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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: TONY BLANKLEY, PATRICK BUCHANAN, ELEANOR CLIFT AND MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN

TAPED: FRIDAY, APRIL 30, 2004
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MAY 1-2, 2004

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Iraqupation sour?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. (Applause.)

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT (deputy director, coalition operations): (From videotape.) It will be methodical, it will be precise, and it will overwhelming.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In Fallujah this week, U.S. AC-130 gunships and F-18 fighter jets pounded insurgent targets in the city. Throughout Iraq, including Fallujah, over 20 Americans were killed over the past seven days, eight of them in a murderous car bombing in Baghdad. All told this April, just ending, 126 U.S. troops have been killed, making April the war's cruelest month.

What was the reaction of the U.N. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to this carnage -- the man on whom the White House has pinned its hopes in Iraq?

Lakhdar Brahimi (United Nations special envoy to Iraq): (From videotape.) In these situations, there is no military solution.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "In these situations, there is no military solution."

Question: Is Brahimi right?

Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, central point is the president apparently feels that he is. The president of the United States last weekend, John, was discussing and debating whether to take down the insurgents in Fallujah. We now have this week the U.S. Marines decided not to and pulled back. The siege of Fallujah has not succeeded. The insurgents, in a way, have prevailed.

I think what you're seeing is the high tide of American empire, the high tide of our presence in Iraq. We have pulled back. The Middle East and the world knows it. And John, this is an historic battle and I think the results of this we're going to live with for a long time, because I don't think you can win this war if you allow the enemy to maintain a privileged base camp right in a country you're occupying.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the time for the military options has passed. And this has been the most ill-conceived military operation since Custer. And what you see in Washington this week -- not within the administration, but certainly on Capitol Hill -- is a hemorrhaging in confidence that this administration has any idea what to do. If the goal was to put the Republican Guard in control, why did we fight a war? And that's going to be interpreted as a humiliation of the United States. It may be the right decision, because it's the least worst of a lot of "worst" positions. But it is a signal that this administration is prepared to declare victory and withdraw.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The latest development is the Fallujah protection force. This was designed by General Conway and General Abizaid with three or four of the former generals of the Republican Army (sic) of Saddam Hussein.

Now does this -- is going to save the situation? And does it also show that these two generals have overruled Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, the civilians, the military has overruled the civilians, and in so doing indicated what is going on in the mind of the president, namely, a rejection of the fanaticism that has existed in the Pentagon in the pursuit of a military victory and now seeing that this is the best way -- is it a tactical retreat?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, let me say about seven things. First of all, I assume the chain of command in our government still exists, so that no, I don't think that Rumsfeld has been delooped.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the president has his right; he's the commander

MR. BLANKLEY: But I look, I want to go back to your original question about Brahimi, because if -- one thing we know is, he is insincere, because when he was part of the Algerian government back in the '90s, they had an insurgency, and his government went in and slaughtered thousands of the insurgents, and it worked. And they have a nice, stable government there now. So when he says military force is never a solution, he forgot his own government just a few years ago --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well --

MR. BLANKLEY: But let me go to the other point, which is, I have deepest concern -- although I don't know the calculations being made by our government -- that turning over the responsibilities to Sunni Saddamist -- formerly Saddamist generals is going to win the admiration of the Arab world. It worries me that it's going to look like they've held off a superpower, and they're going to make a lot of points. So I have my doubts about this strategy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, the president has chosen Brahimi as the kingmaker. He is going to select the president of the June 30th group that's going to be running the government and the two vice presidents and the prime minister, and he's also going to populate that small congregation that's going to be handling legislation, whatever there is, or anything similar to it.

Now do you think, contrary to what Blankley says, that this is a good choice?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, I think they need this government -- the United States government needs some kind of cover, in a sense, to back off from where they are in Iraq, because they don't feel it's working. I mean, they've made an enormous number of tactical mistakes. In fact, at this point, everybody has the right to make mistakes. But they're abusing the privilege. I mean, I am just astonished at what they're doing now.

And where they must make the calculation -- in a sense, it's what Eleanor is saying -- that whatever their choices are, this is the least of all bad choices. It's the lesser of two evils or the evil of two lessers. They have very little option. This is their choice: to put in somebody who is, you know, a Saddam, you know, general, a Sunni -- to put him back in. It's an unbelievable statement to put --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Now what he's going to do is present on paper at the end of May to the United Nations Security Council the approval of what he has in mind for the interim period from June the 30th until the 5th of January.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Until the elections.

MR. BUCHANAN: It will be a puppet government.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Security Council --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's puppet government!

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's a puppet government.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right.

MR. BUCHANAN: It is not going to have the authority to control American forces. It's not going to have the authority to make laws.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: The United States isn't going to tolerate that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. They were going to --

MR. BUCHANAN: Negroponte will be running the show.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No -- well, you say that, but the Security Council will probably vote on this and the French will go along, correct?

MR. BUCHANAN: Mm-hmm.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And they will be installed. But there will be a provision, and that is that the U.S. Army will provide the Security Council -- the Pentagon -- with the outline of a withdrawal or a reduction of force to be approved by the Security Council. Do you think that will all take place?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, it will take place. It all depends on what's going to be happening on the ground. If you have complete chaos on the ground, I don't see how that can take place. The whole idea is that somehow or rather everything will moderate as you head towards an election. I don't see how that's going to happen --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- if we think -- not after what we're doing in Fallujah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Inasmuch as Conway and Abizaid, the military commanders, are controlling the action in this Fallujah protection force, which is a combined force of Iraqis and the U.S. military, that the president is now moving away from Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, who are the obviate hard-liners?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, you know, who knows.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Along with Blankley.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Who knows what's happening on the inside in that? I don't know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't see the president moving here?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, of course you see the president moving, but who knows? Rumsfeld may be moving as well.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He --

MR. BLANKLEY: Rumsfeld is not necessarily going to pursue, you know -- just go down a chute.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: First he puts all of his eggs in the Brahimi basket, a wise move.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And secondly, he elects to go with the commanders in the field over the civilians in the Pentagon.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, well I don't think that's --

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't see that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, no, I don't.

MR. BLANKLEY: We don't know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think he had to make that judgment? Because they don't want those --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think there were two -- there were several alternatives, and this is clearly where the president came out. Whatever the judgment is, that's where he came out.

MS. CLIFT: And the whole plan --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But we know that the Pentagon did not want this force to come into being because there is a potential downside.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For example -- for example -- they could populate that defense force with sympathizers to -- irredentists, sympathizers to Saddam.

MS. CLIFT: It could be Saddam -- (laughs) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And then they could -- they could take over the city and beyond.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And beyond that, what does it say about American will and resolve at this point?

MS. CLIFT: You know, it's --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's going to change the whole balance in terms of the way the people who are opposing our presence there are going to look at what we're doing.

MS. CLIFT: In a way they're resurrecting the original plan, which was to decapitate the regime, just get rid of Saddam, and let the country function.

MR. BLANKLEY: That can't possibly happen. The Shi'as will never let that happen.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MS. CLIFT: Nothing can possibly -- civil war can happen at this point --

MR. BLANKLEY: (Inaudible.)

MS. CLIFT: -- but the future here rests on whether they can get the Iraqis really to begin to defend the country.

MR. BUCHANAN: The signal out of Fallujah is the United States --

MS. CLIFT: And there is no signal yet that shows that that's going to work.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- the United States has given up on a military solution. If you're going to let them have their base camp there and their base camp in Najaf, you are moving back into your own castles or whatever you want, and it's a prelude to a long-term -- maybe a medium-term withdrawal of the United States from Iraq. We are on the way out. The empire is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you favor --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask him a question. Do you favor having a general from Saddam's Republican Guard heading up that Iraqi contingent in this Fallujah protective force? Do you favor that?

MR. BUCHANAN: If the Americans are not going to go into Fallujah and do the job, it doesn't make any difference to me who's running the show, because you're losing --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It could, in effect, turn the town over to the enemy.

MR. BUCHANAN: They've got it.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me get one thought in here. I'm not as confident as Pat is that this is the final tide that's turning back forever. I have a lot of confidence the president understands what he wants to get accomplished. He may have reached a conclusion that he's not going to like a couple of days or a couple of weeks from now and may reverse field. I don't think President Bush is a quitter. And if he has to go back to force, he's going to go back to force.

MR. BUCHANAN: But do you think --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree with --

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BUCHANAN: Do you seriously think, though -- I mean, he has made a decision here, and the Marines have pulled back all over the Arab world. With due respect, this is the Bunker Hill of the insurgents.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is a retreat. Is it not a tactical -- is it a tactical retreat?

MS. CLIFT: It's a retreat. It's a retreat.

MR. BUCHANAN: It is a retreat --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a smart tactical retreat?

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, it's the president's war. He's decided to do it.

MS. CLIFT: But the alternative --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.

MS. CLIFT: The alternative of more violence just creates more insurgents. So this is -- this is a (terrible ?) option --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, the president decided that.

MS. CLIFT: Right. Exactly.

MR. BUCHANAN: If that's the case, then you stop fighting.

MS. CLIFT: Right. But you can't say this is a victory for the U.S.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.

MS. CLIFT: It is not going to be seen that way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Vox populi Iraqi. A new, big Iraq poll.

Question: Are the coalition forces occupiers or are they liberators? Seventy-one percent of Iraqis say occupiers; 19 percent, liberators.

Question: When would you as an Iraqi prefer U.S. and British forces leave Iraq? Immediately, within the next few months, 57 percent; stay longer than a few months, 36 percent.

This was a Gallup poll. Almost 3,500 Iraqis were questioned. Questioners were all Iraqis who conducted their interviews in face-to- face conversations over a three-week period three weeks ago in Iraq. You can't really beat that for methodology, can you.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And it's a 2-percent margin of error.

MR. BUCHANAN: Take out the Kurds, John, who are really with us 100 percent, and virtually everybody in Iraq thinks we are an occupier, and almost all of them want us to get out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that poll tells us that we have lost the minds and hearts of the Iraqis?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think it tells us we're going to have to leave.

MS. CLIFT: The discovery of the photos of the American GIs torturing and sexually abusing the Iraqi prisoners, I think -- that's seen all over the Arab world and through Iraq, and I think that makes this mission irretrievable. And it's a signal --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, look -- look --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me!! I want to finish.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, you could finish --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me! I get to finish, Tony.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: It's a signal to the Iraqis that they are exchanging one tyrant for another. And the dislike for the United States -- we're going to be hearing about those pictures --

MR. BLANKLEY: Look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly! We've got to get out.

MR. BLANKLEY: It is these definitive proclamations that is a bad idea. We've been hearing from certain sources for a year now. So I don't take it --

MS. CLIFT: Do you defend those photographs?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. No, of course not. And you know I don't --

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BLANKLEY: -- so you don't have to suggest that.

The point is that to suggest that it's all over because of a couple of terrible events is to be fatalistic. That's where you've been from the beginning, and you continue to be.

MS. CLIFT: The Iraqi people are fatalistic! (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay --

MR. BLANKLEY: But the polls -- but the polls are ambiguous.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly! Quickly!

MR. BLANKLEY: People have mixed feelings. Of course they feel occupied. The British didn't like the Americans in England during the late '40s during the war -- they were oversexed, overpaid, and over here. You don't like to be occupied. It doesn't mean you want to get rid of them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well --

MR. BLANKLEY: I think the majority of Shi'as want us -- al- Sistani wants us to stay long enough to create a government that he can govern.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You want us to take your -- you want us to take --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the vast majority want a multi-party democracy in that country, and freedom of speech. So in a sense, at least our values have gone through and --

MR. BUCHANAN: Are they willing to die for it? That's the question.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't know the answer to that.

MR. BUCHANAN: The people who will rule are those who will fight and kill and die. And unfortunately, it's the insurgents in Fallujah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you -- last fall they wanted us to stay a year or longer. Now it's three months, and not much longer.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, the Americans --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In addition to that, three out of four regard us as occupiers, not liberators. If that doesn't tell you we have lost the minds and the hearts of Iraqis, what does?

Are you going to take Blankley's intuition over this poll?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, no, no. Look, you know, Blankley is not always and everywhere wrong on this thing, John. Look, you take the Kurds out of there, and clearly it is overwhelmingly they want us out. I don't -- I think you've got to start preparing for an exit now, and I think the president is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: U.S. military dead in Iraq: 738. U.S. military medical evacuations: 20,450 -- an estimate. Iraqi civilian dead: 14,600 -- that's another reason why we've lost their hearts and minds -- an estimate, almost all non-combatants.

Exit. If you were in George Bush's shoes, what would you do now, press in Najaf and Fallujah for an assault, or continue to try and negotiate a resolution? Would you fight or would you talk?

MR. BUCHANAN: I would not fight in Najaf for sure. I don't know if he's made a mistake, but he's made the decision, we have pulled back from Fallujah. And I think it is the beginning of the great retreat.

MS. CLIFT: Patience is not pretty, but I think that's the only option this administration has.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Talk?

MS. CLIFT: Talk, yes. Talk, which he should have done from the beginning.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, General Blankley?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: "Diplomat Blankley," please. (Laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Field Marshal! (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't want to second-guess our officials on the ground, but I would be inclined to go into Fallujah and assert our power. And I'd leave it up to the Shi'as to manage Najaf.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What would you do?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'd talk in Najaf and fight in Fallujah, absolutely. We cannot walk away from where we are.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's doing the right thing; he's talking in both places, and he should keep it up.

When we come back: Have the Republicans seized John Kerry's most precious political asset, his heroic service in Vietnam, and with it, put Kerry on the defensive?

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Unprecious medals?

SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA, presidential candidate): (From videotape.) I stood up in front of the nation. There were dozens of cameras there, television cameras.

Thousands of people. And I stood up in front of the country, reached into my shirt, visibly for the nation to see, and took the ribbons off my chest, said a few words and threw them over the fence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Instead of playing offense this week on one of his greatest assets, that of a decorated Vietnam war hero, John Kerry found himself playing defense, thanks to the Republican attack machine, and thanks to his own muddled statements about throwing away his war medals, meaning really his ribbons, he says.

(Begin videotape segment.)

CHARLES GIBSON (host, "Good Morning, America"): Is it not fair to draw the inference that when trying to appeal to the antiwar people in 1971, you said, as in that interview, it was the medals --

SEN. KERRY: (Chuckles.)

MR. GIBSON: -- and then when the people who supported the war were giving you political problems, you then said, "No, I didn't throw the medals away," 13 years later?

SEN. KERRY: Charlie, that's the most -- with all due respect, that's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Has this medal/ribbon flap helped or hurt Kerry? Now be careful here, Tony. (Laughter.) That's a trick question. It's a trick question.

MR. BLANKLEY: All right. Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: See if you can handle it.

MR. BLANKLEY: I'll try, sir.

Look, it hasn't helped him. It -- the worst part of it is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It has not?

MR. BLANKLEY: It has not helped him, no. That's the trick answer. It has continued the perception that he's not completely straightforward. It goes along with the SUV statement -- that he didn't own an SUV, just his family did.

It's not at this point as damaging as people are saying. He can certainly recover from it if he gets back on message discipline. But it's been an unuseful thing for him to do, and it starts to continue to build this image of a person who's unreliable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Well, look, let me give you the other side of that, Eleanor. Then you can build on it or discard it, as you see fit. Kerry has been pretty tough on the Iraq war, meaning that he is standing on many of the same principles as the president. He doesn't want any reduction in force that I'm aware of, to speak of. He wants more forces over there, as needed. And he does not want to pull out.

Now that has disenchanted his peacenik liberals, and what he has done here, by taking this particular position on the ribbons -- that has reminded them of his dedication and heroism during the war. So he's reconstituted his base. Don't you see that, Mort, with your far- gazing eye?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I thank you for the description of my vision. But I have to tell you, I don't see it. I think it ultimately goes to the question of what kind of a leader will he be. And this undermines him as an alternative to Bush, who comes across as a strong leader. You can't waffle all over the place the way he's doing without it affecting the way you're being perceived.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And that's where I think he's being hurt.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is my point clear, that in being seen discarding his medals, he brings the peaceniks back?

MS. CLIFT: I hear you. And he stirs the hearts of all the flower children when they see those pictures. And they wish he were as bold today as he was then.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, does it stir you that he followed his conscience when he came back, having seen what he saw in Vietnam?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He threw the ribbon away?

MS. CLIFT: And it ultimately -- it's five student deferments for Mr. Cheney versus three Purple Hearts for Kerry. And I think the bottom line is he wins on this. But the Bush-Cheney attack machine, they're doing the same thing to Kerry that they did to Gore. They're taking ribbons or medals -- oh, he doesn't know which -- and they're trying to turn it into some sort of character deficit, while Bush gets away with lying about weapons of mass destruction and taking us into an unnecessary war.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, but it is -- and we know that. But Eleanor -- all right. Eleanor's talking about National Guard issues for the simple reason that Kerry --

MS. CLIFT: I didn't talk about National Guard issues.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, but you talk about here -- you talk about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, look. Kerry's problem is this: This election is going to be decided between the 45 yard lines. It's going to be in Middle America. Middle America likes John Kerry marching around in Vietnam. It does not like John Kerry throwing things over the fence. That's A. B, it does not like someone who's got a credibility problem and a character problem and doesn't know what he did -- says one thing here, another there. This mushiness is hurting him as a leader.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now I'm surprised --

MR. BUCHANAN: And the attack machine is drawing -- wrapping him around an axle. When you're yelling at Charlie Gibson, Monday morning -- (laughter) -- about whether you threw your medals or ribbons over a fence and you're screaming at him --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But if you --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- saying, "you work for the RNC, Charlie," you're not having a good day.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You have not identified --

MR. BUCHANAN: The Frenchman is in trouble.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You have not identified the real target of the Republican and the Bush attack machine. It is not Kerry. We have spent in this show almost four minutes in discussion on Kerry. We have not talked about the 9/11 commission -- two members of which walked out -- who interviewed the president this week --

MR. BUCHANAN: Bush starred at the 9/11 meeting! What are you talking about? Even Lee Hamilton said he was marvelous.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the fact that he would not meet except with Cheney --

MR. BUCHANAN: That's -- that's yesterday.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Supreme Court detainee cases and the negative poll numbers were all banished from the screen. All we talked about was ribbons and medals. This is exactly what Bush wants.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, Kerry --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He wants to keep the bad news off the screen --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. Yeah. Why Kerry --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and keep Kerry up there. And this was inspired.

MS. CLIFT: Why Kerry can't simply say -- why Kerry can't simply say they want to talk about what happened 30 years ago because they don't want to talk about what's going on in Iraq today -- it's a simple soundbite. He has trouble talking crisply. But he still is a credible alternative to Bush, and it's Bush who is --

MR. BUCHANAN: But Eleanor -- Bush has had a terrible -- Bush has had a terrible month and Kerry --

MS. CLIFT: Don't I get to finish a sentence, Pat? Why don't you --

MR. BLANKLEY: You have to finish a sentence in order to finish a sentence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Pat. Would you please --

MS. CLIFT: You know, we don't get to talk at the same time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a credibility damage scale from zero to 10, zero meaning zero damage, 10 meaning "Monica" damage, how much damage has been inflicted on Kerry's credibility by the medal/ribbon imbroglio? Zero to 10. Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: His credibility problem was at 5, and this has taken it up towards 6.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Two. He served; they didn't.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: Pat's got it about right. His credibility is around 5, and I think he's lost a point or two more.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree with that. I mean, it's not overwhelming. It's early in the campaign. But it sure doesn't help him. It really doesn't not help him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much damage?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I mean, I'd go from 5 to 6 in terms of lack of credibility. I mean, it's just shaking up the view of him as a leader. If you can't rely on what the guy says and he can't speak in any kind of straightforward way, it's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you wouldn't put this in the same category as the SUV in Idaho, where he said, it's not my SUV; and they said, well, who's driving it? And he said, my wife and my kids.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Would you think that he'd be able to come up with one sentence to deal with the issue? I mean, it's not as if he doesn't know it's coming. There's something about the way he connects to the American people, or doesn't, that is implicit in this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but this only turns on that ribbon/medal problem, flap. It's really a rather thin case. And the American people are going to say what they said with the National Guard and Bush; enough is enough.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was a hero in Vietnam.

MS. CLIFT: Exactly

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He got 11 medals. Let's be done with it.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think about a "1" on a damage scale of 10.

We'll be right back with predictions.

MS. CLIFT: Way to go, John!

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The United States has seen a pullout of forces from Iraq. Spain, Honduras, the Dominican Republic.

Quick answer: Will any more pull out? Yes or no? Before the election.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes?

MR. BUCHANAN: Mmm-hm.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. If the U.S. can't secure the situation, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly!

MR. BLANKLEY: No. In fact, the Brits will send in a few more.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I agree with that. Not before the election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is no, thanks to arm-twisting by the White House and by the State Department, quite skilled at that.

Bye-bye.

END OF REGULAR SEGMENT PBS SEGMENT

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Obese? W.H.O., me?

TOMMY THOMPSON (HHS secretary): (From videotape.) We have to recognize in America that we have a severe problem on obesity and overweight people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's not just the U.S., Mr. Secretary; it's the world. The U.N.'s World Health Organization, the WHO, has just reported that 1 billion adults are overweight, with at least 300 million of them clinically obese. This causes worldwide disease, says WHO. And over the past 25 years, the obesity rate has tripled.

The WHO now wants its member states to thin down their fat populations. According to the report, member states should actively discourage overeating in general, and in particular food with lots of fat and lots of sugar. That sounds reasonable, but some fear the U.N. body is opening the door to taxing junk food; setting limits on the amount of sugar citizens can eat -- say, cutting consumption of sugar by 30 percent; and shutting down advertising directed at young children, even older children, even adults, like the current ban on TV advertising for hard liquor and tobacco.

Question: We've seen a lot of global treaties, Tony; what's next, do you think? A global treaty mandating signatory nations to trim fat?

MORE



MR. BLANKLEY: You'd have to go to fat-easies I suppose or something to have a decent meal. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean not speakeasies?

MR. BLANKLEY: Speakeasies. Yeah, fat-easies. Look, there's nothing that's going to happen in the United States. We're not going to sign any treaty, and therefore the treaty won't have any effect. If other countries do, I mean, it's -- this is nanny-stateism gone mad. People have a right to get fat and die if they want.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think we could make -- someone could make obesity into an environmental issue, whereby let us say the greenhouse gases are somehow affected by overweight people? Remember the cows' flatulence used to do that. Do you remember --

MR. BUCHANAN: Methane. Methane. The cows did it. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I knew you were going in that direction, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was that -- that wasn't Ronald Reagan, was it?

MR. BUCHANAN: That was methane. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Reagan had the trees doing it, didn't he?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, the cows do.

MR. BLANKLEY: Reagan was right about --

MR. BUCHANAN: Trees and plants. Plants and trees.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. The Australians and the New Zealanders say it is the cows that contribute to greenhouse gases, correct?

MR. BLANKLEY: What about their sheep?

MR. BUCHANAN: Now you're back to United Nations. What is this miserable organization doing -- (laughter) -- claiming responsibility for fat people around the world --

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- fifty years after this miserable thing was founded to bring peace to mankind? It is absurd. It is none of their business.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see those numbers up there? Three billion people obese, 300,000 are clinically obese.

MS. CLIFT: The U.N. is not perfect, but it is a world body and it's not a miserable institution. We're leaning on it in Iraq. And frankly, obesity is a worldwide problem. As people move into the middle class they get fat, and it has health repercussions. And it's American corporations that don't want to even spread the word what the surgeon general tells us in this country to other countries because they're afraid it will affect our bottom line.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that instead of a nanny state we now have an international nanny?

MR. BUCHANAN: Nanny world government.

MS. CLIFT: We should. We should. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Nanny --

MR. BUCHANAN: Nanny world government.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we believe in globalization on this program, don't we?

MR. BUCHANAN: One of us doesn't. (Laughter.)

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