MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Spinning out of control.

It was a terrible week in Iraq. U.S. dead reached that chilling number -- 1,000. More than 20 U.S. servicemen killed this week, 11 in one day, hundreds of Iraqi civilians also dead. Iraq's major cities, including Fallujah, Tikrit, Karbala, Najaf and Ramadi, are all under the control of insurgents.

Where is this grim situation heading? Answer: Civil war.

One, Kurds in the north. The Kurds gained breakaway self-rule in the 1990s and will not give up their autonomy. In fact, Kurdish militias are battling now for control of Kirkuk, a city outside of Kurdish-held territory and oil-rich.

Two, Shiite majority. The Shiites suffered under Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party government, dominated by minority Sunnis. The majority Shiites do not want to suffer under Sunnis again.

Three, Sunnis. A minority, they've controlled Iraq for decades, and they like it that way. Sunnis now hold much of central and northwestern Iraq and will resist both Kurdish domination in the north and any attempt at Shiite control of Baghdad.

This scenario of a three-way civil war is the most likely future for Iraq, says a brand-new report from the regarded British Royal Institute of International Affairs. It is also a view shared by many American analysts.

Question: What do U.S. soldiers do if civil war breaks out in Iraq? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't believe civil war will break out in Iraq until one of two things happen. First, the American forces are drawn down; and secondly, one element, basically the Sunnis or the Shiites, attempts to impose their rule upon the other.

The United States, John, is facing a Westmoreland moment. That's the moment in 1967 when Westmoreland came back and said, "Mr. President, I need 200,000 more troops," and LBJ said, "No, no more troops. That's it."

I think the United States post-election is going to face a decision as to whether we're going to send more troops or whether we're going to begin to exit.


MS. CLIFT: I think civil war is already underway. And if it intensifies, I think the orders for the American troops are basically to hunker down and try to avoid it until after the November election. And the truth will come out after the November election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Our election.

MS. CLIFT: Our election. And the truth is before us, but the administration has been so shamelessly promoting Iraq as a victory and as part of the war on terror that people have decided for the moment to look the other way. But we've lost the cities. The August casualties were the highest since the war part was allegedly over.

The interim government is adopting Taliban-like tendencies. And John McCain, who is one of the rare truth-tellers in our government, has said we're going to be there 10 to 20 years if we want to do this job right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, wasted money and wasted lives?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE): (From videotape.) The cost of the president's go-it-alone policy in Iraq is now $200 billion and counting -- $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford after-school programs for our children; $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans; $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford to keep the 100,000 police officers we put on the streets during the 1990s. We're here today to tell them they're wrong.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Kerry smart to take this tack, Tony? And you may return to question one if you wish.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I think it's a mistake. I mean, he is --


MR. BLANKLEY: For Kerry, because he is trying to equate cost with purpose of the war. If the war isn't the right thing -- and he's said that sometimes, but more recently he said he believed he would have done the same thing again -- then it's worth the price. If it's the wrong war, then, whether it's $50 billion or $200 billion, it doesn't make any difference; it's a waste of money. I think he's turning it into dollars and cents when it's really a question of is the war strategically right.

Getting back to the first point --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The first point being what?

MR. BLANKLEY: Whether civil war has broken out. I will remind you that in June on this show, I said that I thought there was some reasonable prospect of a civil war breaking out. So I recognize that possibility. I don't think we're there yet.

Here's why. I was talking with a British journalist who's been in Iraq for two years now. He was saying if the question is, can the rebels create mayhem and havoc over the countryside, they're doing it very well and they can keep doing it. They don't yet have a substantial piece of the population supporting them to turn it into a civil war. Most of the population still would like to have a unified Iraq. It could go south if this activity continues. But in his judgment, and I think others', we're not close to that point yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did your Brit friend say anything about the composition of the insurgency itself, which is clearly so large, in order to accommodate these various acts of violence, that it includes even the professional class?

MR. BLANKLEY: It is pieces of all the different groups you've mentioned. The question is magnitude. So far I think the better judgment is that most Iraqis would like to make a go of it as a whole country. If that doesn't work, at some point it will break down into a civil war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Militarism is bad. Militarism is the ideology that military strength is the source of all security. JFK -- that's John F. Kennedy, not the current JFK -- says also militarism is bad. The basic problems facing the world today are not susceptible to a military solution, said JFK of an earlier year.

Do you think that the administration is capable of ridding itself of its own internal militarism?

MR. O'DONNELL: It doesn't seem that way at this point, although it also -- I think there's plenty of hints that this administration is trying to get itself out of Iraq as fast as possible. And if they are granted another four years, I don't expect them to have anything like this troop level of commitment there a year from now. They're looking for the first early excuse to get out of something they know has failed and can never, ever be scored as a success in the terms that they have set out for success.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with the proposition just enunciated that this administration is militaristic?

MR. O'DONNELL: General Eisenhower, toward the end of his presidency as President Eisenhower, was the one who warned us about the military-industrial complex and to be wary of too much militarism, especially in the nuclear age.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, McCain is wrong, though. McCain is wrong. The United States of America is not going to be fighting for 10 years.


MR. BUCHANAN: I'll tell you, the Democratic Party is anti-war. If Kerry wins, he can't even send more troops. Even the president has a short time frame in which to tell the American people, "We're either going to win this thing or they're going to say, 'Look, cut your losses and let's go.'" Ten years is ridiculous.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's get back to what's happening between now and January, when the election in Iraq is supposed to occur. All right? Now, if that doesn't happen -- and it's unlikely it will happen -- many people believe, because of the chaos in the country and even being on the brink of war or at civil war --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment -- how long is Ali Sistani, the revered elder statesman, who is also a cleric, how long is he going to be patient with the Shiites and instead not say, "Okay, I'm turning you loose," and then the Sunnis come in and they don't want to be Shiite-controlled.

MR. BUCHANAN: Here's what's going to happen, John. Look, no decision is going to be taken until after our election. However, there's a possibility that elections will be held in the Shi'a area in the south and in the Kurdish areas in the north. But you are right about the Sunni areas. I don't know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then you're heading to enclaves. Then you're heading to partition.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think that is where we are headed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, the human toll: U.S. military dead in Iraq, 1,008; women, 24; Hispanics, 122; blacks, 131. U.S. military amputees, wounded, injured and psychologically disabled, 27,100; Iraqi civilians dead, 20,300.

Exit question: Did it ever occur to you that we'd be sitting here, a year and a half after invading Iraq, with over 1,000 dead, Iraq itself predominantly outside our U.S. control and outside of the internal government's control, Allawi's government, and no end in sight to the carnage? Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, it did. That's why I predicted that we would have our own Lebanon, our own West Bank on our hands, 25 million Iraqis. We would win the battle quickly and then we'd be in a civil war, just like Israel was in Lebanon.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, Pat, did you predict that in this volume that just came out?

MR. BUCHANAN: I predicted it in a -- no, I predicted it in our magazine, the American Conservative, and in 20 columns, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is "Where the Right Went Wrong."

MR. BUCHANAN: One of the places they went wrong is the neoconservatives led us into Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I commend you for finally having written a book that hasn't gotten you into trouble. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Not yet. It's only been out a week. People have not read passages there, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Secondly, I open it up to the index and I see Douglas MacArthur, John McCain, George McGovern, William McKinley, Robert McNamara, right by McLaughlin. (Laughter.) Eleanor.

MR. BUCHANAN: Are you in there? (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: That's pretty good company. I must say, when Pat was writing those columns and speaking out against then the prospective war, I was saying amen each time. It was the beginning of our rapprochement.

MR. BUCHANAN: Right, d‚tente. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just to clear it up, he says no civil war. You say civil war?

MS. CLIFT: I say civil war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You say civil war?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I say the potential is there down the line, but it's not there. And by the way --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, thanks for shedding a lot of light on my question.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I'm trying to actually answer the question.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead, quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: But to answer your question, my last column before the war entitled "Measureless Peril." I thought this potentiality exists. I disagree with you that we've realized the conditions you've described.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. O'DONNELL: I think that spot on the map, which has never had a real history as a real country, which is just a tribal region, will always have violent tribal conflict, which you can call civil war if you want.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right again. Right again. I see civil war.

Issue two: Vote Bush or die.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: (From videotape.) It's absolutely essential that, eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice, the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: During this week, marking the third anniversary of 9/11, Vice President Cheney said, in effect, "If you vote for Kerry, you will face another 9/11 horror." Democrats immediately condemned Cheney's "poisonous remarks," quote/unquote, warning that since he's bared the knives, they also have a knife at the ready, namely George Bush is culpable in the 9/11 atrocity. Quote: "Do Dick Cheney and George Bush need to be reminded that they ignored the warnings, failed to connect the dots?" So says a Democratic spokesman.

The warnings during year one of the Bush term that a 9/11 was on the way are plentiful, they say, and waiting in the wings for platform and TV airing.

Question: Did Cheney's rhetoric cross the line? Lawrence O'Donnell.

MR. O'DONNELL: We're left now with the question, has he no decency? There has been no lower comment made by any candidate for office this year, in the primaries --

MR. BUCHANAN: See Zell Miller.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish.

MR. O'DONNELL: He wasn't a candidate. That nut is retiring. This guy is saying, "Give me four more years." And it was the most despicable thing that has been said by anyone on a national ticket in as long as anyone can remember. And to say -- the next sentence is crucial. He says, when he promises us a terrorist attack inspired by a Kerry election, he then says it will be devastating. Implying what?

MR. BLANKLEY: Now, wait a second --

MR. O'DONNELL: That 9/11 wasn't? Is that what he wants to tell the 9/11 families? Is that what he wants to tell everyone in the World Trade Center that day and in the Pentagon? That wasn't devastating? They have something bigger?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, he's already failed the test that he laid down for Kerry. Huh? He failed it himself.

MS. CLIFT: Well, he is --


MR. BLANKLEY: Everybody understands that everybody -- Clinton, Bush, everybody -- fell down before September 11th. The question is looking forward. The fact is that both parties, both candidates, believe they have a better strategy for protecting us. One of them is right. One of them is wrong. Maybe they're both wrong.

MR. O'DONNELL: And one of them's been tested already.

MR. BLANKLEY: But the point is that Kerry has said, "I'll defend us if we're attacked." Bush and Cheney --

MR. O'DONNELL: No, he didn't say that. No, he didn't say that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him --

MR. BLANKLEY: Bush and Cheney have said that we're going to go out and get them. He's arguing, logically, he believes, the policy is going to work. Whether it will or not, only history will judge.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I have a question. Could Kerry possibly do worse than Bush and Cheney did between January 2001 and September 2001?

MR. BLANKLEY: That is a phony argument.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, I'll tell you, let the American --

MR. BLANKLEY: Everybody failed before September --

MR. BUCHANAN: Let the American people judge. They say the guys we want in there are Bush and Cheney. Secondly, that was rough, raw comment Cheney delivered. But the truth is, Larry, what happens is Cheney sucker-punched the kid in the schoolyard and he's whining and crying.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it going to boomerang?

MR. BUCHANAN: They're looking like wimps.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it going to boomerang?

MR. BUCHANAN: Why don't they fight back?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, is it going to be boomerang?

MS. CLIFT: It's going to boomerang.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it going to remind people of what he said to Senator Leahy?

MS. CLIFT: It's going to boomerang if the Kerry campaign accepts that the central issue in this race has come down to the war. And Kerry cannot dance around the president. He's got to go straight at him.

But, look, what Cheney said was quite orchestrated. That was not an off-the-cuff remark. I mean, first they go after Kerry's heroism in Vietnam. They discredit that. Then they look at his protest activities. They say that was dishonorable, even treasonous. And now Cheney comes in for the kill, the kill being "You speak out against Iraq and this president and --

MR. BLANKLEY: By George, I think you've got it. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: -- it's the equivalent of treason." That is exactly what's going on.

MR. BLANKLEY: They've even got you -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you read Frank Rich's piece in last Sunday's New York Times?

MS. CLIFT: I did. I thought it was quite compelling.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "How to make John Kerry into a girlie man."

MS. CLIFT: Right. And it's the macho Republicans that have done this to a lot of Democrats. And the thing is, they do have a real hero on their hands this time. Let's see if he can live up to his past reputation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, exit question. Political rabid attack-dog rhetoric -- who wins, Cheney or Zell Miller?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.) Well, that's a fine choice.


MR. BUCHANAN: Listen, I think Zell Miller's speech was fine, outstanding, tough rhetoric. But Cheney's was -- I agree with it; it's over the line. But this happens. The test is, can John Kerry step up and deck this guy when he does something like that? They look like wimps.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, what's the answer? Quickly.

MS. CLIFT: Cheney. What he said was despicable. But let's see if Kerry can answer in kind, on the high road or the low road.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Cheney gets the award for rabid-dog political rhetoric?

MS. CLIFT: Yes, rabid --

MR. BLANKLEY: I think the winner is Al Gore for saying that Bush betrayed America.


MR. O'DONNELL: Cheney's the winner because he has the biggest platform from which to deliver this kind of bomb. And I think it is, sadly -- this is the real tragic element of it -- a very effective, deliberate thing that he said.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There seems to be more acid in Cheney, when you boil it down.

MS. CLIFT: Bile.


MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look at --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So I would have to give the award to Cheney.

Issue three: Bush Unguarded.

BEN BARNES (FORMER LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF TEXAS): (From videotape.) I would describe it as preferential treatment. There were hundreds of names on the list of people wanting to get in the Air National Guard.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Former Texas Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House Ben Barnes, a Democrat, this week told "60 Minutes" that he pulled strings to get George Bush into the Texas Air National Guard just after Bush graduated from Yale and faced the Vietnam War draft. Barnes says the request for preferential treatment came from a Bush family friend, the now-deceased oil man, Sid Adger.

The White House struck back.

WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR DAN BARTLETT: (From videotape.) I chalk it up to politics. They play dirty down in Texas. I've been there. I see how it works. But the bottom line is that there is no truth to this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Barnes is a fund-raiser for John Kerry. Besides this Barnes account, new documents obtained by "60 Minutes" show further detailed preferential treatment for Lieutenant Bush, and also identify the reasons why his squadron commander ordered Lieutenant Bush to stop flying. Quote: "Failure to perform to U.S. Air Force Texas Air National Guard standards and failure to meet annual physical examination as ordered," unquote.

Speculation now rages in press circles as to why that physical exam failure occurred. Some questions have been raised about the authenticity of the new documents about Bush's service in the National Guard. Dan Rather says CBS sticks by its report. The chairman of the DNC, Terry McAuliffe, agrees with Rather. Quote: "These new documents show that the president did not serve honorably."

Question: Did George Bush use the National Guard to dodge military service in Vietnam? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: It was a well-known haven during Vietnam to avoid going into combat. And it was peopled by the sons of the rich and the well-connected. And George W. Bush wasn't the only one. But for the last three decades, the Bush campaigns and the Bush family have covered up the various records.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has any --

MS. CLIFT: And that's been amazing that it has taken so long for this to come out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has any member of Congress' son or daughter been killed in Iraq?

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) I don't believe so.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have any children of the president or vice president been killed in Iraq?

MS. CLIFT: Well, they have daughters. The daughters can serve. But, no. The point you're making, though, is that the sons and the daughters of the rich and the powerful and the wealthy do not serve in this war either.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have any of the sons or daughters of the top tier of the Pentagon been killed in Iraq?

MS. CLIFT: No. And we can run on through the government and run on through people who are in the top 1 and 2 percent of earnings in this country, so forth and so on.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, before this election is over, will Bush rue the day that he refused to condemn the Swift Boat Veteran ad, yes or no, meaning that he apparently has unleashed a counterattack that may have even more serious consequences?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, look, if the president wins this election, the Swift Boaters will have won it for him, plus the convention. The National Guard issue is going nowhere, except it's going to be real trouble for Dan Rather.

MR. BLANKLEY: The National Guard --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly. Quickly, Eleanor. Will they rue the day, yes or no?

MS. CLIFT: Yes, they will. It's created doubts about his background.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. The Washington Post on Friday reported that all their experts believe these documents are false.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, I know about the report. But it's far from settled.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're going to get a sample of the handwriting from the contemporaneous time. Quickly, what's the answer?

MR. BLANKLEY: And Ben Barnes went on TV --

MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, the war-making president did everything he could to avoid personally being involved in a war. But he will not regret what the Swift Boat ads have done to John Kerry.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I agree with the collective sentiment.

Issue four: Agnostic journalism last week. Lawrence O'Donnell, our distinguished bicoastal member, Los Angeles and DC, was criticized heavily for his pensees about Democrat Zell Miller, notably that at the Republican Convention Miller told lies about Kerry.

(Videotaped excerpt of previous McLaughlin Group program.)

MR. O'DONNELL: (From videotape.) That was pathological lying by a vile --

MR. BLANKLEY: You guys are dumping on that man.

MR. O'DONNELL: He's a liar. There isn't another word for it. The guy is a nut and a liar.

(End of videotape.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here's a taste of the anti-O'Donnell nitpicking from "For Lawrence O'Donnell to just dismiss a U.S. senator whom he disagrees with as crazy and a liar is over the edge."

To help save O'Donnell's fundament here today, here's the lead editorial from the July-August Columbia Journalism Review, published by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, whose worldwide prestige was enhanced by the matriculation of Patrick Buchanan through its halls.

Quote: "In the Campaign '04 information war, Bush, Kerry and the operatives drown reporters with an around-the-clock deluge of often deceptive spin via e-mail, fax, cell phone and web log, leaving them little time to report and reflect on what is true and what isn't. The press laboring beneath the yoke of objectivity and some misplaced notion of civility won't call a lie a lie before rushing on."

Do you think you feel redeemed by the --

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, I will submit to the judgment of Eleanor on this subject. (Laughter.) No, listen, I use word liar on this show maybe two, three times a year. That deserved it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue five: Earth Tilts Kerry.

Opinion around the world is overwhelmingly in favor of John Kerry to win the U.S. presidential election. The international poll covered 35 countries. Thirty of those, 86 percent, favor Mr. Kerry over President Bush, two to one. Many of these 30 countries are staunch allies of the U.S.

As for Mr. Bush, only Poland, Nigeria and the Philippines backed him. India and Thailand were a statistical tie. The poll registers the rising international mistrust of the United States across the world, analysts say. An average of over 50 percent of the respondents said that foreign policy under Mr. Bush had made them feel worse about the United States. Nineteen percent said it made them feel better.

More numbers: Germany, 74 percent Kerry; Bush, 10 percent. UK, 47 percent Kerry; Bush, 16 percent. And now the piece de resistance: France, 64 percent Kerry; Bush, 5 percent.

Question: What's the danger to the U.S. of this rising anti-Bush world view? Who wants it? Lawrence?

MR. O'DONNELL: I just hope the absentee ballots get in in time. But it is interesting that the single biggest democracy in the world, India, is split 50-50, which is roughly where the United States is on the same question.

MR. BLANKLEY: Because they have to face the Muslims on their border.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the danger, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, what happens is if Bush wins, the danger is isolation of the United States and the inability of the president to get foreign support for any or all of his policies abroad.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it affects American business?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I don't.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think that -- first of all, this poll is against Bush. It's not against America. But if it stays in place for a couple of years, it'll be against America.

Isn't that -- I saw an article, I think, in a distinguished journal about how this rubs off negatively on American business and it's beginning to show. Is that true?

MS. CLIFT: When businessmen travel abroad, they try to pass themselves off as Canadians, because you get such a negative reaction if you're an American. But the big danger here is the countries we need to help us in the war on terror, in cooperating on intelligence and so forth, they don't like Bush's policies.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, do you think that's true, Pat?

MS. CLIFT: I think that --

MR. BUCHANAN: I think to some extent. But I honestly believe the intelligence services and others, they bypass public opinion. They're all focused on these terrorists, because we are all threatened by them. And I think even the French are working with us on this anti-terror campaign.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was Abu Ghraib the straw which broke the camel's back?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think Abu Ghraib, certainly in the Islamic world, that piled onto the fact that they believe we invaded a country that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is really the worst thing involved in this negative view of the Bush administration is the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. True or false?

MR. O'DONNELL: They were against us going to Iraq in the first place. They didn't need bad results in Iraq to be against Bush.

MS. CLIFT: It's the overall arrogance -- the same thing the White House press corps doesn't like about Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kerry is on the ropes. Will he get off the ropes? Yes or no.

MR. BUCHANAN: Not before the debates.

MS. CLIFT: Yes, with Clinton's counsel.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's this?

MR. O'DONNELL: He won't let you down, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is yes. Bye bye.