ANNOUNCER: GE is proud to support the McLaughlin Group. From plastics to power generation, GE: We bring good things to life.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: We told you so.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee): (From videotape.) Unacceptable, dangerous levels of criminal activity continue and put our troops and many others at risk.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kosovo, a war-torn province the size of Connecticut, is inhabited by 37,000 NATO troops, roughly 10 soldiers for every square mile, if distributed. But despite the soldiery, violence and cruelty in Kosovo is spiraling out of control. Lawlessness and ethnic hatred run rampant, and U.S. policy is little more than a failed attempt to keep Kosovo out of the newspapers.

Six thousand U.S. troops in the chaotic province are now in constant danger of being dragged into a shooting war between Albanians and Serbs.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (commander, NATO): (From videotape.) But this has been historically a violent society, and that's why we need police there -- because many of these are crimes, and they can be best dealt with by police.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: During the first six months in the vicinity of the U.S. troops in KFOR, there were 615 incidents of hostile fire, 15 mortar or recoilless rifle attacks, 20 altercations with unruly crowds, 129 grenade attacks, and 58 mine strikes.

Get this: American soldiers today are fighting against the same people that they fought to protect last year, namely Kosovar Albanians. Would you believe it? This week U.S. troops raided Albanian strongholds for the first time, seizing over 22 crates of guns, plus bombs and hand grenades.

The KLA, Kosovo Liberation Army, supposedly disbanded, has been massing on the Serbian border, making cross-border strikes, then retreating behind American military protection. American troops now have the task of fighting both angry Serbs and vengeance-seeking Albanians, while still pursuing the basic goal of defending innocent civilians.

Senate Armed Services Chair John Warner sees only one option: get our troops out of this dangerous, bloated mess -- brought on, some believe, by the flawed and arrogant foreign policy of William Clinton and Tony Blair.

SEN. WARNER: (From videotape.) It is up to the president and his military advisers to decide how best a safe, orderly, and phased withdrawal should be done.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Will we see our first American body bags out of Kosovo before summer, Michael?

MR. BARONE: Well, the fact is, John, there's always the possibility of a death in a military force that's occupying a country, particularly where there's levels of violence and where there's hostilities going on. I mean, we went into this -- Kosovo -- with the sort of unrealistic goal of saying we were going to continue making it part of Serbia, we were going to have a multiethnic society and everything else.

As a practical matter, it's clear that what really has to be done there is -- to work, is what was done in Bosnia, Ambassador Holbrooke negotiated in '95, which is, in effect, a partition in all but words, and separating people of these different hostile groups on opposite sides of lines, so they can live within them relatively peacefully, and so that the peacekeeping duties are much less strenuous and dangerous.


MS. CLIFT: Yeah, I think Michael's right. Now is not the time to turn tail, but it is time to give up the unrealistic fantasy that this would be a multiethnic, democratic state. And partition is probably the interim answer.

I also think the moral argument against independence is probably not so strong anymore. Milosevic is an indicted war criminal. It looks like he's going to stay in power for some time. It's awfully hard to argue that Kosovo should remain a republic attached to Serbia.

The problem is, once you start granting independence, where do you stop? East Timor wants it as well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Macedonia.

MS. CLIFT: That's the problem. Exactly.


MR. BARONE: The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, John; let's get the title correct.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. We can see all kinds of problems.

Is this a presidential issue, John Fund?

MR. FUND: When I was in Kosovo, one thing I learned is the population there is acutely aware of the American election calendar and how they can influence events. There could be incidents leading up to this election because there are a lot of people there who want a lot more American troops there or want them out. Either side could create incidents that can inject themselves right in the middle of the presidential debates.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will it be an election issue as to whether the Clinton-Clark policy has made this -- and Blair policy has made this situation so much worse than it would have been?

MR. FUND: Only if there are body bags or a Somalia-type situation in which American troops are once again kidnapped or held hostage or humiliated.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So where does it redound, to whom? Does it redound to the good of Gore politically or the good of Bush politically? Obviously, it helps Gore, doesn't it?

MR. FUND: If there is trouble, Clinton is clearly identified with this foreign policy, for better or for worse.

MR. PAGE: Well, sadly enough, foreign policy does not play that big of a role in our domestic politics, especially in these times, unless, as John says, we do see body bags. We have not seen them up until now, which is remarkable in itself for what has turned into a police action and the danger of mission creep has been hovering over this entire operation. We do need to look at something that stabilizes Kosovo in the long term, and certainly partitioning is an interim answer.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is Bush's position on Kosovo? Does anybody know?

MR. BARONE: He talks at some length -- he supported the initial policy last year. He talks often on the campaign trail that the United States should be the peacemakers but not the peacekeepers, we should -- evidently he means that we should help people negotiate, but that the troops maintaining these arrangements should be taken, in this case, from the European allies. Now, how, exactly, a President George W. Bush would negotiate that and get that done is not entirely clear, but that's what he says is his goal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Bush can make the case that Americans have been duped by Clinton on Kosovo? Do you?

MS. CLIFT: First of all, George Bush does suggest that American troops are in too many places around the world.


MS. CLIFT: But when asked where he would remove them, as far as I can tell, he's pretty cagey.

I don't think there's that much difference between George Bush and Bill Clinton on foreign policy. And the fact is that if you're the only super-power, you're going to be faced with a lot of these intractable, messy circumstances around the world where the best you can do is keep the lid on. And I don't know if Bush, if he gets elected, would want to be responsible for withdrawing the U.S. presence over there and watching what happens when there are no police.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What we have there now is anarchy. There are no civic institutions. There's no judicial system. It's just chaos.

MR. BARONE: Well, that's true in a large number of places on the globe, John. It's true down near Chechnya, it's true in southern Colombia --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, well, of course, there are 6,000 Americans, and Clark on Thursday asked or another battalion of 800, and the Pentagon says no.

MR. PAGE: Well, the one element you haven't mentioned, John, is television, which is what, unfortunately, has driven foreign policy in areas like Kosovo. We have all the other trouble spots around the world, Sudan and others, where we don't have TV cameras, so we don't have American involvement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think the issue is back.

Exit: At the end of G.W. Bush's first term in 2005, John -- (laughs) -- yeah.

MR. FUND: Presumptuous, aren't we?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The question is, will American troops still be in Kosovo? Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: I think not. And I think not even if it's the end of the first Gore term.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Remember, now, that Warner wants them out in 18 months, a solid deadline. What do you say?

MS. CLIFT: If they're there, they will still be a very tiny portion of a European-led force.

MR. FUND: Skeleton force of 100 to 200 men.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's all?

MR. PAGE: I would agree. As we get toward those real lame-duck days of the Clinton years, that would be the best time to pull out as quietly as possible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think they're going to be there in at least the number that they are there today.

Last week on, we asked, "What will John McCain's formidable army of independent voters do in the general election? A, vote for Gore; B, vote for Bush; C, stay home?" Get this: 22 percent, Gore; 62 percent, Bush; 16 percent, stay home.

When we come back, in this week's volleys between the NRA and the White House, who scored the more, Clinton or LaPierre?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Scapegoating guns.

WAYNE LAPIERRE (NRA executive director): (From videotape.) I've come to believe he needs a certain level of violence in this country, he's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda. And the vice president, too.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) Well, he could say that on television, I guess. I'd like to see him look into the eyes of little Kayla Rolland's mother and say that, or the parents at Columbine or Springfield, Oregon, or Jonesboro, Arkansas, or the families of those people that were shot in Memphis.

WAYNE LAPIERRE (NRA executive director): (From videotape.) The key question here for the president is, has he looked into the eyes of Ricky Byrdsong's family, because that blood is on his hands.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ricky Byrdsong was a Northwestern University basketball coach shot and killed last year by a man who illegally tried to buy a gun but was not prosecuted for it. President Clinton blames guns for Byrdsong's death and the shooting deaths of others. Wayne LaPierre, NRA, National Rifle Association executive director, blames Clinton for not enforcing existing gun laws, like the one above.

The debate over gun control grew nasty this week, drawing in Vice President Gore.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (From videotape.) And I believe that Mr. LaPierre's comment reveals a kind of sickness at the very heart of the NRA.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Whether NRA members are sick or not, many believe LaPierre's argument goes to the heart of the problem. Simply put, Mr. Clinton does not enforce guns laws: between 1992 and 1998, one, prosecutorial referrals, for crimes committed with guns, down 44 percent; two, prosecutions of those referrals down 40 percent; three, convictions in those prosecutions down 31 percent.

So the president's answer, scapegoating guns and piling law upon unenforced law, as the NRA see it, does little or nothing to stop shooting deaths like that of a 6-year-old girl by her 6-year-old boy classmate in Michigan, two weeks ago.

When the president was asked about the killing in a 15-minute interview on "The Today Show" the day after the shooting, he spoke exclusively about guns; nothing about the drug environment, nothing about the family collapse, nothing about violence on television or in motion pictures.

Yet in the case of Dedric Owens, who brought a gun to school and accidentally shot Kayla Rolland, both age 6, one finds: one, an incarcerated parent, a father in prison on a parole violation; two, a homeless mom, a drug-addicted mother evicted from her home with her 6-year-old son, who did the shooting; three, a drug-dealing uncle -- the boy put in a known crack house with the uncle.

Question: Would you repeat the point that the NRA is trying to make, and assess its validity, John Fund?

MR. FUND: The NRA believes that guns commit these crimes, not people; and ultimately --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or the other way around. (Laughter.)

MR. FUND: -- I am sorry -- people commit these crimes, not guns. And ultimately, if you prosecute gun crimes and put these people behind bars, you are going to have a lower crime rate. Project Exile of Richmond, Virginia, has shown that.

When I was in Denver recently, the Democratic U.S. Attorney met with the NRA. The NRA is sponsoring and paying for a project for zero tolerance on federal gun crimes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. In Richmond, Virginia, in the core city, federal prosecutors vigorously prosecute crimes committed with guns. And the murder rate has dropped almost 60 percent in two years.

MR. PAGE: But murder rates have dropped across the country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, the NRA is taking $50 million --

MR. PAGE: Murder rates have dropped across the country.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but this has dropped way in excess of --

MR. BARONE: That's a pretty extraordinary drop.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's not hear that phony argument. Richmond is --

MR. PAGE: Let's not hear that phony argument! (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Richmond is a deep drop --

MR. PAGE: Look, you cannot single out --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They don't drop 60 percent across the country.

(Cross talk.)

MR. PAGE: Look, Virginia also -- Virginia also has a one-gun per month --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's unusual, is it not?

(Cross talk.)

MR. FUND: It's 36 percent across the country.


MR. FUND: It's 36 percent across the country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thirty-six -- about twice in Richmond, Virginia.

MR. PAGE: In some areas, crime went up; in other areas, it went down. But Virginia also has a one-gun-a-month sale limit. Had Illinois had that, this young man -- this young racist who shot Ricky Birdsong wouldn't have been able to have bought the second gun he tried to buy.

MR. FUND: He bought the second gun illegally.

MR. PAGE: There are reasons --

(Cross talk.)

MR. FORD: He bought the second gun --

MR. PAGE: Yeah, he bought other -- (inaudible) -- though, bought his guns legally. That's my point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the president justified in this exclusive, necessary but not necessarily -- it should not necessarily be exclusive -- obsession, fixation on guns and guns alone?

MR. BARONE: Well, John --

MS. CLIFT: It --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment!


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about family structure? What about the entertainment industry? What about the drug culture?

MR. BARONE: Well, you're sure not going to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't they play a -- don't we need a --

MR. BARONE: -- you're not going to hear Bill --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- multidimensional attack on this problem?

MR. BARONE: John, you're not going hear Bill --

MR. PAGE: Yes, we do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, why don't we get it from the White House?

MR. PAGE: Including gun enforcement and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course.

MR. PAGE: -- and some additional gun regulations, we don't have now.

MR. BARONE: John, you're not going to -- we're not going to hear Bill Clinton assailing all his friends in Hollywood on this one. That's for sure.

I think Wayne Pierre -- LaPierre was wrong to say that Bill Clinton welcomes violence. I think that was over the top.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think we all feel he was over the top, and you don't get anything by calling a Clinton a liar in this context.

MR. BARONE: But I think that it's obvious that the footage that you showed of Clinton on the morning after this death in Mount Morris, Michigan, shows that immediate -- that the response of this White House -- and perhaps a poll-driven response -- is that any time there's a violent incident, it is the fault of the gun laws.

This young boy was living in a criminal environment and so forth. To add one more law, when the relatives that had custody of him were violating dozens of felony laws a day, would not have prevented this horrible tragedy. Hundreds of thousands and millions of people in Michigan have guns legally. Nobody gets hurt from them.

(Cross talk.)

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible) -- problems doesn't solve the problem either.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. My question to you is this: Is the preoccupation, the intensity of focus, on guns by Clinton a political contrivance?

MR. BARONE: I think that there is a disproportion between the -- his rhetoric, which suggests that you could -- if you just got -- changed one little gun law a jot and tittle, everything would be fine.


MR. BARONE: But between -- the effect of that is different from what --

(Cross talk, laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: Are we done with the NRA documentary yet?

MR. PAGE: (Off mike.)

MS. CLIFT: Second of all, Mr. Byrdsong, that -- the prosecution there was a state prosecution; that wasn't the fault of federal laws.

Sure, we need tougher prosecution. But this country is awash in guns, and the easy availability of guns is a huge problem. Until we as a society are ready to say, "Guns don't kill" --

MR. FUND: Eleanor, but we have 250 million --

MS. CLIFT: -- wait, let me finish.


MS. CLIFT: John, it is my turn.

MR. PAGE: Let her finish, John.

MS. CLIFT: It is my turn. "Guns don't kill people; 6-year-olds do." Other industrialized countries have societal ills, too, and they don't have the murders that we have here. Guns is something we need to fix. We need to look at everything else, too, but we need to start with guns.

MR. BARONE: Eleanor, do you want to get rid of them entirely? Because what you're talking about only really works if you get rid of them entirely --

MS. CLIFT: I'm not talking about getting rid of your guns to shoot quail.

(Cross talk.)

MR. PAGE: Can I just finish one quick answer to your question with Michael?


MR. PAGE: And that is, you know, Clinton, if he is exploiting the issue, he's the only one.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. PAGE: LaPierre and the NRA say their membership has gone up since he started making his flamboyant statements. So they can't lose from that vantage point.

The problem is, in Congress you've got over 30 Republicans who this week called for this bill to come to the floor --


MR. PAGE: -- so they can try to compromise -- or not to the floor, but the conference committee -- they can compromise and get it off the table, because they know it's a loser in November.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Let me say that I think Smith & Wesson this week are doing us a great service in putting those trigger locks on.

MR. PAGE: I agree.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But I think the totality of focus by the president of the United States and failing to use the bully pulpit in connection with family structure and the cohesion that is sorely needed, and the entertainment industry, and the drug culture, which all contribute vastly and perhaps even more than guns --

MR. PAGE: No argument there, John, but that doesn't let guns off the hook.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- even more than guns.

MS. CLIFT: That's -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That doesn't him off the hook.

MR. PAGE: Guns are one thing that is common to all these crimes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he's got to stop making this his whipping boy --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- because it's such a clear political contrivance.

MS. CLIFT: No. He knows when you make a stand --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to get out. Exit: Who scored more bull's-eyes in this week's volleys between the NRA and the White House, Clinton or LaPierre?

MR. BARONE: Oh, I think this week Clinton did.


MS. CLIFT: The president did. And the soccer moms will be heard from in November. (Chuckles.)

MR. FUND: The NRA has a million more members than it did a year ago. They are going to vote.

MR. PAGE: Yeah, the NRA got more members, but it's going to be a loser for their side in November.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think Clinton won the week, but I think that the NRA point about the importance of enforcing existing law is extremely well taken.

Issue three: A passage to India.

GEORGE TENET (direct, Central Intelligence Agency): (From videotape.) Finally, Mr. President, with regard to India-Pakistan, the place that worries me the most in the coming year, last spring the two countries narrowly averted a full-scale war in Kashmir, which could have escalated to the nuclear level.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's CIA Director George Tenet describing the inflamed tensions on the Indian subcontinent, home of one-fifth of the world's population, 1 billion people.

Next week President Clinton will visit India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. He has a lot to worry about.

One, foes flex nuclear muscle. Pakistan and India are archenemies. They detonated nuclear weapons two years ago that were two to three times more powerful than the 1945 atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The United States immediately imposed sanctions on the two countries. Clinton might relieve them if India and Pakistan agree to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Two, Kashmir fraught with peril. Kashmir is a disputed territory, the size of the state of Georgia, on the Northwest frontier of India. Pakistan and India have fought three major wars over the last 52 years. Last year, a thousand soldiers and rebels were killed in the heaviest fighting the region has seen in over two decades. The fighting could spread into wide scale conventional and possibly nuclear war.

Three, Pakistan's government is illegitimate. Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a coup last October. Indian leaders are furious that Clinton will visit Pakistan. The United State has condoned the military coup, says Indian President Atal Vajpayee.

The president's counterterrorist security people are telling him that Pakistan is anarchic and filled with anti-American Islamic terrorists, including Osama bin-Laden not too far away, probably. Plus, shoulder-launched Stinger missiles are all over the place, with a four-mile range that could even shoot down Air Force One. There are also SAMs, shoulder-held missiles too.

Question: Is the projected good to come out of this mission worth the extreme risk to the president's life and limb?

Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, the regime in Pakistan presumably has ties to these various terrorist groups. They want this visit to go well very badly, and I suspect it will go well.

And secondly, if you're the lone superpower, you don't go and visit a region where there are two nuclear powers and upset that fragile balance by only visiting one. He's spending five hours there. It's the right thing to do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, John, do you think it's worth it, or do you think that somebody else should be doing this visit, like the secretary of Defense, but he's over there in Vietnam congratulating the Viet Cong for their heroism during the war.

MR. FORD: I think it's worth it because the Indians are finally going to be able to ask the president, "How in the world can you be so close to China that you trust them with nuclear weapons but you don't trust us with nuclear weapons?" And, obviously, Indian Americans and Pakistani Americans are important political constituencies, and we all know the president likes to play those political constituencies. If he goes, he should go to both countries.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, exit question. Do the stakes here merit presidential involvement in view of the extreme risk which he is taking, counter to all, as far as I can determine -- all of the recommendations of his security staff and others?

MR. BARONE: Only if he carries it out the way Washington Post columnist Lally Weymouth suggests, which is to have a very brief, tense meeting with the Pakistanis telling them not to provoke nuclear war, and giving far disproportionate attention to India.

MS. CLIFT: I think they're handling it correctly. And again, the Pakistanis have a lot at stake; they want this visit to go well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. FORD: I agree with Eleanor. I think that the Indians and the Pakistanis deserve this visit because otherwise we're not going to have the kind of hot lines and mini fail-safe devices that we need to defuse the tensions in the region.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Vajpayee, the prime minister of India, is condemning the visit to Pakistan because it legitimizes the military government. How is that helping? How is Clinton helping the situation?

MR. BARONE: Both nations ritually condemn everything that the other side does.

MR. PAGE: That's absolutely right. They've been in conflict for decades. In order for the president to try to move toward some resolution, he's got to go to both countries.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is no, he should stay out of there. He'll accomplish practically nothing.

We'll be right back.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions.


MR. BARONE: The good showing of president -- of Chen bui-han --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Get it straight will you? (Laughter.)

MR. BARONE: Chen, the Democratic Progressive Party candidate in Taiwan, is going to arouse more denunciations from top Chinese Communists.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean he's going to win, or is it going to be Soong?

MR. BARONE: I think he's going to win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll predict James Soong.


MS. CLIFT: No rapprochement between Bush and McCain until the Republican Convention.


MR. FORD: The commission that decides whether the Internet is going to be taxed meets Monday. The Clinton-Gore appointees are trying to say that Al Gore's invention should have taxes. They will fail, and the Internet will probably have another five-year moratorium without taxes.

MR. PAGE: Look for a prescription drug bill to go to the floor of Congress right after Easter.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll cue off Eleanor. Wednesday night, August the 2nd, the Republican Convention in Philadelphia, John McCain at the rostrum. He announces his endorsement of G.W. Bush for president and then proceeds to deliver an unforgettable speech on the need for comprehensive reform in American politics before an audience of exhilarated conventioneers.

Next week: Russian and Taiwanese elections, with Michael Barone reporting from Moscow.

Happy St. Patrick's Day weekend!