MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: The state of Palestine?

Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, do you believe that a Palestinian state should be a goal of the peace process?

(Begin videotape segment.)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. I haven't changed my position.

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER ARIEL SHARON: Thank you. I think that it's still premature to discuss this issue. I think that what we have to concentrate now is making every effort that real reform will take place.

(End videotape segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: You heard the president. He said his position on a state for Palestine has not changed. He favors a Palestine state. Now what do you think of Mr. Sharon calling that idea "premature," Pat Buchanan?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think what we're seeing is that Sharon and the president are on a collision course if they go down the political track. John, Ariel Sharon has spent the last number of months -- and the Israelis have -- smashing the Palestinian Authority, discrediting Arafat, for the simple reason they are never going to negotiate with them. All this talk of reform is, from Sharon's standpoint, a diversion, a ruse, a distraction to get the Americans off that track, because Ariel Sharon is never going to give them a Palestinian state. And I'll tell you, if we put some Quisling in there or we put one, project one, you're just going to get the guy assassinated.


MS. CLIFT: Well, I think Pat's right that Ariel Sharon is not ever going to agree to a Palestinian state. When he says it's "premature," that's a euphemism for "never."

But as for the president, I don't agree there's a collision course here, because I don't think President Bush is willing to confront Mr. Sharon about this. And I think right now we're basically in a position of just playing for time, trying to keep a lid on the violence as much as possible, and you know, I think the administration's policy is keep their fingers crossed until they can get a new set of leaders in the Middle East.


MR. BLANKLEY: I think in Israel it's not just a question of Sharon. After the failure of the Clinton diplomacy and after Arafat rejected the presidential offer back in 2000, there was a psychological shift in Israel, and they -- at that point the overwhelming majority didn't believe there was a negotiating partner on the other side. And they still don't believe that. If they don't have a negotiating partner, then they can't understand how you can move immediately to a Palestinian state.

However, if there was a negotiating partner, I believe about 70 percent of the Israelis would immediately want to have a genuine negotiation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it was a diplomatic gaffe of extraordinary proportions for Sharon to have said it's "premature"?

MR. CARNEY: Oh, I don't think it was a gaffe. I think he said it purposefully, and that's his position.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the impact will be that it will be seen as a gaffe?

MR. CARNEY: No, because it puts President Bush back on his heels again, trying to maintain that balance that he's been trying to maintain for months now of somehow putting himself in the position of pressuring Sharon and the Israelis while Arab governments pressure Arafat. But he has no stomach for pressuring Sharon, and that lack of stomach and will to do that has caused this intense confusion of what exactly United States policy --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By his saying that it is "premature," is he also casting his whole effort at peace and his presentation of self as a peacemaker -- is he casting that in a bad light? Is he --

MR. CARNEY: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you follow me?

MR. CARNEY: I'm not sure that Sharon worries about being tasked as a peacemaker. The only person I know who's called him a man of peace is President Bush. Sharon, himself, doesn't claim --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, does he -- is he not concerned about the international community?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, John --

MR. CARNEY: I think at this point he's -- I think Ariel Sharon is quite sincere that he's going to look out for Israel's interest and not let either Arab governments or the United States tell him what to do.


MS. CLIFT: And he's looking out for the short-term interests, and I think the long-term interests are not there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Real reform for the state of Palestine a la Bush:

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) And we had a good discussion about how to move forward. One of the things that I think is important -- the prime minister's discussed this, as well -- is for us to immediately begin to help rebuild a security force in Palestine that will fight terror, that will bring some stability to the region. We need to work for other institutions -- a constitution, for example, a framework for the development of a state that can help bring security and hope to the Palestinian people and the Israelis. The Palestinians need to develop a constitution -- rule of law, transparency. They've got to have a treasury that is able to battle corruption so that not only does the Israeli people have confidence in -- in -- in -- in -- in the authority -- reforms coupled with humanitarian help. We're -- reforms with, you know, the chance for there to be economic development so people can realize a normal life.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What is Bush's objective in sketching this vision of a Palestinian state?


MS. CLIFT: Well, his presentation was so weak and meandering. There is no teeth in his position to create reform within the Palestinian Authority. He's taken one concrete step, and that is to send the CIA director, Mr. Tenet, over there next week, to help Arafat rebuild the security force that Israel has demolished through its incursions. But this notion of creating sort of a Jeffersonian democracy over there -- this is way down the road. I mean, you need to rebuild basic things like water and sewer and try to get --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I asked you, what is the strategy in doing?

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me suggest to you what it might be, all right? Sharon goes there, and his real strategy is to convince Bush that Arafat has to go. Bush gets him off that track, and he focuses on the need for reform --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and the building up of this young state.

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)

MR. BLANKLEY: It's exactly the other way around.

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MR. BLANKLEY: The Israelis announced, when Sharon was coming over, that what they wanted as a precondition for the conference was these -- building of a more democratic Palestinian Authority, and looks to me as if the President of the United States embraced that Israeli policy.

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly. John, he's been sucked in.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's been sucked in?

MR. BUCHANAN: The president has been sucked in --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But did he --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- by Ariel Sharon, and the president's up there talking like we're going to create a Vermont on the West Bank before negotiations start. The whole idea with Sharon is, we don't want -- this whole reform thing is a scam to get off the political track.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I could not disagree with you more. (Laughter.) I thought that the president's presentation of this idea was energetic.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, it constituted --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was the first visible energy, if you saw the whole press conference, that we have seen him involve himself with in any kind of discussion of the Middle East.

MR. CARNEY: Well, since --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now I want to ask you -- I want to get back to this. My proposition is that he wants to get Sharon off this anti- Arafat track, and he wants to move the dialogue forward -- this is the president now -- and he does it by talking about the rehabilitation and the constitution of a Palestinian state.

MR. CARNEY: Well, yeah, I think you may be right, John. But I don't think he has that much time. The vision that he presented was a noble one. I mean, there is -- the Palestinian Authority has been a failure --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He burlesqued it.

MR. CARNEY: Yasser Arafat has been a failure as a leader. He's -- I mean, you know, when you see people who have really fought for peace, like Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, you know, who are willing to go to the line, Yasser Arafat's never done that.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, this is completely utopian.

MS. CLIFT: You know, if --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, real --

MR. CARNEY: He doesn't have the time that he's portraying in that conversation about building the Palestinian Authority.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm more concerned about the transition in the president of the United States with these two men there. He gave no ground, that I could see, to Sharon in Sharon's effort to unseat Arafat.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you see -- John, it's completely --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to continue.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, it's completely utopian.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So what? That doesn't -- that's not what counts.

MR. BUCHANAN: Saudi Arabia -- (inaudible). There's no Arab country that's got -- (inaudible).

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, real reform for Samaria and Judea a la Sharon.

PRIME MIN. SHARON: (From videotape.) Well, I think, first of all, steps should be taken in order to establish or to have that real reform in the Palestinian Authority.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For Sharon's "real reform," read "no Arafat." This is the way the prime minister put it three months ago in a less guarded moment:

PRIME MIN. SHARON: (From videotape.) Arafat has chosen a strategy of terror and formed a coalition of terror, and maybe I hope to have an alternative leadership in the future.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Sharon determined to drive Arafat from power, Jay Carney?

MR. CARNEY: I think he is. I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Dead or alive?

MR. CARNEY: No, he won't kill Yasser Arafat, because that would be a mistake.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I didn't quite mean that.

MR. CARNEY: Well, how did you mean it? What --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that he wants to see him -- he's determined to see --

MR. CARNEY: Well, if he wanted to see Arafat dead --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe the question should be re-put. Does he want him, dead or alive, out of power?

MR. CARNEY: I think he'd take him either way. I think what he would prefer is that Arafat stay in power for a certain amount of time, so that there is no incentive and no new leader with whom he has to negotiate, because Ariel Sharon I don't believe has a vision for a Palestinian state that any Palestinian leader could live with.

MS. CLIFT: Right. You know, Arafat is flawed. Say anything bad about him, and I'll agree. But he would like to be the president of a Palestinian state. He wants to get there. Sharon does not want to get there, and to move --

MR. BLANKLEY: How can you say that when he turned it down in the year 2000?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: -- to move aside Arafat, you're going to get leaders who are more confrontational, less likely and less able to deliver peace. It goes from bad to worse.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. We are in this together.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) One of the things that should -- becoming apparent to people is that we're in consultation with not only the Israelis, but other governments -- I talked to Crown Prince Abdullah today, as well as President Mubarak -- about how best to proceed toward a common vision. And I think it's going to be a -- you know, and the answer as to whether or not people will accept the reforms -- look, our job is to convince the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians that these reforms are absolutely necessary. And when I say people have got responsibilities, I'm not just saying the Israelis and the Palestinians have responsibilities. I'm saying these leaders.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president here is clearly distinguishing himself from his predecessor. He's surrounding himself. Mr. Bush said -- excuse me, Mr. Clinton said, "This is the way we do it in the United States."

Question: Why is Bush emphasizing the responsibilities of other leaders, like the Saudis, the Jordanians and Egyptians, to help support reforms? (To Mr. Blankley.) I'll try you on this, but I'm concerned about your answer already.

MR. BLANKLEY: Okay. He also included in that category -- not on this tape -- the EU, the Russians and the United Nations. And my theory -- a little suspicious, perhaps -- is that he's looking not so much for Partners for Peace as blameworthy partners for failure, because if you have all of these people, all of these groups, inside the tent trying to get the peace that can't be found, then they can't blame him when the peace doesn't happen.

MR. CARNEY: John? I actually disagree, John. I think that this is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With whom? With him?

MR. CARNEY: With Tony, there, because I think that this is a positive development. I think it's smart strategy to try to bring at least the Arab countries in on this process.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's he really looking for?

MR. CARNEY: I think -- well, I think he's looking for help and cover.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's looking for money. That's what he's looking for, money for the Palestinians.

MR. CARNEY: For the Palestinians, yes. But he's looking -- look, you get -- he's handled the Saudi proposal, which was really just a floated idea through a New York Times columnist, and made the Saudis own it, and made them sort of prominent actors --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But they wanted to own it. The crown prince called them in, remember that. He set up that interview.

MR. CARNEY: Well, he did. But I don't think -- I think it's become bigger than they expected, and I think that's -- (word inaudible) -- strategy.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, this is all a red herring.

MR. CARNEY: I think you need the Arabs.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here's the red herring boy over here. Let's hear him.

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me tell you what this is. This is Sharon -- and Mr. Bush is walking after this reform thing. Look, you got 50 percent unemployment. They're living in Bantustans. There's tanks all over their towns and everything. You're not going to get that. The only way you get there is a political track, along with the war track, and Sharon doesn't want him on the political track.

MS. CLIFT: Right. And --

MR. BUCHANAN: And this whole thing is diverted the president from where he ought to be going.

MS. CLIFT: And it's not at all clear that the Arab leaders are going to really pressure Arafat, and they want the president to pressure Sharon and Israel, and he is not going to do that. So they're going to feel betrayed if he doesn't deliver on his end of the bargain. I don't think this goes anywhere, although I applaud the effort to get them involved.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The real audience for the president's reform talk on a Palestinian state has been overlooked in this group except -- if you excuse me -- by myself. The audience for this are Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the Arab states. This president wants to convince them, because the crown prince said they had their doubts as to whether the -- when he saw him in Texas, as to whether you, sir, believe in a Palestinian state. So the president traced that whole thing right through to convince them that he believes in a Palestinian state. So there were -- so were multiple objectives achieved by the president in this remarkable piece of diplomacy.

MR. CARNEY: That's a noble vision. But I think what these Arab states really want is for the president to pressure Ariel Sharon into dealing with the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat into having a political track that actually leads somewhere.

MS. CLIFT: You know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will -- will the Arabs -- would the Arab states permit Ariel Sharon to cut Arafat out of negotiations? Will they?



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They will not? You're sure of that?

MS. CLIFT: Sharon doesn't want to negotiate!

MR. BUCHANAN: John, Arafat is as popular among Palestinians as Sharon is among Israelis. If you tried to bring in a quisling and put him up there to negotiate, he'll be shot. Nobody is going to stand up against Arafat and the Palestinian --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are there reasonable successors to Arafat?

MR. BUCHANAN: Not while Arafat is alive.

MS. CLIFT: Not more moderate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about -- what's his name? -- Barghouti, the fellow that's in prison now? (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Who the Israelis have in prison? And then they're going to send him out and he'll --

(Cross talk; laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who is there -- what is the sequence of events if Arafat were to go?

MS. CLIFT: Whoever follows Arafat is more confrontational --

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly. He's going to be more hardline.

MS. CLIFT: -- and is going to be more difficult for Sharon to deal with. And if Arafat goes in any other way than peacefully in the middle of the night in his sleep, it's going to create a terrible setting for whoever follows.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Could anyone following Arafat command a following in the short term or medium term?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer? No.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Could anyone command clear Arab support outside of Palestine by a successor to Arafat? Could any successor to Arafat do that?

MR. BUCHANAN: But the point is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is no. Correct?

MR. CARNEY: Well, not if Arafat was forced out.

MR. BUCHANAN: I mean, if Arafat -- John?

MR. CARNEY: But if a leader were to arise, I think the Arabs would probably be for that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With clear support from the beginning to a relative unknown? They hardly support Arafat in a certain sense, but they do.

MS. CLIFT: I also want to point out that you act like the president's had this huge revelation in embracing a Palestinian state. That's been U.S. policy for at least three administrations, though not spoken quite so forcefully.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, this president was more deft in this presentation than he has been thus far in this whole matter.

MS. CLIFT: Well, that's -- (laughs) -- relativity.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Turkey has offered to host the Middle East peace conference. Will it happen, or will it be a Turkey? Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't believe it's going to happen when they say it's going to happen, but when it does, if there's one down the road, it's going to be a meaningless affair. They're not going to have heads of state there. I don't think anything's going to come of it.


MS. CLIFT: Well, as long as people are talking, that's progress, although the administration has already undercut it by saying it's a meeting, not a summit. But I think something will happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Italians want it in Italy.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. Israel suggested Turkey. And the Turks will accept it. I think if there is a conference at the ministerial level, Turkey is as good or bad as any.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you think it will take place.

MR. BLANKLEY: If there's one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you think Ankara.

MR. BLANKLEY: I won't pick the resort. (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: I prefer Istanbul. But it will happen, and it will probably happen in Turkey. But again, with only ministers, it's not likely to produce great progress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is it will happen and there will be enough progress to move the dialogue forward, with its PR value.

Okay. Another "McLaughlin Y-2-0 Moment" to mark our 20th anniversary year. The time, December 1990, almost 12 years ago. The place, New York City. The event, a late-night send-up. Brace yourselves.

(Begin videotape segment.)

(Begin videotape of "Saturday Night Live" skit.)

COMEDIAN DANA CARVEY (AS JOHN MCLAUGHLIN): What number am I thinking of? Pat Buchanan . "MR. BUCHANAN" (PLAYED BY PHIL HARTMAN): Geez. Eighty-two.

"MR. MCLAUGHLIN": Wrong! Eleanor Clift.

"MS. CLIFT" (PLAYED BY JAN HOOKS): Is it between one and a hundred?

"MR. MCLAUGHLIN": Don't skirt the issue!

"MS. CLIFT": I -- 40.

"MR. MCLAUGHLIN": Wrong! Mortontine.


"MR. MCLAUGHLIN": Wrong! Jackerino?


"MR. MCLAUGHLIN": Wrong! The correct answer is 134, 134.

Issue number six: What did you have for breakfast today? Eleanor?

"MS. CLIFT": Some cantaloupe.

"MR. MCLAUGHLIN": Mortontown, U.S.A.?

"MR. KONDRACKE": I had poached eggs and toast.

"MR. MCLAUGHLIN": Jack Germondo?

"MR. GERMOND": Bacon and eggs.

"MR. MCLAUGHLIN": Paddy Paddy Buke-Buke?

"MR. BUCHANAN": I'm thinking waffles, maybe a little --

"MR. MCLAUGHLIN": Wrong!! You all had Special K with banana.

(End "Saturday Night Live" skit videotape.)

(End videotape segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What number am I thinking of now, Paddy Paddy Buke-Buke?

MR. BUCHANAN: Twenty. Your 20th anniversary.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Honest to God, you are phenomenal.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're absolutely right. Twenty years of doing this show, Pat; never missed one. I never missed one show here.

MR. BUCHANAN: I've been waiting for you to step, John. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No palace coup from you, Paddy Paddy Buke-Buke. (Laughter.)

When we come back, Central Park art. Is it "Christo Curtains" for New York?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Christo Wrap.

He has wrapped the Reichstag in fabric, draped the Pont Neuf with 500,000 square feet of woven cloth, and bathed the islands of Biscayne Bay in pink. Now Christo, the eccentric, Bulgarian-born artist, wants to bespangle New York City's Central Park with 27 miles of flowing saffron banners covering the park's walkways, strung up on 11,000 metal frames 15 feet high.

Christo calls his plan for the Central Park, quote-unquote, "artwork" "The Gates Project" for its illusion of walking under golden gates. It's been in the works for more than 20 years waiting for the city to approve. And Mayor Bloomberg may just okay the project. Mike is said to be friendlier to New York's cultural institutions than was his predecessor.

Christo and his team will underwrite the entire cost of installation and removal, but many believe it would be a rampant exploitation of New York's public space.

Question: Christo may seem cutting edge, but 30 years ago, 1970, he wrapped a mile of the Australian coast in fabric. So Christo is now repeating himself. He's stale. Is that true or false?

Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: Well, John, having just celebrated your 20th anniversary, I am not going to say that a longevity of 30 years means that you're stale. I think what he does is fine. If he wants to pay for it, himself, I can think of better ways, maybe, to spend money, but, you know, I go to cities, and I see painted cows and painted fish, and these are attention-getting, and it brings a liveliness to public spaces. I don't see anything wrong with it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Central Park is the gem of New York. Why do we have to gild the lily?

MR. CARNEY: Well, you know, if he's paying for it, fine. I just think his artistry is lame. I think it's boring and dull. And it is stale. He's done nothing new in 30 years.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, actually, I mean, I think it's fine. I like his work. However, there's a man who seems to be one-upping him, and that's that horrible boy who did the pipe bombing, trying to create an image of a happy face on a map of the United States from where he put the pipe bombs, which is sort of taking this one horrible level further along.

MS. CLIFT: That's not public art, though; that's public degradation.

MR. BLANKLEY: Performance art in a horrible way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll make sure Christo gets a copy of this tape, so that he can --

MR. BLANKLEY: I said I liked his work.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- see the comparison between the two.

We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions: Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, I think the big economic story this years is going to be the collapse of the American dollar, because of the current account deficit which is exploding to 5 percent of GDP.


MS. CLIFT: The Senate will override the veto of the governor of Nevada and prepare the way to send nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Three months from now, Israel will still be doing antiterrorist raids into Palestinian territories.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. What do you say, young man?

MR. CARNEY: This coming Tuesday, at the Republican National Committee gala, George W. Bush will break all existing records in fund-raising in a soft-money orgy before any new campaign-finance laws take effect.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What kind of money we talking about?

MR. CARNEY: In excess of 25 million.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really? Now is that --

MR. BUCHANAN: Sort of -- (inaudible) -- party. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's not an all-time high. Didn't McAuliffe do that with Clinton?

MS. CLIFT: Not in one night.

MR. CARNEY: He has, but I think Bush set his own record, 24 million, last year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: My prediction is as follows: The U.S. Senate is now controlled by Democrats. On November the 6th of this year, it will be controlled by Republicans.

How do you like those apples, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: They're mistaken.


MR. BUCHANAN: I just don't think they're going to do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do you like them, Jay?

MR. CARNEY: I don't think it's going to happen, either.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't?

MR. CARNEY: I think they could extend their majority in the House, but not --

MS. CLIFT: If it does, I'm sure we will see this clip again. (Laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: We will never see you again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm preparing this for file.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think if Bush's poll numbers stay up the way they are, he may well see a Republican tide.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does anybody want to make a prediction?

Oh, Pat, by the way: You were squeezed out on that last segment. What were you going to say about the gentlemen who's going to be decorating New York?

MR. BUCHANAN: I was going to say, John, that I saw the great Cristo exhibit that very day that those umbrellas in that valley -- they had that big sandstorm, and one of 'em got up as the guy was closing it and speared one of those fellows and killed him. But it was a dramatic display. They pulled it down immediately afterwards. And I fundamentally agree with Eleanor. If New York wants to do something like this, it's better than what they've got over at the Brooklyn Museum.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hope Bloomberg hears this program. (Laughter.) Christo's art is hazardous to your health.

Next week: Disaffection towards George Bush by conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill. So what? Happy Mothers' day! Bye-bye!


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Potpourri.

I'd like to ask you, Jay -- you're a scholar and a journalist of the world. Osama bin Laden: Have there been any sightings of him? Six foot, five inches tall, wears a momumah (ph). He rides on horseback. What is going on with this administration?

MR. CARNEY: Well, there was some hope briefly, when they discovered this grave of apparently higher-ups in al Qaeda in Tora Bora, but they found no remains of anyone tall enough to be Osama bin Laden.

Look, this is a problem for the White House because initially, in the early stages after 9/11, the president and others personalized this war on terror against Osama bin Laden. The more the weeks pass, the months pass, the less we hear about Osama bin Laden, because his absence is something of an embarrassment. And I think that, you know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does it make a difference whether we have him or we don't have him?

MR. CARNEY: I certainly think it makes a difference symbolically --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about operationally? Can it be --

MR. CARNEY: -- and it could operationally. He's a very powerful man with a lot of followers, and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can it be said that these cells could not be held together -- cannot be held together without a head, an Osama at the head?

MR. CARNEY: I think operationally they supposedly were independent. That was one of their virtues, from a terrorist standpoint. But leaders matter, and having a leader helps an organization.

MR. BUCHANAN: You know, John, I think the president is helped, in a way, by this. First, I think the guy's no longer vertical. I think he's gone. And -- but it's helped, in a way, because the president can say we're still continuing this war on terror. If they'd taken out bin Laden, most Americans would say, "Well, it's all over. Let's go back." But this -- a battle on al Qaeda is going to be a long war, and the president ought to stay focused on it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's going on between Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld and their shops?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, obviously there's been a policy debate going on, as all administrations have policy debates. I think that the harshness of some of the background language has been tougher at the staff level than at the senior level around the two men.

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: Well, there's a perception, not only in this country but more around the world, that Colin Powell is regularly undercut by his president and the rest of the administration --

MR. BUCHANAN: That he's losing.

MS. CLIFT: -- and that he's losing. That is --

MR. BLANKLEY: He can't be undercut by his president. The president makes the policy.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but the president signs off on a Powell initiative, then sort of backtracks, and there is a sense that this administration does not have the will and the staying power, not only for the Middle East conflict, but for the mop-up operation --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, that's the sort of very tough background -- (inaudible) -- I'm talking about. You --

MS. CLIFT: -- the mop- -- excuse me, Tony --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I was trying to talk.

MS. CLIFT: -- but for the mop-up operation in Afghanistan, I mean, there really is a danger that -- having won the initial phase, that the country could descend into anarchy if the administration doesn't say what our commitment is --

MR. BLANKLEY: I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't cultivated or staged attention, even, between major officials in government something that presidents have welcomed in the past because they feel it gets them closer to the truth? FDR was a specialist in this.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, Richard Nixon built conflict into his staff excellently, as well as anyone.

But the key thing here is, I think the battle is for the president's soul. He makes the policy. And I genuinely believe that Rumsfeld and the hard-liners in the last couple of weeks look to me like they are in the ascendancy, and there's going to be no --


MR. BUCHANAN: -- there's going to be no -- because the president doesn't want to confront Sharon, and he does want to go to Baghdad.

MR. CARNEY: Yeah, I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That key press conference we were discussing earlier, I think, is an indication that Powell is the one who's calling the shots in the Middle East -- much more so.

MR. CARNEY: I think more --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, Iraq has gone away, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: The exact opposite is the truth --

MR. CARNEY: John, no. But the problem is that one day it looks like Powell's calling the shots, and the next day it looks like the superhawks, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and sometimes Dick Cheney, are calling the shots, or at least influencing the president. And that's the problem with the president's policy, is he hasn't been sure- footed, because he's listening to too many advisers.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, we're still in a state -- we're still in the state of policy formation. I don't think there's any doubt about that. The policy has not been formulated finally. We have a sense of the president's inclinations, but it has not yet gelled, and so we're seeing this jockeying back and forth right now.