Share

THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

PANEL:
PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC;
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK;
TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON POST;
PETER BEINART, THE NEW REPUBLIC

DATE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 7, 2005

(C) COPYRIGHT 2005, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE. NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.

UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.

FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.

FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL JACK GRAEME AT 202-347-1400.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
-------------------------

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Tsunami Politics.

We are now in the third week since a devastating tsunami wiped out hundreds of miles of Indian Ocean coastline; over 150,000 people dead so far, millions homeless.

The region needs billions of dollars to recover from this unprecedented natural destruction. Here in the U.S., early official reaction was muted. Four days after the tsunami hit, on Wednesday, President Bush emerged from his Crawford ranch and raised the U.S. contribution to $35 million from Monday's $15 million. Two days later, he raised it again, tenfold, to $350 million.

What might explain -- and justify -- President Bush's delayed response to the tsunami is terrorism. In Iraq, international aid organizations have been all but driven out by hostage-takings, bombings, grisly beheadings.

The more aid America gives to tsunami-struck countries, the more Americans will be on the ground. There they are potentially vulnerable to terrorism. That includes Indonesia, where al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists have already shown their deadly capabilities with the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing that killed 202 and the 2003 blast at the Jakarta Marriott Hotel that took 12 lives, as well as other attacks.

What happens if, say, 20 U.S. aid workers are taken hostage, Margaret Hassan-style, in Sumatra, Indonesia, with the terrorist demand that unless American forces are withdrawn from Iraq, all 20 U.S. aid workers will be beheaded and each recorded on videotape?

Question: Does this explain why the president hesitated, Pat Buchanan?

MR. BUCHANAN: That had nothing to do with it, John. The Margaret Hassan killing in Iraq was the stupidest thing the al Qaeda types have done, as well as one of the cruelest, because any decent Muslim who might even despise us doesn't support that.

The president hesitated, John, because it was Christmas. He didn't have his staff with him. He's down there on vacation, as Kofi Annan was, as Tony Blair was. They were all late in acting and reacting. When they did, and realized the extent of the damage, I think we've responded tremendously. And we deserve better than what that U.N. official Egeland, that U.N. parasite, his denunciation right after Christmas Day.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The White House knew in 12 hours the extent of the devastation, the horrible extent of it. They can see a golf ball on a putting green with those eyes in the sky. What do you mean, he didn't know?

MR. BUCHANAN: They did not bring it to the attention of the president.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, please.

MR. BUCHANAN: This is a political as well as a strategic disaster and a horror. It is a political opportunity. There's a political necessity. We should move at once. Somebody was asleep at the switch. I don't blame the president. I do blame his advisers for not getting on the ball -- his communications director, the secretary of State and Ms. Rice.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have 20 ships in the area. We have 13,000 military and I believe -- military personnel; let's put it that way.

MR. BUCHANAN: We are always first there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have about twice as many helicopters over there.

MR. BUCHANAN: We are always first there, John. We are doing the most now because we have the ability and the mobility.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe he wanted to put that together so they're there in case something happens, as described here. What I'm trying to attack is your dismissive tone about that excellent presentation.

MR. BUCHANAN: My dismissive tone is justified.

MS. CLIFT: You cannot defend the administration's laggard response. The aircraft carrier was in the Indian Ocean. It could have been diverted a lot earlier. What you need in the early hours after a disaster like that is helicopters that can go in when the roads are out. You have to bring in fresh water. The administration could have responded more quickly.

But terrorism was not the reason that they delayed. Terrorism is a legitimate concern at some point, and it's a way to hit America without coming to America. And maybe that's why they sent a contingent of Marines over there. But the administration was basically out to lunch. They were on holiday. And they didn't see U.S. strategic interests really threatened, and they just took their damn time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think what was set forth in the introduction here in that set-up explains why the earliest images we've seen of U.S. aid deliveries involve the military?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, the reason the earliest aid delivered was the military is because that's the only entity on the planet that can move in with aircraft carriers and helicopters quickly to do it. I mean, the French have an aircraft carrier; I think it's about at the Canary Islands now, still steaming southward. So it was the only entity.

But I want to make another point. Everything we're hearing all over the world, the commentary, from this room and around the world, is all the continuation of the politics that existed prior to that great tide. And everybody who hates Bush is finding ridiculous reasons to attack him now. People who were angry at Kofi Annan --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think this is an attack, do you?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, not you, sir. I was thinking somewhere else perhaps. But all of the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You were pointing your finger at Buchanan and at Eleanor.

MR. BLANKLEY: Everybody is lining up. If you don't like Kofi Annan, this is a chance to take a shot at him. If you don't like Bush, this is a chance to take a shot at him. It's sad that even in a natural tragedy like this that everybody reverts to their old politics, which we --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There were lacunae in the first week that have not yet been explained. Do you understand? The oddity of the delay that occurred cannot be explained by the president not wishing to be disturbed. It's ridiculous.

MR. BEINART: No, I don't think it's ridiculous. I think that either the president -- there were not people senior enough to get in the way of the president's vacation, and the president did not himself have the instinct, which in a way bothers me even more, to recognize as soon as he should have, by Monday, when the British were way out there already in public, the severity of this. And, yes, it's true we're talking about a natural disaster, but it's a natural disaster with enormous political consequences. You cannot avoid talking about it politically.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If such an atrocity does occur with our aid workers, what do you think the American reaction would be?

MR. BEINART: There is no evidence whatsoever that the Islamist groups in Indonesia are doing this. They have been mum on this. It's been striking; no effort at all to do this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We know that, but how much time has transpired and how long are we going to be there?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, that would be the stupidest thing the terrorists could do. Every Muslim on earth -- everybody in the world --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was stupid to behead Margaret Hassan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they do stupid things.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're right. This is exactly my point, Pat.

MS. CLIFT: But they beheaded her --

MR. BUCHANAN: The reaction would be in our favor.

MS. CLIFT: They beheaded her in a country that the U.S. has invaded. If the U.S. military is going in and helping Muslim people, that is a very good face to put on American policy around the world. This is an opportunity to make up for Bush's first term.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, the top 10 governments by dollar count: Australia, $764 million; Germany, $680 (million); Japan, $500 (million); U.S., fourth position, $350 (million); Norway, $182 (million); Britain, $96 (million); Italy, $95 (million); Sweden, eighth place, $80 (million); Spain, $68 (million); France, $66 (million). And I would add underneath France, China probably comes in there with $62 million. I'm not sure there's somebody between $62 (million) and $66 (million). But I think that's quite significant, that China, which has already pledged $150 million to Afghanistan, is now emerging with superpower behavior.

But that aside, what do you make of these donor government donations?

MR. BLANKLEY: First of all, what's not on that list is private donations from around the world. And American private donations, as of mid-week, was over $200 million. American citizens privately at mid-week had given more than all the EU and Gulf state countries. And I think it'll turn out that American private giving will vastly supplant anybody else's.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you aware of what the Saudis just raised with their telethon? Sixty-seven million dollars. So I wouldn't be too sure about those statistics. There's a great deal of fluidity.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we please stick to the government donations here?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. Why should we?

MR. BUCHANAN: The key thing here --

MR. BEINART: The problem is that the private donations -- the fact that Americans are giving privately is terrific. It does not excuse the government. America should be number one on that list.

MR. BLANKLEY: We shouldn't be number one or number seven.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish.

MR. BEINART: We're a much bigger economy than Australia, a much bigger economy than Germany. We claim moral leadership in the world. And this is an opportunity to change the toxic anti-American --

MS. CLIFT: Except --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on.

MR. BEINART: -- (inaudible) -- throughout Indonesia. It is an opportunity. We should be first.

MS. CLIFT: Except we're paying for a $200-plus billion tsunami in Iraq, and the government really doesn't have the money. So, I mean, I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, let's get to another --

MS. CLIFT: I want to put in a plug for former President Clinton and former President Bush, who I think are going to do a great job raising money.

MR. BLANKLEY: What is this thing about competition as to who's giving more?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you in favor of President Bush hiding behind President Clinton now?

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) I think there are some things that supersede politics.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, this is America-bashing. We've got our helicopters.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hey, Pat --

MR. BUCHANAN: Okay, we were slow off the mark. We've got helicopters, carriers, guys all over there. We're doing more than anybody else. Three hundred and fifty million dollars and somebody's yelling because Australia, which is in the neighborhood, promises a little more cash.

MR. BEINART: Much more cash.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Relax, will you? The American-bashing on this show has just begun.

Okay, donor nations again, per capita. This is the government spending, the government outlays on a per capita basis. Take a look at the screen: Norway, $39 per person; Australia, $38; Qatar, let's call it $30; Denmark, $14; Taiwan, let's call it $10; Sweden, $8.90 -- let's call that $9; Germany, $8.25; Kuwait, $4.43; Japan, $3.93 per capita; Ireland, $3.43 per capita. And the U.S. ranked 26th per capita with $1.19 per person.

MR. BUCHANAN: How much did these little countries spend per capita to defend the West in the Cold War when we're spending 6 percent of GDP or 9 percent of GDP? This is preposterous.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, he will reach to the bottom of the barrel to get his argument.

MR. BEINART: Look, put aside the moral argument. Even as a purely realpolitick issue, this is a huge issue in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.

MR. BUCHANAN: Who do you think is in there, Peter?

MR. BEINART: It's $500 million.

MR. BUCHANAN: Who do you think is in there right now? Who's on the beach? Who's dropping all the material from helicopters?

MR. BEINART: But they are seeing the same numbers that John is showing. They're showing --

MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, for heaven's sakes. Those are numbers --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know that India, which lost 10,000 people, now has a structure of military apparatus, ships and helicopters, helping Sri Lanka and other parts of the region?

MR. BUCHANAN: They consider themselves a great power.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They are a great power, and they have loads of money. They have loads of money.

MR. BUCHANAN: And they don't want to be a beggar nation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Huh?

MR. BUCHANAN: They don't want to be a beggar nation either. They're not taking aid.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I wish you'd -- why are you blowing the horn of the United States this loud?

MR. BUCHANAN: Because it's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can't you read the per capita distribution?

MR. BUCHANAN: Colin Powell is doing a great job over there.

MS. CLIFT: The gentleman that you referred to as the parasite at the U.N. --

MR. BUCHANAN: Egeland?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN: They don't call it the don. They don't have a don.

MS. CLIFT: His comment -- excuse me. His comment that the world was being stingy, the western nations were being stingy --

MR. BUCHANAN: America was being stingy.

MS. CLIFT: -- spurred a lot of giving.

MR. BEINART: We were being stingy when he made that comment.

MS. CLIFT: And Bush responded ten-fold.

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm so glad to hear --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. Most of our --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, you never stop talking.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me, Tony. Most of our foreign aid actually is connected with the Camp David accords.

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm just delighted to see liberal Democrats bash America again.

MS. CLIFT: Please, Tony. Excuse me. I'm not bashing --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony --

MS. CLIFT: I'm not bashing America. I'm just saying --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me.

MR. BEINART: Wanting a better America is not bashing -- wanting a better America is not bashing America.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's not have mob rule here.

Okay, conservative skeletons. "The tsunami has uncovered a dirty little secret about the right wing today. Conservatives are fascinated by American power, but they're not at all that interested in the world. The tsunami is an almost perfect case study in conservative isolationism."

Peter, this is your upcoming issue and this is your snarling prose, which we'd like you to defend, say, in about 15 or 20 seconds. What is the reason for this attack against people like Pat and Tony?

MR. BEINART: Fox has devoted four times less discussion to this than CNN. The amount of commentary about the political effect of the tsunami in the region, a critical region for the war on terrorism, on the right has been absolutely minuscule. And it is in keeping with the 1990s tradition --

MR. BUCHANAN: Peter --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish.

MR. BEINART: -- the 1990s conservative tradition, which still exists, of a conservative movement which is very interested in American military power but is not genuinely interested in the rest of the world.

MR. BLANKLEY: That's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Let him finish.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, John --

MR. BEINART: The amount of on-site reporting you see in conservative publications about the rest of the world is very small.

MR. BUCHANAN: Peter, what's wrong with that is, look, CNN has a global presence. Fox News does not have a global presence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, stop. Please.

MR. BUCHANAN: It doesn't have what CNN's got. I worked for CNN, John. They're all over the world. When you get coverage of world events, CNN will always be more --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fox is far-flung.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me get in for a second. I read your article. You made examples of conservative Republicans who were proud that they'd never traveled around the world; didn't have a passport.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who was that? Who was that?

MR. BEINART: People like Dick Armey.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did he say? What did he say?

MR. BEINART: Dick Armey said, "I've been to Europe. I don't need to go back."

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I can find liberals who say -- I've traveled -- I know conservatives all across Washington and the country. We're as internationalist in travel and experience as liberals. The idea that you're going to --

MR. BEINART: Then why hasn't George Bush ever spent any time in foreign countries when he travels?

MS. CLIFT: Can I get in here for just a word for a minute?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly, quickly.

MS. CLIFT: Basically conservatives don't like diplomacy. They don't like soft power. They don't like touchy-feely stuff. And that's what humanitarian aid is. You guys like the military thrust and that's it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The implication seems to be from Peter's piece that the conservatives are tight with their money.

MR. BEINART: Not when it comes to the military. Conservatives believe in engaging the world through military power. But soft power, as Eleanor said, is something they have never shown interest in -- not in this administration, not in the conservative intelligentsia.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say about the red states and the blue states? Americans living in poorer states, the red states, give more generously to charity across the board. We can assume the same pattern does exist and will continue to exist in tsunami relief. The red states are typically conservative, as you know. The blue states are typically liberal. The red states went for Bush. The blue states went for Kerry.

Here are the top 10 most charitable states and the top 10 least charitable states. Take a look. The most giving: Mississippi stands at the top of the most giving, the nation's poorest state in terms of average household income. It ranks number one in giving when measured as a percentage of income, followed by Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's tithing for churches, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By contrast -- okay, so we have to wipe that off the plate.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I'm saying they're --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We can't count that?

MR. BUCHANAN: Christian evangelicals give a higher percentage of their income to churches than liberals in New York do, who don't go to church.

MS. CLIFT: They're not giving it to foreign aid.

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment. Just a moment, please. By contrast, the nation's wealthiest states are much less generous. Take a look. Connecticut, for example, with the highest average household income, ranks 44th in percentage of income donated to charity. Look at the bottom of the list -- New Hampshire. Look next to that, 49th in giving, Massachusetts, then Rhode Island, then New Jersey, then Wisconsin, then Minnesota.

Doesn't that torpedo your argument about conservatives?

MR. BEINART: It's irrelevant to my argument, because my argument is not about local charity. It's about America's relationship with the world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that a natural extension of your argument is how much money they're giving for --

MR. BEINART: No, that's not a natural --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course it is. You're saying --

MR. BEINART: You look at the debates over foreign aid, year after year after year, you will see conservative hostility to foreign aid, which goes back a very long time.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from you.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just make one point. You said that the conservatives are less engaged in the world than liberals. Nixon, Reagan, Bush administrations have been vastly more engaged in the world than the Democratic administrations that interspersed --

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. BLANKLEY: Republicans and conservatives are completely engaged in the world. The fact that we don't want to give a lot of foreign aid to corrupt local dictators so they can put money in Swiss banks doesn't mean we're not --

MR. BUCHANAN: We don't give foreign aid because we do not believe that foreign governments are the best people to spend American tax dollars, and we are right.

MR. BEINART: A lot of --

MS. CLIFT: And so 3 million people --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I still haven't had --

MS. CLIFT: Three million people die each year from malaria and hundreds of thousands of children die in Africa each year --

MR. BUCHANAN: Use DDT. If you hadn't out;lawed it, you'd get rid of malaria.

MS. CLIFT: -- of diarrhea because we're chintzy with money for international development.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The affluent people are shielded, aren't they? When you've gone through distress the way the poor people have, they remember that.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, listen --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And they want to relieve that.

MR. BUCHANAN: The more deeply religious people are, the more they give to charity, if you include churches in charities, and schools and things like that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the wealthy people go to church. They include that in their charity. Of course they do.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question -- no, I think the figures speak for themselves.

MR. BUCHANAN: How much do you give?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why do you ask? (Laughter.) Exit question --

MR. BUCHANAN: I'm talking about the wealthy. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see what happens when you run for president, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He ran three times for president, and of course he goes out of circulation, he spends a few bucks and the moths fly out of his wallet.

Exit: When you rank the U.S. government by total government aid, we are number four in the world. When you rank by per capita basis, no way we're in the top 10.

Exit question -- in fact, we're 26th. Well, wait a minute. We're nowhere in the top 10. We're 26th. Question: Are we as generous a country as we would like to believe?

MR. BUCHANAN: We are, and we give more than anybody to the World Bank and to the IMF and to the U.N.; a far higher percentage, almost a quarter of all that giving. Forty percent of the relief aid in the last year came from the United States of America. This is outrageous. It is blame America first.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't see that on a per capita basis, those big numbers.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, we've got 300 million people, for heaven's sakes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think $13 billion in foreign aid --

MR. BUCHANAN: You think Norway --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- is a representative figure for the United States?

MR. BUCHANAN: Norway is number one. Do you think they do a better job in the world than we do?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think on a per capita basis they do.

MR. BUCHANAN: What else do they do? Do they defend anything?

MS. CLIFT: Every poll that is taken shows that Americans think we give a far higher share of our budget to foreign aid than we do. They think we give like 20 percent away. It's under 1 percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MS. CLIFT: And I think Americans would be shocked to know --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We are running out of time.

MR. BLANKLEY: From de Tocqueville on, the charitable nature of American people has been observed by all objective viewers.

MR. BEINART: We are a good and generous people. Our government is not as good as its people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's all true.

Issue Two: Postpone Iraq Elections?

The push to delay Iraq's parliamentary elections, now scheduled for January 30, is reaching critical mass. Iraq's Kurdish parties now favor pushing elections back -- 20 percent of the Iraqi population. Even Iyad Allawi, Iraq's Shiite prime minister who has previously been a staunch supporter of the January 30 vote, on Wednesday begrudgingly provided a window for postponing the vote. Quote: "Ultimately, the decision to get the election changed rests with the United Nations Security Council," he says.

Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni Muslim, said this week the U.N. should, quote/unquote, "look into" the possibility of a delay. Other Sunnis have ramped up their calls for a delay in the vote, amidst a wave of violence by insurgents in a string of attacks across the country.

Particularly unsettling, the provincial governor of Baghdad was gunned down. And 16 U.S. troops were killed this week -- including nine on Thursday, seven of the nine by one roadside bomb in Baghdad. The violence has fueled the drive to postpone the elections. Even Iraq's Defense Minister Hazem al-Shaalan has suggested a short delay.

And elder Sunni statesman Adnan Pachachi, the former president of the Iraq Governing Council, this week added his voice in the Washington Post to the postponement drive. "It is far more important for Iraqis to accept the legitimacy of election results, whatever they might be, than that elections be held on a particular day in a country that has known no elections for nearly 50 years. Baghdadis have told me that they have no intention of leaving their homes on election day because they fear the terrorists. Elections were delayed in Afghanistan, but the results there gained wide acceptance from all political factions. That must be our aim in
Iraq."

Pachachi was favored by the U.S. to be Iraq's interim President. He was our man in Iraq and sat next to Laura Bush at the 2004 State of the Union Address.

Question: Will Iraq's elections be postponed?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, no, they will not. I think it's a nine or a 10 they won't, for this reason. It would give the insurgents a tremendous victory and it would antagonize the Shi'a, who are looking forward to these elections. So they're going to happen. They've got to happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you read Pachachi's piece in the Washington Post?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, I was down in --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I suggest you do so and then we'll bring this matter up again.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I think the administration is so heavily invested that it would be very difficult not to go forward. But there's growing pessimism. And Brent Scowcroft, very close to the first Bush I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes?

MS. CLIFT: -- said that it would take -- to do this right, you would need 500,000 troops, $500 billion and a draft.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly; we've only got 20 seconds.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes. I think -- I saw a poll; 80 percent of Iraqis intend to go and vote. I think they're going to push forward and have the vote. I'd say it's nine and a half out of 10 that they'll do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A probability scale, 10 being high. What do you say?

MR. BEINART: There's only one person who can stop this vote -- Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. If he turns around, the vote will stop. But he's not going to, because he sees political power within his grasp.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, but he wants the Sunnis on board because he does not want a partitioned Iraq. So he'll work for the Sunnis on board, but if he doesn't get it, he may give ground. On a 10 scale, it's about a six that the elections will take place.

Issue Three: The Year of the Blog.

Two thousand four was the year of the blog. ABC News named bloggers "People of the Year." Merriam-Webster says "blog" was the number one word looked up on its online dictionary in 2004. It's short for "web log" and is defined as an "online personal journal." The writer of the blog is called a blogger.

Eight million Americans have now created their own blogs, and 32 million Americans now say they read blogs. When documents about Mr. Bush's National Guard duty surfaced during the presidential campaign, bloggers were the ones to first notice and report anomalies. Dan Rather apologized for that story.

SCOTT JOHNSON (POWERLINEBLOG.COM): (From videotape.) I hope it has a sobering effect on the folks who are plying their trade as professionals.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Natural disasters have given bloggers a new role. For days following the Christmas tsunami, web logs were the only forum available for anxious friends and relatives to try to locate loved ones.

How important is blogging as a media phenomenon? Peter Beinart.

MR. BEINART: Enormously important. The most important thing is that it has dramatically accelerated the speed by which all journalists have to operate -- dramatically. That is both good, in terms of being able to get instant information, and bad because it puts tremendous pressure to get stuff out before you fully develop your argument or check all your facts.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What percentage is editorial comment and what percentage is original reporting?

MR. BEINART: I think right now you still mostly find editorial comment, although there are some blogs that do good reporting.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it mostly a diversion or is it mostly entertainment, as in Wonkette? Or what would you say? What's the ratio of taking it seriously or not taking it seriously?

MR. BEINART: There are some very good serious blogs -- TalkingPointsMemo.com by Joshua Marshall or -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But those are all anti-Bush.

MR. BEINART: Well, not always, not always.

MR. BLANKLEY: There's PowerBlog. There's InstaBlog. I mean, there's a lot of -- (inaudible). But, you know, it goes beyond politics. It's going into other areas of business and other areas of communities of interest. We're kind of -- because we're all into politics, we're looking at the political blogs, which I think are -- I agree with Peter entirely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about financial blogs? Does it help you with your portfolio?

MR. BLANKLEY: My portfolio couldn't be helped.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: The departure of John Bolton from State is the beginning of the exodus of the neocons. I think they're going to be leaving the Pentagon next.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you like the Zoellick appointment?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's preferable to the one that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To Bolton?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How can you say that? He's your guy. Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Alberto Gonzales will get confirmed, but he will also get grilled about his role in the vetting of Bernard Kerik -- disastrous.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: Tremendous pressure on the president on Social Security to actually come up with a specific plan soon.

MR. BEINART: The next chair of the DNC will be Martin Frost.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: COX-2 inhibitors will stay on the market, and dosage labeling will be headlined. Bye bye.

####

®FC¯END
®FL¯
_