ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, the American original. For over three decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, HOST: Issue One: Cuba Libre.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba, and the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years. We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): It was a blockbuster announcement from President Obama. After 53 years of mutual rancor and estrangement, the U.S. and Cuba are now openly and officially paving the way for a full diplomatic relations. That means top government officials from both countries are talking to each other as President Obama did for 45 minutes on Tuesday with the Cuban president. It means the U.S. and Cuba will open embassies in each other's capitals.

Restrictions on travel and commerce will be eased. And where other cooperation is possible in the areas of migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, human trafficking, the U.S. will work with Cuba. And although the U.S. embargo on Cuba will remain in place, the U.S. imposed it in 1960 after communists took power, President Obama wants to work with Congress on a, quote-unquote, "serious debate about lifting the embargo".

This seismic shift towards Cuba came after several U.S.-Cuban confidence-building measures negotiated with the help of Canada and urged by Pope Francis. This included the release on humanitarian grounds of American prisoner Alan Gross. Mr. Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and convicted for seeking to establish secret access to the Internet for Cuban-Jews.

Gross was visibly happy Wednesday, back on U.S. soil, hours before the Obama announcement.

ALAN GROSS, FORMER USAID CONTRACTOR: And thank you, President Obama, for everything that you have done today and leading up to today.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: President Obama says the reason he is changing policy of isolating Cuba is that it has had, quote-unquote, "little effect".

Is that true, Pat?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: That's nonsense, John. The isolation of Cuba forced the Soviet Union to carry it 30 years and it’s helped bankrupt Soviet Union.

But I will say this: I think the president did a good deal on prisoner exchange. I think he gave away too much, the recognition aspect to the Cubans, which they desperately wanted. Cuba is in desperate straits. Russians don’t buy their sugar anymore, to the degree they did. They don’t get the oil. They’re not going to get it from Venezuela. So, they’re in desperate straits.

And Raul is coming to us. But I will say this: he’s going to get investment. He might get tourists dollars and the rest of it, but he is taking a tremendous risk when you get tens of thousands tourists, travelers, American visitors, Cuban-Americans, and folks coming out of Cuba, a real risk with the survival of his dictatorship and his police state down the road.


ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, that's exactly the point. Cuba cannot continue with the repressive regime that it's had once the country begins to open up and lots of people and ideas and investment comes flooding in.

The Castro brothers have been in power through many American presidents. Jimmy Carter established an intersection there when he was in office in the '70s. I think Bill Clinton tried to make some overtures.

President Obama did the bold thing -- the right thing, the historic thing. And, you know, I think it’s right for the Cuban people. It’s right for the world. And it ends the policy that has been such an anachronism.

MCLAUGHLIN: So, should he have done this without consulting with Congress beforehand? Here is the reason. The following statutes may have been broken by President Obama: the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Trading with the Enemy Act and the Helms-Burton Act that states "all prisoners must be released and free fair election held before resuming diplomatic relations," end of quote.

I don't want to be too precise about it, but should he have gone to Congress first and solved this problem?

TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/DAILY TELEGRAPH: Not necessarily. I think the real issue here is that the president has given away a lot. I think I agree with, you know, Pat and Eleanor that there was opportunity to have a change there. I mean, clearly, along the road at this point, the embargo is not having the effect that the people who are probably suffering most of the Cuban people.

But what I would have preferred to see from the president is a series of smaller steps that work in concert with Congress, bringing them on board. You know, giving embassy immediately I think loses some of the power that the United States could have in the progressive sense of doing economic development and then saying -- if you concede, Mr. Castro, in terms of opening Cuba and releasing some of those political prisoners, and then, we’ll get to the step.

But giving it all at once I think is bad because it loses influential power, and also, I think it sends a bad message to the rest of the world, places like Iran that actually you can get a lot of concessions and not a lot in return.

MCLAUGHLIN: Was it smart politics? Obama is trying to go the new Republican Congress into fighting him, hoping to throw it off course legislatively. This was a calculated move to create rancor.

MORT ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, I suppose among some members of the Republican Party, there will be political rancor. I don't think that's why the president was doing that. I think that's just an absolutely incorrect interpretation.

And I’ll go back to the reference to Russia. So, I’m going to quote something that Fidel Castro said to me. He said, we have excellent relation -- I asked him about his relationship with Russia. He says, "We have excellent relations, we have practically -- because we have practically none," he said. It’s like, he says -- I am quoting him now. "It's like a boyfriend that you break up with. You have no more problems." That's exactly the way he put it.

CLIFT: Well, you know, the critics say that the Castro regime was collapsing and why didn't we just let them collapse?

You know, it's not in U.S. interest to have that regime go down and turn into a chaotic situation. I read somewhere, we’d end up with a 800-mile airstrip for narco traffickers. This is the soft landing for the end of the Castro regime. Nobody is quite sure what comes next, but this certainly does open up the opportunity for more small D democratic principles to come into play.

BUCHANAN: John, that is true, but let me say this: China -- Nixon went to China and Mao continued with the madness of the cultural revolution and then the Chinese, what they did, they tried to open up, they brought in the investment, they bring in the capital, they bring all the manufacturing and everything, and try to maintain a police state dictatorship and they maintain their dictatorship very, very well.

This is what the Castro brothers are going to try to do. It's a very tough thing to do and they're, of course, much smaller and much closer.

CLIFT: And the rest of us are all going to be rushing to get to Cuba before it turns into Miami Beach, while it’s still that unspoiled, seemingly, place.


BUCHANAN: You think Cuba under Castro is an unspoiled, wonderful paradise?

CLIFT: The classic cars from the 1950s and '60s.


BUCHANAN: The cars will go a long way.

CLIFT: People want to see Cuba as it is before it becomes more developed.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK. Let’s see some of the objectives to this, notably, Marco Rubio.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama's moves to open full diplomatic relations with Cuba have incurred the wrath of some members of Congress. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American, is being one of them.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Today, by conceding to the oppressors, this president and this administration have let the people of Cuba down.

MCLAUGHLIN: Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the son of Cuban immigrant, thinks this:

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: I think it stinks. I think it’s wrong. I’m deeply disappointed in the president.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: what's the track record when diplomatic and trade relations are restored to authoritarian regimes? Does it really lead to democratic change, Pat?

BUCHANAN: Well, certainly, John, the -- as I mentioned with China, it eventually did. I mean, you got some change in China. Not a great deal.

With Stalin, you’d see the main big man has got to die, Stalin and Mao, and then you do get some change. But I do think integration with Eastern Europe during the Cold War which Nixon did going to Romania, and Reagan, they did (ph), that undermined those corrupt communist governments and eventually led to bringing them down.

CLIFT: Yes, you know, I appreciate the perspective of people like Marco Rubio and Senator Menendez. I mean, they’ve had -- their families had property taken from them. They have a very personal experience.

But they're battling history on this one. And you can't keep an iron clamp over this island nation. We were the only country supporting this embargo. It wasn't helping the United States and certainly wasn't helping the Cuban people.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, President Obama certainly changed the subject, didn’t he?


MCLAUGHLIN: How many times have you met with Castro?

ZUCKERMAN: I’ve met with him about seven or eight times, and on many occasions through an entire dinner.

MCLAUGHLIN: How far back does it go?

ZUCKERMAN: It goes back to over 20 years.

MCLAUGHLIN: How are you impressed by the man?

ZUCKERMAN: I’ll tell you that I found him to be an absolutely fascinating man, an extraordinary personality. He was wonderful to see the way he interacted with the people. He is the most dynamic speaker I have ever witnessed in my life.

And I saw -- and, by the way, I have to confess this: he was speaking in Spanish and I don't speak a word of Spanish. But the way he connected with his audience was like nothing I have ever seen.

MCLAUGHLIN: I attended a dinner party at your home with -- and he was there.

ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MCLAUGHLIN: The subject became theological. And I asked him about life thereafter and he spoke knowledgeably, hello (ph) to a laugh from the audience.

Before we leave Castro go, I want to point out that two people who have been working on this situation for a long time are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I am quoting from her book now. "In the face of a stonewall from the regime in Havana, President Obama and I proceeded to engage Cuban people rather than the government, based on lessons learned all over the world. We believe that the best way to bring change to Cuba would be to expose people to the values, information, and material comforts of the outside world."

Let me get to another place where she talks about --

BUCHANAN: That's good thinking, John, but this is where I disagree with Obama. He deliberately engaged the government there. He didn't engage the people.


ROGAN: And there are thousands of political prisoners suffering.


CLIFT: The president in his press conference on Friday announced that they had released some 50-odd prisoners.

ROGAN: Fifty, but there are thousands. This is nothing.

CLIFT: You were the one calling for things to be done incrementally. You are not going to have change overnight. It’s going to happen over a period time.

MCLAUGHLIN: What you’re seeing on this set is simply what was envisioned by Hillary Clinton.

Listen to this, "Every step of the way, we face vocal opposition from some members of Congress who wanted to keep Cuba in deep freeze, but I remain convinced that this kind of people-to-people engagement was the best way to encourage profoundly in the interest of the United States and the region."


MCLAUGHLIN: "So, I was pleased when we started to see change slowly creeping into the country."

BUCHANAN: OK, fine. Everybody agrees we’d like to see change.

But, John, do not forget, we are dealing with a pair of political criminals who created a prison --

MCLAUGHLIN: Let it go, Pat. Let it go.


BUCHANAN: They murdered thousands of people.

CLIFT: We deal with other oppressive regimes around the world. You cannot have everyone have Jeffersonian ideals and practices as a prerequisite for having any dialogue with them. It's easy to talk to your friends. You are supposed to talk to your enemies.

BUCHANAN: You don't need a dictator and murder as some kind of great hero.

CLIFT: I’m sure they --

ZUCKERMAN: Nobody’s presenting him the big great hero. We’re trying to take --

BUCHANAN: You had a nice dinner with him.

ZUCKERMAN: What’s that?

BUCHANAN: Didn’t you have a nice dinner with him?

ZUCKERMAN: I did. I had a very nice dinner with him and I didn't think he was --

MCLAUGHLIN: Answer the question.

ZUCKERMAN: I didn’t think, for example, he was on American television. What do you expect? I mean --

BUCHANAN: But just realize what we are dealing with. That's what I expect.

MCLAUGHLIN: Were you trained by Jesuits?


MCLAUGHLIN: So was Castro.

BUCHANAN: It worked out not well with Fidel.


MCLAUGHLIN: The question: will President Obama be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since revolution? Yes or no.

Now, be careful of your answer, Pat, because I think I know which way you’re going to go.

BUCHANAN: Not while Raul is in power, if Raul stays in power.

CLIFT: The president said in his press conference, it wasn't in the cards, but he pointed out that he is still a relatively young man and he does expect to visit Cuba at some point. He didn't promise before the end of his presidency.

MCLAUGHLIN: I’m going to tell you when. I’m going to tell you when.



ROGAN: I think he will visit but it will be close to the end of his administration.

MCLAUGHLIN: You stole my thinking.

BUCHANAN: After the election of 2016.

ROGAN: Because he wants it to be a legacy project and he doesn’t want to get domestic backlash.

ZUCKERMAN: Yes, a lot will depend on how the relationship evolves now, now that we’re sort of being more constructive with each other. And if it continues to seem to go well, then I think there is a better chance he will do it certainly towards the end of his administration or immediately afterwards.


MCLAUGHLIN: He is going do it during the lame duck session of his last administration between November and January.

ZUCKERMAN: Right, something like that. I agree with that.

BUCHANAN: You know, a future president might say don't go. You have a new president elected and he is going to go down there as an incumbent president?


CLIFT: If it’s a Democratic president, they’re not going to say, don’t go.

MCLAUGHLIN: Why would a new president want to do that?

BUCHANAN: I don't know but he might want his own policy on Cuba.

MCLAUGHLIN: Don’t forget the McLaughlin Group has its own Web site and you can Buchanan and his program or any program on the web, if you can take it at any time anywhere in the universe, even black holes at the Could anything be easier,, or more exhilarating?

When we come back: Hollywood bows to the dictator. What kind of message does this send?


MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Hollywood Gets Hacked.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): A movie is canceled and Hollywood is reeling. Sony Pictures has canceled the Christmas Day opening of the interview, a comedy about TV journalists who score interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then are asked by the CIA to assassinate him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The CIA would love it if you could take him out.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like for drinks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like to dinner?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take him out of town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, take him out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want us to kill the leader of North Korea?



MCLAUGHLIN: Sony decided to pull the plug on "The Interview" after several major theater chains announced they would not show the film. Hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace publicly threatened terrorist attacks against theaters that showed "The Interview". Guardians of Peace are believed by the U.S. government to be working for North Korea and have caused immense damage to Sony.

In November, the Guardians launched massive cyberattack on Sony computers. They stole thousands of confidential company documents and dumped it all on the internet for the world to see. The dump included Sony employees' personal data and their Social Security numbers, as well as early unreleased movie script of "Specter", the latest in the James Bond franchise.

The dump also included Sony executive e-mail exchanges that contain disparaging remarks about top Hollywood stars, notably Angelina Jolie and Leo DiCaprio, and derisive e-mails about President Obama.

Sony Pictures in a press release blasted hackers. Quote, "Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private e-mails and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale -- all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome", quote.


MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama on Friday said that Sony, quote, "made a mistake", unquote, by canceling the release of its film.

Question: Did Sony do the right thing in withholding film or did the studio crater to terroristic threats?

Tom Rogan?

ROGAN: I think they absolutely did the wrong thing. I think this is a real tragedy both at the level of this studio in a nutshell (ph). Could they have corporate interest to protect people? But there is nothing as intrinsic as the right to free speech, and this disgusting regime -- because that’s what it is -- hundreds of thousands of political prisoners left to starve to death, if you read some of the accounts in North Korea, has been able to coercively use cyber terrorism to scare a major American studio into preventing its artistic expression of free speech.

CLIFT: Sony is a Japanese-based company.


ROGAN: OK, but it’s an American picture.

CLIFT: It is an attack on Hollywood and I think the movie itself is a really dumb idea.

ROGAN: Well, that's not up to you, is it?

CLIFT: I think making a movie about assassination of a sitting head of state goes over the line.

ROGAN: There is no line.

CLIFT: Excuse me, please?

But having said that, I think the cancellation of the movie sets a terrible precedent and we are in a world here of economic blackmail. We have seen attacks on Target and various companies. You know, we're dealing in a world where we don't know very much and the White House is really struggling to come up with a proportional response.

BUCHANAN: John, I agree with Eleanor to this extent. Sony cratered. They did indeed.

But what a stupid thing you are dealing with, a North Korean leader who is about -- he’s a serious nut ball, what he did with his mentor uncle, he fed him to wild dogs, and you are portraying it as an assassination of him. He takes it as an insult to him like the ayatollah and others took all those cartoons of Muhammad with his head a bomb and the rest of it.

So, it’s stupid to do. But I do agree that Sony cratered on it.

MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. The distributors around the country, they yanked the film. Sony had no choice.

BUCHANAN: I can't blame the theater for not having any there -- they'll be sued to beat the band if something happens in a theater when they brought all those people in. And they consider the people in their theater as neighborhood folks.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, I must say I have a different view of it. There is clearly the threat of violence if they showed this film and if anybody had been killed or badly hurt, it is not worth it. You know, the fact is that you don't take the slightest chance of a catastrophic outcome. And this with -- showing this film in many, many different theaters, you would never be able to protect them if they sent in a half dozen people to create violence. So, I think that's one thing that's in my judgment appropriate.

MCLAUGHLIN: Will this open Hollywood to future intimidation, Mort?

ZUCKERMAN: It’s possible, it's possible. But you’re not going to have something like North Korea on the other side of the issue.

MCLAUGHLIN: But activist groups, terrorists, they’ll all do.

CLIFT: The thing is --

BUCHANAN: Hollywood's got responsibility too. And as I say, let's go back to the Islamic world. Who was that -- they made that --


BUCHANAN: Not just that. Down in Florida, that character, made some movie, wasn't responsible for Benghazi, but he was for riots all over the Middle East. People were getting killed.


MCLAUGHLIN: You remember, hold on. You remember in Denmark, there was -- there were cartoons of Muhammad.

BUCHANAN: There was a bomb -- they made the head of Muhammad a bomb.

MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Hundreds died in subsequent rioting around the world and paper’s editorial staff were targeted for death by Islamic activists. Few publications today would dare violate Muslim edict on depicting Muhammad.

And Sony’s decision to kill the film will be repercussions felt for many years ahead.

CLIFT: But the threats against moviegoers, the Homeland Security and FBI all said they were not credible. The North Koreans are full of lots of bluster. And so, I think you shouldn't give into that. And I think the president in his news conference said this isn't how we want to be doing business.

MCLAUGHLIN: If Mort were a president of Sony, would you have pulled it?

ZUCKERMAN: I would have. Yes, I would not have taken that kind of a risk.

BUCHANAN: Would you have made it?

ZUCKERMAN: Oh, I might have made the film.


BUCHANAN: He’s head blowing?

ROGAN: It is the very nature of our society.

BUCHANAN: The assassination of a foreign leader?

ZUCKERMAN: I probably would not have made it, OK? I just --

CLIFT: Yes, lots of scripts are rejected. And that should have been one of them.

MCLAUGHLIN: What will be the form of censorship arising from this event?

BUCHANAN: I don’t know. It’s self censorship. Exactly.

MCLAUGHLIN: Hollywood producers and writers will exercise self-censorship to get films made, avoiding anything that might be controversial to violence-minded terrorists, authoritarian regimes, political extremists and terrorists, to eviscerate the quality of our film.


BUCHANAN: John, there is political correctness in America now. They won't make all kinds of films that offend people.

MCLAUGHLIN: You are old school.

BUCHANAN: Look at the political correctness today. That's the main censorship in Hollywood.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Slaughter in Pakistan.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): The Pakistan Taliban this week attacked a school in the nation’s northwestern city of Peshawar. The school educates the children of military personnel. But terrorists went room to room, shooting and executing children in their classroom, two teachers, seven soldiers and at least 132 students lost their lives. Many more children were badly wounded. The Taliban claims the attack is retaliation for Pakistani army operation.

Pakistani politicians are outraged. The prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has called for a comprehensive campaign to rid the country of terrorism.

Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani school girl and a Nobel laureate, whom the Taliban previously attempted to murder, said this:

MALALA YOUSUFZAI, NOBEL LAUREATE: And now, it is time that we united and I call upon the international community, leaders in Pakistan, all political parties, and everyone that we should stand up together and fight against terrorism and we should make sure that every child gets safe and quality education.

MCLAUGHLIN: Was terrorists turning centers of learning into factories of death?

This is seen as a critical moment for Pakistan’s future. For many years, elements of the Pakistani government are known to have sheltered, supplied, and even directed certain terrorist groups, to use powerful proxy tools against India and Afghanistan.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf hinted that his nation would continue this strategy.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, FORMER PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: So therefore, please, the tactics of handling situations, the difference comes in when you start dictating micromanagement and the tactical modalities of handling the issue. That is where differences come in. And that is where you feel that we are not very trustworthy -- and we also feel you are not trustworthy.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question in the wake of this atrocity: will Pakistan’s army finish off the Taliban once and for all?

Before you answer that, will you tell us what he said?

ROGAN: Pervez Musharraf?


ROGAN: I think what he’s saying is that the Pakistani government is continuing or will continue to judge its relationship with different actors, terrorist groups, in a way that doesn’t always align with the United States. And so, don’t expect us to do what you want us to do on counterterrorism issues. But I don’t think, unfortunately, that this is going to change because, quite frankly, the Pakistani government, elements of the ISI, the intelligence service, have for a long time judged that it’s more important to use terrorist proxies against places like India or Afghanistan and the United States, rather than protect their people.

MCLAUGHLIN: Who is responsible for the attack?

ROGAN: Pakistani Taliban and it shows the nature of these groups, this version of political Islam blended with passion --


MCLAUGHLIN: Who heads up the Pakistani Taliban?

ROGAN: A guy called Fazlullah, who is a psycho, and it’s disgusting, but this is what you expect. It goes to the CIA program. These are the people we are dealing with. They don’t --

CLIFT: Well, the Afghan Taliban condemned the attack, as did other extremist groups. But it does call into question the Pakistani military, which is essentially the government, tries to distinguish between good extremist and bad extremist. And that may not be a viable policy going forward and I’ll bet the U.S.-sponsored drone attacks that go on with the tacit admission of the government will be increased.


MCLAUGHLIN: Weigh in, Pat. A great question for you: will the United States play any role in the hunting down of Pakistani Taliban?

BUCHANAN: Well, the United States will probably use its drones working with the government and the army.

But let me say this: the army and their sweeps through North Waziristan, there’s a lot of collateral damage of women and children and others that happens there, and what these Taliban horror show people are doing is saying, you can kill our women and children. We’re going to show and we’re going to do the exact same thing to you.

The purpose of terror, John, is to terrorize.

MCLAUGHLIN: The General John Campbell who heads of the Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. You’ve heard of him, correct?


MCLAUGHLIN: He is going to meet with the two Pakistani generals and Afghan President Ghani. U.S. forces will lend assistance to the effort to find and capture or kill the perpetrators. Pakistan has the bomb. India has the bomb.

CLIFT: But the bomb seems almost kind of an abstract object that is likely not to be used, where this ground-to-ground by terror groups is the order of the day and terrorizes on the ground a lot more than concept of a distant bomb that may never be used, hopefully will never be used.

MCLAUGHLIN: The president has announced the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan. Will this cure it?


CLIFT: No, absolutely.

ROGAN: No, I don’t know. It will be --

MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say?

ZUCKERMAN: No, I don’t think it will cure the problem at all.


MCLAUGHLIN: No, it will not.

Out of time. Happy Hanukkah.