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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: PAT BUCHANAN, TONY BLANKLEY,
ELEANOR CLIFT, AND CLARENCE PAGE

TAPED: FRIDAY, APRIL 4, 2003
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF APRIL 5-6, 2003


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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One. What price victory?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Our special forces and Army paratroopers, working with Kurdish militia, have opened a northern front against the enemy. Army and Marine divisions are engaging the enemy and advancing to the outskirts of Baghdad.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The war is now at a turning point. Either Baghdad's defenders will fight fiercely, block to block, building by building, and force our troops into dangerous and deadly urban combat, or their resistance crumbles; Saddam Hussein's control over his military collapses from within.

It is a truism of foreign policy mavens that once American force has been committed, American force must prevail. The alternative to a less-than-decisive outcome, say the foreign policy mavens, makes the world riskier. The credibility of American resolve is then called into question. That weakens the deterrent value of our military.

But is the conventional wisdom right? If laying siege to Baghdad means street-to-street fighting that leaves the city in ruins, thousands of civilians dead and outrages world opinion, is conventional wisdom then right?

Gulf War II -- this war -- was promised to be a war of liberation, premised on oppressed Iraqis rising up against their own government. That premise was flawed as events have shown. Now the current interlude before the battle of Baghdad begins is the last chance to reevaluate our political strategy in Iraq and to determine whether there is any alternative left to accomplish regime change short of the unconditional surrender of Saddam Hussein.

Question: If the price for victory is that a conquered Baghdad will end up looking like Dresden in 1945, is that price too high a price to pay, and does it compromise our political objectives?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you're touching on something very serious. Saddam Hussein does have a last card to play, it's called the "open city," like Rome, they march out without fighting there. If he's granted amnesty, and if he says, in effect, I will stop a battle which will destroy this city, kill maybe 2,000 Americans, 50,000 Iraqis and destroy this city, if you give me amnesty, that's a card he's got to play.

I don't think he's going to play it, and I am apprehensive for this reason, John. I think we've had a spectacular victory thus far, but these Iraqi Guard divisions are dissolving, they're not -- I mean, they're defeated and they're routed. I think they're going back into the cities. And I think they're getting rid of their uniforms, and I think they're prepared for either a guerrilla war when the Americans come in or for an intifada when the Americans occupy it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There is talk that the Iraqis are going to -- and the Brits, rather, are going to fight this the way they're fighting at Basra; they're going to encircle the city, not go house to house, but go in on a strategic basis at night and fire surgically into the city. Now, that's a cordon sanitaire around the city, keeping people in and waiting. They can't go in anyway, because the Fourth Division has not arrived. We don't have the manpower to go in.

How do you put this together? Is there going to be a lull anyway?

MS. CLIFT: Well, it seems to me that, this so-called noose around the city, that Saddam Hussein can certainly outlast everybody else. I think he's got plenty of food and water in his bunker. And so his strategy might be to provoke a humanitarian crisis that he will then blame on the coalition troops.

The other alternative is these exploratory forays to get a sense of what the level of resistance is. And I imagine they're going to do that. And if they think that they can go into the city, they will.

But it's hard for me to come up with a happy ending to this because the likelihood of the continued guerrilla fighting, as Pat mentioned, I think, is very great. And in Washington, people talk about, well, do we compare this; will it be another Lebanon, will it be another Gaza Strip, or will it be another Chechnya? You know, take your pick. This is a country that is, I think, ungovernable. It's filled with warring ethnic and religious factions. And to, you know, pacify the country is going to be a huge security issue and we're going to lose even more friends in the world than we've already lost.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's assume that the strategic raids from the encirclement of the city don't work and that house-to-house battles are necessary, and that would lead to quite a bit of destruction. Do you think that the military objective, which we would certainly succeed in over time, would be defeating the political objective, which is to win the minds and the hearts of the people of Iraq in order to strengthen our position in the region -- that political objective would be undermined by the power force and cataclysmic, perhaps, impact of a total military defeat -- a total military conquest by us through house-to-house?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, you can state something sufficiently apoctically (sic) -- apa -- I can't get the word out --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Apapoc --

MR. PAGE: Apocalyptically.

MR. BLANKLEY: Apa -- (rolls tongue) -- thank you! (Laughter.)

MR. PAGE: I'm ready for a doomsday scenario!

MR. BLANKLEY: You could, but I can't say it sufficiently that way! -- to make the case. First of all, by the way, your opening premise that we have not had any support from the Iraqis -- as soon as the goons left, we've been seeing pictures of cheering Iraqis, so I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, well -- not quite that.

MR. BLANKLEY: But I think there's an -- an awful lot of damage would have to be done before I'd argue that it wasn't worth it for the premise that you stated at the beginning, that our prestige and our credibility and our ability to deter other actions around the world would be damaged if we walked away from this. I can't conceive that we're going to. My understanding is that the door-to-door -- and by the way, it won't be door-to-door; it will probably be wall-to-wall, because we won't be going into doors, we'll be going through walls -- you know, all the row houses there in Baghdad. But I think that's the last resort; it's unlikely to come to that, and it's more likely --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just finish my thought. It's more likely that if we don't get a quick resolution, we will set up a provisional government outside of Baghdad and slowly degrade Saddam's capacity to be relevant.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think we need to redefine our definition of victory so that the total military unconditional surrender that we are seeking does not leave in the way side the political victory we hope to achieve and crush it?

MR. PAGE: Well, I wouldn't eliminate the possibility that we will have unconditional victory. We have that kind of a posture now. And we're not going to see Dresden, John. That was -- Dresden was firebombed. That's exactly the opposite of what we want to do in Baghdad. We want to win the hearts and minds of the people. And Tony has a good point, that we have seen people tentatively but certainly approaching us in a peaceful and friendly fashion, including the tipster who told us where that Marine PFC, Jessica Lynch, was held captive.

I think what we're going to see, John, is modern technology being used here -- drones that will be able to patrol the streets. We don't need to roll the tanks down every street now. We control the air over Baghdad. We have an advantage. And we can always wait them out, like with the Brits --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I'm feeling much better now about house-to-house fighting.

MR. BUCHANAN: You've missed an option, John. You've missed an option, and that is, you get the armor up there, you don't wait for the 4th Division, a spear point right -- of the armor right down the middle of town, into the center of town. That is being actively discussed.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we surround Baghdad and negotiate a resolution and still preserve our credibility?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think you've got to win this war, John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it provided --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- and I think Saddam Hussein is going to be a prisoner of war. I don't think he can go out of there to exile. I think you're beyond that.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. I think the only way he goes out to exile is if U.S. intelligence believes he has the capacity to deliver a chemical attack, and if we could save lives that way. I think it's a remote possibility, but I think that exists.

What I don't get is -- Saddam Hussein has had a year to prepare for this. I don't think he's just sitting there waiting to die, and the same question --

MR. BUCHANAN: I think the fallback theory -- the fallback into the city --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. The same question remains: Does he have a trick up his sleeve?

Okay, sure, the chemical weapons will fall back. I don't think he care about his population.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, no, not that. He's pulling his guys out of -- out from under the air fire. He can't stand up to our tanks. They stand for a while, and then they move back into the cities.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to --

MR. BUCHANAN: His strategy is the postwar war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't want to discuss this, but I want to read something from Tony's Washington Times, from Friday, page 1.

MR. BUCHANAN: He doesn't write for page 1, John. (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm on the editorial page. Support for the paper!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is one of the stories he ran in Tony's Washington Times. "As thick black smoke hung over the outskirts of Baghdad last night, American troops stood stunned by the number of enemy forces they had killed." This is first paragraph. "Bodies dressed in the uniform of the Republican Guard and burned-out vehicles were strewn around the roadways. Buildings were riddled with bullet holes." Quote: "'I hope we don't experience anything like that again,' said Sgt. Simon, 38 (years old), who gave only one name. 'It is like (the 1991 Persian Gulf War). When I see that many bodies, I just don't want to be here anymore.'

"As the unit regrouped on a stretch of open land, a soldier stood looking dazed.

'When do we know when it's over? You could have sent two men in to kill Saddam Hussein. Why did we have to kill so many people? There were so many deaths today,'" end of quote

MR. BUCHANAN: Mm-hmm. There were some 300 in the battle, and that's the biggest battle so far.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, but --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (To Mr. Blankley.) Now this is from your newspaper. Now if that kind of revulsion can be felt by American soldiers --

MR. BLANKLEY: This is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- can you imagine what it's going to be like when the people on this planet, with this rolling wave of anti-Americanism rolling the planet -- can you imagine the revulsion they will feel?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, they got a wonderful, vivid quote from a soldier in the shock of battle, at the carnage that he -- that had been inflicted on the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would you think you're underestimating the grotesque feelings that one has in the face of dead bodies strewn around?

MR. BUCHANAN: He's a human being.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I don't question the horror of war. But with your suggesting that because a few hundred soldiers have died, that we shouldn't therefore be fighting the war -- I don't understand --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What I'm suggesting is that the foreign policy mavens are living in a world of abstraction, and war is hell.

Exit question: Will we see a battle for Baghdad next week that will climax the hostility, a climactic battle next week?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think the thing I mentioned, the drive to the center of the city to try to shock and knock down the government, is what we're going to see, and I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next week?

MR. BUCHANAN: I would -- if they're going to do it, I would guess they'd do it next week.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think they have the troops to do it?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think they wait for the 3rd Marines to do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's going to take a couple of weeks.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, the Marines will be there -- not the 4th Division, the 3rd Marines and the 3ID.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: You know, I don't know whether it will be next week or a couple of weeks, but we're going to "win" -- in quotes -- we're going to "win" the military victory here. There's no doubt about that.

But I think the points that you make about the revulsion that we're creating in the world, not in this country -- the president is winning the hearts and minds of Americans, but the rest of the world is watching this and seeing something very different. It's going to be a long time before we get over that, if ever.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that's going to defeat our political objective.

MS. CLIFT: I think we lose the political war, yes.

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't know the timing. I think it's not likely to be a climactic battle; I think it's more likely to be a bit more gradual, and, I think, reasonably soon, within a week or two.

MR. PAGE: At this rate, we roll into Baghdad over the next week, barring any surprises. The problem is, John, war will always surprise you. So I wouldn't be too quick to say it's going to be this week. But time is on our side.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's the Basra strategy for the next couple of weeks, possibly only one week, because of the 4th Division not being there, and also in an effort to avoid house-to-house fighting.

When we come back: Should Peter Arnett have been fired by NBC?

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: fired and hired. "Fired by America for Telling the truth. Hired by Daily Mirror to Carry On Telling It." So headlines the Daily Mirror, a London newspaper that hired Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent Peter Arnett after Arnett was fired by NBC for giving an unauthorized, critical-of-the-U.S. interview to an Iraq state-owned TV station.

PETER ARNETT (war correspondent): (From videotape.) The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: After the NBC firing, in a deft bank shot, NBC's "Today" Show interviewed Arnett.

PETER ARNETT (war correspondent): (From videotape.) And I want to apologize to the American people for clearly making a misjudgment over the weekend by giving an interview to Iraqi television.

There's a small island in the South Pacific, uninhabited, which I'll try and swim to, Matt.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Arnett swam to the Mirror, where he wrote, quote: "I report the truth of what is happening here in Baghdad and will not apologize for it."

The Mirror's editor said Arnett would be, quote, "free of the appalling censorship he has suffered in the States," unquote.

Question: Was it appalling censorship for NBC to fire Arnett?

Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think NBC could have been big enough to accept the apology and let him continue working. But I understand that Arnett made an error of judgment. It's not what he said, it's where he said it; and he handed the enemy a propaganda tool.

But frankly, we shouldn't be afraid of different voices. I mean, I welcome Al-Jazeera, I want to know what the Arab viewpoint is. I think BBC brings a more international perspective. And I think there's been an extreme overreaction to Mr. Arnett, probably based on his performance from the last Gulf War.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, he had to go. He had --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Could Arnett have said on MSNBC what he said on Iraqi television and not been punished?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, he should have been punished, not only for what he said.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Even if he said it on --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's a statement -- you didn't get the whole quote. First, he said, you know, the president's on the run, the war plan has failed. Both those are flat-out wrong. Then he tells this guy, "My reporting has helped the anti-war demonstrations" -- (laughs) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, that was a tough one to swallow!

MR. BUCHANAN: -- "in the United States." Get the hook! You know, he's covered his last baby milk factory, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's a victim of celebrity journalism and --

MR. BUCHANAN: He's a brave guy, he's a tough reporter, but he's too far left, and he can't control it and it's caught him three or four times now. He's out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have thoughts on this? (Laughter.)

MR. PAGE: What does Tony not have thoughts on? (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that he should have been hanged, drawn and quartered?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, because we're not technically at war, so treason issues don't arise. We have authorized military action, but not war. So the legal issue is beside the point.

MR. PAGE: (Off mike.)

MR. BLANKLEY: I agree with Pat's analysis. It was both terrible and I think intentionally inaccurate reporting. And most importantly, it was done on the Iraqi propaganda system and it was intended to and it did doubtlessly encourage the enemy. And it was appalling and I'm glad he's left the country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he was hit by bad baggage?

MR. PAGE: Well, I -- bad baggage?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: His bad baggage.

MR. PAGE: Oh, you mean from his previous --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, he had a couple of pretty serious raps.

MR. PAGE: He does. But I think his problem was the Natalie Maines problem -- you know, the member of the Dixie Chicks who made an insulting comment about President Bush to express her anti-war sentiments, but she did it in England instead of doing it here in the U.S. I think if Peter Arnett had said what he said on American television, right or wrong, it was commentary, it was an interview, and nobody would have cared. But doing it on Iraqi TV was asking for trouble.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. We are all agreed that at minimum, he gave comfort to the enemy. And we are all agreed that NBC was justified and took the right course in discharging him. Is that correct?

MR. : Mm-hmm.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld also castigated the press this week, saying that it runs in a pack. But it's not the government only that gripes at the press process; it's also the press griping at the government process. Here's Michael Wolff of New York -- not New Yorker -- New York Magazine.

MICHAEL WOLFF (New York Magazine): (From videotape.) I mean no disrespect by this question, but I want to ask about the value proposition of these briefings. We're no longer being briefed by senior-most officers. To the extent that we get information, it's largely information already released by the Pentagon. You may know that ABC has sent its senior correspondent home. So, I guess my question is why should we stay? What's the value to us for what we learn at this million-dollar press center? (Applause.)

U.S. BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: (From videotape.) Let's -- I've gotten applause already; that's wonderful! I appreciate that. (Laughter.) First, I would say it's your choice. We want to provide information that's truthful from the operational headquarters that is running this war. There are a number of places where information's available, not the least of which would be the embedded media, and they tell a very important story. The Pentagon has a set of information they provide as well. If you're looking for the entire mosaic, then you should be here.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: We get microreporting from the embedded journalists; the macropicture is what the press is supposed to get at Doha Central Command in Qatar. Michael Wolff says we're not getting macro, in fact, we're not getting anything new at all.

So is the Doha feed a Pentagon PR stunt to give the appearance of a free flow of information and accessibility, whereas in fact it's the same controlled message?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony Blankley?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I watch these briefings every -- on TV, not in Doha. And every day some reporter asks for operational details about the following afternoon.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Continues laughing.)

MR. BLANKLEY: And every day the general says we're not going to tell you, and thereby the enemy, what our plans are. Then they complain that they're not getting an overview of the future plans.

Of course there's not much they can say there, other than to summarize the activities that have occurred in the past.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's a PR stunt.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's not a PR stunt any more than any --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's nothing there. The ABC guy left.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's the "Five o'clock Follies" from Vietnam. I'll tell you where they're getting the picture, they get -- the embedded guys are getting the micro picture, and you get the macro picture --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The macro -- the micro picture.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- at the Pentagon, you're getting it out of the Pentagon. A lot of these guys are having great -- I mean, for a war, they're doing a great job getting that whole thing out.

MS. CLIFT: Yes, the Pentagon's war plan may have been questioned, but their press plan has been ingenious.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's excellent, yeah.

MS. CLIFT: I mean, the embedded reporters, for the most part, do lots of flag-waving. And, you know, I'm glad they're there, I want to learn everything. But the briefings in Doha -- no reporter worth his or her salt -- or sand! -- depends on a party-line briefing. But the problem is there's nobody else there, really, I guess, who's talking, so those reporters are on an island -- they might as well be on an island.

MR. PAGE: This always happens with every war. We're kind of like with the Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner, you know, we in the press have an adversarial relationship, as we should, and the military is coming up with new tricks all the time to polish their image. But it's --

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't think you should have an adversarial relationship when your country's at war --

MS. CLIFT: Oh, come on.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- these kids are dying --

MS. CLIFT: You can't ever give up the adversarial relationship.

MR. PAGE: I disagree, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: I mean, you ask a legitimate question.

MR. PAGE: I disagree, Pat, because what if --

MR. BUCHANAN: We're not adversaries of our own guys!

MR. PAGE: -- what if last week's prevailing wisdom was correct? What if the generals and Rumsfeld had screwed up? What if we did have GIs out there --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN (?): What if they were all wrong?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they'd be all wrong!

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible) -- eventually, yeah, but --

MS. CLIFT: Hypothetically.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What if they'd been right? What if they had been right? Because see, then --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, how would that have helped, if they started knocking the war plans?

MR. PAGE: Fine, fine, say "I told you so" afterwards, but while it's happening, we have an obligation --

MR. BUCHANAN: How does it help? How does it help?

MR. PAGE: I mean, I've been on both sides of this fence. You know, when you're a troop out there, you want somebody watching your back back here. And if we in the media don't do it, who will?

MR. BUCHANAN: You mean the media's watching the back of the troops?

MR. PAGE: We better be.

MS. CLIFT: When they --

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't think the troops think that.

MR. PAGE: I don't care what the troops think, Pat. I mean, I've been out there. I know that the troops are as diverse as the rest of us. But somebody has to be an advocate for them. Supporting the troops does not mean sending them off blindly. We need to have some kind of a check and balance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Multiple-choice quiz. Will the addition of Arnett to the staff of the Daily Mirror: A, greatly improve the paper; B, somewhat improve the paper; C, make no difference to the quality of the paper; D, distract from the Mirror's quality; or E, destroy the paper's quality?

Pat Buchanan?

MR. BUCHANAN: It goes up, over the hill, and down. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Destruction.

MR. BUCHANAN: Neutral. Nah, zero.

MS. CLIFT: No. It's a tabloid publication. Peter Arnett won a Pulitzer for his coverage, his written coverage, as an AP reporter in Vietnam. He's going to improve that paper.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think so?

MS. CLIFT: Good coverage. Yes. He's a good reporter.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think that there's no applicable answer because this isn't journalism, either from him or from that newspaper, which is a fairly trashy, left-wing tabloid.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, is there anything applicable?

MR. BLANKLEY: But if anything, it would be C, neutral.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: C, neutral.

MR. PAGE: It's also a British paper. And the British adversarial press, those who are not just adversarial, but oppositional, those who are opposed to the war, like the Mirror, make no secret of it. He's in the right place now because he's been doing that kind of reporting commentary.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No question. So, what --

MR. BUCHANAN: He's a commentator, is his problem.

MR. PAGE: Yeah.

MR. BUCHANAN: His problem is, he's not a reporter when he starts going out there with a commentary and he's got a slanted viewpoint.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. This is Buchanan? The florid commentary above journalism?

MR. BUCHANAN: I'm a commentator, I'm not a reporter. I'm not a reporter, John, and nether are you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Celebrity journalists always enhance readership.

We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Patrick?

MR. BUCHANAN: A tough weekend meeting for Blair and Bush. Blair is very concerned by reports from Rumsfeld, also James Woolsey, that after we do Baghdad, we are headed for Damascus and Iran. And Blair is also going to lose on the issue of U.N. in Baghdad, and he's going to lose on the issue of the road map eventually.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The road map in Israel.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yep. That's correct.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Rumsfeld's plan to install a retired Shell Oil executive to head up the Iraqi oil production after the war ends will run into legal questions and problems from the U.N. and may force the U.S. to go back to the U.N. to get a legitimizing resolution.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: First, we won't go back to the U.N.; that's one prediction. But my basic prediction is that the energy bill will not have the ANWR drilling in it when it gets out of the Senate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will it pass?

MR. BLANKLEY: Without ANWR, it could pass.

MR. PAGE: I'm going to make a Supreme Court prediction, which I never do; but I say that they will overturn -- they will find against Michigan's affirmative action plan but will retain using race as a factor.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that the World Trade Organization, the WTO, will survive the current entente (sic) between Europe and the U.S. despite tough sledding ahead.

Bye-bye.

®FC¯END OF REGULAR SEGMENT
PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS

®FL¯
PBS SEGMENT

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

TOMMY THOMPSON (Health and Human Services secretary): (From videotape.) We do not believe that there's any bio-terrorism or any kind of human involvement that would cause this kind of disease.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's terrifying, it's biological, but it is not bio-terrorism. It's a killer virus called SARS -- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome -- that first surfaced in China's Guangdong province in November. The virus has been compared to the flu, but has proven to be much more deadly and just as contagious. To date, SARS has spread to 22 countries, infecting 2,270 people, and killing over 80, with the numbers rising hourly.

Most worrisome, of course, is this:

SEC. THOMPSON: (From videotape.) There's no known treatment, John, at this point in time. That's one of the things we're working on.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The recovery rate from a SARS infection is high -- 80 to 90 percent. But there is a SARS worst-case scenario.

SEC. THOMPSON: (From videotape.) Well, the worst-case scenario, of course, is this could develop into a pandemic. We're certainly hopeful that it doesn't do that. We have no suspicions that it will. We're monitoring very closely. Our scientists are very concerned.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sir, did the federal government move fast enough to prevent SARS from coming to our shores?

SEC. THOMPSON: (From videotape.) We have never seen faster action on a public health matter as what took place at CDC. CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services were the first ones involved with the World Health Organization. In fact, in some instances we were pushing the World Health Organization to do more.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The secretary, on that choice program --

MR. PAGE: What show was that?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A choice program, the brilliant interrogation of him -- he mentioned that a pandemic is what we have to worry about. Now, the pandemic that one recalls with horror was 1918, 1919, which was an outbreak of flu. And that took the lives of how many worldwide?

MR. PAGE: I think that more were killed than World War I; either 10 or 20 million.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Twenty-one million worldwide. And how many in the United States?

MR. BUCHANAN: Five hundred thousand in the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: More than that, by about 575.

MR. BUCHANAN: Twelve hundred right in Washington, D.C., which didn't then really have any suburbs.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Let me give you the question: Let us suppose that SARS was a bioterrorism attack, as was anthrax, instead of a mutating deadly hitherto unknown pathogen. Would our government have already quarantined countries where the infection rate is high? Are we being insufficiently aggressive?

I ask you, Clarence Page.

MR. PAGE: I think we are being properly aggressive right now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Properly? All right, hold it at that; we're almost out of time.

What do you think? We're doing all right?

MR. BLANKLEY: I might be a little bit more aggressive.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: I think we may soon be wearing masks when we fly on planes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think our guys are right on top of it. We're doing the right thing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're doing okay.


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