Copyright© 2004, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."
MEET THE PRESS
Guests: Tom Brokaw, NBC News
Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State
Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House
Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.) Majority Whip
John Podesta, Former Clinton Chief of Staff
Ron Brownstein, Los Angeles Times
Gwen Ifill, PBS, "Washington Week"
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:
MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
(202) 885-4598, Sundays: (202) 885-4200
Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, June 27, 2004
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Iraq. This Wednesday, the Iraqis begin to govern themselves. But 138,000 American troops will still be on duty and in harm's way. What now? With us: the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright; the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich; the majority whip of the United States Senate, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; and former President Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta. Albright, Gingrich, McConnell and Podesta square off over Iraq.
An anonymous CIA agent speaks out.
"ANONYMOUS" CIA ANALYST: A major problem with the Iraq War is that it distracted us from the war against terrorism.
MR. RUSSERT: The new movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" plays to crowded theaters. And the Bubba book tour barnstorms America. How will all this affect the Bush vs. Kerry presidential race--128 days to go? With us: Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times and Gwen Ifill of PBS' "Washington Week."
But first, let's go live to Baghdad. We are joined by NBC's Tom Brokaw. Tom, on Wednesday, the turnover of self-government to the Iraqis. How tense is the situation in Iraq today?
MR. TOM BROKAW: Well, Tim, I think the most accurate way to describe it is that this is the storm before what they fear is an even larger storm that could be coming. The big worry here among all groups is that the insurgency now has very sophisticated what the military people call command and control. They could be joining up their groups and coordinating their attacks. We saw those simultaneous attacks across six cities earlier last week, and they don't know what to expect in the days before the turnover or immediately after. But I can tell you that there is a lot of tension here. At the same time, a lot of the people who are in the interim government, and even some people who've joined the new
army, say, "One year from now, we think we'll be in a lot better place." But as we have learned so often and so painfully in Iraq, it's hard to project 24 hours, much less 24 months in advance.
MR. RUSSERT: The new prime minister, Allawi, Tom, has said that elections may have to be postponed, that martial law may, in fact, have to be imposed. What are you hearing about that?
MR. BROKAW: Well, today I talked with Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, who is the most influential and prominent of the Shiite leaders, and also with Ahmad Chalabi, who's still here and still a player. And they both said, as prominent Shiites, you cannot postpone the elections, that, in fact, the one thing that the Iraqis have to look forward to is taking control of their own country. They think that that would be a prescription for disaster. In fact, it would be a victory for the insurgents. But again, it's very hard to know what will happen between now and next January, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: On Wednesday, do you believe that martial law will be imposed?
MR. BROKAW: I do think that there will be troops all over the streets here. The American forces are going to try to pull back into their garrisons. They'll use what patrols they can of the blue-shirted Iraqi police and the American patrols in strategic areas. But the White House is very determined that this week have what they're calling an Iraqi face. They want the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.
But there is that pragmatic concern: How do you secure a country the size of California that is effectively already caught in a form of a civil war? You have anarchy in areas like Fallujah, and the insurgents now able to strength throughout the length and breadth of this country, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Bottom line, Tom: Is the Iraqi silent majority, if you will--are Iraqis now willing to step forward, emotionally, psychologically, and begin to fight other Iraqis, kill other Iraqis in order to put down the insurgency?
MR. BROKAW: I think that's the real test, Tim. I think that they're counting on here, both in the United States military command and what is left of the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and, for that matter, the new interim government--they're counting on the Iraqi people running out of patience, reaching a tipping point, if you will, and beginning to push back very hard. You know, the Shia have a very substantial brigade of their own called the Badr Brigade. I wouldn't be surprised if we begin to see them getting involved in the fight against the insurgency. In the past several months, their hands have been tied, in effect, by the United States military here and by the CPA because they didn't want them to take up arms. But they're out there. And everybody in this country is armed. So the question is: Will they begin to fight back against al-Zarqawi and the other insurgent groups that are plainly moving at will across Iraq?
MR. RUSSERT: But our American viewers should know, Tom, that the United States military, 138,000 strong, is still going to be involved in very perilous operations.
MR. BROKAW: You know, I really think, Tim, that that's the issue that a lot of people have not focused enough on. We're giving up political power here on Wednesday, but the United States military will be here for at least another year. And I wouldn't be at all surprised, having talked to senior military people here in the last 48 hours or so, that from this end, they'll ask the Pentagon now for additional troops in the next several months because their task really was trying to maintain security here, trying to build up the old Iraqi army and the police force, trying to protect themselves and fight what is turning
out to be a very tenacious insurgency. You have 138,000 troops. Many of them have been extended on their tours and they're going to have a tough time staying through the summer months as stretched out as thin as they are in some areas.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom, you spoke earlier today with Ahmad Chalabi who had been a favorite of the Bush administration on the payroll of the Pentagon for some $350,000 a month until just recently, and you talked to him about weapons of mass destruction. Let's listen to your interview:
MR. BROKAW: You believe that there were weapons of mass destruction here and more were being developed.
DR. AHMAD CHALABI (Iraqi National Congress): I do, yes.
MR. BROKAW: Where are they?
DR. CHALABI: Well, I think they are hidden.
MR. BROKAW: You think they're still here?
DR. CHALABI: They are still here and it's a very big concern for us. One of the shells showed up in a terrorist attack two months ago I believe. I think there are munitions of chemical and biological munitions around. And I believe that there are stockpiles which are done. You have to remember that those things are small in size.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom, do others share Dr. Chalabi's view about WMD?
MR. BROKAW: So far we've not been able to find anybody who shares that view, but Dr. Chalabi believes that quite strongly and he continues to be a player here. He remains a powerful Shiite with connections and, of course, he still has a strong organization reaching all the way from Mosul in the north down to the south. He also said today he's very grateful to the American people and to those young men and women who gave their lives for the liberation of Iraq. I pointed out to him, however, that that's not why they came to war here. They came to war here, they were told, to save the United States
from the threat of Iraq. And he then responded by saying, "But it would be outlandish of anyone to suggest that it was my idea that they came here to protect America. I always talked about weapons of mass destruction and the importance of liberating Iraq." He said, "If they came to protect America, that's the fault of the CIA."
He plainly is at war with George Tenet. And as you know, Tim, in Washington, there's a battle royal going on between the Chalabi admirers who blame Tenet for his fix and those who say, "We've had enough of this guy. We've been paying him a lot of money and we were misled at various levels by him."
MR. RUSSERT: Tom, finally, in your private conversations with U.S. leadership over there, do they believe that Iraq can, in fact, be stabilized and emerge into some form of democracy?
MR. BROKAW: You know, Tim, I'm reminded of an old military saying by one of my friends at the highest ranks of military that hope is not a policy, but that's their hope. Their hope is that once the Iraqi people see that they have Iraqi people in positions of control and authority, it will change, if you will, the DNA of the resistance here to cooperate in a new Iraqi government. But this is always a complex place, and part of the problem with that equation is that a lot of the people who have positions of authority now were put there by the U.N. or by the United States. A number of them were exiles during
the Saddam regime, and on the streets of Baghdad, from the ground up, they say, "Hey, look, we suffered under Saddam's regime for 25 to 35 years. We want to be running our own country." So everyone is very suspect here.
And Iraq is divided up into so many parts, Tim, all at war with each other, tribal feuds, sectarian feuds of one kind or another, geographic feuds. And the question is: Can they get together with no tradition of democracy for the last 40 years and find a way out of this deep and bloody swamp that they're now in?
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Brokaw, we thank you for that report. We'll watch you all week long on "NBC Nightly News," and be safe.
Now, let's turn and talk to our assembled panel about the challenges, first of all, confronting George W. Bush, trying to maintain support for the war in Iraq. This is how Richard Stevenson wrote the challenge in The New York Times this week: "Banned biological and chemical weapons: none yet found. Percentage of Iraqis who view American-led forces as liberators: 2, according to a poll commissioned last month by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Number of possible Al Qaeda associates known to have
been in Iraq in recent years: one, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose links to the terrorist group and Mr. Hussein's government remain sketchy. That is the difficult reality Mr. Bush faces 15 months after ordering the invasion of Iraq."
Speaker Gingrich, you're in London. How does the president maintain support of the war in Iraq?
MR. NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think first of all, when you realize that President Putin of Russia publicly said last week that he had personally warned President Bush on several occasions that the Iraqis were planning terrorist attacks against the United States, I think that it's important to put in context that description you just read. The president of the United States had from a variety of sources reasons to worry about Iraq and, frankly, if today we had a attack that had biological weapons involved and we traced it back to Iraq, everybody would be screaming for the president's head for not having, after 9/11, been aggressive.
The problem we have in Iraq is the same as the problem we have in Afghanistan, where yesterday the Taliban hijacked a bus and killed 16 out of 17 Afghans, apparently because they had a voting card. And I think the president has to say to the country the truth, which is this is going to be a long war. It's a war between civilization and barbarism. The people who slit the throats and cut off the heads of television with happiness would kill millions of Americans. There's an al-Qaeda Web site that says it will take at least four million American death for al-Qaeda to succeed. They mean it.
And I would say to the critics of the plan, and I personally have been critical of parts of it, I'm delighted we're turning power over to the Iraqis. We should have done so a year ago, as we did in Afghanistan. But what is the alternative? If we're not going to stick it out in Iraq, if we're not going to stick it out in Afghanistan, then what was the lesson of 9/11?
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McConnell, the problem that the president faces is 54 percent of the American people now have said they are against the war in Iraq. They don't think it was a good idea. Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz said this this week, that he had "underestimated the violent tenacity of an insurgency. `If you want to say what might have been underestimated, I think there was probably too great a willingness to believe that once we got the 55 people on the blacklist, the rest of those killers would stop fighting.'"
And George Casey, the general who'll be in charge of the multinational force told Congress this on Thursday.
(Videotape, June 24, 2004):
GENERAL GEORGE CASEY: I think the insurgency is much stronger than I certainly would have anticipated. I think they've got support from external sources.
MR. RUSSERT: So if the American people say, "Mr. President, there are no weapons of mass destruction as promised. We are not greeted as liberators. The insurgency is much more ferocious." How long can the president go to the American people and ask them to stay the course?
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL, (R-KY): Well, you know, a more interesting poll really was the poll in The Washington Post Friday, an independent poll taken of Iraqi citizens, about how they feel about what's happening. Sixty-eight percent of the Iraqis feel that the new government is credible. Four out of five of them feel that things will be better in the future. The new prime minister has a 73 percent approval rating, something an American politician would die for. And if that's not good enough, the new president has an 84 percent approval rating.
My point is that people most directly affected by this at the moment are optimistic about their future, and the reason they are is because for 25 years they were slaughtered in large numbers by the government of that country. American public opinion ebbs and flows based upon our 24-hour news cycles. I think the challenge the president has in this election year is to step back and remind everybody of what has been accomplished since 9/11. Over 50 million people liberated, a new constitution in Afghanistan with elections coming in September, a new interim government, very popular in Iraq, with a new constitution to be drafted and elections to occur. And in Iraq all of this will occur within a thousand days, Tim. It took us 12 years in the United States to get from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution.
It is challenging in an election environment, when polls go up and down, to deal with this situation. But I think what the president needs to do is to remind everybody of how successful we've been to date. The final point I would make, no one would have predicted on September the 12th of 2001 that we wouldn't be attacked again here at home. And I think the fact that the president has gotten us on offense, has gone
after the terrorists where they are, is the principal reason that we've suffered no additional attacks, at least to this point, here in the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: There have been a lot of second-guessing of the war by Democrats, Madam Secretary. But this is the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998. And here's the language: "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq..." Passed by Congress, signed by President Clinton. And here's President Clinton in December 16 of 1998.
(Videotape, February 17, 1998):
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: What if he fails to comply and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost his will--its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And someday, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal.
MR. RUSSERT: That was the president in February of '98. That's exactly the challenge that George Bush seemed to encounter. Wouldn't President Clinton have also tried to eliminate Saddam Hussein the way President Bush did?
MS. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, we did call for regime change, but in a completely different way. There was no idea of a ground invasion. And if you remember, Tim, there was very heavy bombing in the no-fly zones and the sanctions in place and pressure internationally to get Saddam Hussein to comply. I think that President Bush won a great victory in the United Nations when he got the
inspectors back in. The thing that went wrong is that he did not allow those inspectors to do his job. And part of what's going on here is the administration is believing itself. So all this happy talk about what is happening in Iraq, I think, does not really reflect the reality of what Tom Brokaw has been talking about it, and what we've all seen, which is that--to use a diplomatic term of art--it's a mess. There is a completely chaotic situation there, and I think that everybody wants there to be success. I think that has to be absolutely clear. All Americans, Democrats and Republicans, want to see a success in Iraq. And what we have to do is to deal with the reality and not with what we would like to see happening. And on the 30th, from as far as I can see, we are going to be turning something over to somebody, but every day that we get news, it's a little unclear.
And I hope, Senator McConnell, that the prime minister of Iraq doesn't have to die for his high ratings, because there have been threats against him already. And he has a very, very difficult job ahead. And I think we should all try to be supportive of the new Iraqi government, and understand the fact that our troops are going to have to stay there, and that we do not as yet have enough international support to do the huge job that will come about of supporting Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think there's a possibility we could in effect "lose Iraq" and it could become a haven for terrorism the way Afghanistan did?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I sure hope not, because it would be even worse than what's happening in Afghanistan, given the location in the Middle East and the possibility of the spread of various terrorist networks out of Iraq and using that as a base. So I never did believe that there was a connection between al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and 9/11. But I now do think that Iraq has become a magnet and a gathering ground for terrorists. And the idea, and you raised this, that Iraqis are now going to have to sort out who's who among the Iraqis. And Prime Minister Allawi in an op-ed today talks about how he wants to provide some amnesty for the good Iraqis vs. the bad ones, and it's a very, very hard job ahead for all of us.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Podesta, you were Bill Clinton's chief of staff. Madame Secretary Albright described this as a mess. But isn't it a bipartisan mess? Congress voted overwhelmingly to support the president.
This was Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York, the former first lady, back in October of 2002: "It's clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological, chemical warfare and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all
too well, affects American security. This much is undisputed." And she voted for, in effect, the war.
John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president, stood on the floor of the Senate October 9, 2002, and said this.
(Videotape, October 9, 2002):
SENATOR JOHN KERRY, (D-MA): Mr. President, when I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein, because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat and a grave threat to our security and that of our allies in the Persian Gulf region.
MR. RUSSERT: John Kerry, Hillary Clinton both supported the war.
MR. JOHN PODESTA: Look, I think Democrats and Republicans wanted the president to have the authority to confront Saddam Hussein. They thought he was a dangerous character operating there. But I think that the question is: How was this matter prosecuted? They politicized the intelligence. They didn't listen to the people who had the greatest expertise, like Rick Shinseki, who said we needed a bigger force going in and to deal with the aftermath of Iraq. I think the reconstruction effort has been one of letting big contracts to U.S. contractors rather than trying to put people back to work. I think one of the most important and wrong decisions of the war was the decision to essentially send the entire Iraqi army home with their guns and disband it without any plan for reconstitution.
We now have an army in Iraq where 2,800 people have been trained, as against a goal of 40,000. We have 75,000 Iraqi police on the payroll, but only 2,800 of whom have been fully trained, according to the CPA reports. And, you know, when they get into a confrontation, they put their guns down, they go home. So that's where we are.
Do people--do Americans across the political spectrum want this to be a success? I think the answer is: Of course. I think that, as the secretary mentioned, if this descends into chaos, it's bad for the people of Iraq, it's bad for the region, it's bad for the country and it's bad for the world. But the question is: How did we get there and what do we do now?
MR. RUSSERT: When you say the intelligence was politicized, former President Clinton, as you heard, said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Hillary Clinton: weapons of mass destruction. John Kerry: weapons of mass destruction. Were they duped?
MR. PODESTA: I think that the--I think what ended up happening, what continues to this day, is evidence was cherry-picked, it was pushed up, it was--they were--the case was made to the American people that we had to go in right now. Don't let the weapons inspectors do their job, get in there and build the kind of international support that we needed. So the multilateral coalition that we could have had, I think, had the weapons inspectors been able to finish their job, wasn't there. But, as I said, we are where we are today.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McConnell, that's a strong charge: politicized intelligence, cherry-picked.
SEN. McCONNELL: Look, even the French, the Russians and the Germans and Secretary Albright believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Everybody believed it. That was the one thing everybody seemed to agree on before the war.
MR. RUSSERT: What happened?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, they haven't been found yet. But, I mean, the point is, if the president was wrong about weapons of mass destruction, everybody else was wrong about it, because everybody felt that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. And, of course, we knew that he had used them in the past against his own people and against the Iranians, so it was reasonable to make this assumption. And the intelligence agencies of all of these countries must have been wrong as well.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to show you an interview Andrea Mitchell did with someone called "Anonymous." He's a 22-year veteran of the CIA. He's written a book called "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism." This was on Wednesday. Let's listen.
"ANONYMOUS" CIA ANALYST: Bin Laden, I think, and al-Qaeda and other of America's enemies in the Islamic world certainly saw the invasion of Iraq as, if you would, a Christmas gift they always wanted and never expected to get. It validated what they all said about American aggressiveness against Islam. It made us the occupiers of the second holiest place for Muslims in the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Speaker Gingrich, that's a much larger view by a 22-year veteran of the CIA who believes that we, in effect, have given Osama bin Laden a gift by radicalizing a part of the world in even a more extreme form prior than it had been to the invasion of Iraq.
MR. GINGRICH: Well, let me say first of all that that view, if you read his book, is much more complicated than just that quote. He basically suggests that unless we're willing to give up the oil fields, we're willing to abandon Israel, we're willing to abandon every major government in the Arab world that we are in a total war with bin Laden, that we have to either win or die. If you read the whole book, he says this is harder--and I think this is the key point that you were driving at a minute ago, Tim. This is a mess, but somebody has to stand up and say, "You know, this a real war." This is not just some
game on television where the good guys get to go in and clean out the bad guys and it's all done in 30 minutes and we all go home and have a beer.
This is a real war with real enemies who genuinely want to kill us. They want to kill us in Saudi Arabia where they're working. They want to kill us in Turkey. They want to kill us in Pakistan. They want to kill us in Afghanistan. They want to kill us in Iraq. And as they proved on 9/11, if they can find a way to get here, they're going to try to kill us in the United States.
Now, in a real war from 1861 to '64, it was a mess. From 1939 to 1944, it was a mess. The other side gets to be on offense, too. And I think if the president has any specific need right now, it is to look the American people in the face and say, "Every time you watch somebody having their head sawn off on television, remember that the lesson of 9/11 is we have to stick this out and win."
And I would say back to friends on the other side: Would we really be safer today if Saddam was still in power? Would we really have a better world if Saddam were still in power? I don't think so. And that doesn't mean I agree with everything we've done in the last year, but it is in general in the right direction. And we had better hope that both in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and in Saudi Arabia and Iraq that the forces of civilization defeat the forces of barbarism.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to show you a graphic from the book that the speaker's referring to Anonymous "Imperial Hubris" where he talks about this worldwide Islamic insurgency and here's the graphic. "US leaders refused to accept the obvious. We are fighting a worldwide Islamic insurgency--not criminality or terrorism--and our policy and procedures have failed to make more than a modest dent in enemy forces. ... In the period since 11 September, the United States has dealt lethal blows to Al Qaeda's
leadership and--if official claims are true--have captured 3,000 Al Qaeda foot soldiers. At the same time, we have waged two failed half-wars and, in doing so, left Afghanistan and Iraq seething with anti-U.S. sentiment, fertile grounds for the expansion of Al Qaeda and kindred groups."
Secretary Albright, should it be recognized as a war in effect, as he says, "an Islamic insurgency that must be put down"?
MS. ALBRIGHT: I don't think I would see it that way. I think we clearly do not understand Islam completely and we have to figure out distinctions between those who also are victims of extremism and Islamic fundamentalism, jihadism. And what needs to happen here is that we have to try to get some of the Islamic countries to help us in this, which requires not only help within Iraq but also in other parts of the world. We cannot see this as a war of civilizations or civilization. It is being attacked clearly by barbaric aspects, but I don't think that we can see this fully in that way of just totally anti-Islam. I think we do not understand everything that's going on, and the thing that bothers me is it is clear that we have been capturing al-Qaeda terrorists but we do not know how many more are being created as a result of the activities.
And I'm very glad to see Saddam Hussein gone. That is good. But I'm not sure we're safer today than we were before. I think there are many aspects--homeland security has been working, but there's still a lot of holes in that. And I would say that the situation emanating from Iraq is more dangerous in terms of the number of terrorists that are out there and Afghanistan is half-finished job. We diverted our attention from Afghanistan to do a war of choice, not of necessity, in Iraq. The thing is now it is a necessity and not a choice to get it right in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McConnell, are we safer now?
SEN. McCONNELL: Absolutely. Let's take a look at the new government in Iraq. We're talking about the old government with Saddam Hussein. The new government out of 33 ministers, six are women, 17 are PhDs. The Iraqi ambassador of the United States, a woman, was in my office the other day. She is extremely optimistic about the future of her country. How in the world could anybody argue that we're not better off now than we were around 9/11 and right after that?
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Podesta, this is a political year, as we well know, as Senator McConnell mentioned the discussion is taking part in a political environment. How would John Kerry be any different than George Bush in dealing with Iraq right now, not a year ago but right now?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that Senator Kerry laid that out over the last couple of weeks, which is to say that he would stay there. I think he would try to finish this job. I think he would try to move the Iraqis into a position where they are having real elections and sovereignty is taking place. But I think that, you know, to say right now vs. a year ago is to miss something important, which is that John Kerry has, I think, a very different strategy, a very different outlook about the world, about the role of the United
States, about trying to strengthen our alliances around the world in attacking this very real problem, which the excerpt from the book you put up on the board indicates, which is how are we going to manage a problem that spans across many nations where this terrorist threat is rising again, to put it down? Do you do it by unilateral approach? Do you do it by ignore your alliances and your allies, or do you do it by trying to take the advantage, which quite frankly we had in the wake of 9/11, where people were
sympathetic to the United States and try to build a coalition including moderate Muslim, countries against the forces of chaos.
MR. RUSSERT: But would John Kerry do anything differently than George Bush right now, because that's the choice the American people have?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that you know, right now the president seems to be coming to John Kerry's position rather than Senator Kerry trying to define a new position. You saw Speaker Gingrich several months ago attacking people in the State Department. Now, we're embracing the people in the State Department. We've gone to the U.N. and gotten a Security Council resolution. The president is at the NATO summit trying to do something that John Kerry suggested four or five months ago which is to get NATO in trying to do the things that NATO can do, which is including training of the police and training of the security forces. So I think that the president is actually moving towards the Kerry position on this. But, you know, I think it's a difficult situation. We need to kind of manage it as we go forward.
MR. RUSSERT: Speaker Gingrich, I'll give you the last word, but does Mr. Podesta have a point? If you look at the Bush position, it is now embracing the international community much more actively. We had a representative from the United Nations in charge of negotiations who said some very blatant anti-Israeli things. We have embraced former members of the Saddam Hussein military and Ba'ath regime. We're negotiating with radical Islamics on the ground. Hasn't the Bush administration's position changed on Iraq?
MR. GINGRICH: I think it's evolved, and I think it should have evolved. I think things that they thought would work a year ago didn't work, and I think they would have been pretty stupid not to evolve. But let me go back to the core of this decision. Ninety-five percent of the Muslim world is with us in the broadest sense. They do not in the end want to live in dictatorships. They don't want to live in a world where women have no rights and are totally repressed. They don't want to have religious extremists
dominating them. But 5 percent willing to use bombs, willing to use knives and willing to use rifles can dominate the 95.
The question for the American people is are we prepared to stand with the moderate and traditional Muslims and defeat this worldwide insurgency? And if so, how can we do it best? I think while we're evolving these policies, you have to give President Bush a lot of credit for having had a lot of courage when everybody else had talked for a long time and nobody had done anything. In Afghanistan and in Iraq, he's acted, and I think in the long run, we're safer because of it.
MR. RUSSERT: I'll give you the last word, Madam Secretary. So we give George Bush a lot of credit, as Speaker Gingrich said?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think he has been resolute. But the bottom line is did we need the Iraq War at this time when we have not finished the war in Afghanistan, which I think was a legitimate response to what happened on 9/11, and I think there is a real question as to whether America is safer today than before. It's great that Saddam Hussein is gone, but we are seeing our forces under threat and people being beheaded. So I think there is a genuine question about the direction this is taking. And I wish the interim government of Iraq the very best, and we need to support it in every way we can because they are the hope and the future here.
MR. RUSSERT: To continued. Madeleine Albright, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, John Podesta, thank you all.
Coming next, our political roundtable. The Bill Clinton book, Gwen Ifill and Ron Brownstein will focus on it as well as "Fahrenheit 9/11" and Mr. Anonymous of the CIA. What effect will they have on the Bush-Kerry race 128 days ago. All coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: How do Ron Brownstein and Gwen Ifill see the issues affecting Campaign 2004 after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Ron Brownstein, Gwen Ifill, welcome. 2004, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. Everyone seems to acknowledge that that is going to be the central issue in this presidential race. I want to go back one more time to Andrea Mitchell's interview with Anonymous, the 22-year veteran from the CIA. Let's watch.
(Videotape, June 23, 2004):
"ANONYMOUS" CIA ANALYST: I think someone should have gone to the president when the discussion of going to Iraq was broached and have said, "Mr. President, this is something that can only help Osama bin Laden. Whatever the danger posed by Saddam, whatever weapons he had is almost irrelevant, in that the boost it would give to al-Qaeda was easily seen." And if that message wasn't delivered, then I think there was a mistake made.
MR. RUSSERT: Ron Brownstein, it seems to being framed as a war of choice, as a war of necessity. But can John Kerry effectively make that case having voted for the war?
MR. RON BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think Kerry has had trouble increasingly, as John Podesta suggested, as President Bush has moved to change some of his positions, rely more on the international community, it's been harder for John Kerry to establish a clear line of demarcation and distinction with the president's policies. But the quotes from Anonymous, in my experience talking to voters, really go right to the heart of this election. I really feel that as I've been out looking at the polls and also talking to people, I agree with you, Tim, Iraq overshadows everything else that the president has done in the minds of the voters. And it really comes down to this core question: Did we have to do it? Is it making us safer?
Our last L.A. Times poll, almost 85 percent of the people who said the war was worth it, said they were voting for Bush; almost 85 percent of the people who said it was not worth it were voting for John Kerry. It's a fundamental dividing line in the electorate. It may be that John Kerry doesn't--what he says is not that important one way or the other. But people really are reacting to the decision the president made and how they feel about it.
MR. RUSSERT: Dominant issue?
MS. GWEN IFILL: Of course it's a dominant issue. But I'm struck, even with the anonymous book and with all the other conversations which we just had here today, how much we're talking about the past, how much we're still having this debate about whether we should have gone, what we should have done, instead of this turning point. What the Bush administration obviously wants to do--I talked to Condoleezza Rice this week, and one of the things--you can hear their line where they're talking about what's happening in the future. They're spinning everything forward, past this turning point on Wednesday with the hand-over, when at the very least they're hoping people won't be asking them the
questions when things go wrong. That's the very least they can hope.
But the fact that we keep--that there have been so many--there's been so much bad news, that the insurgency has risen, that the weapons were never found, and that we're still raising these questions, and yet President Bush is still neck and neck with John Kerry, tells you that, even though Iraq is a determining factor, it's not yet--it's not putting the president out of the race at all.
MR. RUSSERT: There's a new movie, as we all well know, "Fahrenheit 9/11" by Michael Moore, which is playing to packed houses. Gwen, you've seen the movie. What's your sense?
MS. IFILL: You know, I look at this movie as a journalist, and as a journalist I have this affection for facts and accuracy. And even though there are facts in this movie, on whole it's not accurate. Michael Moore is guilty of the same thing that he and a lot of Democrats say that the Republicans are guilty of, especially on the Iraq-9/11 connection, and that's--I call it guilt by juxtaposition. You put several facts out there then and say to the viewer, "How could this not be true?"
The president, according to Democrats, did that with 9/11. He said, "Well, there was terrorism on 9/11. There's terrorism in Afghanistan. And we know that Saddam Hussein consorted with terrorists, and you make the conclusion." Michael Moore is doing the same thing. He's saying, "Well, look at the president and the Saudis. They were all friendly." You see a lot of pictures of him shaking hands with people wearing turbans. You raise mysterious questions about that, never completely answer them, and then
leave with a lot of, I think, fairly cheap shots at this administration, which makes it a movie, but it doesn't make it fact.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I have a more complicated view of it, I think. I don't think you go to Michael Moore for fair and balanced any more than you go to the other people who use that slogan for fair and balanced. As--it's over the top in many respects. The allegations about the Saudi flights, Dick Clark and the 9-11 Commission, for example, who have not been apologists for President Bush, reached very different conclusions. But I think the movie is much more successful in telling human stories than political stories. And the second half of the movie, when he focuses on the impact, the cost of the war in Iraq, both in Iraq and in the U.S., although there are quibbles--you can have quarrels with him on that front as well--the theater that I was in, you could really hear a pin drop for the second half of the movie. I could barely hear people breathing. And I think it really is no crime to remind people every so often that war is hell. And that's what this movie does very effectively when it focuses on the human story rather than the political story, which I agree is a bit overwrought at times.
MR. RUSSERT: A conservative group has filed an action with the Federal Election Commission saying the ads for the movie are, in effect, political ads against George Bush and should not be allowed. A well-known producer said to me yesterday, "Maybe this is the wave of the future."
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Michael Moore will make a movie, conservatives will make a movie, and they'll be able to put forward a--push a political viewpoint in the theater houses.
MS. IFILL: And guess what? Moviegoers are smart enough to decide what it is they believe. The thing about the fair and balanced thing--I mean, the truth--people really can decide if you give them the facts. And the interesting thing about this book--and you're right, pin drop, very effective story about a woman who lost her son is part of this movie. But you know what? The truth is, people who made up their minds and don't like President Bush are going to come away still not liking President Bush. People who
made up their minds and like President Bush think this movie is terrible--I mean, lawsuits aside. And people in the middle, I don't know if this is going to change any minds.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Yeah. It feels like the debate between the parties is getting so intense that it's spilling over the banks that we've cut out for it.
MS. IFILL: Yeah.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I mean, traditionally they've been arguing, first in print and daily and weekly newspapers, cable TV and talk radio, Sunday shows like this--now look at the best-seller list. Both sides, really, starting under Clinton--Republican and conservatives systematically reaching an audience with anti-Clinton books. We've seen in the late '90s people thought it was only conservatives' books, but there's obviously an audience for liberal books...
MS. IFILL: Right.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...as well; now the movies. There will be a documentary about John Kerry, as well, in addition to this. So there is clearly sort of a broadening of this argument out into pop culture. And the striking thing, I think--Gwen is right--is that, you know, if you look at how divided this electorate is--and that's one reason why John Kerry and George Bush are so close together--the last 5 or 6 or 7 percent, the ones who will probably decide this, are the ones who are probably least likely to be affected by any of this. But nonetheless, I think it's reflective, like the enormous amounts of money the candidates have raised, there's a lot of passion out there, Tim, and there's a big audience for political argument at this point in our history.
MR. RUSSERT: My sense is we'll stop using the term documentary because Michael Moore, in his own words, is a provocateur, a propagandist, a pamphleteer, whatever. They exist on the left and they exist on the right.
MS. IFILL: Well, as David Brooks pointed out in The New York Times yesterday, in Europe, Michael Moore goes about very widely bashing America and bashing Americans as being stupid and not knowing how to put one foot in front of the other and he's received like a conquering hero. They love this. They want to hear this. Now, that's fine. They think he's a documentarian. They think he is bringing them facts. Now, they don't vote in American elections, but there is a wider question to be raised about the impact of Americans who take that abroad in a time of war.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And the Bush campaign wants to make the Kerry campaign answer for some of these charges. I mean, they've begun to talk about a coalition of the wild-eyed, trying to identify and link John Kerry to some of the more extreme critiques from elements of the Democratic Party and it can be a problem as it was for Wes Clark during the primaries when we were in New Hampshire talking about this when Michael Moore accused President Bush of desertion. So, you know, this is a powerful statement. It's going to reach a portion of the public, but it may also cause problems with others.
MR. RUSSERT: Here's someone else who's barnstorming across the country: William Jefferson Clinton. There he is on his book tour signing books, greeting people. He was interviewed by Katie Couric the other day on the "Today" show and this is what the former president had to say.
(Videotape, June 23, 2004):
MR. CLINTON: After 1968, they thought there would never be another Democratic president. They thought the only reason Jimmy Carter was elected was because of Watergate. And they really believed when I won, it erupted the national order of things, but I don't quarrel with that and I don't think that Starr believes he's a bad man. I think he believes he's a good, God-fearing Christian man who was driving an infidel from the temple. But his goal was to drive me from office whether I committed a crime or not. The American people need to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: "Interrupted national order," "drive me from office." That's the way President Clinton is using this book to frame history by saying he withstood an attempted coup against his Democratic administration.
MS. IFILL: You know, we spend a lot of time talking these days about how divided the country is. And I think we can probably fairly trace it back to the Clinton years, not that it's Bill Clinton's fault, but you can definitely say that this kind of split developed and deepened at that time when people began to dig their heels in and not listen to the other point of view. And to that degree, Bill Clinton is right. But it's been fascinating to watch him re-define it. Instead of saying, "This was all a terrible thing and I'm ashamed of it," saying, "No, it's a badge of honor. And I was the person who was going to face it down." Now, I don't know if that actually helps or hurts John Kerry, but it makes it a very interesting year with Bill Clinton kind of out there stirring the pot that way.
MR. RUSSERT: What does it do with the Kerry race? Does it suffocate the Kerry message? Does it remind people of Bill Clinton which is a plus with Democrats and a negative...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, well...
MR. RUSSERT: ...with Independents or Republicans? What...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...let's pause it that in the end, given what we've been talking about for the first 45 minutes of this show, this election is going to be about John Kerry and George Bush and in particular the strategy on defending the country in the age of global terror.
So all of this is going to be at the margin like the Ronald Reagan funeral, but I've got to think that the John Kerry campaign and Democrats in general would rather have Bill Clinton out there talking about 23 million jobs, deficit to surplus, largest reduction of poverty since the 1960s and not trying to refight the question of whether he was properly impeached and work out his own sort of personal demons, which he talks about what led to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I mean, Clinton is clear--people wondered about whether John Kerry and Bill Clinton were sort of coordinating on this. The answer has to be no because this would not be the message that Democrats want to hear. This is not the part of the Clinton presidency they really wanted to see relived in the middle of a presidential campaign.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about Bush vs. Kerry 128 days ago. Why is it so close? I'll have more from Ron Brownstein and Gwen Ifill after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Ron Fournier, a great political reporter for the Associated Press, wrote it this way: "Bush Afloat Despite Bad News. From his unremarkable State of the Union address to the 360th slain U.S. soldier in Iraq,
this has been a disastrous year for President Bush, and yet he's tied with John Kerry in his race for re-election. How can that be? Democrats say it's only a matter of time before events take their toll on Bush. His job approval rating is at a dangerously low level for an incumbent, and a majority of Americans believe their country is on the wrong track. Republicans say it's a sign of weakness that Kerry hasn't pulled ahead during Bush's slump. The Massachusetts senator's personal approval ratings are almost as low as the president's thanks to an $80 million Bush campaign commercials that labeled Kerry a flip-flopping, tax-raising, soft-on-terrorism liberal. Independent analysts say at least 80 percent of voters are partisan--they picked sides long ago--are evenly split between Bush and Kerry. That leaves a precious few swing voters waiting to tip the balance. While they are increasingly disenchanted with Bush's performance, swing voters seem in no rush to judgment."
MS. IFILL: Well, only we want to figure this out in June, you know? Everybody else is willing to wait and see what happens at the conventions. And everybody else is also going to be driven more by things like--I saw Billy Crystal the other day at a fund-raiser for John Kerry, big John Kerry supporter says to him "If you're having a good time, make sure you tell your face." I mean, it's going to be--the fact that you can flip that. Why isn't John Kerry doing better if Bush is doing so well? Not why is Bush doing so poorly? And if you look at it that way, you realize folks are going to wait until after they've seen conventions, after they've seen running mates. And the thing we as reporters hate the most, the great unknowns, which is what's going to happen on the ground in Iraq, which is going to make this all change by August.
MR. RUSSERT: And three presidential debates.
MS. IFILL: Absolutely.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: John Kerry has not lit the world on fire. He really, you know, is still, I think, struggling to find his message. He's in the off-Broadway period. He has time till the convention. Historically, Tim, it's hard for the challenger before the convention to really drive a systematic, coherent impression on the American public. The bottom line, as Ron Fournier's article suggests, though, is President Bush's approval rating and the sense of the right, whether the country is on the right track. If those numbers don't improve, and they will have to improve from events on the ground, primarily in Iraq, if they don't improve by the fall, President Bush will be facing an uphill challenge regardless, I think, of how people feel about John Kerry because my sense, history and just talking to voters this year is, President Bush is dominating this election pro or con, and if he cannot improve the verdict on him a little bit, it's going to be tough.
MR. RUSSERT: Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, incumbents, all won big. Carter, former President Bush, lost big. And people seem to make a decision at the end, whether keep 'em or get rid of 'em.
MS. IFILL: I know. What are we going to do all summer, Tim?
MR. RUSSERT: That has to the last word, Gwen Ifill. Why did you have to say that?
MS. IFILL: Depressing, I know.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: There's a Senate race, too.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt. Then the "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw. That's all for today. We'll be back next week at a special early time, 8 a.m. Eastern, right before the Wimbledon tennis finals.
If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints