THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: TONY BLANKLEY, PATRICK BUCHANAN,
ELEANOR CLIFT, AND MORT ZUCKERMAN
TAPED: FRIDAY, MAY 7, 2004
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MAY 8-9, 2004
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Breach of Honor.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families.
Any decent soul doesn't want a human being treated that way, and it is -- it's a stain on our country's honor and our country's reputation.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That apology from the president was for Jordan's visiting King Abdullah -- and for the rest of the watching world. The physical and sexual degradation of Iraqi prisoners that sickened the president: phosphoric liquid burns, beatings on the soles of their feet -- an old and painful torture called the bastinado; sodomizing by chemical light sticks or broom handles, imposed nudity, and being held naked on a leash by a female U.S. soldier and so photographed.
At the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday, there was a common recognition that this scandal goes well beyond the Beltway and well beyond our national boundaries; that it is global in its reach and poisonous in its impact.
SENATOR TED KENNEDY (D-MA): (From videotape.) To the people in the Middle East, and too often today, the symbol of America is not the Statue of Liberty, it's the prisoner standing on a box wearing a dark cape and a dark hood on his head, wires attached to his body, afraid that he's going to be electrocuted. And these incidents of torture and abuse resulted in a catastrophic crisis of credibility for our nation.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Kennedy on target?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, he's not, John. Look, this is a very serious PR reversal. These are crude, lewd, ugly photographs. This is not Nagasaki, it is not My Lai. And quite frankly, the problem is that the president and his Cabinet have been shaken, seemingly bewildered, confused, and contrite, and the president has apologized entirely too much. He is not behaving as the leader of the greatest nation on Earth in the middle of what he believes is a just war. I think they've been shaken politically. But overall, this is a serious problem in the war, but I don't think it's a great national crisis.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: Well, Pat is making the same mistake that Secretary Rumsfeld is making and, indeed, the administration is making, thinking this is a public relations mistake when it's the underlying act that they should be worried about.
Never has the United States' reputation fallen so far and so fast. The Bay of Pigs was a fiasco, and the Vietnam War went on for decades and it was horrific. But neither of those incidents, wars, have caused the damage that this country is suffering around the world today in terms of its credibility and its honor.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay says the Democrats are undermining the troops.
REPRESENTATIVE TOM DELAY (R-TX): The Democrat leadership has decided to take a political position and is undermining our troops in the field without any regard --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are the Democrats undermining the troops, do you think? Excuse me, the -- yeah, the Democrats.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, taking nothing away from the seriousness of the underlying events, it's nonetheless -- listening to Kennedy and Hillary talking about atrocities, it's nonetheless sobering to notice the president's political opponents clearly have already started to play politics with this issue. And it's unfortunate, because their quotes are going to be used, as well as these terrible photographs around the world to describe the photographs. And it's certainly -- in another age, it would be considered unpatriotic. Today, of course, we understand that everybody is a patriot, so we don't call anybody unpatriotic.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, this is an exercise on the Senate's part in oversight and accountability. There's nothing wrong with that, is there? Isn't that what we pay them to do?
MR. BLANKLEY: No, there's every responsibility for oversight. And I think some of the Democrats on the Senate committee on Friday did a very good job. I think Senator Lieberman was very responsible. Some of the other senators -- we heard Kennedy's observation -- I don't think met up to the standard.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Rush says there's less here than meets the eye.
RADIO HOST RUSH LIMBAUGH: (From audiotape.) They're not pictures of violence. They're not pictures of death. They are not pictures of horror. I am not going to join the chorus of people who aren't even thinking, who are just reacting with emotions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Limbaugh's appraisal plausible? Mort.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Not to me. If these aren't pictures of horror and violence, I don't know what is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also, there have been killings and -- well, they call a couple of them homicide, but it looks like murder.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. We don't know the evidence on that. But, I mean, I think the issue is, when you talk about it's worldwide impact, there are a lot of people who watched four Americans being burnt to death and hung from a lamppost who never said a word and never said a word about all the atrocities in that part of the world. So there are people who are going to use this who are already against the United States. But there is no doubt that it's going to have a huge and negative effect on the United States.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think we've lost the high ground.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: You know, in one sense, yes. I don't know that it's permanent. I mean, a lot is going to depend on how it works out in Iraq, because in the nature of the way the world works, you know, if it's a success, everybody will claim credit for it. And if it's a failure, they'll attribute it to all kinds of things, including this.
MR. BLANKLEY: You know --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, unwinnable. One moment. Okay, unwinnable. House Democrat John Murtha -- Vietnam Veteran, stalwart Pentagon supporter, early Iraq war advocate, respected by his colleagues, says this:
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D-PA): This one incident destroyed our credibility in Iraq and all of the Arab world, for heaven sakes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Murtha then goes on to say that the war is, practically speaking, quote/unquote, "unwinnable," which has caused great consternation, because he's so highly regarded for his knowledge of military matters, where he was once chairman. Is the war unwinnable?
MR. BLANKLEY: That's not what he said.
MR. BUCHANAN: That's not what he said.
MR. BLANKLEY: That's not what he said. I read very carefully his statement. He said it's unwinnable unless we mobilize more forces. That's a reasonable point.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before you go any further, I'll read what he said. This is what he said. He says given present troop deployments --
MR. BLANKLEY: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and given the dearth of assistance from our allies and the shock and awe over this abuse of Iraqi prisoners, I don't think it's possible for us to win the war.
MR. BLANKLEY: There's another clause after that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's says that these conditions cannot be met.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, he said unless we mobilize. And the point is -- look, let me say this: A lot of reasonable people who support Bush and Rumsfeld think there should be more troops there. Murtha's a very solid man, and he was making that statement. I think that's not unreasonable.
But what's happening in Washington? Washington episodically goes through periods of hysteria. And we're currently in one of those moments. And about two or three weeks from now, there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be a little embarrassed by the excessive statements they've made.
MS. CLIFT: Well, I think if anybody should be -- if anybody here should be embarrassed, it's you saying that Hillary Clinton overstepped by using the word atrocities. I think sodomizing with the light stick and broom handles qualifies as atrocities.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't there another reason why Tony my be embarrassed? That there is more to come, and the way it was described by Rumsfeld?
MS. CLIFT: Secretary Rumsfeld repeatedly --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's going to be far worse than anything we've seen, both video and still pictures.
MS. CLIFT: -- repeatedly warned --
MR. BUCHANAN: John. John, this is --
MS. CLIFT: -- repeatedly warned that more would be coming, and particularly --
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me respond.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Hold on. Let her finish.
MS. CLIFT: I got eight words out, I get to finish.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MS. CLIFT: And what is going to come out is only going to continue the quest to find out where the decisions were made up the ladder, and did somebody decide that sexual humiliation was a valid tactic to extract information.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, let me -- she accused me. Let me make a point. Yes, atrocity is an -- My Lai is an atrocity. When you kill -- when you wipe out people in a village, that's an atrocity. This is a horrible event, and I don't diminish it. But it's not an atrocity.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was My Lai --
MR. BLANKLEY: Next week, somebody will use the word genocide. I mean, people are getting out of control.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was My Lai a -- was My Lai an atrocity?
MR. BUCHANAN: My Lai was hundreds --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, stop. Hold right there.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- hundreds of people shot to death in a ditch, old men, women, and children massacred. That's a major atrocity.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Cy Hearst (ph).
MR. BUCHANAN: This is just an outrage.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Cy Hearst (ph) reported it. How did it start though? How do a lot of these scandals start? They start very small, and sooner or later, they become almost the size of --
MR. BUCHANAN: The problem here, John, is one thing: the pictures. Before the pictures, if you said prisoners were abused, prisoners were even killed, nobody would've paid attention. It is these awful, dramatic pictures that are the problem. And Tony --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what do you do? You insulate yourself because you don't have photographs of everything?
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)
MR. BUCHANAN: But Tony is right. This is not My Lai.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. The Arab press.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Off mike.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Mort. I know that you're anxious to speak because you've got good ideas, and we want to hear. (Laughs.) This week's editorial in Arab newspapers, like the Bahrain Tribune, are likening George Bush to Saddam Hussein. In reality, of course, I think you'd agree with me, Eleanor, you cannot compare President Bush to Saddam Hussein. But in politics and in international affairs, reality is perception.
Question: If this perception is taking hold in the Arab world, namely that the U.S. uses the same techniques for controlling people that Saddam Hussein used, does it then become impossible for President Bush and his government to restore our perceived legitimacy in the world? Will the world judge that the only way to restore the legitimacy is through a change in administration?
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, come on.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I do not agree with the implication of that question. But let me just say this. The mark of a civilized society is not that there isn't evil that occurs, but whether or not you have a response to it. The military had a response to it. Our political system is having a response to it. Our media is having a response to it. This is not Saddam Hussein.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you talked to any Arabs?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: This is not --
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, John. You know --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, let me just say --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you talked to any Arabs?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I have talked. I actually --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did the Arabs describe to you the dimension of this worldwide, or at least in their world?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: It all depends which Arabs you talk to, okay. There are -- if you look at Iraq, you talk about, is Iraq a winnable war. Well, if you take the Shi'a and the Kurds and those moderate Sunnis, okay, that is the -- those are the elements of a coalition --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the scandal.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm talking about --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm not talking about winnability. I'm talking about the scandal.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, I'm just saying, they are not going to be deterred by this scandal to do what they have to do to get control of their country. So this is not over just because of this event, is all I'm trying to say.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why do you think that he was so apologetic in the newspapers in Cairo on Friday and so apologetic to Abdullah? Because they are worried to death. Abdullah could go like the shah. He's got a million Palestinians in his country, and they're outraged by this.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: But let me tell you, it's a mistake again. I mean, see, this is -- we think all Arabs are alike. The Jordanians were strong allies of Saddam Hussein. They supported him in the 1991 war.
MS. CLIFT: All right. (Laughs.) You can't -- (inaudible) --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish. Let him finish!
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Shi'as and the Kurds do not like the Jordanian, nor do the Sunnis who opposed Saddam Hussein. He's the wrong person to apologize to. We should've apologized -- and Bush should've apologized when we was on Arab television. But this is a way -- another example of how we just don't understand that world.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me -- let me --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly!
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me read to you a -- (inaudible) -- from Al-Arabiyah, which is not a friendly Arab network, and they're quoting a man, Manhoun (ph). He says, "There's something that we Arabs never get to hear. An official apologizing for wrong done. Seeing and hearing an apology by the highest ranking official of the U.S. military is a welcome thing." This from Al-Arabiyah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but they're quoting there an academic who's out of touch with the masses --
MR. BUCHANAN: John. John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the teeming masses in Cairo.
Exit question. On a stain scale from zero to 10 -- zero meaning no stain whatsoever, a snowflake drifting in the mountain air -- (laughter) -- 10 meaning a stain so big that it's the size of septic tank the size of the Titanic -- how deep is the stain from this scandal?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, this is a 7 or 8, John. But your point is ridiculous. The United States is the greatest country on Earth. I don't care who the Arab leader is. They're going to have to deal with the United States of America. The idea that they're on some moral high ground as compared to America is preposterous.
MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We know we're the greatest, Pat. Right? Hold on, please.
Patrick, what's the answer to my question?
MR. BUCHANAN: It is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the pieces can be put back together --
MR. BUCHANAN: I think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- by this administration, or do you think it calls for another administration?
MR. BUCHANAN: If George Bush is president of the United States, they will deal with him, because you're got to deal with the United States.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the election, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: If the -- the stain is terrible in terms of drop in morale in Iraq. I agree with that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, the whole Iraq debacle. Is that an okay word with you, debacle?
MR. BLANKLEY: Not for me.
MR. BUCHANAN: It is -- it is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not for you, no. We know that.
MR. BUCHANAN: It is getting close to a disaster for the United States.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's call it a debacle, for the sake of this conversation. (Laughter.)
MR. BUCHANAN: All right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this administration can put the pieces back together, or do you think that the judgment of the American people is, we need a new administration?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think Murtha is right. If we're not going to put in more forces, we're going to face the real possibility of a defeat in Iraq.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And if the war is unwinnable, it would be against the basic principles of justice -- forget morality, justice -- for us to continue sending --
MR. BUCHANAN: The question is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- sending - sending our servicemen and -women into the war.
MR. BUCHANAN: But you don't decide that. The president decides that, not John McLaughlin.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. I'm not deciding it.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, sure, you said it's an immoral war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm just -- I'm translating what unwinnable means. It means you cannot prosecute the war.
MR. BUCHANAN: But the president has to believe that.
MS. CLIFT: And it's not going to be decided on --
MR. BUCHANAN: If it is demonstrably -- if it is demonstrably unwinnable, you cannot continue to prosecute the war.
MR. BLANKLEY: It is not demonstrably --
MS. CLIFT: It's not going to -- it's not going to be decided on theological grounds.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's not theology.
MS. CLIFT: But what has happened with this fiasco is that the president's moral high ground has been chipped away and his image as a competent commander. And I don't -- the world doesn't have any confidence that he can rebuild our position --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the level of the -- what's the level of the stain?
MS. CLIFT: It's a 10.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a 10. What do you say.
MR. BLANKLEY: It's about a 7, but I think it's not indelible.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'd say it's a 7.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'd say it's a 9.
When we come back --
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- was it an aberration, as the president said, or was it SOP -- Standard Operating Procedure?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Chain of Command.
DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: (From videotape.) These events occurred on my watch as secretary of Defense. I am accountable for them, and I take full responsibility. But I offer my deepest apology.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Rumsfeld was asked whether he could remain effective. Quite a few at the hearing insisted that he step down.
(Video of protesters at hearing.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Protesters, save your breath. Don Rumsfeld is here to stay. Here's why:
PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) Secretary Rumsfeld is a really good secretary of Defense. Secretary Rumsfeld has served our nation well. Secretary Rumsfeld has been the secretary during two wars, and he is an important part of my Cabinet, and he'll stay in my Cabinet.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question, what does Bush gain from this endorsement of Rumsfeld, I ask you, Mort?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, it's not a question of what he gains; it's what he could lose if he went the other way. It would be a huge political blow to him. It would be a huge blow to the military wherever they are, particularly in Iraq.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hey, if you're working at the Pentagon, Morton, and you know that Rummy's there to stay, are you likely to blow the whistle?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, anything can happen now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You see what he's doing? He's freezing the whistle-blowers in place.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: In part, I mean, but he didn't the whistleblowers on the report that was leaked to a journalist at the New Yorker. So, I mean, there's a lot of stuff that's going to be leaking out that I don't think that's his principal objective. He knows what it would mean --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- both to the military and to his political fortunes come November.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, what do you think of the president scolding Rumsfeld? You know the story.
MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah, I mean, I think that's pretty pro forma. It's an attempt to let the world know that he's dissatisfied.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's dissatisfied, or what? Or what? Or what?
MS. CLIFT: But they can't -- but they can't --
MR. BLANKLEY: It shields him from it. It shields him from it.
MS. CLIFT: -- they can't let --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Did you hear what he said?
MR. BLANKLEY: It shields the president from it to a degree, and Rummy is taking the heat --
MS. CLIFT: Well, but they can't -- they can't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, suppose Rummy get's his (way in Iraq ?)?
MS. CLIFT: -- they can't just go after a half-a-dozen --
MR. BLANKLEY: Suppose Rummy what?
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. They can't just go after a half-a-dozen reservists, and this going to go up the chain. And already a staff sergeant is being court martialed. He has a lawyer, and the lawyer says he was taking orders. It's going to go up, and it's going to go up to Rumsfeld. And it should go into the Oval Office in the way that they were dismissive of the Geneva Conventions. "This is a new war, post-9/11. The old rules don't apply." That was the signal they sent at Guantanamo and ever since.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. If Rumsfeld is safe, who goes?
What first appeared to be isolated and discrete incidents of prisoner brutality may have been systemic and originated in directives from higher-ups in the chain of command -- not by the MP guards or contract civilians themselves.
A U.S. Army investigation into the abuses -- the so-called Taguba Report -- found that military intelligence -- MI -- along with the CIA, the DIA -- Defense Intelligence Agency -- and special ops interrogators instigated the punishing mistreatment of the Iraqi detainees. These higher-ups, quote, "actively requested that MP guards set the physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses," unquote. In other words, these higher-ups encouraged the MP guards to rough-up and so soften up the prisoners for advanced interrogation.
And the brigadier general who commanded the prison when the abuses happened, Janis Karpinski, says that's how it started -- with the intelligence agents pushing the mistreatment of detainees, which then snowballed.
LT. GEN. JANIS KARPINSKI: (From videotape.) They said, hey, that worked pretty well. They told us to take the clothes away from those six prisoners, and nobody seemed to think that that was wrong, so let's take the clothes away from 12 of them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Who's right? Is it Karpinski, or is it Taguba. I ask you.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, I think this is going up -- this is going up the -- Eleanor's right, it's going up the chain of command. I don't know that it's going to get into the Pentagon itself to Myers' level.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, wait minute. Can you stop there?
MR. BUCHANAN: Sure.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How can any middle level bureaucrat at the Pentagon sign off on the extreme punishment and beyond, abuse that was inflicted on these prisoners?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, no. You've only got one general involved, and if military intelligence approved these and authorized this --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think a general --
MR. BUCHANAN: -- it's going up to generals.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think a general like General Miller, who was also -- I won't say involved, but I will say may be involved --
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, I won't name --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- because he called for the same -- pretty much the same, and I can quote you that from the Taguba report right here.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me suggest something.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or do you think it could stop there, or it would have to go up to Wolfowitz and/or Rumsfeld?
MR. BUCHANAN: I don't know that it does go there. I doubt very much that it does go there.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me say --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't say it -- I'm saying it has to go there, because they wouldn't do it on their own authority, would they? Would they expose the commander in chief to the type of contumely he's going through now?
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me -- let me suggest something. While nobody knows where it's going yet, the chain of command up to brigade in military intelligence and military police are the obvious first chains of command that are going to have to be looked at. Whether anything goes beyond brigade, we'll find out. But that's the obvious line where there's a lot of vulnerability.
MS. CLIFT: But they -- they --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that, Mort?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I think it's definitely going to go up. How far, nobody really knows.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see my point?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I really don't think there's any way in my judgment that this is going to reach the level of Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hey, there's going to be a murder rap here -- or several.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Inaudible.) Oh yeah, but you're not trying to suggest that this was authorized by the secretary of Defense and the deputy or undersecretary of Defense, are you?
MS. CLIFT: Well, by --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't see how they could undertake this kind of patterned behavior -- which, by the way, may have existed at Guantanamo, if Miller was sent from Guantanamo, as he has been sent, to run the detainee operation in Iraq. And he's quoted as -- Taguba reports him here, as having said --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't think that there is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't see how they could stop short of someone, either Rumsfeld or immediately next to Rumsfeld.
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, come on.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, you know, look --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean that.
MS. CLIFT: By comparing --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Really, that is --
MR. BUCHANAN: It's the battle of Algiers. This is the battle of Algiers. It is a dirty war. It is a guerrilla war. Abuses of prisoners happen. Atrocities happen. I don't believe Wolfowitz or Rumsfeld --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know the way -- you know. You worked for Nixon, and you know the way deniability is preserved. "Look, you do what you have to do, General. I just don't want to hear about it."
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "Just make sure I get the information so we never have a World Trade Center again."
MS. CLIFT: They have been sitting --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But don't tell me. Is that the way it was done?
MS. CLIFT: They have -- they have --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And if so, can that be demonstrated?
MS. CLIFT: They have been --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And if so, do you have the rap there right at Secretary Rumsfeld's door?
MR. BUCHANAN: No.
MS. CLIFT: They have been sitting on this for months. They have been sitting on this for months. Jerry Bremer last fall was described as kicking and screaming because they were detaining thousands of people, many of them swept up in raids, and treating them like they were Saddam Hussein. In fact, Saddam Hussein is getting treated pretty nice. The Red Cross visits him routinely, and a lot of low-level, innocent Iraqis have been abused here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the worst mega- -- what's the worst mega-fallout of this? I'll start you off. Okay? Let's say we have a new government in six weeks. The new government then has standing at the United Nations. With standing at the United Nations, they have participation in the International Criminal Court. It's true that we don't believe in the criminal court, but how are we going to fight that, especially if a condition for service in the government requires that we give some ground and let them take care of their prisoners in Iraq?
MR. BUCHANAN: George Bush will --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And therefore, the U.N. goes in --
MR. BUCHANAN: I know what you're saying.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and therefore the ICC goes in. Then where are we?
MR. BUCHANAN: George Bush -- George Bush will not be reelected if he allows the International Criminal Court to take control of American officers.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then how is he going to put a government together of widely respected and prominent leaders from Iraq to take the job -- (cross talk) -- because they know how dangerous it would be if they are perceived to be a puppet government for the United States.
MR. BUCHANAN: It is going to be a puppet government of the United States, that's all there is to it, John, right up through January.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is the kind of arrogance that we've been getting for the last --
MR. BUCHANAN: Do you think they're going to really give real power over American troops to a bunch of Iraqis?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Get rid of the idea that we have unilateral control after that sovereign power is transferred.
MR. BUCHANAN: After November --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We don't have it. They have it.
MR. BUCHANAN: After November, maybe.
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, Iraq is a sovereign state with presence in the United Nations and covered by the ICC.
MR. BUCHANAN: Good luck!
MS. CLIFT: Actually we have -- actually we have a puppet government in this country. (Laughs.)
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)
MR. ZUCKERMAN: If -- I can't -- wait a minute, there's two --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: There's two contradictions here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: If we have a reasonable group of people there, and we give them power, they are more interested in what happens after we leave. I mean, these are people who are interested in getting control of their own country. It's not over just because of this incident.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, I feel much better now. Thank you, Mort.
We'll be right back.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will Rumsfeld survive through the term, yes or no?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, but not certain.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: He shouldn't, but he will.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's too close to call. (Laughter.) I'll call it. I'll say he'll make it.
Happy Mothers Day. Bye-bye.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll. Election '04.
When asked if the presidential election were held today, 46 percent say Bush; 42 percent Kerry; 5 percent Nader. You take Nader out, and it's 48 percent Bush; 45 percent Kerry.
Question: Does this number surprise you? Eleanor Clift.
MS. CLIFT: No. First of all, the events on the ground in Iraq are having a corrosive effect, and President Bush's approve rating is now below 50, for the lowest of his presidency. And secondly, I think John Kerry has not yet distinguished himself enough as different from Bush on the war so that the Nader vote is probably larger now than it's going to be in November.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Second term for Bush question.
When asked whether George Bush deserves reelection, 49 percent, no; 45 percent, yes.
Question: If Bush's reelect is so weak, why does he hold a narrow lead over Kerry in the polls? Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: I think the president -- if you look at it in the abstract, Bush's numbers are on the cusp of a reelected incumbent. The reason he's looking somewhat stronger in the actual race is the weaknesses of the Kerry candidacy so far. It's very much up for grabs if Kerry can improve his candidacy.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we know that -- we know that Kerry cannot win. But we also know what? Bush can lose.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I don't know that Kerry can't win.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And my question to you: Is this election going to be a referendum on George Bush?
MR. BLANKLEY: It almost always is on a reelection.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Right track/wrong track. Pat, watch this. Wrong track, Pat, is 50 percent -- 50 percent! Right track is 33 percent. Is the right track likely to get better by November? And does it have to get better for this president to be reelected?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's going to get better for this reason: The economic numbers are coming in very, very good, and they're ahead of the negative belief about the economy. That will help the president. But this is a very low number for a wrong -- for a right track/wrong track for any president. I agree with Tony. I think the weakness of the Democratic candidate may preclude the Democrats from taking advantage of an extraordinary opportunity.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a very bad number, 50 percent. Have you seen it higher, wrong track?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, absolutely.
MR. BUCHANAN: Of course. (Inaudible) -- 62.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How high?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Nixon's went ?) over 70 percent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know what Lee Atwater used to say? You get over 40 with the wrong track, the likelihood is you will not be reelected. You know that? Or do you know that?
MR. BUCHANAN: I'm -- listen, I know when you go over 50 percent, you're basically down the tubes. But if you're running against Kerry, you got a shot. (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: Well, Kerry has got a long way to go. He can relaunch his candidacy at the convention.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right, he's a little off-stride now, right Eleanor.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: He's got a vice president to choose.