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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST:
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

GUESTS:
ELEANOR CLIFT
TONY BLANKLEY
MICHAEL BARONE
GERARD BAKER

DATE: SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2001

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: A retreat or a rout?

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: (From videotape.) The military strategy aimed at defeating the Taliban is clearly succeeding. They are in disarray and retreat.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Britain's Prime Minister Blair shared the good news from Afghanistan this week: A huge advance in a war effort some thought was progressing too slowly. The retreat of Taliban forces from most of Afghanistan began last weekend when Northern Alliance forces -- with U.S. and Russian military and logistical support -- captured Taloqan and Mazar-e Sharif. Then in quick succession the capital, Kabul, fell; then Jalalabad.

The Taliban appears to have fled their stronghold of Kandahar, chased out by a new enemy, an alliance of -- get this -- their own Pashtun kinsmen. This fulfills a key wish of the U.S., that former Taliban supporters in the southern half of the country join in efforts to expel the Taliban. Concerns remain, though, over what happens next, once the Taliban is out of the picture.

UNITED FRONT FOREIGN MINISTER ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: (From videotape.) We have also invited the United Nations to send their teams in Kabul in order to help us in the peace process.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's what the coalition hopes for. What they don't want to happen is a return to the feudal system of local warlord versus warlord without a stable national government. The Pentagon is jubilant but stressed again that this is no lightning campaign.

REAR ADM. JOHN STUFFLEBEEM (PENTAGON SPOKESMAN): (From videotape.) We don't have enough factual information to assume that this war in Afghanistan is about to end.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is this a strategic retreat, or is it a rout? Michael Barone.

MR. BARONE: I don't know for sure, but sitting in this chair in Washington, it looks like a rout to me, John, and a rout that occurred for two reasons, reasons that I think are going to be important when -- and I say when, not whether -- but when we go into Iraq.

I mean, the first reason is that it shows that American air power, when guided by assets on the ground, can be very effective. Secondly, it shows these Taliban were hated by the people. In Iraq, we know Saddam is hated by the people. I think we need to bring in, when we go there, the Iraqi national congress so that we have more help on the ground. But right now the Taliban is in denial. I think pretty soon, sooner than we think, we're going to be in the Tigris and the Euphrates.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the Taliban does not appear to have any popular support, and I think their last vestiges will be gone. But they'll be driven up into the hills probably to re-emerge in a continued civil war, which is the pattern in Afghanistan. The question is, what next?

The Northern Alliance took advantage of the U.S. serving as its air force, resisted the diplomatic efforts and moved in to take Kabul earlier than the administration wanted. Now you've got to figure out a way to get some sort of an international force in there and some sort of a coalition government.

So the diplomacy is way, way behind the military progress. And it's bad diplomacy that got us to the situation where we are now that turned Afghanistan into a breeding ground for terrorists. So there's a tough road that's still ahead.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That is the quagmire, the U.N. force in there. These peoples have been bickering, arguing and killing each other for centuries. What do you think about us getting involved and imposing some kind of a multi-ethnic government over there? If that's what you're saying.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, before we -- yeah, before we lapse into our next level of depression over events, it's worth pausing just for a moment to say how successful this campaign has been, that in such short order the Taliban has, I think, pretty clearly been routed. This makes it much more easy for us to begin to go after bin Laden and his gang. So this is a tremendous success, and we need to notice that.

Now, looking forward, the challenge is how to avoid a Pashtun-Northern Alliance civil war or engagement. And that's the natural flow of events at this point, should we not be able to keep them apart and set something up. And so far, there's not sufficient evidence of how we would set up a government that avoids the almost inevitable but not quite inevitable conflict between the Pashtuns and the Northern Alliance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that the answer, to set up a government, or is the answer to Afghanize, permit the Afghans to take over?

MR. BAKER: It's a tremendous victory. We should be clear about that absolutely from the start. And I should hope that it would silence, although I doubt whether it will, the kind of chorus of moaning minnies that we've had in this country and in Europe, complaining about the progress of the campaign so far. It's remarkable what's happened in the last week.

As for the kind of settlement that we're going to get, well, it is going to be up to the Afghan people, and I think that's absolutely critical. The risk in this, obviously, that everybody is concerned about is that the Taliban are going to do what the mujaheddin did against the Soviet Union in the 1980s; that is, that they withdraw from the big cities, they take to the hills and they conduct a guerrilla warfare.

But I think there are at least two very good reasons why that won't happen; one, because the Taliban are despised by most Afghans in a way that the mujaheddin weren't; and two, because the Taliban will not get the kind of international support that other countries offered against the Soviet Union for the mujaheddin in the 1980s. So we must get a political settlement in. But we shouldn't be over-pessimistic about the prospects, because there is support in Afghanistan for a multi-ethnic government, and there's very reasonable prospects of getting that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is how that government is constituted an Afghan affair and a purely Afghan affair?

MR. BAKER: No. Obviously we have -- the United States and the allies have an important role to play in this. They can't dictate the terms, but they must make sure that -- for example, there is long-standing enmity between the various ethnic groups in Afghanistan, and it's very easy to see how that could collapse --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But our policy --

MR. BAKER: -- into a civil war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Our --

MR. BAKER: But it's our job to hold the ring, to make sure that the people of Afghanistan are allowed to get the government --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who's going to forge this stable government? Are we going to do that? Our national interest is not in that tarbaby.

MR. BAKER: The United Nations -- a United Nations-led operation with United States support, and with the support of the governments in the region, as well as the support of the Afghan people --

MS. CLIFT: We walked away --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We should encourage them. And if they can achieve a pluralistic result, fine. If they can't, that's Afghan business.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, it strikes me -- and you touched on it, Gerry -- that governments in the region -- Pakistan, Russia and India -- they all have historic interests there. They conflict. They're not going to let a government form there that any of those three governments don't like. And they're likely to be more powerful and more permanent forces there than a U.N. intervention. So I think the combination of local Afghanis' tribal struggle, compounded by Pakistan, Indian and Russian intervention, is going to define whatever --

MS. CLIFT: Well, I don't know what the eventual makeup is, but we walked away once before and look what happened. We can't walk away again. Secondly --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Are you talking on a humanitarian level? I agree with you completely. We should not walk away. Humanitarian involvement is one thing. Political involvement in trying to get that government assembled and forge it ourselves and impose it is, I think, out of the question.

MS. CLIFT: Being part of an international security force is very much in this country's interest. And I also noticed that the two of you seem to want to classify people into pessimists and optimists. There is, you know, such a thing as being a realist.

It is wonderful to watch women come out from behind the veil and to watch the men shave their beards. But you have to ask yourself, we're not there only to liberate Afghanistan, as worthy a goal as that might be. We're there to root out the al Qaeda and to find bin Laden. And now that they've got smaller territory to roam around in, maybe the intelligence is better and maybe those odds have gone up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we have finished --

MS. CLIFT: But it's still not an easy --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we have finished off the al Qaeda and we have decimated the Taliban, that's the end of our mission except the humanitarian aid and encouraging the forging of a pluralistic society --

MR. BARONE: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but not trying to do it ourselves.

MR. BARONE: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You can't impose that. We have to Afghanize that whole situation.

MR. BARONE: John, can I say something in support --

MS. CLIFT: You can play a role in making that happen.

MR. BARONE: -- of Eleanor's position?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Be careful, now.

MR. BARONE: Be careful -- which is that I think we have a continuing interest in that area, in part for what Tony was saying, that Russia, India, Pakistan have a part in that. We, as the leader of the world, have responsibility to try and minimize some of these regional conflicts and get this in a way that will be amenable to all. So I think that we don't have to put troops in there to do it, but we're going to have to play a role diplomatically and in a humanitarian way.

MR. BAKER: It's not just enough to beat al Qaeda and the Taliban now. You have to make sure that the conditions that gave rise to those -- the lawless conditions that gave rise to those organizations in the first place don't arise again. And that does require -- as Michael said, it doesn't require U.S. military action on the ground, but it does require political commitment and engagement by the United States --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To what extent?

MR. BAKER: -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To what extent?

MS. CLIFT: What --

MR. BAKER: We have to take part in a -- I would favor a U.N.-led operation that, A, keeps the peace, and B, ensures --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have an immense problem with terrorism --

MS. CLIFT: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that's going to involve all kinds of money and forces, and we have no special interest in Afghanistan beyond the elimination of the al Qaeda except on the humanitarian level.

MS. CLIFT: But you act like we've just waved a wand and eliminated the al Qaeda in that country. I think we're very far from doing that, and we're going to have troops on the ground there for some time, you know, looking for people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's fine. That's part of the mission. But let's not let that mission creep into something it should not be. It is the problem, the concern and the interest of the Afghanis to Afghan themselves.

MS. CLIFT: They need help doing that.

MR. BAKER: And the U.N. is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit: Humanitarian involvement aside, are we in for a long stay in Afghanistan? Yes or no. Michael Barone.

MR. BARONE: Well, if -- long? What's long? I would say less than a year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I would say if long is more than a year, I would say more than a year. And we should be.

MR. BLANKLEY: Less than a year, and correctly so.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much less than a year?

MR. BLANKLEY: As long as it takes us to wrap up most of the terrorists, however long that takes, and then a few months to leave.

MR. BAKER: We don't need a military commitment for anything longer than a year at the absolute maximum, but we need continuing political commitment of the whole world to ensure that the conditions that arose there never happen again.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In the manner of France, in the manner of Great Britain, in the manner of Italy?

MR. BAKER: In the manner of some of the operations that the U.N. has been doing around the world; for example, in the Balkans.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You realize --

MR. BAKER: If we got engaged in the Balkans at a much earlier stage, then we wouldn't have had the problems that we've had. But the U.N. is now operating there --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You understand the resources commitment, the capital commitment, the manpower commitment in the United States today to this deadly serious threat from terrorism?

MR. BAKER: Absolutely. And you won't beat terrorism unless you ensure that the circumstances that gave rise to it don't happen again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The assumption of everything I've said is that we have finished off the al Qaeda and that we have decimated the Taliban, and that's it, except for a formal, ex officio, almost, involvement on the diplomatic area. Are we in agreement on that?

MR. BAKER: Yeah, we are. But you're not going to let a civil war take place in Afghanistan. If we don't get a settlement that is acceptable, that creates peaceful circumstances and a democratic government, we cannot --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They have been slaughtering each other -- these ethnic tribes have been slaughtering each other for centuries.

MR. BAKER: And that's why Afghanistan has been such a thorn in the side of governments around the world.

MR. BARONE: But they've also had stable governments, under the king from -- I think it was 1952 to '73, it was a relatively stable government. So don't overestimate the -- it's a problem. It's probably solvable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, dream on.

When we come back, how do you explain why Vladimir Putin and George Bush get along so well together?

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Texas bonding.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) When I was in high school, Russia was an enemy. Now the high school students can know Russia as a friend.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (From videotape.) It gives me great pleasure to deal and to work with President Bush, who is a person, a man who does what he says.

(Videotaped excerpt of exchange between President Bush and President Putin.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: The president and I have agreed to take a few questions from the students. I figured this would be a pretty good opportunity for all of you to ask a --

PRESIDENT PUTIN: Only questions.

PRESIDENT BUSH: But not in math. No math questions.

PRESIDENT PUTIN: No math questions, please. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Good idea. Particularly, no fuzzy math questions. (Laughter.)

(End of excerpt.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: I told him he was welcome to come back next August to get a true taste of Crawford. (Laughter.) He said, "Fine. And maybe you'd like to go to Siberia in the winter."

PRESIDENT PUTIN: My promise is, I will not terrorize your president with such low temperatures.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Besides the easy geniality, there was also important substance in the bonding of these superpower leaders.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) We've got a lot to do together. We've had great discussions in Washington as well as here in Texas. We're both pledging to reduce the amount of nuclear weapons, offensive weapons we have, in order to make the world more secure. We're talking about ways to cooperate on anti-terrorism and anti-proliferation. We're talking about ways to make sure our economies can grow together.

PRESIDENT PUTIN: (From videotape.) And being here, I can feel the will of this people, the will to cooperate with the Russian Federation, the will to cooperate with Russia. And I can assure you that the Russian people fully shares this commitment and is also committed to fully cooperating with the American people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gerry Baker, do you think that Vladimir Putin looks young and hip?

MR. BAKER: I think the George-and-Vladimir show was entertaining as far as it went, but it really didn't go very far. No, I think it was quite a significant week in some ways because it showed the limits, actually, that we've all come used to thinking that September 11th changed everything and created a vast new world order where everybody was going to get along together and everybody was going to (do?) what they did in the greater interest of beating terrorism.

But actually, I think what we saw there, we had the deal on nuclear warheads, but that was in the works anyway. We knew that was coming. We didn't get a deal on the anti-ballistic missile treaty. We didn't get any significant progress on that.

And I think that shows that, despite a lot of optimism that there would be a deal, that Russia would agree to some kind of -- that there would be some sort of postponement of any decision on the ABM, on allowing the U.S. to conduct the kind of tests it wants to do, we didn't get that. And I think that does show that actually things are not going quite as well on that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think that could be a back-room deal, that Putin does not have to blink in public in order for it to be understood that he will not protest the deal?

MR. BAKER: But he needs to take that to the Russian -- he needs to have some way to show the Russian people --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What he has to show the Russian people is what Bush said, and he was talking before a high school audience and he simplified a great deal, but he said we're talking about ways to make sure our economies grow together. Now, Putin has a $165 billion foreign debt, and it's crushing him. And that's what he's more interested in than anything else, not hands-off on Chechnya.

MR. BAKER: Most of that debt's owed to Germany, unfortunately. We can't really help out on that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are we talking about? How much is owed Germany?

MR. BAKER: Something like half that total of sovereign debt. So there's a lot of debt that they have which is owed to other countries. Sure, the U.S. can help out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it your view that since this debt is really heritage, baggage from the communist era, six decades of that, that you can make a case on merits that it's not only in our interest but there's another -- not a moral angle, but a humanitarian angle? There's something more than if that debt were incurred since Russia became democratic.

MR. BAKER: Well, you tell that to the bond-holders. That's the problem. Those people are owed that money. And there has to be a way of dealing with that in a way that's equitable for everybody.

MS. CLIFT: I have a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do you think it should be dealt with?

MR. BAKER: I think you have to have more assistance; work through the IMF to get more programs going. You can certainly do that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that's in the works?

MS. CLIFT: I don't know how --

MR. BAKER: But they have to have reform. Russia has to undertake the really important economic reforms.

MS. CLIFT: I don't know how they work this out, but you know -- I know what the end game is, and that is that the administration is going to proceed with what it wants to do on missile defense, and Putin is not going to object. They're going to finesse that. And Putin is going to walk --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, let's --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me -- is going to walk away with a bag load of money at the end, because this is a relationship based on mutual self-interest. I'm glad they also get along, but both countries have a stake in working together.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me explain. Putin has a policy that's been signed off on within the Russian government and the military, the intelligence circles, that they are going to acquiesce without agreeing. And this is going to happen sometime in the relatively near future. So we're never going to get that one moment where he says, "We agree," but we're going to move forward.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. BARONE: John, I think -- I'd take a somewhat different view of it than Gerry does in the sense that I think -- let's put a little perspective on this. Number one, getting explicit agreements, pieces of paper, which Bill Clinton liked and a lot of people in America thought were very important, is much less important than getting real acts. And Russia has supported this war on terrorism from the beginning in a very strong way. That has been very helpful to us. That was cemented by the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me carry that --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask you a question.

MR. BARONE: I was just going to say, I agree with Eleanor -- I agree with Eleanor that basically we are going to go ahead on missile defense and they are not going to object to it. And that is an important achievement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MR. BARONE: Acts, not words.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MR. BARONE: And we've got nuclear weapons now down to a much lower level than all those pieces of paper --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to ask you a question. Do you think that the war on terrorism by us can be accomplished without Russia?

MR. BARONE: I think that Russia has helped us out a great deal. Those bases in Tajikistan --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about in the future, particularly on the level of intelligence in that part of the world and diplomatic connections in that part of the world?

MR. BARONE: That is possible. And in addition, Russia is helpful by not being part of OPEC and by being an oil producer. Putin's great achievements in Russia so far internally have been economic, in freeing up his economy. They've gotten those clogged-up oil wells working again with the help of western interests, and that is a positive contribution to our effort.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let me put the exit question in its highest-voltage form, and then you can cut back as you see fit, as I'm sure you all will. Exit: Are Russia and the U.S. now rock-solid allies?

MR. BARONE: Rock-solid allies up to a point in this war against terrorism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rock-solid up to a point. What is that?

MR. BARONE: It's like World War II, when we were allies with the Soviet Union up to a point. They didn't declare war on Japan when we wanted them to, but --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that where we get off the elevator, with that kind of a comparison?

MR. BARONE: I think and hope that we'll have a much better future between the U.S. and Russia than we had between the U.S. and Soviet Union after 1945.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: This is a snapshot in history of a very long relationship with Russia. I think it's to be proved over the decades to come how rock-solid. Right now it looks good. But again, that's because the two countries really need each other.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, would you call it an unprecedented strategic partnership?

MS. CLIFT: Oh, I'm sure I could find precedence. (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Unprecedented as far as the near-history, say, over the last century, relating to the Soviet Union and Russia? Is it unprecedented at this point?

MS. CLIFT: I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's unprecedented, no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would you say that?

MR. BLANKLEY: This is a historic moment. I believe that Russia is now committed to the West rather than the East. The division in the world is north-south. We're part of the north. They're part of the north. And this is a historic moment. They are going to be a rock-solid relationship.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So Russia is gradually moving Beijing off the table, which was a fear --

MR. BLANKLEY: And we are also moving close to them. The Russians would say that we're only --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But we're not rock-solid yet. That's what I'm picking up.

MR. BLANKLEY: We're getting very close.

MS. CLIFT: Russia --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think? I want to hear this.

MR. BAKER: We're not rock-solid allies. The U.S. isn't rock-solid allies with Russia. You have your rock-solid allies in the 16 NATO countries. Russia is very concerned about where NATO is headed and whether or not there's going to be the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

MR. BAKER: You have much more important allies in Asia, like Japan. No, the relationship is clearly improving. It's clearly getting better, year by year. But you're a long way from being rock-solid allies.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it in immediate and important national interest to pursue this allied status with Russia?

MR. BAKER: Not if it means allowing Russia to -- for example, as you were saying, to get kind of economic support without making the economic reforms that it needs to. We don't need to go so far --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you realize --

MR. BAKER: -- in order to win the war against terrorism, to give Russia --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You realize how the shock therapy, as it was imposed on Russia, was counterproductive in the manner in which it was imposed during this decade, do you not?

MR. BAKER: Well, that was partly because of the corruption, unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The corruption was --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer -- we have to move on. The answer to the question is it's not rock-solid, but we're on the way.

We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Michael Barone.

MR. BARONE: The U.S. will move into Iraq before spring, and the coalition will hold basically together.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?

MR. BARONE: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The nuclear proliferation problem will get worse, not better, after the two superpowers, Russia and the U.S., decommission those missiles, because it's easier for terrorists to pilfer sophisticated parts and nuclear fissile material when the missiles are dismantled.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hmm. Boy, two --

MS. CLIFT: Bad news.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- two very frightening predictions so far.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, here's a third one. The humiliating events in Afghanistan for Musharraf is going to result in a military coup against Musharraf within six to eight weeks.

MR. BAKER: I can be a bit more comforting. The U.S. Congress will pass an economic stimulus package sometime in the next few weeks, but it won't make the slightest bit of difference to the economy, which is way beyond the assistance of economic stimulus from the Congress and will respond to Federal Reserve interest-rate cuts.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm going to help this along on the optimism front. Surprisingly, retail sales made a record gain in October, 7.1 percent. They will rise higher in November. Happy Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble.

(End of regular program.)

(Begin PBS segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Airborne. At the end of the week, Congress hammered out an aviation security bill. The main points: Significant federal presence in airports; more air marshals; screener background checks; screening of all checked bags. The Senate passed the measure Friday morning on a voice vote. The House of Representatives, a few hours later, passed it, 410-9.

Question: Is this a good bill? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: It's not only a good bill. It was inevitable. After the Senate originally voted, 100-0, to federalize airport workers, the rest of it was simply opponents knocking their head against the wall.

Americans favor the government taking over what they see as a law enforcement function and taking the airport security out of the hands of private contractors, who have a profit incentive, and in order to make money, pay minimum wage to their employees. If you're trying to make a profit doing airport security, you can't. And that's why it's essential that the government take it over.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, look, the policy you can argue either way. Europe and Israel have a more private-sector role. I think Eleanor is right that it was inevitably going to pass roughly the way it did. It's a good bill, but there are a lot of problems. The question is, whether it's the federal government or the private companies, who are they going to hire?

A lot of the best security people working in the private companies are going to stay in the private sector. They're going to go to work in the corporate zone, and the government will have to find new people and train them up to standards. This is not a quick fix. It's a slow fix. And it's not a complete fix. But I think it's a good step, and a year from now we should have better security than we have now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will screener backgrounds help?

MR. BARONE: Well, I think a lot of the measures in this bill will help, and they're certainly an improvement on the present system. When it was financed by the airlines, there was obviously an incentive to cut corners and cut costs. And we should be getting it financed in a different way. I'm inclined to think that the House Republicans' approach, which is similar to that of Israel and Europe, would be better on margin. But the Democrats put into their bill, the one that passed the Senate, a measure that says you can fire these people.

You know, the Clinton administration, Al Gore's reinventing-government group, was bragging that the Clinton administration had reduced the number of civil service employees to the lowest level since the Kennedy administration. If you talk to the people running Al Gore's reinventing-government thing, they would say civil service is an awfully clumsy way to manage government. It really isn't a great idea for a lot of tasks you want to do.

They took a somewhat different tack on that. But they did put into the bill making it easier to fire people. It will be interesting to see how that works out. Is it carried out in practice? Do the courts back it up or say, "Oh, we can't believe they would change the old civil service system"? This might be a big clue how we could change and improve the civil service system generally, and it's a way in which the Democratic Party deserves credit for having made the pioneering steps on it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does that pretty much conclude this subject, or --

MR. BAKER: It's not a great bill. It's the product of a messy compromise, a lopsided messy compromise, which is the worst sort of messy compromise that you can have. But I agree that it was probably the inevitable compromise. It's not great.

However, I do think the American people will feel a lot more comfortable knowing that there are much tougher checks required, that the background screening is improved, and also that there will be federal employees. I mean, I think that will actually -- people will just have a greater confidence in the federal government on that kind of thing to ensure their personal safety than they do in the private sector.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Confidence is welcome, but unfortunately it's largely an illusion. There's a ridiculously long lead time on this bill.

(End of PBS segment.)



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