anyone. But it's equally important to remember that this deadline was set by the Bush administration. So it's been a bipartisan commitment, but it was on President Obama's watch to show the leadership to be able to fulfill the commitment. So we are now going to have a security relationship with Iraq for training and support of their military, similar to what we have around the world from Jordan to Colombia. We will have military trainers and support personnel on the ground at Embassy Baghdad. We will be training Iraqis on using the military equipment that they are buying from the United States, and we think that this is the kind of mature relationship that is very common. So I believe that we are looking to fulfill what it is that the Iraqis requested and that we're prepared to provide.
MR. GREGORY: But, Secretary Clinton, the question is whether you think this criticism is well-founded or not. Do we not endanger recent success in Iraq by not having any residual force? Is there not a legitimate prospect of civil war, which many people fear?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, honestly, I think that they should've raised those issues when President Bush agreed to the agreement to withdraw troops by the end of this year. I feel like this is a debate that is looking backwards instead of forwards. Now, are the Iraqis all going to get along with each other for the foreseeable future? Well, let's find out. We know that there will be continuing stresses and threats, as we see in many of the countries that we work. We had a support and training mission in Colombia over many years when they were facing tremendous threats from insurgent groups. We know that the violence is not going to automatically end, but President Obama has shown great leadership in navigating to this point, fulfilling his promise, meeting the obligations that were entered into before he ever came into office. We are providing a support and training mission. We will be there on the ground working with the Iraqis. And I just want to add, David, that no one should miscalculate America's resolve and commitment to helping support the Iraqi democracy. We have paid too high a price to give the Iraqis this chance and I hope that Iran and no one else miscalculates that.
MR. GREGORY: Well, and I want to just underline that. There's a feeling that Iran could try to push Iraq around, particularly in the Shia part of the southern part of Iraq. Are you suggesting that if Iran were to try to take advantage of this moment, the U.S. would still have a military commitment, the message to Iran being what?
SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, I think Iran should look at the region. We may not be leaving military bases in Iraq, but we have bases elsewhere. We have support and training assets elsewhere. We have a NATO ally in Turkey. You know, the United States is very present in the region. But let's also admit that Iran has influence in Iraq. Always has, always will. But the Iraqis themselves are a very proud people. They are proud of their nation, they're proud of their own future prospects, so I don't think anyone should be mistaken about America's commitment to the new democracy in Iraq that we have sacrificed so much to help them achieve.
MR. GREGORY: Final point on Iraq, this was cast as the president talked about this as a victory for the United States, as we withdraw troops. Looking back now, as this war is coming to an end, do you stand by your vote authorizing military force in Iraq as a senator?
SEC'Y CLINTON: You know, David, I honestly don't think this is a time to be looking back. I think it's a time to be looking forward. I will leave it to history to debate and argue over the merits and demerits of what the United States did over the last decade. But the fact is that Iraq is now a sovereign nation with democratically elected leadership, with a government that reflects the interests of different groups of Iraqis and it is very much in America's interests going forward to make sure that this new democracy flourishes and we will do everything we can to help make that a fact.
MR. GREGORY: Was the war worth it?
SEC'Y CLINTON: We're going to have to wait a long time for the Iraqis themselves to answer that question. Freedom, democracy, the opportunities that people now have that were never available under the dictatorships of tyrants like Saddam Hussein or Khaddafy is certainly a new world that everyone finds themselves in, but...
MR. GREGORY: Let...
SEC'Y CLINTON: ...I'm proud that the United States has stood on the side of those fundamental freedoms that we hold dear.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the new world in Libya. What would you like to know about the exact circumstances of how Khaddafy was killed?
SEC'Y CLINTON: I would strongly support both a U.N. investigation that has been called for and the investigation that the transitional national council has said they will conduct. You know, I think it's important that this new government, this effort to have a democratic Libya start with the rule of law, start with accountability, stand for unity and reconciliation, make it absolutely clear that everyone who stood with the old regime, as long as they don't have blood on their hands, should be safe and included in a new Libya. So I view the investigation on its own merits as important, but also as part of a process that will give Libya the best possible chance to navigate toward a stable, secure, democratic future.
MR. GREGORY: On Pakistan, this is a very important visit that you made as part of a U.S. delegation. You sent an unmistakable message, which is that anyone in Pakistan who allows terrorists to operate in safe havens in that country will pay a heavy price. What are the consequences to this already fragile relationship if, in fact, the United States launches another counterterror operation inside Pakistan with U.S. boots on the ground?
SEC. CLINTON: Well, David, first we did have a very intense, frank, candid, open discussion between the high-level delegation I led with General Dempsey, Director Petraeus and others and our counterparts on the Pakistani side; and we stressed two points. Number one, we both have to work to eliminate the threats from safe havens, we on the Afghan side--and we're upping the tempo of our--efforts, and the Pakistanis on their side. And secondly, that we have to stand behind a reconciliation and peace process led by the Afghans. It's very important to stress that Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Americans are already facing consequences from the attacks that cross borders and kill innocent people. But the consequences could become ever more dire if we do not redouble our efforts to try to increase our security cooperation. We've done it in the past by focusing on al-Qaeda, and I'm very appreciative of the cooperation that has been given to us by the Pakistanis. Now we have to bring the same high-level security cooperation on these terrorist networks in order to remove them as a threat.
MR. GREGORY: Final question, Secretary Clinton. When you ran for president, you posed a fundamental question to--against your opponent at the time, now President Obama, which is, "Who's going to answer that 3 AM phone call when there's an international crisis?" And as you hear these Republican presidential debates and all the talk about foreign policy, do you think that there's a threshold that they're going to have to pass to, to show a certain amount of competence? And do you think that foreign policy from what you've heard will be a disadvantage for this group of Republican candidates for president?
SEC. CLINTON: Well, let me begin by saying that President Obama has passed with flying colors every leadership challenge. I mean, look at what he has done. I mean, just to name a few things, I mean, you know, we were looking for bin Laden for, you know, 10 years. It was under President Obama's leadership that he was finally eliminated. Libya, with the kind of smart leadership that the president showed demonstrating that American leadership was essential, but it was important to try to bring others also into a coalition of efforts, and the objective was achieved. Keeping the promise to withdraw from Iraq, but not leave Iraq, by having a robust security and training mission accompanied by a very large diplomatic presence. I could go on and on. I think this president has demonstrated that in a still very dangerous world it's important to have someone at the helm of our country who understands how to manage what is an incredibly complex world now. Yes, we have a lot of threats, but we also have opportunities. And I think President Obama has grasped that and has performed extraordinarily well. So I don't know what the other side will do. I'm out of politics, as you know, David, I don't comment on it. But I think Americans are going to want to know that they have a steady, experienced, smart hand on the tiller of the ship of state, and there's no doubt that that's Barack Obama.
MR. GREGORY: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much.
SEC. CLINTON: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: And coming up, our Meet the Candidates series continues with Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. He's got money, and he's on the attack in early crucial states. But does he have the ideas and what it takes to break out of the pack? Plus, did the drama-filled debate this week do anything to reshuffle the Republican field? Also, the president's political opponents pounce on his decision to withdraw troops from Iraq. Will it become an issue in the fall campaign? Our roundtable breaks it all down. The state of the race for the White House, still ahead.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, our Meet the Candidates series continues. Joining me, Republican congressman from Texas, Dr. Ron Paul. Plus, our political roundtable breaks down the state of the race for the White House. It's up next, right after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: Joining me now, Republican congressman from Texas, Dr. Ron Paul.
Dr. Paul, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX): Thank you. Good to be with you.
MR. GREGORY: Let's get right to your plan. This week you unveiled a plan to cut the deficit and to deal with the economy. The key elements of it is that you want to cut a trillion dollars of spending in the first year. To do that you would eliminate five Cabinet departments: Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Interior, and Education. On Monday in Las Vegas, you unveiled the plan, and, and this is what you said about it.
REP. PAUL: I have a personal conviction that this will not hurt anybody. You cut government spending, that goes back to you.
MR. GREGORY: How is that possible that a Draconian cut like this would not hurt anybody, particularly in this economy?
REP. PAUL: Because we have to take this money from the economy and the pure politicians get to spend it. So that's a negative, it hurts the economy. After World War II, we cut spending by 60 percent and cut taxes. Ten million people came home, and all the money and the expenditures went back to the people. And that was finally--we got over the Depression by having these Draconian cuts.
MR. GREGORY: But you have the education system in the state that it's in with big federal contributions now, and nuclear energy safeguards after what happened to Japan, environmental protections. Nobody gets hurt under, under President Paul's plan?
REP. PAUL: Well, well, you know, we cut back on those and the Department of Energy I cut. But some of those things are just transferred to, to the DOD Department, you know, nuclear controls and things like that. So they aren't eliminated. But they are significant. I'm the only one that's offering it. I mean, if spending is a problem, which all the candidates claim, spending too much and the debts to be, but who's proposing it? See, to, to me, the question I ask myself is, what should the role of government be? And I've come down on the conclusion that it shouldn't be that we're the policemen of the world and we have this runaway entitlement spending. So, therefore, if the role of government is the constitutional approach, you can't keep spending like this, because now we face this worldwide crisis of sovereign debt. That's our big problem.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But you...
REP. PAUL: But you can't deal with that unless you cut spending.
MR. GREGORY: The Fed chief has said to, to focus so exclusively on debt reduction, as you would do...
REP. PAUL: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...could harm our prospects of reviving economic growth.
REP. PAUL: Well, I just used the perfect example. By Draconian cuts after World War II, it stimulated the economy because the resources aren't diminished. The resources are put back into the economy, and the people spend the money. But now all we do is give them debt. We tax, we borrow, then we inflate, and, and then we distort the economy. So we destroy the production, because the government takes over the economy. And that's the negative.
MR. GREGORY: As you well know, you have a lot of support among young people.
REP. PAUL: That's right.
MR. GREGORY: They're borrowing to pay for college at record levels. Would you abolish all federal student aid?
REP. PAUL: Eventually. But my program doesn't do it. There's a transition in this. But...
MR. GREGORY: But that's your ultimate aim.
REP. PAUL: Yes, because there's no authority to do this. And just think of all this willingness to want to help every student get a college education. So they're a trillion dollars in debt. We don't have any jobs for them. The quality of education has gone down. So it's a failed program. I went to school when we had none of those. I could work my way through college and medical school because it wasn't so expensive. So, when you run up debt, you print money, cost goes up in the areas that the government gets involved in--education and medical care and housing. So it's artificial and distorts the economy. So we have to look at the business cycle and the inflation, so it doesn't help people. All this housing programs? They end up losing their jobs and losing their houses. I mean, what we're witnessing today is the failure of a Keynesian economic model, and today we have to replace it with something. We either replace it with more government and more authoritarianism, more controls, or we look toward the free market.
MR. GREGORY: You mention housing. You would like to get the federal government out of housing completely.
REP. PAUL: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: And right now the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantee 90 percent of the mortgages in this country. So you'd get rid of the government's role?
REP. PAUL: Sure. The...
MR. GREGORY: The government's always had a role in housing.
REP. PAUL: No, they haven't always had a role in housing. They created the monster. I mean, first, the Fed creates the money, and then you have Congress get involved and say, "You do this, this and this." And then it becomes corrupt. They get involved in the derivatives business, and who gets bailed out? They got bailed out. So, no, it's a distortion of the markets. You don't eliminate...
MR. GREGORY: But play that through, Dr. Paul, because it's really quite jarring. There is no private market right now for mortgages.
REP. PAUL: Oh, no, that's not true.
MR. GREGORY: Are you going to wind down these companies? Who would buy them?
REP. PAUL: Sure. Why not put them up for...
MR. GREGORY: What happens to housing prices, to the housing market?
REP. PAUL: Put--well, it would be, the system would be cleansed. It would have been over and done with by now. But all we can...
MR. GREGORY: You say cleansed, so the market would crash again, and you think that's acceptable.
REP. PAUL: No. It, it should have--it should have had a sharp correction because it was artificially manipulated. You--once you get this distortion, you have to correct the mistake. So you do what we did in 1921. You allow the correction to occur in one year. You go back to work. If you keep transferring the debt from the private owners, or the pseudo-private owners, the Fannie Maes and the Freddie Macs that participated in the, in the bankruptcy, you bail them out and you bail out the banks and you bail out the Wall Streeters, you dump all this debt on the people.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you a couple things about foreign policy. Iraq, you don't actually believe the troops will ultimately come out of Iraq, do you?
REP. PAUL: Oh, no, no, I don't. We'll change their names. I mean, we're going to have--they've already admitted there'll be 15,000. But, you know, they, they've morphed the private sector with the military. The CIA and contractors, it's a mixture. But there's going to be 15,000 in the, in the armed camp, you know, the fortress, the embassy, the biggest embassy in the world. Al-Sadr, who is the champion of national sovereignty for Iraq, he says that is still occupation. And occupation is the key word for why we should look out. There's a civil war going on in northern Iraq. The Turks have already put troops into Iraq. Turks are now allying with the, with the Iranians because there's civil strife up there. That is a consequence. The, the Christians have been run out of Iraq. And, ironically, there were no al-Qaeda in Iraq. They're there now.
MR. GREGORY: Well...
REP. PAUL: So there's nothing but chaos. We are going to have a military presence there, undoubtedly.
MR. GREGORY: Under President Paul, Osama bin Laden would likely still be alive?
REP. PAUL: Oh, no.
MR. GREGORY: So would Moammar Khaddafy.
REP. PAUL: No. I, I think that's a wrong assumption.
MR. GREGORY: You would have ordered the kill on bin Laden?
REP. PAUL: I, I, I voted for it. I voted for the authority. But I thought, shortly thereafter, they didn't go after him. We had him trapped at Tora Bora, and we should have had him there. We shouldn't have gone into nation building. We dropped the ball. We went in and started a war in Iraq when...
MR. GREGORY: But you, you support, you supported the effort, then, to get him?
REP. PAUL: Oh, absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: Going into Pakistan?
REP. PAUL: I voted for it. But it should have been done, you know, in three months or two months. But also, when it started lingering, I argued against occupation, against the war, and I introduced this--reintroduced the notion of a letter of mark and reprisal and targeting one individual, rather than saying, "We're going to declare war against the world." And now, we're in all these countries, and it's an endless fight, and there's no end in sight.
MR. GREGORY: You actually, in October at the Press Club, described our foreign policy this way. I'll show it to you.
(Videotape, October 5, 2011)
REP. PAUL: We have crossed that, that, that, that barrier from Republic to, to dictatorship, to tyranny, to empire.
MR. GREGORY: To empire. If you look at what happened in Libya, do you believe that the United States has a moral responsibility to deal with humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world?
REP. PAUL: No. Only voluntarily. We don't have authority in the Constitution to get involved in the internal affairs or get involved in entangling alliances. The Constitution doesn't give the authority. They get us into more trouble. They undermine our national defense, and they caused a lot of trouble. If you want to do it voluntarily and get involved, you can volunteer and go over there and send your money. But I don't, as a president, have the authority to go. If our, if our national security is threatened, then you do it properly. This president now has gone in there on his own. He has flaunted the responsibility to go to the Congress. He doesn't get permission. And, and we went over--it, it wouldn't have happened without our money and our drones and our missiles and all. And it happened, so we're responsible for the chaos and the...
MR. GREGORY: Do you think the drone war that this administration is waging is illegal?
REP. PAUL: Yes, it is. It's illegal under international law. And there's no authority in our Constitution that we can just willy-nilly drop bombs on anybody that we want. We kill innocent people this way. Why do you think people hate us? Because there's so much collateral damage. You see, "Oh, this is a bad guy. We'll drop a bomb on him and kill him." Well, we might hit him. We might miss him. We might hit another car, and then you kill 10 other people. What would we do if they did that to us, David?
MR. GREGORY: You say...
REP. PAUL: We, we would be a little upset if China did that to us, wouldn't we?
MR. GREGORY: You said in 2000 that the, the prospect of Iran attacking Israel was like the prospect that it would invade Mars.
REP. PAUL: I didn't use those words, but essentially that might be the...
MR. GREGORY: Right. No, you actually did.
REP. PAUL: Oh, Mars?
MR. GREGORY: I looked at the transcript, yeah.
REP. PAUL: OK.
MR. GREGORY: And the reality is that the biggest existential threat that Israel faces is from Iran. If Iran attacked Israel, would the United States, under President Paul, intervene?
REP. PAUL: I--they wouldn't, they wouldn't need to. Israel has 300 nuclear weapons and missiles. The odds are so remote. Iran can't even make enough gasoline for themselves. They have to import gasoline. So they don't have intercontinental ballistic missiles. They, they don't have a nuclear weapon. There's a big discussion going on on how far along they are. And I was in the service, and lived through the '60s. The Soviets had 30,000 of them, and they were going to bury us, and we survived that. So for us to plan to go to war against Iran under these conditions scares a lot of Americans. It certainly scares the young people of the world, the people I talk to, because they're going to bear this burden financially, and also they may be required to fight these wars...
MR. GREGORY: So...
REP. PAUL: ...that are unnecessary and unconstitutional.
MR. GREGORY: Let me, let me ask you about the role of government. You've said about taxation, in a way that doesn't minces words, the following: "Taxation is immoral," you told the Libertarian Party News. Would you scrap the tax code altogether?
REP. PAUL: That would be a pretty good idea, a pretty good start. I, I can qualify it if I'm allowed. Taxation is theft when you take money from one group to give it to, to another, when you, when you transfer the wealth. Now, taxation could be accomplished with user fees and, you know, highway fees and gasoline taxes and import taxes. But the income tax is based on the assumption that the government owns you, owns all of your income and provides the conditions on which they allow you to keep a certain percentage. That, to me, is immoral, and the founders didn't like it. That's why the Constitution had to be amended in 1913.
MR. GREGORY: Social Security, you talk in your plan about allowing young people to opt out.
REP. PAUL: That's--yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Would you--is your ultimate goal that Social Security should go away?
REP. PAUL: I, I think it--there is a much better chance that it would be solvent. It's totally insolvent now. But my plan explicitly protects the elderly and the sick in the transition to be taken care of. The young get out, but the only way we can guarantee that the elderly will be taken care of is cutting spending. That's why offer a trillion dollars. So the elderly now are reassured. "Well, he's serious. He's not going to waste all this money overseas and all this foreign aid and expenses."
MR. GREGORY: But you--so you cut benefits?
REP. PAUL: No.
MR. GREGORY: Eventually, would you have to do that?
REP. PAUL: Not, not if you...
MR. GREGORY: If young people are opting out and not paying in.
REP. PAUL: I would balance--I would balance the budget. There would be no inflation, no reason for increase in cost of living increase. And, in time, I think you could raise this age. Mine was 25 and under, but it should--the only complaint I've gotten so far is somebody came up to me and says, "I'm 26. Why don't you let me get out?" And...
MR. GREGORY: Let me, let me...
REP. PAUL: And, and I think that's what the move will be because they want to--people want to assume responsibility for themselves.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about politics in this primary fight. You said you were disgusted by some of the debates that you've been engaged in now. What's turned you off?
REP. PAUL: Well, I guess it's the uselessness of some of this rhetoric. I mean, arguing over who mows Mitt Romney's lawn? I mean, in the midst of a crisis, a sovereign debt worldwide crisis, the biggest in the history of the world, and the financial system of the world is about to collapse? We're about to have another devaluation of our--not our currency, but our credit rating? This is serious. And no control on the spending? I mean, we're going to have to get a handle on this. We have to quit worrying about who's mowing Mitt Romney's yard.
MR. GREGORY: You wrote, you wrote in your book "Liberty Defined" about the fact that politics doesn't really offer a lot of choices. This is what you said, "When it comes to any significant differences on foreign policy, economic intervention, the Federal Reserve, a strong executive branch, a welfarism mixed with corporatism, both parties are very much alike. The major arguments in hotly contested presidential races are mostly for public consumption to convince the people they actually have a choice." Are you saying that if Mitt Romney's the nominee, there's no choice between him and President Obama for voters next fall?
REP. PAUL: Well, you could probably figure out some choices, but you have to figure out which position that we're looking at with Mitt Romney. You know, it changes. But my point is, would there be a change in foreign policy? No, there would not. Would either one of them work on a true audit of the Fed and a change in monetary policy that the Federal Reserve can't monetize debt? No. Would they address the entitlement system? Would they ever address, either one, that we should have concern about our debt and cut something like a trillion dollars because we're on the road to fiscal insanity and a breakdown of the world financial market? No. There would not be a significant difference between the two, although on the edges, maybe. I think Mitt Romney now is probably very sincere about his right to life issue. And probably on the tax issues there would be some differences, but the big issues, the big policies, regardless, I mean, Obama was elected as a peace candidate and he expanded the war. And he goes into war without any congressional approval. I mean, when, when the Republicans get in, and they're against, you know, regulations, they give you No Child Left Behind, prescription drug programs, and Sarbanes-Oxley. So, no. The regulatory system, the spending, the deficits, the printing of money, they stay the same. And that's what the streets are telling us. Whether it's the occupiers or whether it's the tea party people, they're saying, "Enough is enough." They want some changes, and that's what they're looking for.
MR. GREGORY: Dr. Paul, we'll leave it there. thank you very much.
REP. PAUL: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: And coming up, President Obama comes under fire from Republicans criticizing his decision to withdraw troops from Iraq. This after the president scored a foreign policy victory with the death of Libya's defiant dictator Moammar Khaddafy. Do the two events this week signal a shift in U.S. foreign policy, and will they be an issue in the campaign? Plus, the jobs crisis. What will it take to get America working again? Our political roundtable weighs in. Joining us, former chairman and CEO of General Electric Jack Welch, and The New York Times' David Brooks, former Congressman Harold Ford, and NBC's Andrea Mitchell. Our roundtable coming up after this break.
MR. GREGORY: And we're back with our roundtable discussion. Joining me, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent and host of "Andrea Mitchell Reports," Andrea herself; former chairman and CEO of General Electric Jack Welch; former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford; and columnist for The New York Times David Brooks.
Welcome to all of you. Jack, great to have you here for the first time.
MR. JACK WELCH: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about foreign policy, Andrea Mitchell. The president in his weekly radio address tried to frame the events of this week in a way that really went to this leadership moment for him. This is what he said.
PRES. OBAMA: This week we had two powerful reminders of how we've renewed American leadership in the world. I was proud to announce that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of this year. And in Libya, the death of Moammar Khaddafy showed that our role in protecting the Libyan people and helping them break free from a tyrant was the right thing to do.
MR. GREGORY: Is this a big moment for him and does it last?
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: It's a big moment. Whether it lasts is another question. I don't think he's vulnerable on Libya because that could dissolve into tribal warfare, civil war. We've seen human rights abuses already. So there's no civil society. There's no justice system. But they--it's very hard to blame Barack Obama for that. People will credit him for an in--relatively inexpensive military engagement. And leading from behind turned out to be really smart.
On Iraq, I think there are pitfalls ahead. He is correct that this was George Bush's timetable to get out. This was an agreement signed with the Iraqis. He can be criticized for failing to negotiate an extension, which the military did want. But, at the same time, if everything goes well in Iraq, I think this is a victory and it's certainly appealing to the Democratic base. The problem will be if civil war erupts.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: Then we cannot re-engage. We can't resupply and get back in.
MR. GREGORY: Jack Welch, as you well know, presidents can really affect foreign policy. Those are where the leadership moments are made. He can't do a whole lot about the economy right now, but he can certainly make a case about leadership around the world. But does it carry on into a campaign?
MR. WELCH: Oh, of course it does. I mean, if he has success in this Iraq pullback, it will very helpful to him. But I do think presidents can do something economies. And I don't buy that they can only do foreign policy.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm. This isn't lasting, David, though, if you think about what's really driving voters' concerns. We saw this with the first President Bush. You know, he won in Iraq, at that point, and that's not what the campaign was about.
MR. BROOKS: Yeah. I guess I still mostly think that, but not entirely. You know, the Middle East just doesn't go away. I had a briefing from a senior military person saying Iran is really no holds barred on the Iraq--on the Irani nuclear program. They're still a very aggressive regime. So I happen to think that there'll be some crisis before the next year, some talk that the nuclear program may end up producing something by the next election. So I happen to think foreign policy will be much bigger than we think it is.
MR. GREGORY: It's interesting, Harold Ford, I mean the, the, the, the allusion I made to in the question to Secretary Clinton about Republicans and their positioning on foreign policy. There's an isolationist streak in the Republican Party right now. And, frankly, in these debates there have been moments where Republicans have not come up very strong on foreign policy acumen. It seeds the ground, it appears to me, to a Democratic president to say, "I'm the foreign policy leader here."
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: He has been not only more effective, more assertive, and more forceful, I think, than even his chief primary opponent and now his secretary of State thought he would be, thought he would be. He's been more assertive and successful than Democrats, Republicans in the House and Senate thought he would be. But I differ with, with David just a bit. I think all those successes we bragged about during the campaign, and rightly so. But, at the end of the day, the plight of the American family in the Midwest and the Southwest and Northeast, across the country, at the end of the day, that will determine whether or not he's re-elected. These issues here, don't get me wrong, solidify him as commander in chief. But Americans are looking for an economic commander in chief as well, and that will be the central challenge.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let--well, let's talk about the Republican debate and the debate this week, another big one. And here's just a flavor of how personally nasty it got.
MR. MITT ROMNEY: Rick, I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life, and so I'm, I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that because that just doesn't...
GOV. RICK PERRY: I'll tell you what the facts are.
MR. ROMNEY: Rick, again...
GOV. PERRY: You had the--you...
MR. ROMNEY: Rick, I'm speaking. I'm speaking.
GOV. PERRY: ...your newspaper--the newspaper...
MR. ROMNEY: I'm speaking. I'm speaking.
GOV. PERRY: It's time for you to tell the truth.
MR. ROMNEY: You get 30, you get 30 seconds.
GOV. PERRY: Time for you to tell the truth, Mitt.
MR. ROMNEY: This is the way, the way rules work here is that I get 60 seconds...
GOV. PERRY: Well, no, but the American people want the truth.
MR. ROMNEY: ...and then you get, and then you get 30 seconds to respond, right?
GOV. PERRY: And they want to hear you say...
MR. ROMNEY: Anderson...
GOV. PERRY: ...that you knew you had illegals working at your...
MR. ROMNEY: Would you please, would you please wait? Are you just going to keep talking?
GOV. PERRY: Yes, sir.
MR. ROMNEY: Or are you going to let me finish with my--what I have to say? Look, Rick...
MR. ANDERSON COOPER: I thought Republicans followed the rules, what...
MR. ROMNEY: ...this has been a tough, this has been a tough, this has been a tough couple of debates for Rick, and I understand that, and so you're going to get, you're going to get testy.
MR. GREGORY: Just watching I start to perspire.
Jack, what have we learned after these debates? Do you think Republican primary voters are closer to making up their minds?
MR. WELCH: Well, I think they're, they're moving towards a candidate, but these squabbles that occur during these debates, they occurred in the Democratic debates before, now the--when Obama and Clinton were going at it. These things will be lost in the rounds. I agree with Harold that how the American family is doing next fall will determine a lot more than that squabble that went on there.
MS. MITCHELL: But at the same time, 20 million people have watched these debates already.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: It's an extraordinary number. And I think that people are so intensely focused, precisely for the reasons that Jack and Harold have been talking about, the income disparities and the suffering, the, the economic pain that people are feeling, and they're looking for leadership. And the question then becomes which of these Republicans in that kind of squabbling match are showing that kind of leadership?
MR. BROOKS: Yeah, I think the debates have been consequential because they've shown what we've got here. It's not a primary process. With a primary process, you have several plausible candidates and they go after each other. We don't have that. We have one plausible candidate and a bunch of other guys who are prepping him for the Obama onslaught. And so, basically, they attack him. We thought Perry was plausible, turned out so far not to be. So they're attacking him, attacking him, getting him ready for what Obama's going to unleash on him. And so I'm grading it on how well is he doing it? And I think he--I give him like a B-minus.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROOKS: Because there are two things that he has to really get ready for: one is the flip-flopper charge; the second, that he's the male version of the Stepford wives. And, and he hasn't really solved either of those two problems.
MR. GREGORY: You know, there was--This Week magazine had an interesting cover that, that caught our attention, and we'll put it on the screen here. It's "Still not in love," and it's about Mitt Romney's search for love on, on the right among conservatives. So Herman Cain has caught fire, a lot of talk about the economy and taxes.
And, of course, Jack Welch, we rely on you principally for insightful commentary on Twitter. And this is what you wrote after Herman Cain was on MEET THE PRESS, and thank God you were watching. You wrote, "Watching Herman Cain on MEET THE PRESS. His no BS clarity is so refreshing." Is he a legitimate anti-Romney?
MR. WELCH: Well, he's, he's created a spark here, no question. He has had a big idea. The--this debate system, or the primary as you call it, is really a search for an idea, and he's captured the imagination. Whether you like 9-9-9 or whether 9-9-9 has holes in it, 9-9-9 brought people to, "We want simplification, we want change. We don't want tweaking around the edges." And I think he did that.
MR. GREGORY: Mm.
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: A lot can be learned from what, what Mr. Welch is saying and what Cain has done. First of all, I saw--I thought he did an excellent job, Cain did, last week. The president can learn something, and Romney can as well, whomever the nominee will be--simple, big and bold. President Obama was like that in '08, and people are wanting to see a result between now and '12. Two, there's so much positive happening out there, and Mr. Welch and I were in the back, in the, in the backroom talking about it, and the president's got to figure out how he begins to, to, to, from a posturist standpoint, project that confidence, project the strength of the country. And hopefully we find ourselves, people wanting to employee people more, stimulating prosperity and growth in other parts of the economy, which will lead to job creation.
MR. GREGORY: You know, David...
MR. WELCH: That's it, Harold.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. WELCH: Keep pushing that.
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: I took it from you.
MR. GREGORY: But, but, David, David Brooks, this is an interesting poll that shows whom the American people blame for economic problems in the country; 78 percent blame Wall Street, 87 percent blame the federal government. One of the big questions that you've posed about President Obama is, can he run a conventionally liberal campaign, a populist campaign, tax the rich more, and prevail?
MR. BROOKS: No. You know, the most important polling statistic in our lifetime is they ask people, "Do you trust government to do the right thing most of the time?" Through the '50s, '60s, '70s, it was like 80 percent trusted government. Then that drops--Vietnam, Watergate--gets down to like 20 percent under Bush. Well, now it's down at an historic low point of 15 percent. So if you're a Democrat, the party of government, you can't run "I'm the--I'm government, he's the market," you cannot run that campaign. You have to confuse that debate the way Bill Clinton did, the way Obama did in '08, by being post-partisan. What I see Obama doing is being the liberal fighter over the last couple of months, and that may help with the fundraising, but I do not see that winning.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. MITCHELL: But, one of the things that David was just pointing out about Mitt Romney, I mean it's Barack Obama compared to what? and if Mitt Romney does become the nominee, Phil Rucker in The New York Times today is saying he--his problem is he's not connecting, still not connecting. He has lay-up shots and doesn't hit, you know, can't take advantage of them. He is, you know, boardroom cool vs. living room warm, according to The New York Times. And that, that's a pretty good take on him. And I think that the, the problem that Romney still has with all this training in the debates is that he still doesn't get the retail politics piece of it.
MR. GREGORY: Well, can I raise, can I raise the big question--Jack, let me start with you--which is, at this point, does the president have to level with the American people and say, "Look, the conversation in Washington has stopped about jobs, about what government can do to somehow stimulate economic growth." We got to focus on other things. Maybe it's tax reform. But we, we can't do it at the moment. You disagreed with that earlier, saying he can do something about the economy.
MR. WELCH: Oh, he can do a lot about the economy. He could look at drilling for oil. He can, by himself, can drive that posture. He could put a moratorium on regulation until we've got unemployment below a certain level. He could do it. And he could, most importantly, change the posture. Everything we do in this administration is more punitive than it is incentivized. Let me give you a perfect example. Let's take the jobs bill. They put in there Section 371. That is an ability to sue for unemployed people who are out looking for a job to sue for $300,000, for example, if they hire Andrea who has a job and don't hire me, unemployed. It's crazy. They, they give a $4,000 incentive to hire an unemployed person, then they give a $300,000 penalty if you happen to discriminate against an unemployed person. Come on, you've got to get a positive framework.
MR. GREGORY: Well--and Harold Ford, it was none other than Steve Jobs in the new biography by Walter Isaacson who, who writes about him meeting with Obama, and this is how The Huffington Post reported it. Jobs telling Obama "`You're headed for a one-term presidency,' he said at their meeting, insisting that the administration needed to be more business-friendly." This is still the, the overhang they have to deal with.
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: Look, their posture has been really bad. Their policies have not been nearly as bad. If you think about the beginning of his administration, people thought that he would pass card check, and there was great angst, concern and anxiety in the business community, particularly the retail community. He didn't do it. He's been...
MR. WELCH: Tragic.
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: Right. Well, he didn't do it. The congressmen tried, but he didn't do it, and it didn't get, it didn't get done. Cars, banks, financial institutions, he's been great. The EPA regulations he's backed off on. But the posture and the language and the rhetoric has been just too overheated. And to, to Mr. Welch's point, you can't, you can't incentivize the type of things that he--that they incentivized in this bill. Two, you have huge balance sheets on the part of corporate America, meaning they're making money. You got to incentivize them, as the president has asked, to use that money to stimulate job creation. There's a way to do it, if you have some certainty around regulations and taxes.
MS. MITCHELL: (Unintelligible)
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: And two, you've got 1.2, maybe 1.3 trillion sitting overseas.
MR. WELCH: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: Allow that money to come back. But...
MS. MITCHELL: With Occupy Wall Street, how does he take that posture?
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: He's the president, Andrea. He's the president.
MS. MITCHELL: He's caught between two polar opposites.
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: We Democrats...
MR. BROOKS: It...
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: We Democrats can't criticize Republicans for catering to the tea party and not be--and not say to our Democratic Party you got to look beyond Occupy and be willing to do what's in the best interest of the country.
MR. GREGORY: David, very quickly.
MR. BROOKS: You know, it's a short-term vs. long-term problem. As Herman Cain understands there are--people are not only interested in "Where's my job tomorrow"; "What about my kids' economy?" And he has not--he understands--I think Obama understands you got to do the long-term things, get the fundamental institutions right, which is what Herman Cain understands with...
MS. MITCHELL: Right.
MR. BROOKS: ...with the big plan. So if he was emphasizing tax cuts, Simpson-Bowles, that would be a very different story.
FMR. REP. FORD JR.: Yeah.
MR. BROOKS: "OK, we're suffering, but my kids will be OK." That's what people want to know.
MR. GREGORY: Jack.
MR. WELCH: You know, Simpson-Bowles, dropping Simpson-Bowles was a massive mistake. I mean, it's just a fundamental mistake. He could have coalesced around that. He could have got by--we'd be discussing elements of Simpson-Bowles today, and you could argue that for a much better point of view.
MS. MITCHELL: And had he done that...
MR. GREGORY: But...
MS. MITCHELL: ...he would have avoided what turned out to be the biggest single downturn in consumer confidence and confidence in the, in the government...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: ...which was the debt ceiling debate.
MR. GREGORY: But isn't it also a challenge for Republicans? And, David, you and I have talked about this before. You know, you can't tax cut your way to prosperity. You've seen tax policy can affect economic growth either way. And yet, we, we have income inequality in this country. You have frustration. You have anxiety. What is the Republican platform do to actually deal with that to create a new economy?
MR. WELCH: Create jobs, unleash the economy. If you look at 1979 and '80, substitute Japan for China, substitute soft America for malaise, you got the same situation. We need a leadership model here that takes us to a new level, shows the greatness of our country, and takes on China the way we took on Japan, and win the game.
MR. BROOKS: That's...
MR. GREGORY: All right, we're--go quickly.
MR. BROOKS: I still think that's insufficient. We had jobs in the 20, in 2000, jobs in the '90s, we still had wage stagnation and inequality.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We'll take a quick break here. When we come back, we'll have our Trends & Takeaways, a look at what was said here today and what to look for in the coming week. Plus, what are the hot political stories trending this very morning? We'll have it for you right after this.
MR. GREGORY: We're back. Final minutes with the roundtable. Secretary Clinton earlier on the issue of politics and the Republican debate, and if you read between the lines, a pretty tough message for Republicans in defending President Obama on foreign policy. Watch.
SEC'Y HILLARY CLINTON: We have a lot of threats, but we also have opportunities. And I think President Obama has grasped that and has performed extraordinarily well. So I don't know what the other side will do. I'm out of politics, as you know, David. I don't comment on it. But I think Americans are going to want to know that they have a steady, experienced, smart hand on the tiller of the ship of state, and there's no doubt that that's Barack Obama.
MR. GREGORY: Andrea Mitchell, she says he passed the 3 AM threshold test. She's making an argument for it being a strong argument to use against Republicans.
MS. MITCHELL: She is. And for her to say she's out of politics, with that, I have some amusement about that. But the fact is, she is the best validater that Barack Obama could have on that. And the Republican performance in the debates, all of them, inconsistent, not terribly well schooled. They have to reach a threshold. It's not the driving issue in this election year, but they have to reach a threshold that they can be commander in chief.
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about the trend tracker now and the big stories that we're following. We talked about Herman Cain, whether it's abortion or 9-9-9, he's topping the trend tracker this morning. The Iraq war and what the president's decision portends is important. Also, Nevada moves the caucus, which gets us to our GOP primary calendar, which we want to follow here. January 3rd you know is Iowa. The expectation is it'll likely announce New Hampshire January 10th, and Nevada will now be February 4th. So a concentrated calendar there January and into February.
And that's where we'll leave it today. That is all for our discussion today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.