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updated 5/9/2004 12:33:38 PM ET 2004-05-09T16:33:38

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PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."

NBC News

MEET THE PRESS

GUESTS: Sen. John Warner, (R-Va.), Chairman, Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, (D-Mich.), Ranking Member, Armed Services Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), Armed Services Committee, Gen. Wesley Clark (Retired), Fmr. NATO Supreme Allied Commander - Europe, James Carville, Democratic Strategist, Mary Matalin, Republican Strategist

MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News

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:

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Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, May 9, 2004

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday, the world shocked by these pictures of abuse.  The president speaks out:

(Videotape):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  It's a stain on our country's honor and our country's reputation.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The secretary of defense apologizes:

(Videotape):

SEC'Y DONALD RUMSFELD:  Senator, those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The Congress asked questions:

(Videotape):

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ):  My question is:  Who was in charge of the interrogations?

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  What now?  The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican John Warner and Democrat Carl Levin.  A colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.  And the former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark.

Then, what will be the political fallout of the scandal?  And the very latest on the race between George W. Bush and John Kerry.  With us, for the Democrats, James Carville, for the Republicans, Mary Matalin.

But first, we are joined by the chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner and Senator Carl Levin.  Also with us is Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and the former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark.

Welcome all.

Chairman Warner, let me start with you.  Who is responsible for the torture of the Iraqi prisoners?  Who is in charge of the interrogation?

SEN. JOHN WARNER, (R-VA):  You know, Tim, I'm going to be straightforward with you.  We've tried to probe that at our hearing.  I spent a considerable period of yesterday talking with the seniors at the Pentagon.  It is still not known. There is an Article 15 procedure that's been instituted by General Sanchez and was brought over to the number two Army intelligence officer and he's working on his report to find that answer right now.  He leaves, I think, today to go to Germany where the--there's been the redeployment of those intelligence officers to try and get the answers and bring them back to Washington.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Levin, The Washington Post yesterday said, "We believe that Mr. Rumsfeld bears much of the responsibility for creating the legal and political climate in which the prison abuses occurred and that his failure to respond to previous reports of abuses or appeals for reforms made possible the catastrophe of Abu Ghraib."

What's your reaction to that?

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D-MI):  I think that's true.  I think responsibility lies partly on his doorstep but partly on the doorstep of a lot of other people and I think the role of the military intelligence here is really critical.  They were in charge of the interrogation.  This is much more systemic than just a few guards abusing prisoners.  This was part of an effort--a systemic effort, according to General Taguba, to extract information from these prisoners.  And this was part of a new intelligence policy which goes right on up to the Pentagon and perhaps even beyond.  I think some of the environment here was actually set at the White House when they said it was a bunch of legalisms to discuss whether or not the Geneva Conventions would apply to prisoners directly or whether they would be treated consistent with the Geneva Conventions or in the same way but not precisely according--they were splitting legal hairs about the application of Geneva Conventions and it seems to me that sent exactly the wrong message to the intelligence people and to the guards themselves.

MR. RUSSERT:  You believe the president then is ultimately responsible?

SEN. LEVIN:  I think he helped to create the atmosphere by the way in which he called the Geneva Convention discussion relative to Afghanistan a matter of legalism.  It's not legalism.  It goes right to the heart of this matter.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Graham, the Red Cross wrote this in the--the other day in The Wall Street Journal.  "Red Cross Found Widespread Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners.  A confidential and previously undisclosed Red Cross report delivered to the Bush administration earlier this year concluded that abuse of prisoners in Iraq in custody of U.S. military intelligence was widespread and in some cases `tantamount to torture.'"

What that is saying is that last fall, abuse was taking place and the administration, the Pentagon was put on alert early this year about it, by the Red Cross.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC):  I think that's probably the core issue here is we just don't want a bunch of privates and sergeants to be the scapegoats here.  And I don't want any political person to be the scapegoat.  I think we are dealing with system failures.  When you say this is a few bad apples, in terms of the values that we represent, these are a few bad apples.  In terms of the million--thousands of people serving in Iraq, these are a few bad apples.  But I think it's clear to me that we had system failure.

General Karpinski, the military police commander, has in her statement apparently said that her troops were following the lead of the military intelligence community.  That's a very serious allegation and I don't know if we know that's correct or not, but there's a lot to be looked at here and who knew what when and how people acted, dereliction of duty is certainly something we need to look at and I don't know where this is going to go, but I'm very open minded to make sure that nobody, regardless of rank or status is taken off the list to be looked at.

MR. RUSSERT:  General Clark?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK:  Well, I'm very encouraged that the Congress is taking a very strong look at this.  I think there are systemic failures here.  But I think it does come, as Senator Levin says, from a broader perception, an announcement within the administration, really, that international law is not that important.  It's legalisms.  What counts is American force.  And, you know, those Geneva Conventions were put in place to protect Americans.  They were put in place to protect our men and women in case they be taken.  And the people who were detained in Iraq, the prisoners there, the detainees, they were all covered under the Geneva Convention--they should have been.

And so there's more than a systemic failure.  There's a failure of leadership that goes right to the top.  This is a presidential leadership problem.  He is the commander in chief.  He announces it virtually every day on the campaign trail and he, himself, must take responsibility for this because it reflects his command influence.

MR. RUSSERT:  The...

SEN. WARNER:  Tim, could I just interrupt?  We've got to be cautious because I'm convinced that the Department of Defense is doing everything they can to get the facts out in the public.  I was assured yesterday that all the new photos are being reviewed by the lawyers and so forth and will be forthcoming to the Congress.  We've got to be careful to speculate at this point in time because we've got 99.9 percent of the men and women of the armed forces valiantly, loyally and at some sacrifice performing-- great sacrifice performing their duties today.  We've got to be cautious.  We're going to have another hearing of the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday bringing a considerable portion of additional evidence.  We will eventually get to the bottom.  But let's be careful on speculating what we don't know for facts now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Secretary Rumsfeld has written throughout his career "Rumsfeld's Rules" and this is one of them:  "Be able to resign.  It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance."

General Clark, do you think Secretary Rumsfeld should resign?

GEN. CLARK:  Well, I think there's really two issues on this.  One is his effectiveness and he said he would resign if he felt he couldn't be effective. But I think it's really a question of the credibility of the U.S. mission and how the United States is perceived in the world.  I don't think his effectiveness has been compromised.  I think he can still give orders; I think people will still take them.  There's no issue with that.  The real question is:  "How is the United States perceived and how seriously are we perceived to be taking this issue?"

I think it would be very patriotic if Secretary Rumsfeld resigned.  But I do think that the issue goes beyond the secretary of defense.  I don't think we should indict the men and women in the armed forces.  I think 99.9 percent of them are doing a great job over there and I hope the American people will support them.  I certainly do.  But I do think that when something like this happens that the prima facia notion of this is this goes right to the top. What did the president know?  What was the atmosphere that the president created?  How hard was he pushing?

We know there was a lot of pressure to get intelligence information from these interrogations.  And the Pentagon was the action agency on this working with the Central Intelligence Agency in crafting the rules.  But the atmosphere in which the Geneva Conventions were more or less set to one side, apparently, would have come from the top.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Graham, would it be patriotic for Secretary Rumsfeld to resign?

SEN. GRAHAM:  I think Secretary Rumsfeld has been an effective secretary of defense and I didn't come here to beat on Senator Kerry or to defend any political position.  This is not about Republican and Democratic politics. The president's right.  We're all stained.  So the effort to turn every soundbite into an attack on Bush, I think misses the point.

Let me talk one minute about the law.

MR. RUSSERT:  What about Secretary Rumsfeld?  Should he stay?

SEN. GRAHAM:  I think Secretary Rumsfeld should stay if he believes he can be effective.  I think he can be effective.  Hats off to the military.  Taguba report is an excellent start.  There's been system failure.  But this idea about giving al-Qaeda Geneva Convention status is a bad idea.  I support the president.  This is not about the Geneva Convention.  You do not need the Geneva Convention to govern what happened in those prisons based on photos. Our own military law prevents our people from treating people in the way that you've seen.  This is not about the Geneva Convention.  This is about people abusing the law that already exists governing the military.

MR. RUSSERT:  Vice President Cheney said that Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a great job; the best secretary of defense ever and we should just let him do his job.

SEN. GRAHAM:  Well, something that was said, attributed to the vice president--I don't know if it's true or not--really bothers me.  Says, "Get off his back."  Senator Warner's hearing is not being on Secretary Rumsfeld's back.  The hearing we're going to have Tuesday is not being on Secretary Rumsfeld's back.  The Congress has an independent duty to find out what happened in that prison.  It affects us all.  So the vice president's comments, I don't know if they actually came from him or not, is just as inappropriate as calling for the resignation of the secretary and politicizing this even before he testifies.  Nobody's on their back.  We're doing our job.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Levin, what's your sense of Secretary Rumsfeld?  Can he continue to be effective as secretary of defense or should he step down?

SEN. LEVIN:  If I thought there'd be a policy change as a result of his stepping down, I'd call for it.  But that to me is the underlying issue, as to whether or not we can change course here.  The president has laid out two stark alternatives:  either staying the course or cutting and run.  And there's a third alternative which is to correct our course.  And if I thought that Secretary Rumsfeld's departure would correct our course and make this less of a unilateral, American effort, if there were a much greater effort to internationalize this, to truly reach out to other countries to help us give advice to a new government, not just to be the sole adviser after June 30 to that new government, I would be in favor of that resignation.  But I don't see that that is what would happen.  Instead, we have found a course which, it seems to me, is full of errors, full of mismanagement right from the beginning of this war.  So I'm not calling for Rumsfeld's removal because I think that would not represent a change in the direction in reaching out to other countries and a correction of the many errors of mismanagement that have taken place during this war.

I agree, by the way, with everybody that 99.9 percent of our troops are doing the right thing.  What these actions have done, this leadership failure has done, is to stain the honor and the reputation of honorable men and women in the military and that's one of the real tragedies, it seems to me.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Warner, do you believe Secretary Rumsfeld will survive this?

SEN. WARNER:  Well, I'd like to answer in the following way.  I've known Rumsfeld for many years.  When I was secretary of the Navy, I served under three secretaries of defense and in the 25 years I've been in the Senate, I've worked all--with the others.  This secretary, Don Rumsfeld, is a man of conscience.  He's strong.  He's effective and I can continue to work with him, I assure you.

I want to support our president.  The president says he's going to stay and I join you, Lindsey, we're going to support our president and keep him there. But let me remind you, those who are calling for the resignation:  We're in two wars--Afghanistan and Iraq.  To pull out the top man at this time and try and go through the complicated procedures of clearances, finding a new individual, bringing him in, bringing in that new individual staff in the few months before the election.  Someone better weigh that carefully against these calls for his resignation.

SEN. GRAHAM:  Tim, can I...

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me just turn to the real issue here and that is who is responsible, who's being blamed, who's being court-martialed.  This was from The Washington Post on Saturday:  "Mr. Rumsfeld claimed that guards at Abu Ghraid had been instructed to follow the Geneva Conventions, but the investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba has documented that no such instructions were given."

And here's the Taguba report and I'd like to read it:  "I find that prior to its deployment to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 320th MP Battalion and the 372nd MP Company had received no training in detention/internee operations.  I also find that very little instruction or training was provided to MP personnel on the applicable rules of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War...  Moreover, I find that few, if any, copies of the Geneva Conventions were ever made available to MP personnel or detainees."

And when you read that--that came out in March--you now understand how these pictures and video came forward.  And this takes a little while to read, but it's very important because the American people have to know the genesis of it.  This is how The New York Times reported it:  "Soldier's Families Set In Motion Chain of Events on Disclosure.  Ivan Frederick was distraught.  His son [Staff Sgt. Ivan I. Frederick II], an Army reservist turned prison guard in Iraq, was under investigation earlier this year for mistreating prisoners, and photographs of the abuse were beginning to circulate among soldiers and military investigators.  So the father went to his brother-in-law, William Lawson, who was afraid that reservists like his nephew would end up taking the fall for what he considered command lapses...

"The irony, Mr. Lawson said, is that the public spectacle might have been avoided if the military and the federal government had been responsive to his claims that his nephew was simply following orders.  Mr. Lawson said he sent letters to 17 members of Congress about the case earlier this year, with virtually no response, and that he ultimately contacted [retired Army Colonel David] Hackworth's Web site out of frustration, leading him to cooperate with a consultant for `60 Minutes II.'

"`The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out, not to be on "60 Minutes,"' he said.  `But the Army decided to prosecute those six G.I.'s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it.  But unfortunately, that was not the case.'"

What does that say to you, General?

GEN. CLARK:  Well, there is a systemic problem here, and we do need to get to the bottom of it.  We do need intelligence information.  Our soldiers have to maintain standards of conduct.  And General Taguba's report, I think, got to many of the key issues that are involved; more needs to be done.  But beyond the specific issue that's here involved and who was responsible and how do we prevent this in the future is the larger issue of the success or failure of the mission in Iraq.  And that's what this prisoner abuse calls into question. We know there was no linkage between Saddam Hussein and the events of 9/11. We know now there was no imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction, the last claim of the administration is to do good in Iraq by providing democracy, an opportunity for democracy and higher standards.  And here we are with this compromising the higher standards that we believe in.  So it's a very, very significant issue as we try to win the hearts and the minds of the people in Iraq and promote our views of the right way to govern around the world.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Graham, six members of the armed forces are facing potential court-martial and no one's dismissing their alleged conduct.

SEN. GRAHAM:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  But where did the dog leashes come from?  Where did the hoods come from?  Where did this notion that by talking about sexual behavior you could break down the Arab mind?  From the minds of Army reservists?

SEN. GRAHAM:  I've never been in the military as a military lawyer.  I've never been in combat, but I do have some understanding of the military legal system.  And bells went off in my head when Senator McCain was asking questions of the Pentagon, "What were the rules?  Who set the terms of interrogation?"  I am convinced from reading a summary of the report that there is system failure here.  I'm very worried that the interrogation techniques were not in violation of the Geneva Conventions.  That's not my concern.  That they were in violation of military law and human decency.

To Mr. Lawson, here's what I will tell you, sir.  Anybody who is charged with a crime will be provided free legal defense counsel.  I have been a military defense counselor and prosecutor.  They will go before a judge and a panel of officers and they can request enlisted personnel if they choose.  They will be professionally handled.  The defense counsel will fight for their rights.  And being ordered to do something is a defense, as long as it is a lawful order.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Levin, do you believe that these six GIs who have been court-martialed are going to take the wrap for higher-ups?

SEN. LEVIN:  Not if we can help it.  They were trying--in my judgment, in the Taguba report's judgment, more importantly--they were part of a process of extracting information from prisoners, an effort using totally abominable and despicable means to obtain information and extract information from inmates. Thank God for the American people who are not going to tolerate these kind of methods, who will take up and be critical of the power in this country and in their military so that we can try to stop the little guys from taking the fall for people who are responsible.

In my--I think it's pretty clear what happened here, that these guards were told to soften up these inmates, and if they did so, that that would help to obtain information and to extract information from these inmates.  It's pretty clear from the pictures themselves where you have people standing around looking-- it's a very organized, methodical effort which is going on here. This is not just a few guards in some kind of an aberrant conduct.  This is a much more systemic problem here, which was pointed out by the Taguba report. And the military intelligence, including, I believe, the CIA, there--we assume the other government agencies referred to in the Taguba report, have got to be held accountable, right up the chain.  Follow the trail to where it leads.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator John McCain was at the hearing on Friday and he talked about the tone of the investigation and what has to be achieved and accomplished.  Let me show you what Senator McCain said and then come back and talk to you, Senator Warner:

(Videotape, Friday):

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ):  We risk losing public support for this conflict. As Americans turned away from the Vietnam War, they may turn away from this one unless this issue is quickly resolved with full disclosure immediately. With all due respect to investigations ongoing and panels being appointed, the American people deserve immediate and full disclosure of all relevant information so that we can be assured and comforted that something that we never believed could happen will never happen again.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Warner, Secretary Rumsfeld testified that there's more video, more pictures.  Will those be made available to the public, who ultimately will sit in judgment of the conduct of the administration and the Pentagon?

SEN. WARNER:  The first comment about John McCain--he sits right next to me on the committee--I remember that era of Vietnam.  I was secretary of the Navy and, indeed, the public did drift away from supporting the troops and the Congress and so forth.  I hope that will not happen this time.  I don't think it will.  I do not see the early stages of anything like that.  But to answer your question, I specifically talked to the Pentagon several times yesterday. They assured me that all of the information will be forthcoming to the Congress, but it will be on disks, it will be kept in our room, S407, because it's of a classified nature at the moment for members to see.  Now, when it may get into the public domain, I'm not able to answer that question.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Graham, there's speculation that this is politics, that White House officials were quote anonymously saying, "Well, if we allow Congress to see it and then senators and congressmen will come out and soften up the impact on the public by saying, `You wouldn't believe these pictures,' and by the time they're ultimately released, the shock value will have diminished."  Is this what you're hearing?

SEN. GRAHAM:  Well, I guess in terms of the photos, you know, this command influence argument is a real argument.  In a military legal system--and General Clark has probably performed this role, commanders prefer charges, commanders refer charges.  So commanders can't say things that are going to taint the court-martial.  That's a great concept, but this is really not about that.  These photos have to be discussed in terms of our national security interests.  If there are more photos out there detailing abuse and terrible behavior, if there's a videotape out there, for God sakes, let's talk about it, because men and women's lives are at stake given how we handle this.  So I want to get it all out on the table.  I don't think that will create a command influence problem.

This is not just about humiliation, Tim.  The allegations in this report involve rape and murder.  Please, don't leave this whole scenario thinking that this is just about a humiliating experience.  This is about system failure.  This is about felony offenses.  And if there's more to come, let's get it out, as a nation work through it and show the world that Republicans and Democrats may disagree on the policy and the war in Iraq, but we have the ability to make sure those accountable are going to be held accountable.  And it's just not going to be six privates and sergeants.  Other people are going to be held accountable.  But Republicans and Democrats need to come together to prove to the world that our system works.  Let's get it out.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Levin, should the public see it at the same time Congress is able to see it?

SEN. LEVIN:  Absolutely.  It's best that this be seen for what it is. Judgments then can be made by people.  Any effort to hide this kind of material is just not going to work.  We have an open society.  We are proving it, I believe, by proceeding to investigate the way we are.  I think that that's a net plus.  And the only way we can redeem ourselves, it seems to me, and to prove that we stand for the right values, is to enforce those values, and doing that in a very open and thorough and prompt process is what will help sustain us in the end and perhaps help us also to prevail in terms of what we're seeking now to achieve in Iraq.  But that mission has been made far, far more difficult as a result of these actions and as a result of the climate which has been created here.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to talk about that mission in our remaining minutes. The front page of The Washington Post today, "Dissention grows in senior ranks on war strategy.  U.S. may be winning battles in Iraq but losing the war, some military officers say."  And this is John Murtha, a Democrat, a Vietnam veteran, strong supporter of the war in Iraq.  "Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) told his Democratic colleagues that he feared the war in Iraq is unwinnable if the U.S. military does not dramatically increase troop levels, provide more ground support and seek significant international involvement."

"But Murtha...expressed serious doubts that those remedies are even faint possibilities, given current military deployments, a lack of support from NATO allies and widespread outrage over the mistreatment of Iraqis prisoners of war."

"Coming from a senior appropriator with close ties to the Pentagon, Murtha's bleak analysis led many colleagues to surmise that he believes a democratic Iraqi is a lost cause."

General Clark, do you share that pessimism?

GEN. CLARK:  I think there's a greater than 50/50 chance, let's say a 2:1 chance, of a catastrophic early end to this mission.

MR. RUSSERT:  What does that mean?

GEN. CLARK:  That means the Iraqi people will simply say, "We want the Americans out of here."  You'll see a large outpouring of public animosity in Baghdad and elsewhere, a million Iraqis demonstrating in the streets of Baghdad against us.  And, Tim, we're only going to be there and be effective if the majority of the Iraqi people want us there.  That's what this mission's success hinges on.  All of the issues, international involvement, more troops and all that--all of it is measured by:  Do the Iraqi people believe that we're actually helping and contributing to their betterment or are we causing problems?

And the Iraqi people are, step by step, turning against this mission.  What we need to do right now is a major change in policy.  We need to unload John Negroponte after the 30th of June.  He cannot run that country as the American ambassador.  We've got to have an international assistance organization like we did in the Balkans, where other nations can participate, and the Iraqis will understand that it's the world trying to help them; it's not America telling them what to do.

SEN. WARNER:  You know, I've got to disagree with that strongly.  We must continue to go as planned on the 30th and turn over this limited sovereignty. Negroponte is one of the finest men, fortunately, that's willing to step forward and take on this.  Wes, you and I have known each other a long time. We've got to give this thing a try.  The U.N. is heavily involved now. They're working on the selection of the new members of the next round of government that takes over on July 1st.

And, Tim, as to this article, when I saw this early this morning, I immediately went to the Joint Staff, right to the top, and I assure you that officers have the right, under Goldwater-Nickles, which I co- authored, to go directly to the president once informing the chairman that they're concerned. Thus far, none of our senior chiefs have exercised their right to go to the president and express their dissatisfaction with what's taking place.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Senator Graham, we have at the United Nations main personnel, Mr. Brahimi...

SEN. GRAHAM:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...someone who said that Israel's policy is poison and the United States is part of that.

SEN. GRAHAM:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  We have Saddam's former military in charge of security in Fallujah.  Are you concerned that the dream of a democratic state in Iraq is, in Congressman Murtha's words, "a lost cause"?

SEN. GRAHAM:  Yeah, I'm concerned.  The war on terror started even before September the 11, 2001, but that was a defining event.  We're in Iraq for a reason.  We just didn't wake up one day and "Let's go invade Iraq."  The president, I think after September 11, inventoried the threats, and Saddam Hussein was one of those threats.

But if we lose here, I'll just lay it on the line the best I can--if we're unable to bring a democratic form of government in some form to Iraq, then that will be like Dunkirk.  This is a worldwide effort and the only way we'll finally win this war is to have freedom-loving, democratic principles adopted by people in the Mideast and let's join together and stop beating on each other politically.

Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation may happen, it may not.  That's not the focus.  And as to the White House, please don't say things like you should get off his back.  Nobody is on his back.  We have an independent duty to look at this.  To win Iraq is essential.  We're there whether you want us to be or not, General Clark.  We're there.

GEN. CLARK:  True.

SEN. GRAHAM:  And it's got to end on the right terms.  And the only way it can end effectively is for the people of Iraq, who I think want the same thing you and everybody here wants, a chance to raise their kids in freedom.  It can happen, but we could be our own worst enemy.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Levin, when you hear "win in Iraq," what does that mean to you?

SEN. LEVIN:  It means that trying to help the Iraqi people achieve some kind of a stable and democratic country, but what it means is changing course. We've got to now proceed with the June 30 assumption of sovereignty by some kind of an entity that the U.N. will help to create hopefully.  But General Clark is absolutely right; in proceeding to that date, which we are, in order to make it work, you've got to have some kind of a broader international entity to support that transfer and that new grouping there.  It cannot just be an American ambassador running that place with just the appearance of an Iraqi sovereign government.  There's got to be some reality to that government, and that means an international grouping of nations supporting it, not just the United States running the show there.

And we've failed so far to rally the international community.  It was one of the grave errors that was made right at the beginning.  There's been a series of errors ever since, but if there's any chance of this working, it seems to me it's to now rally, attempt to rally the international community, not just in helping to identify an entity to assume sovereignty, but in then after June 30, helping to advise that entity to help it succeed.  It's going to take more than an American ambassador dominating that country.

SEN. WARNER:  We are taking those steps.  Carl, you know you and I have discussed this.  Brahimi are helping to select the members of the successor government.  I think our government is open to that, and Negroponte, having served at the United Nations, is probably the one best qualified to bring in that closer cooperation with the international community.

MR. RUSSERT:  Might it take even more American troops?

SEN. WARNER:  We do not know at this time.  Abizaid, he said he's going to stay at the level, Carl, of 135,000 for another fiscal year.

SEN. GRAHAM:  Tim, on that note, one of the things you find in this report, that the MPs guarding these detainees were told they were going to go home. That was yanked away.  Morale is low.  I think we need to look at the Guard and Reserve forces.  I think they're overstressed.  I think we need to look and see if we have enough people in uniform to meet all of our obligations, just not Iraq, and that's long overdue.

MR. RUSSERT:  Expand the size of the military.

SEN. GRAHAM:  I think we need more troops, because the obligations of the United States are just not in Afghanistan and Iraq...

SEN. WARNER:  And you know we're doing in our bill that you and I worked on this week.

SEN. GRAHAM:  Yes, I do, Mr. Chairman, and I give you high credit.

SEN. WARNER:  Well, we're doing it.

SEN. GRAHAM:  But we need to look at whether or not we've got enough people in uniform.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued.  Senator Warner...

SEN. WARNER:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...Senator Levin, Senator Graham, and General Clark, thank you all.

And we'll be right back to talk about the political fallout on the Bush-Kerry race; Democrat James Carville, Republican Mary Matalin, they are next right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Democrat James Carville, Republican Mary Matalin--the fallout and the effect of the Bush-Kerry race after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Democrat Carville, Republican Mary Matalin. Serious times, folks.

Let me, Mary, refer you to a column by Tom Friedman, who is a strong supporter of the war in Iraq.  This is what he said on Thursday:  "We are in danger of losing something much more important than just the war in Iraq.  We are in danger of losing America as an instrument of moral authority and inspiration in the world.  I have never known a time in my life when America and its president were more hated around the world than today.  ...  This administration needs to undertake a total overhaul of its Iraq policy; otherwise, it is courting a total disaster for" all of us.  "That overhaul needs to begin with President Bush firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - today, not tomorrow or next month, today."

Your reaction?

MS. MARY MATALIN:  That would be extraordinarily irresponsible in the middle of two wars to fire the secretary of defense, who has not only been an exceptional secretary of defense, but is a class act.  And he is patriot and he's an agent of change.  He's trying to transform the defense institutions which were developed to confront a different kind of enemy.  And he's done an exceptional job.  It is true that-- and the president has loudly condemned the abuses in Iraq of the prisoners, but the reason we are the inspiration of the world is because we acted and will continue to act swiftly and harshly to bring justice to those who not only humiliated but violated our values.

MR. RUSSERT:  James Carville, do the Democrats risk politicizing this issue by having their candidate for president, John Kerry, call for Rumsfeld's resignation?

MR. JAMES CARVILLE:  Well, it's not just that, but every major news organization in the country has called for it.  I think the real problem is that this administration was told by General Shinseki, "You need 250,000 people to do this."  They rejected that advice.  They were told by Mr. Warrick that you were gonna have all these problems.  They rejected this.

Now, we have too few troops who are not trained.  They're gonna try to blame this PFC from West Virginia about this, that she was never told about the Geneva Conventions.  I doubt if this young woman even knows where Geneva is. So we take people who don't have the training, not enough people--when we're told by professional military people that you need this many, and they reject it.  Of course stuff like this is gonna happen.

This is about big decisions that were made at the very highest level of this administration.  This is--what we see in this prison, Tim, I don't think is really a disease.  It is a symptom of a larger disease, and that is this war was not thought out, the aftermath was not thought out, it was not well planned.  And obviously that's gonna be an issue in this race.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mary Matalin, the polling over the last week or so has been quite striking.  Matt Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, said this back in March:  "Normally, presidents finish roughly the same as their job approval numbers."

Our poll, The Wall Street Journal-NBC poll, has the following:  approve of President's Bush's performance, 47; disapprove, 46.  How concerned are you about that number?

MS. MATALIN:  This is a contest and the campaigns are about a choice.  So yes, the American public is disturbed right now, they're anxious right now about the war in Iraq, about the global war on terror.  But this is the first president--this has been a problem for two decades, and this is the first president that's doing something about it.  So we have to stay the course. He's being steady in the face of turbulence around the world.

So we have an education challenge in front of us to explain how Iraq fits into the global war on terror.  It's not enough to just go to Afghanistan and close down the camps, which had we done that decades ago, there wouldn't have been tens of thousands of these terrorists running around the world.  But we have to transform a region that is breeding this kind of terror and extremism. That's going to require a generational commitment.  That's gonna cost a lot in terms of treasure and American sacrifice.

But we are the global superpower, and I would say, relative to that policy, what is the alternative?  The senator, Senator Kerry, President Bush's opponent, has offered absolutely no alternative to long-term eradication of global terrorism.  It's not enough to just attack the president.  If you don't like this policy, and sure, there's going to be setbacks, and it's going to be hard.  This is a brand-new policy, brand-new enemy, then what is the alternative?  So the election comes down to a choice.  And if Iraq is the question, Kerry is not the answer.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you a couple more poll numbers, and we'll go through them.  Was the war in Iraq worth it?  Yes, 42; no, 47.  Huge division amongst--between Democrats and Republicans.  Look at that, Republicans, 69; 18, exact opposite, but 52 percent of Independents now saying not worth it.

And on the economy, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal wrote this:  "The [NBC/WSJ] poll's findings on the economy may be the most worrisome for the Republicans.  While events in Iraq have deteriorated, the president's aides have argued that evidence of economic resurgence was bolstering support for this re-election.  ... Voters remain skeptical.  Disapproval of Mr. Bush's handling of the economy, 53% to 41%, represents the weakest showing of his presidency.  After months of high-profile discussion of job losses, the proportion of Americans who expect better times in the next year has fallen to 42% from 50% in January.  By 51% to 40% voters say Mr. Bush's tax cuts were too large, while a 63% majority shrugs off recent stock-market gains as benefiting `only businesses and investors,' not `nearly all Americans.'"

And then this:  Is U.S. headed in right direction?  Right direction, 33; wrong direction, 50.  Again, the division between the parties but Independents by 2:1 think we're in the wrong direction.  And then this:  Does Bush deserve re-election?  Yes, 45; no, 49.  Again, Dems, Republicans, look at that split, 84; 10- -11, 84.  But Independents, 51; 39.  But, James Carville...

MR. CARVILLE:  I knew you were coming to me.  It was too good for too long.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, wait, all that that I just laid out...

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...here's the horse race.

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Who would you vote for today?  Bush, 46;  Kerry, 42...

MR. CARVILLE:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...Nader, 5.

MR. CARVILLE:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  How can you explain that?

MR. CARVILLE:  Let me explain it real good.  That's a better position than we were in in 1992.  It's a better position than Ronald Reagan was in in 1980. And the best thing I can explain is this:  I think Senator Kerry is starting to take steps now.  They're back on television.  They're developing themselves.  He's getting a lot better, a lot crisper.  He's making some changes.  And this is the thing that I really like about John Kerry.  He sees a problem, he fixes a problem.  This administration sees a problem, they deny a problem.

And I think that you're going to see--and just like Vice President Cheney said to get off of Rumsfeld's back, I've got a message for all these whining, carping Democrats around the country:  Get off of John Kerry's back.  They're making some changes over there.  He's in a very good position for a challenger to be in right now.  It's going to do nothing but to improve between now and November.  People want a different direction in this country.  They don't want an administration that's stuck in the same policies, that refuses to change policies.  And John Kerry is making some significant improvements.  I think he's going to be a much better candidate as we go on here.

MR. RUSSERT:  Perhaps one of the reasons that John Kerry is behind George Bush in this poll is we asked:  "What do you like least about John Kerry?" And here was the answer.  Forty-nine percent of Americans say that he straddles both sides of an issue; 55 percent of Republicans offer that. Forty-four percent of Democrats--Democrats--say that he straddles both sides of an issue and half of Independents.  Is that a problem for the campaign?

MR. CARVILLE:  Of course, it is.  And I think that they recognize that. They've had, like, $75 million in negative spots dumped on him.  They're back on television, and that's a question that's going to be answered over the course of the campaign.  We have debates.  He's going to have a convention. And, you know, once people find out who John Kerry is, what he's about, those numbers are going to improve significantly.  Just like we had terrible numbers in May, we didn't know whether--'cause I told somebody the other day, in May of 1992 in the Clinton campaign, we didn't know whether to, you know, wind our behinds or scratch our watches.  These guys are in the middle of an intense campaign right now.  They are getting a lot better.  And let me tell you something.  This is a 49 percent problem on this is something that they can address in a significant way and cure this, because John Kerry is a guy that sees a problem and fixes a problem.  And let me tell you, these Democrats need to get off his back.  He's put a hell of a campaign together and he's going to win this thing.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mary Matalin, whenever there's an incumbent president running for re-election, the race is sometimes close for a while, but in the end, the margins seem to grow as we get close to Election Day where the American people make a collective judgment, yes, keep him or throw him out.  Jimmy Carter, former President Bush, not re-elected.

MS. MATALIN:  President Reagan.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...President Reagan, Bill Clinton...

MS. MATALIN:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...re-elected by healthy margins.

MS. MATALIN:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  How much is this race going to be a referendum on George Bush, the economy and Iraq?

MS. MATALIN:  It's always a referendum on the president when there's an incumbent re-election.  Those numbers on the economy are require--that's just a result of an information gap.  And it is absurd to say that this economy isn't surging, which these guys continue to do.  All they do is talk down the economy.  We just got the jobs numbers.  Just a minute, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  But wait, wait, wait, wait, this is important.

MS. MATALIN:  In three months, we've created over a million jobs.  And better than that, the trajectory for our future economic growth by accounts of all economists is positive.  We have the strongest economy in over 20 years.

MR. RUSSERT:  But when you say Iraq is a problem of communication and the economy is an information gap, all I can think of is Cool Hand Luke.  What we have here is...

MS. MATALIN:  That's a good one.

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.

MS. MATALIN:  ...a failure to communicate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Don't, don't.  I need one interrogator, OK?

MR. CARVILLE:  What did I say?  I didn't...

MS. MATALIN:  I said the information on the economy--at some point, their political rhetoric and reality has to intersect.  The economy is growing faster than it has and beyond expectations in 20 years.  I did not say Iraq was a communications problem.  I said it was an education problem.  We have a brand-new post-Cold War, first post-Cold War national security in foreign policy.  This is new thinking.  These are based on our old values, our universal values.

But for 60 years in this region, our policy, the world's policy was stability. And it was stability at any cost.  And it was an abrogation of our responsibility and our values.  Now, we're saying it's not that we're trying to impose some sort of Jeffersonian democracy or Hamiltonian republic, but some version of a modern state so people living there have a future, can feel like their kids can grow up to be something other than martyrs.

MR. CARVILLE:  That's right.

MR. RUSSERT:  James Carville, you may disagree with the president's thinking on the economy or his role in the war in Iraq.

MR. CARVILLE:  I do.  Yes.  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the White House feels very strongly that in the end...

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...the American people will see this president as a man of conviction...

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and John Kerry is something not quite measuring up.

MR. CARVILLE:  Well, I know that John Kerry is a man of conviction.  I think the problem is if America, if you like the course that we're undertaking in Iraq by having too few troops, by not having international cooperation, then stick with this administration.  The very week that these job numbers came out, the chairman of the Federal Reserve lectured the president about long-term damage to the economy because of the deficits that they created. Health-care costs have gone up 40 percent since this president has taken office.  We have had tepid income growth as a result of this, and we are paying for this party with deficits the like of which we've never seen.  And what this election is going to boil down to--and you're right--this president is convinced that what he's doing is right, that he doesn't need to change course in Iraq.  John Kerry wants to change course.  He's convinced that what he's doing in health-care costs is right.

MS. MATALIN:  You can't just--OK, you're filibustering.

MR. CARVILLE:  He's laid it out in...

MS. MATALIN:  Tim, he's filibustering.  He has offered his--Senator Kerry has...

MR. CARVILLE:  Read his speech in Fulton, Missouri.

MS. MATALIN:  Every...

MR. CARVILLE:  Yeah.  No.  The...

MS. MATALIN:  Even The New York Times, even your flagship...

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.  He said...

MS. MATALIN:  ...New York Times said it was vague.

MR. CARVILLE:  No, it was not...

MS. MATALIN:  He's offered absolutely no alternative.

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.  Yeah.  Yeah.  He...

MS. MATALIN:  He has done nothing but bash the president.

MR. CARVILLE:  Again...

MS. MATALIN:  If you want change, you have to offer change.

MR. CARVILLE:  Again...

MS. MATALIN:  We're offering a choice.  We have an economic program that is working.  It's the strongest growing economy in 20 years.  We have a new foreign policy, a national policy for security, and it is working.  It will work.  We have to stay the course.

MR. CARVILLE:  Sure.  If you think it's working, vote for President Bush.  If you think you need a new direction laid out by Senator Kerry, a new direction in this country, a stronger America, a together America, then vote for Senator Kerry.

MS. MATALIN:  Oh, what a bumper sticker.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right, all right.  To be continued, but it is Mother's Day. And we're going to come back and talk about Mary Matlin's book, "Letters to My Daughters," and end this conversation on a little happier note with James and Mary.

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MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Mary Matalin, "Letters to My Daughters."  I went through this book very carefully last night.  I was most taken by the salutations of the chapters. Here's what you say to your daughters, in one, "Dear Precious Angels, Dear Bambinas, Dear Little Flirts, Dear Daddy's Girls."  And I love this P.S. in one of the letters:  "I don't hug the breath out of you and slobber-kiss you all over because of raging hormones.  I do it because you are my life.'

How hard was it to write letters like this to your daughters?

MS. MATALIN:  It was really a joy to--it was hard to write them, but it was a joy to have the finished product because you don't really think about all the things you want your kids to be left with until you sit down in front of a piece of paper, and it's one thing to throw out the parables and the life lessons and stuff.  But to really take what's happening in their lives at a point in time and tell them what values to guide them through that and into the future and how much you love them.

MR. RUSSERT:  And they really are Daddy's girls?

MS. MATALIN:  Well, he's pretty obsessed with them.  He's pretty obsessed with all the girls in his family.  Yeah, they are.

MR. CARVILLE:  I'm lucky I--and happy Mother's Day, by the way.  This is a big thing, but...

MS. MATALIN:  You've got me choked up, my gosh.  I can't even read the book.

MR. CARVILLE:  You know, Tim, I'd make a point here, that this Roundtable discussion of MEET THE PRESS, that we have gender diversity here because we've got "Big Russ and Me," about you and your dad, and we got Mary and her daughters, so we have generational and gender diversity here.  And my favorite story is the one we talked about, you told me about your dad getting his high school equivalency diploma, that he left high school to serve his country in World War II, was shot down in a bomber, and there's some incredible stories here.  So if it's your parents or your children, if it's a male or female right here on this Roundtable on MEET THE PRESS, there we got Republicans, Democrats, we got everything here.

MR. RUSSERT:  The operating thesis is the that older we get, the smarter our mother and father seem to get.

MS. MATALIN:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  And our kids better remember that as well.

MR. CARVILLE:  I am very, very dumb to my kids.  I can't do anything right. I know the feeling.

MR. RUSSERT:  Lots of luck.  Mary Matalin, "Letters to My Daughters."  Happy Mother's Day.  James Carville, be well.

We'll be right back.

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MR. RUSSERT:  That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.  And, of course, happy Mother's Day.

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