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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: TONY BLANKLEY, PATRICK BUCHANAN, ELEANOR CLIFT AND JAMES WARREN

TAPED: FRIDAY, APRIL 9, 2004
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF APRIL 10-11, 2004



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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Two-front war.

U.S. MARINE: (From videotape.) They come out, and they're trying to lure us in deeper. They have basic ambushes set up along the way.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL RICARDO SANCHEZ (commander, coalition ground forces, Iraq): (From videotape.) We're seeing a little bit a more persistent enemy force out there, and that's what's created the casualties.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Front one: Sunnis. In the bloodiest seven days of fighting since the war began, over 50 American soldiers were killed, with hundreds wounded. The heaviest combat is in the Sunni Muslim stronghold of Fallujah, a city of some 300,000 people, approximately the size of Albany, New York.

Starting Monday, 1,200 Marines from the 1st Division besieged the city with tanks, AC-130 gunships and attack helicopters and battled to seize control. They fought door to door, calling in airstrikes that included two 500-pound precision bombs targeted on the outer walls of a mosque. The strike killed 40 -- an estimate, including innocent worshippers arriving for afternoon prayers.

On Tuesday the fighting spread to the neighboring town of Ramadi, where 12 Marines were slain.

In Baghdad, Shi'ites and Sunnis, although rivals, joined forces to attack American Humvees.

On Thursday three Japanese were taken hostage.

Through the week, fighting flared in seven other cities across the breadth of Iraq.

In addition to the Japanese, one Canadian and two Palestinians with Israeli passports are being held hostage.

Question: What's the objective in Fallujah, Pat Buchanan?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, the objective of the United States in Fallujah is to crush the uprising in the Sunni Triangle which has erupted, and now you have an uprising in the south by the Shi'ites, under Mr. Sadr. What you have is an entirely new war, John. And what is at risk here is the Bush presidency. It is the Bush doctrine. It is the -- America's Middle East policy. And the only way Mr. Bush can vindicate it, I believe, is to pour in more force and more troops and more money, and take a longer time.

I think we are seeing the wisdom of his father in stopping before he got --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it also punitive for the mutilation and killing of the four contractors and the killing of the five service persons?

MR. BUCHANAN: There's no question about it; the overwhelming use or the tremendous use of American force and air power is designed to be both retaliatory and punitive. And I think the president and the military feel that it's necessary.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there another objective in this show of force, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Well, it's to send the message that the U.S. is willing to use this kind of force. But when you send that message, that message of strength, you also risk a backlash of unifying the disparate elements in the country against the American occupation, and we're seeing that happen.

The definition of a quagmire is, the more you struggle, the more you get sucked in. Well, it qualifies. But I think the more appropriate analogy is not necessarily to Vietnam, but it's to Iran. When the shah fell, there was a vacuum there and it was filled by the Shi'ites and the religious element. And Saddam Hussein, the strong man, fell in Iraq, and now we are seeing the Shi'ites and the Sunnis, who are enemies, united by this religious fervor to fill this vacuum.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, is the show of force also designed to show that we will not be driven out of Iraq Mogadishu-style, 1994?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, yes, certainly that's part of it. I think there's been some overstatement of the dimensions of the current inflammation in Iraq. At a military level, this is -- I've talked to Pentagon sources this afternoon -- this is very manageable. At the political level, obviously, it's an unknown. But when you talk --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Were they helpful to you?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, they were. Thank you. It's not a merger of all of the Shi'as and all of the Sunnis. You're talking about a few thousand. There's a lot of negotiation going on between us and different Shi'a mullahs right now, and so it's very much in flux. They're trying to isolate the current ones who are inflaming from the other Shi'as, and I don't know what the success level is going to be.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're going to talk about the Shi'as more in detail in moment. Now we're talking about the Sunnis.

MR. WARREN: How much do you trust folks at the Pentagon telling you this is manageable, the same folks who clearly grotesquely underestimated the extent of opposition here --

MR. BLANKLEY: My sources have never misrepresented to me.

MR. WARREN: -- the folks --

MR. BLANKLEY: My sources haven't misrepresented to me.

MR. WARREN: -- the folks who went in, I think, with the basically misguided premise that we were going to bring democracy, this was going to have a cleansing effect throughout the Middle East? And now I think we're caught with just a deadline of our own making, which I think we're going to have to meet, to pass power over, and clearly with insufficient amounts of folks. And, as Eleanor says, remarkably we have united the Shi'ites and the Sunnis. Amazing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this demonstrable in Fallujah, where you have 1,500, maximum, American troops and you have a population of 300,000, with that kind of a geographical distribution required for that population? Door-to-door and house-to house fighting. Is it not really making American soldiers sitting ducks?

MR. WARREN: Well, sure, in the same way as the contractors were sitting ducks. You know, these great, well-trained American guys who went to their deaths because of, I think, such naive notions about their security.

MR. BLANKLEY: To compare four security guards who were in transit with our Marines, who are not in transit but are in combat, to say that they're the same level of sitting ducks, I think, is to misunderstand it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question.

MS. CLIFT: But urban combat does --

MR. BLANKLEY: Urban combat is horrible.

MS. CLIFT: -- lose more lives and also loses a lot of innocent Iraqi lives. And that's a very high price to pay when you're trying to win the hearts and minds of a country you've allegedly liberated.

MR. BLANKLEY: Allegedly?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Is there a danger that this mission will backfire, Pat Buchanan?

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, this mission was undertaken because it had to be undertaken. You cannot allow Americans to be shot and murdered and then hung up and all of that without responding unless you want a break in morale and will of your people and the other side united. Is there a risk here? There is a tremendous risk that this could metastasize and turn into an all-out conflict that could require 250,000 American troops in there. Yes, there is a danger.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a danger that NATO may be less likely to help out under these circumstances? And also, does the U.N. -- will be unwilling to enter?

MS. CLIFT: I use the analogy of the quagmire. The only thing that gets you out of a quagmire is if somebody throws you a rope. The rope would have to come from the U.N. or NATO. And the worse it gets and the harder it looks like -- the more difficult it looks in that country, I think they're going to be much less willing to come in.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, look, we -- I agree on the general principle. I think we should not expect a lot of support from allies for the next number of years, not just in Iraq but elsewhere in the war on terror. However, recently, this week, late this week, South Korea sent off another 3,500, or has offered up another 3,500. Japan has stayed firm. So in the immediate moment, we're looking okay with our allies. But in the long term, obviously this is going to be unpopular --

MS. CLIFT: That is so condescending to say our allies aren't going to give us help in the war on terror. Iraq was a diversion from the war on terror. The Spaniards have --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, that's your theory. We've heard your theory for a year and a half on that.

MS. CLIFT: The Spaniards have rolled up --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish, Tony.

MS. CLIFT: The Spaniards have rolled up cells in Madrid. They've gotten the people behind the bombing. The other allies are vigilant on the war on terror and they've lived with it a lot longer than you have --

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, like the Germans who have just released the one terrorist who was convicted.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that angry Iraqis that had been previously sitting on the fence may now be less inclined to go with us because they feel that our forces are stretched too thin and they may want to follow where the winners seem to be?

MR. WARREN: Remember the whole premise here is we would come in and in short order we would get rid of the, you know, that small sliver of folks who were pro-Saddam Hussein, and then everyone would be throwing flowers and champagne at us for having liberated them. So there are far more folks than we ever imagined who hate us --

MR. BLANKLEY: This is such a grotesque caricature of what the policy of building democracy in Iraq was all about. When the president spoke about that in February of last year he did not say it was going to be a cakewalk. He did not say it was going to be easy. He said it was going to go on for many years. The question is, after September 11th, do you want to sit on your backside and let the world -- (inaudible due to cross talk) -- and nobody's making any suggestion other than giggling at the effort to make the world safer.

MR. WARREN: The number of soldiers Mr. Rumsfeld, perhaps too cute by half, sent in belie that assertion of yours. We sent in the number of folks we --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also --

MS. CLIFT: We were far --

MR. BUCHANAN: There's a basic question: How much money, how many lives, how long a time to democratize Iraq, and is it so vital to our interests that we really want to go all the way down that road? That's the question that hasn't been answered.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can I -- we have to get out.

MR. BLANKLEY: That's the legitimate question, whether it's necessary or not. We don't debate that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, Tony, we really have to get out.

My point would be that LBJ did the same thing that Bush is doing, and that LBJ was a prisoner of Vietnam. And with each passing day, does it not look as though Bush is now a prisoner of Iraq?

MR. BUCHANAN: He is as of --

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, it's Vietnam played coup, or it's like JFK's death: Do you move in all the way at that point? It is not Vietnam --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We are at a crisis point. When we come back, can --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- but it's 1963, '64.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- can military force destabilize Iraq -- excuse me, can it stabilize Iraq so that the government can be handed over to the Iraqis in fewer than three months? We'll be right back.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: the second front, Shi'ites. This is Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful 30-year-old Shi'ite cleric: "Another Vietnam for America." That's what he says Iraq will become unless, quote, "The American people stand beside the Iraqi people to help them in the transfer of power to honest Iraqis, who are suffering an injustice by America's occupying army," unquote.

The Iraq-Vietnam comparison confirmed the opening of a second front in the Iraqi resistance. The Sunni rebellion is the first front. The new Shi'ite rebellion is the second front, with Sadr as its leader. Sadr, the son of one of Iraq's most revered Shi'ite clerics -- killed by Saddam Hussein in 1999 -- fired up his followers to fight tooth and nail to get the Americans out of Iraq, telling them to, quote, "terrorize your enemy." For the first time, these Shi'ite Muslim followers, opponents of Saddam Hussein, are taking up arms in an organized resistance against the American occupation.

This Shi'ite uprising started in earnest two weeks ago, when U.S. forces were ordered by Paul Bremer to -- get this -- shut down a Shi'ite newspaper, the radical Al-Hawza, owned by Sadr. It was shut down, Bremer said, because it incited violence against American troops. Over 10,000 angry Shi'ites jammed the streets of Baghdad to vent their rage at the newspaper shutdown. Spanish troops then arrested Sadr's right-hand man, Mustafa al-Yacoubi, sparking further Shi'ite outrage.

Last Sunday, violence broke out in Sadr City, a heavily-populated Shi'ite section of Baghdad, and in clashes with Sadr's militia, eight Americans were killed. In central Baghdad there was also mayhem. The Shi'ite uprising then fanned out across Iraq, to Najaf, Amarah, Nasiriyah, Kufa, Basra, Kut, Karbala, all cities teeming with Shi'ites. At least four Americans killed, dozens wounded. It now appears that Shi'ites and Sunnis -- former bitter enemies -- have united in a common cause: get America out of Iraq, as this Sunni Iraqi observes.

IRAQI MAN: (From videotape.) (Through interpreter.) I'm very happy that the Shi'ites finally started to fight against the American troops. It shows that we are one hand against the occupation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That man was a Sunni. He's talking about how happy he was that the Shi'ites were joining the Sunnis. Question: how do we know, other than what we've seen here, that Sunnis and Shi'ites are really now united against a common enemy, the Americans, with one goal, to get rid of the occupying Americans?

MR. BUCHANAN: It doesn't make any difference, John, whether they're joined. There is a Shi'ite uprising in the south, in all these southern cities. This fellow, Badr, by killing Americans has thrown down the gauntlet to the United States. We can kill him and make him a martyr, you can capture him and make him a living martyr, or you can not capture him, in which case he becomes a big honcho, the biggest Shi'ite in the world right now who is standing up to the Americans. There are no good choices here.

MS. CLIFT: Well, for the moment, the administration has backed off. They have not gone in after him guns blazing -- wisely. But now the worry is do they telegraph weakness by not going after him --

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MS. CLIFT: -- after they said they would.

Look, the Shi'ites are lining up with the Sunnis at mosques to give blood to the brothers in Fallujah. So there is a commonality here --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also, they were together in that --

MS. CLIFT: -- but it's short term.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They were together in that parade that they had, the 10,000.

MS. CLIFT: It's short term, and it may alleviate the immediate fears the administration has that the country could erupt into civil war. But I think, you know, the Shi'ites are the majority. They want power. The solution here may be a three-state solution. I don't see how these people live together.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, with reference to your heredity, your lineage, here's what Winston Churchill said about America, quote, "America always does the right thing once they have exhausted all of the alternatives." Does this apply to anybody in the recent activity this week in relation to Sadr?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, the context of that was that America eventually got into World War II, and it took them a while to figure it out. So he's right, and we did eventually get into the war on terrorism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What was the dumb thing that was done this week?

MR. BLANKLEY: But -- but -- but as I've written in the Washington Times, in our editorial --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that your newspaper?

MR. BLANKLEY: It is, yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Washington Times. Okay.

MR. BLANKLEY: Washington Times.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughing.)

MR. BLANKLEY: We can get that in Washington?

MR. BLANKLEY: Washington, on the Internet, all across the world.

Ambassador Bremer made a mistake, a measurable one, in both the timing and the way in which Sadr was arrested and the paper was closed. It could have been done through the Iraqi Governing Council with the face of Iraq rather than the face of America. That would have been much --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Closing the paper.

MR. BLANKLEY: And the timing was not -- it was not necessary to be done now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that kicked it off, the closing of the paper.

MR. BLANKLEY: And that has put more burden on our military forces there to manage what I think was a measurable mistake.

But I want to talk briefly about this question, as you've described it colorfully, of the merger of all the Sunnis and all the Shi'as. It's a question of magnitude, and what you're seeing is a number of events and you're characterizing an entire Iraqi nation. In fact, as I mentioned before, Sadr -- we're holding off on Sadr, as you correctly said, while we're discussing with his many other competitive mullahs --

MS. CLIFT: Tony --

MR. BLANKLEY: -- who don't want this to turn into a civil war --

MS. CLIFT: -- all you need --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, hold on, Eleanor.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- and don't want -- (inaudible) -- to the Sunnis. So --

MS. CLIFT: One sentence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to ask Tony this question.

MS. CLIFT: One sentence. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I grant your premise, first of all, we have no proof that people are joining up -- the Shi'ites are joining up with Sadr. And the man in the driver's seat is Sistani, and al-Sistani wants one man, one vote, and he wants to postpone the handover of the government, and he wants the Shi'ites, of course, to win. And that's what will happen. And he hasn't come out in favor of Sadr to that extent.

However, my question to you is that -- which I have actually forgotten in explaining this what my question was. So I'll turn to you.

MR. WARREN: Your question was: What the heck do you do now?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, my question was this. (Laughter.) Granted what you said, don't you think there is mission creep going on in our being there?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, there's not mission creep. There is tactics creep or strategy creep. The point is, the mission was always to democratize Iraq --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, well now, you're gaming it now, you're gaming it!

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, no. No, no, no. I'm not.

MS. CLIFT: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know what I mean by mission creep. And you can see the multitude of cities we are now in. (Inaudible) -- the urban warfare.

MR. BLANKLEY: We were in most of these cities when the actual fighting --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's escalating. It's escalating.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- mission creep.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's not mission creep! (Laughs.)

MR. WARREN: First of all -- first of all, Tony and I probably agree on something; wouldn't it be nice if Americans were as passionate about reading newspapers as Iraqis were.

MR. BLANKLEY: Chicago Tribune is also a wonderful newspaper.

MR. WARREN: All of us with our declining circulations.

MS. CLIFT: And Newsweek is a great --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. WARREN: I do think we tend to exaggerate here, based on all these caricatures that we're upholding, we tend to exaggerate some of the differences between the Shi'ites and the Sunnis. Particularly in the big cities like Baghdad, for a long time there's been a lot of intermarriage and they're a lot closer than we think. So we can exaggerate the significance of their coming together now. That said, they are increasingly bound by this fierce nationalism, and they're increasingly bound by their hatred --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. All right.

MR. WARREN: -- of the Christian occupiers.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can Bush afford to let the June 30th deadline slip? Buchanan?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, I think he can.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a milepost.

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't care about mileposts.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On the political landscape.

MR. BUCHANAN: What George Bush cannot allow happen is this thing -- for Sistani or the Shi'ites to all get behind Sadr in a general uprising, because if that happens, we lose the war and we have to get out. Whatever Bush can do to prevent that, he will do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He leaves the impression now that he doesn't have a clear plan with regard to Iraq, the polls suggest.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So if he lets this deadline slip, does it not then mean that he does not have a clear plan? I ask you.

MR. WARREN: Yes, he is going to -- he will not let it slip. And I think, you know, right or wrong, he's going to stick with this. It is George Bush's moral certitude that I think is his great weakness here, but is also why he's going to get out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, if you were John Kerry, would you want to see this deadline met or would you want to see this deadline slip?

MS. CLIFT: I think the deadline is a fiction. It's just a way for the president to say, "See, I'm making progress." The council or the governing body he's going to turn it over to does not have the confidence of the Iraqis. And in fact, we were conned into this war, and the biggest conner-in-chief is Ahmed Chalabi, who is the power on the Governing Council.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's the prime minister.

MS. CLIFT: He is a fraud. He took hundreds of thousands of dollars from this government and fed us fictitious information about weapons of mass destruction.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. I want a one-word answer. Exit: Can military force stabilize Iraq so that the government of Iraq can be handed over to the Iraqis in fewer than three months, as scheduled?

MR. BUCHANAN: We're going to find out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your answer?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it can be met.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Military force can do it?

MR. BUCHANAN: Look. He will use whatever military force he has to. If he wants to keep that deadline, he'll keep it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, suppose he uses maximum military force. Will he meet the deadline?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your answer to that?

MS. CLIFT: There will still be a huge American occupation. Americans will still be dying. And this government is a fig leaf for a continued American presence. It'll be the largest embassy in the world, with 3,000 people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Can he meet the deadline? Can he -- will he meet the deadline on military force?

MS. CLIFT: Yes, he'll meet it in a symbolic way. Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In a symbolic way.

MS. CLIFT: Yes, but it's a meaningless turnover.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, in the sense that we were always -- the American military was always going to be the military force that was going to enforce for a long period of time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The military force --

MR. BUCHANAN: The Army is the government.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think they can stabilize this. The bigger question is whether they can come up with even a plausible interim government. That's is going to be a big challenge --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will he meet the deadline by the use of military force?

MR. WARREN: Yes, and he can create with brute military force an air of short-term but, I think, illusory stability.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: My feeling is that he cannot meet the deadline by even maximum military force, because there is a rising counterforce.

Issue three: Questioning Condi.

(Begin videotape segment.)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE (member of the 9/11 commission): Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6th PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE (national security adviser): I believe the title was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

What the August 6th PDB said -- and perhaps I should read it to you --

MR. BEN-VENISTE: We would be happy to have it declassified in full at this time -- (applause) -- including its title.

(End videotape segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quick exit question: Will the document be declassified? And how important is it?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's of moderate importance, and it may be declassified by the time this show airs.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: It's important enough that the administration fiercely guarded the title of it for two and a half years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: It will be released, and then the Democrats will ask for another document, and another, and another. This is a partisan tactic. It won't have any large consequence.

The CNN-Time Magazine overnight poll after Condi Rice's testimony showed that they moved confidence in the president from 40 to 54 percent, 14 points overnight.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you don't see it as that damaging?

MR. BLANKLEY: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Even though he did not call a conference of his able and Cabinet officers and other advisers?

MR. WARREN: It will be released and sadly have minimal impact, in large measure because this is becoming just a big, big muddy to the American people, and they don't focus on this like folks here in D.C.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think it will conform -- will confirm Clarke's criticism that the president appeared to be detached with regard to terrorism?

MR. WARREN: Even if it did, Clarke and Condi Rice are still on the same page when it comes to the events of 9/11: that even with all the facts that they had, there was no way that we could have been --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, are you saying that the document is being so firmly withheld because of the principle, executive privilege?

MR. WARREN: No, because it's embarrassing. It's a typical bureaucratic government impulse to restrain.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Embarrassing -- it won't be embarrassing enough to disturb his --

MR. WARREN: No.

MR. BUCHANAN: The title is out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?

MR. BUCHANAN: The title is out, and the most important paragraph Kerrey declassified.

MR. WARREN: John --

MR. BUCHANAN: The title was declassified. I don't think it's going to be anything more than what we've already got.

MR. WARREN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He has a disapproval rating of 47 percent.

MR. WARREN: John --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, Tony is right, but this thing -- Condi -- he went up on this thing 14 points after Condi's testimony.

MR. WARREN: John -- just remember what --

MS. CLIFT: It will take a while --

MR. WARREN: John, remember what's going on in Fallujah and Baghdad so outweighs the importance of this one memo.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's exactly right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think you are all correct. When we --

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A fast, for us, prediction. Election day, about seven months away; how many troops will be in Iraq, assuming there are 150,000 there now?

MR. BUCHANAN: A hundred and fifty thousand.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The goal was under 100,000. They're not going to make that break point. Over 100,000.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: One-hundred fifty (thousand) to 180 (thousand).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hmm.

MR. WARREN: One-six-five. I don't think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One-six-five. I think it's too close to call. I'll say 150,000. (Laughter.) Happy Easter! Happy Passover! Bye- bye!

PBS SEGMENT

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: what Americans think. Take me to your leader: Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president? Forty-three percent approve, 47 percent disapprove; Pew Research poll.

What does that poll tell you, Tony Blankley?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, that's sort of a low rider. I've seen other polls. But basically the polls show they're even. You know, AP came out Friday showing it as even. It's basically an even race at the national level. When you get below the national level, the -- Bush has seen some good news in Wisconsin and Minnesota and Pennsylvania, marginal news in Ohio. Ultimately, of course, it's an election for electoral votes, so these individual states matter. The advertising, because it's only targeting those states, isn't affecting like California or New York state, where Kerry will run up huge numbers. But I think it's a very close contest right now beyond the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to get in on this, James?

MR. WARREN: Yeah. I think most of this stuff at this point is folderol, especially since at this point we have no clue what the impact might be about -- related to a death toll in Iraq steadily climbing, to a possible -- hope not -- terrorist attack on U.S. soil, or to the economy still being kind of bumpy. So right now I think this -- all these statistics are kind of folderol.

MS. CLIFT: I think events on the ground in Iraq, combined with the mostly jobless recovery, are eating away at the president's approval rating.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm.

MS. CLIFT: But the country is still very closely divided. There is one poll that shows only 1 percent of people haven't made up their minds. So there's not that great a pool of undecideds.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's move on. We have three more polls to get to.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just answer that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly, quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: I want to make the point -- on the economy, I think, Bush has a lot of up-side potential, and on Iraq he has a lot of down-side potential. As far as -- so I think, you know, the economy is understating his popularity and Iraq may be currently overstating it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, let's move on.

"Which concerns you more, that the U.S. will leave Iraq before a stable democracy is in place, or that the U.S. will wait too long to withdraw troops from Iraq?" Will leave too soon, 36 percent; will wait too long, 52 percent.

Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think that that is where the country is and it's a real problem for Mr. Bush, because, John, I think if you continue with the battling that's now going on in the south and in Fallujah, the American people will say, look, we will send our guys to fight and die to disarm this crowd of its weapons, we're not going to send them --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't want to talk about Iraq anymore, I want to get to the economy. Then I'll let you both in on this side.

Next, the economy. "Would you describe the state of the nation's economy as excellent, good, not so good, or poor?" Excellent, 2 percent; good, 30 percent; not good, 42 percent; poor, 28 percent. What do you make of that?

MR. WARREN: He's got a problem, particularly with all the focus on outsourcing, which I think is an overstated problem; but nevertheless, it has impact in places like northern Ohio, which could be up for grabs precisely because of the loss of manufacturing jobs.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Sixty-eight percent say either poor or good -- or not good. Two out of three. Why such pessimism, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Well, because even though last month we had one good month of generating jobs, if you look at those jobs, most of them are part-time jobs. Ohio -- whoever wins Ohio wins the presidency. In Ohio they've lost 225,000 jobs since Bush became president.

MR. BUCHANAN: Only because they're watching shows like this, John. (Laughter.)

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