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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT; NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; BILL PRESS, MSNBC

DATE: FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2005

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: In the Tank.

Washington is tanking, and the public is fed up. The president and the Congress are wildly unpopular. Mr. Bush's approval rating has sunk to the lowest point of the four years and four months of his presidency -- 43 percent, the lowest on record for any president four months into his second term. Congress is worse. Only 33 percent say Congress is doing a good job, down six points from a month ago.

What's driving this discontent? One, bickering over Bolton. Two, DeLay ethics odor. Three, Bush lobbying for Social Security private accounts -- tuned out. Four, GOP interference in Schiavo. Five, unstable economy. A paltry 20 percent say the economy has gotten better over the past year. Six, religion and politics forced intersections. Seven, filibuster -- an insider farce. Eight, looming in Iraq, sectarian war, Shi'ites versus Sunnis, with Kurds enmeshed later.

What's the bottom line? Bad news for the Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, and bad news for the president. It's showing. When asked how they would vote in the 2006 next-year congressional elections, 47 percent say Democratic, 40 percent Republican. As for President Bush, he's showing premature signs of lame duckhood, many believe, only four months into his second term. And, indeed, to many, Mr. Bush is becoming a side show, and oddly, with the main ring empty.

Question: Is that true? Is the president becoming a side show and is the main ring empty? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: The president is never a side show. And if you think he's in lame duckhood, you wait till Tuesday and the nuclear option, when you see 45 Democratic senators with broken legs, John, trying to walk around.

Look, the president is clearly, as we mentioned, in that slough of despond. But he always has tremendous power. And secondly, the huge battle over the nuclear option is going to dominate this coming week. If the president wins it, he'll be king of the hill again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're not talking about power. We're talking about leadership. Is he losing his leadership? Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I think the public is disgusted with the president's performance and with the Congress. Congress looks like they're diddling around with these insider rules and they're not doing the people's business. And the Republicans in particular are so relentlessly courting their base that it looks like they're trying to turn the country into a theocracy. And next week the president is vowing that he will veto a congressional bill to expand stem-cell research, which I think will really backfire badly with the American public.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a disconnect, Tony, between reality and the political dialogue in Washington?

MR. BLANKLEY: For whom is the disconnect you're referring to?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A disconnect for the public at large.

MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, for the public. I thought perhaps somewhere else. (Laughter.) Look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very cute. MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I think that Washington is going through these battles right now that are very unpopular with the public; there's no question about that. The primary reason why Bush's numbers are down -- and you managed to cherry-pick the lowest number, because there was another poll out that I think had him at 47 percent; I think it was Gallup.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is true. It was NBC.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. But the primary reason was the gas. The gas prices is my sense. And those numbers have hit high. They're up to $50 a barrel. Now it's down to $47, $48. The prediction is we've got more supply than they thought.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the point?

MR. BLANKLEY: My point is that I think the gas problem has distorted the natural -- I think Bush is naturally at about 46 to 48 percent, which is an adequate position for a president who hasn't yet accomplished a lot this year.

Social Security will be the big fight in the fall. I think there's still a reasonable chance of him getting something there. And as Pat correctly says, the battle next week, if the Republicans win it, will be a big boost to his vision of effectiveness.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bill Press.

MR. PRESS: Well, you know, I think you saw the sign of this a couple of weeks ago. This little plane flies into Washington air space, okay. They evacuate the White House; evacuate the Senate, Capitol Hill; evacuate the Supreme Court. The first lady and Nancy Reagan are rushed down to the bunker. The vice president is rushed outside to an outside bunker. And they don't tell George Bush. I think that's a sign of who's not running the country.

MR. BLANKLEY: But he wasn't in town at the time.

MR. PRESS: I think the main reason -- well, come on, he's still the president of the United States.

MR. BLANKLEY: You left out that little fact, though.

MS. CLIFT: Well, he --

MR. PRESS: Well, but that's the question.

MS. CLIFT: He was out for an --

MR. PRESS: That's the question. Why didn't they tell the president? MS. CLIFT: He was out for an afternoon bike ride, which I think, again, doesn't exactly fulfill the American ideal of what a president should be doing on an afternoon in the middle of the week when a war is going badly and he's got various proposals on Capitol Hill.

MR. BUCHANAN: You've got a point.

He hasn't had any -- look, we all know he had a magnificent election in Iraq and he got these --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The European trip; that was pretty good for him.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, the European trip was okay. But there's no doubt about it; he is embattled now, and it is a fiercely partisan situation in town, pro and con on every issue. It's very nasty. And I agree with Tony. I think the president -- I don't think he's going to get out of that 45 to 50 percent area unless he gets a huge victory.

MR. PRESS: But here's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Let me get into this. Ted to the rescue. The nomination of federal judges reaches into deep principles -- presidential prerogative and judicial qualifications. The filibuster affects votes, but it has not been sufficiently said why.

This week Ted Kennedy explained the necessity of retaining the filibuster.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA): (From videotape.) The Senate majority will always be able to get its way, and the Senate our founders created will no longer exist. It will be an echo chamber to the House, where the tyranny of the majority is so rampant today.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bill Press, can you enlarge on that, tease it out a little bit? What is Kennedy saying?

MR. PRESS: De Tocqueville said that the danger to democracy, when he came here 200 years ago, almost, was the tyranny of the majority. That's the danger, not the tyranny of the minority. In other words, the majority will not let the minority have a voice. And that, I think, is what Teddy is saying that the Republicans are trying to do, to take away the opportunity of the minority -- in this case it happens to be Democrats; for a long time it happened to Republicans -- to challenge a president's judicial nominations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that if the political situation were reversed and if it were the Democrats who held the majority in both chambers, would Ted Kennedy then want to keep the filibuster, and in so doing help the Republicans? I ask you. MR. PRESS: We've seen -- look, Democrats were in charge for over 40 years. They did not get rid of the filibuster. Republicans used it during that time. Al D'Amato used it. He spoke 23 hours because they were going to not build a bomber anymore on Long Island. So Democrats didn't like it, but they did not get rid of it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking merits here. We're talking merits. What about this notion that the dominant party over the majority, holding the majority, can control nominations? Shouldn't there be a check on that in the interest of the minority?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, let me say, when Ted Kennedy says, "Our founding fathers," the filibuster wasn't invented until 1830, which is 45 years after the founding. So whatever it is, it wasn't created by the founders. Both sides are misrepresenting history.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Doesn't it have --

MR. BLANKLEY: The filibuster has moved up and down --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But doesn't it have a strong coloration of the founding fathers and the democratic principles --

MR. BLANKLEY: No, the filibuster has no --

MR. BUCHANAN: The Senate is the cooling body. But, John, look, this is about power, in the final analysis. The federal court could become a judicial dictatorship, which you're imposing a social revolution on America, without the consent of the American people. For decades Republicans have fought for the Supreme Court.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat --

MR. BUCHANAN: This is about the Supreme Court.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This has nothing to do with the federal judges. It has to do with the Supreme Court of the United States. There are probably three, I think three --

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MR. BLANKLEY: Maybe four.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- three nominations coming up, which means that the Republicans will see them through, because they will vote as a bloc.

MR. BUCHANAN: Without the nuclear option and breaking that filibuster, Republicans cannot get control of the Supreme Court, and that is what it's about.

(Cross-talk.) MR. BUCHANAN: The Democrats will filibuster every nominee.

MS. CLIFT: First of all, on the federal courts there are more Reagan and Bush I appointees than there are Democrat appointees. So if it's a big tyranny, it's your tyranny.

MR. BUCHANAN: John Paul Stevens.

MS. CLIFT: Secondly, if, under the current rules, we got a Clarence Thomas and we got an Antonin Scalia, what are we going to get if you don't have to get 60 votes? Sixty votes forced some sort of consensus. You're going to have judges there who want to overturn Roe v. Wade, and that's what this is about.

MR. BUCHANAN: Thomas today would be filibustered.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Kennedy's argument notwithstanding, is the filibuster debate still a side show, as the public sees it? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: If the public sees it that way, they see it wrong. This is big casino.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The public has gotten drawn in, because they don't like living under one-party rule, and they are alarmed that that one party is consolidating and expanding its power.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you think the public is taking this seriously.

MS. CLIFT: I think they're getting involved.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they should be enjoying -- well, they are enjoying a favorable margin in some polls.

MR. PRESS: Most of the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Most of the public wants retention of the filibuster.

MR. BLANKLEY: The most recent poll, reliable poll, has it 32 percent want the filibuster kept, 31 percent want it got rid of, and the rest don't care or don't know.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think when they see this show, they're going to come down on the side of retention, though, Tony. What do you have to say on this?

MR. PRESS: Okay, you've already answered. No, I was just going to say, I think this is not a side show. This is a Republican abuse of power. I think the public sees it that way. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think the public is getting to see it that way.

Issue Two: Shock and Awe.

GEORGE GALLOWAY (BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT): (From videotape.

) In everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong. And 100,000 people have paid with their lives, 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: British member of Parliament George Galloway took the U.S. Senate by storm this week when he testified before the permanent panel on investigations. The committee is focused on the U.N. oil-for-food scandal. Galloway is accused of receiving 20 million barrels of oil allocations from the government of Saddam Hussein. Galloway answered those charges head-on and launched a blistering attack against the committee's evidence, his accusers' motives, and U.S. policy in Iraq as a whole.

GEORGE GALLOWAY: (From videotape.) I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader, and neither has anyone on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf.

What counts is not the names on the paper. What counts is, where's the money, Senator? Who paid me hundreds of thousands of dollars of money? The answer to that is nobody.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: So is there no proof Galloway took graft, Tony Blankley?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, the proof that he -- the issue that he hasn't denied is that he was given $800,000 from a guy who got the money through oil from Saddam, and that guy happened to be his best man at his wedding, but he claimed that he had no knowledge and had no responsibility to find out where that money came from.

But I must tell you that the Scottish demagogue made mincemeat of the lap dogs, the stuttering fellows in the Senate. I mean, it was not a pretty picture.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, the senators looked like little lost boys.

MR. BLANKLEY: It shows you how good a training ground the House of Commons is for ferocious debate. MS. CLIFT: That was the best testimony since Ollie North stuck it to members of the Senate.

MR. BLANKLEY: It was brilliant testimony.

MS. CLIFT: And he made the point that whatever money is involved in oil-for-food is minuscule compared to Halliburton's overcharges.

MR. BLANKLEY: But, in fact, he's probably guilty, and that's what the evidence will show.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, the Senate accusers' foul motives.

GEORGE GALLOWAY: (From videotape.) This is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth. Have a look at the real oil-for-food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months, when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and the other American corporations, that stole not only Iraq's money but the money of the American taxpayer.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Galloway right? The real scandal took place during the 14 months when the U.S.'s Paul Bremer was in charge of Baghdad and $9 billion in Iraq's reconstruction money disappeared. Bill Press.

MR. PRESS: First, I've got to say, I wish we had Senate Democrats with that kind of backbone, who would stand up and talk. But I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or presidential candidates.

MR. PRESS: Or presidential candidates. I think he is right. We were told by Paul Wolfowitz, remember, that oil from Iraq was going to pay for the reconstruction. This was going to be a cheapo, Wal-Mart kind of reconstruction, Wal-Mart kind of war. Instead that all disappeared under Bremer's watch. American taxpayers are footing the bill. I think he's right that that's the real scandal. I think he's also right that the war is the real scandal. And he's right that this is a big cover-up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he right, Pat, when he says this is a diversionary smokescreen, accusing Congress of putting up the smokescreen?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, no. Look, I think Galloway is not on as strong a ground, because I think there was blundering by us in Iraq. But where he is on strong ground is they accused him personally of taking graft and being a corrupt individual. He was full of moral indignation. He came back at them as -- I agree with you, it's the best testimony I've seen since Ollie North. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's innocent?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think personally what he says is the truth. I also think what Tony says is the truth. This fellow that contributes to these charities is the guy who did probably -- was involved in oil- for-food.

MS. CLIFT: The British --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you don't accuse him if he didn't do it himself.

MS. CLIFT: The British tabloids made some of these same accusations against him. He sued and he won.

MR. BLANKLEY: Based on different evidence. Based on different evidence.

MS. CLIFT: Well, but he still -- I think he -- this is a guy who knows how to fight.

MR. BLANKLEY: We need Edward Longshanks right now. (Laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Throw him right out the window, right, Tony? (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Right out the window -- the Scottish demagogue.

MR. BUCHANAN: He cleaned their clock. He cleaned their clock.

MR. PRESS: I want to know, who invited him? And is that person still working for that committee?

MR. BUCHANAN: He asked to testify, I understand.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, he did.

MR. BUCHANAN: He said, "I'm coming over here to answer these people."

MR. PRESS: Well, then who said yes? (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The diversion --

MS. CLIFT: He also unmasked the administration.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The diversion of this into Paul Bremer's tent was clearly a brilliant tactic, was it not?

MR. PRESS: No, absolutely, because he's Bush's boy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was inspired. MR. BUCHANAN: It's effective. But to me, it's less effective than himself going back and defending himself.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was also very effective when he talked about the sanctions and their impact over a 10-year period, or thereabouts, on the children, because we were getting that (fed?). You remember when -- I believe her name is Berry (sp). She went over there and she conducted an investigation.

MR. BUCHANAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She came back with these horrible figures about 4,000 a month under six years of age dying from either --

MR. BUCHANAN: Malnutrition and all these other --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Malnutrition and related toxic evils.

MS. CLIFT: And he steered the conversation back to where it ought to be, and that is a war that we went into under false pretenses and that has gone badly and continues to go badly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question -- exit question: Who got the better of this exchange, Galloway or the Senate? Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Galloway cleaned their clock.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: That's easy -- Galloway, right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: You want to guard against (being?) taken in by this demagogue. He was a supplicant to Saddam Hussein -- (laughter) -- a defender and apologist for him, who happened to get the better of the senators in Washington.

MR. PRESS: Come on. He met with Saddam Hussein twice. So did Secretary Rumsfeld. David slew Goliath. That's who got the best of it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, it's clear, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: I agree with you, he got the better of it. But he's a demagogue. They sometimes do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was clearly a Galloway triumph.

Issue Three: Koran Desecration. Three days of riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan; at least 15 people killed, scores wounded, buildings burned. What sparked the outrage? A desecrated Koran.

May 4, Wednesday, Newsweek article alleges a Koran was flushed down a toilet by interrogators at the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay detention center. May 11, Wednesday, one week later, Afghan protests turn violent. And by week's end, condemnation spreads across the Muslim world -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the Palestinian territories, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the Arab League.

May 15, Sunday, Newsweek apologizes and the source of the story, an unnamed senior government official, pulls back. May 16, Monday, Newsweek fully recants the disgusting story. May 17, Tuesday, the Bush administration voices outrage again.

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: (From videotape.) I frankly think it's appalling that this story got out, which was not -- let's just say it was not on a very good basis. And it has done a lot of damage.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was Isikoff's reporting accurate or inaccurate? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think Newsweek has recanted the story, and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That doesn't mean it's inaccurate.

MS. CLIFT: Well, what was inaccurate about his reporting is he said that allegations of abuse of the Koran, specifically a Koran being flushed down a toilet, would appear in a government report, which in effect would be the U.S. government saying this happened. And when the questions were raised about the story and he went back to his source, the source backed off and said he couldn't really remember where he saw this. And so, you know, look, anything that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: None of that means, however, that the story is not true.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor finish.

MS. CLIFT: What is continuing is the reporting about these allegations. And frankly, the administration now, I believe, is looking into them. But, you know, the Red Cross has gone to the Pentagon numerous times reporting degradation of the Koran. So this is not something that was invented last week.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In that sound bite of Condi Rice, she did not say that the story was untrue. Why did he rely only on that one source, though? MS. CLIFT: Well, he's an experienced reporter, and this is somebody he's dealt with for a long time.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make one point.

MS. CLIFT: And he had trust in this source.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why didn't he conclude that the pull-back on the part of that single source was the result of pressure brought to him --

MS. CLIFT: Well, we don't know that. We don't know that. And if that is the case, we will find out in --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to say something, Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: One point.

MS. CLIFT: The baying dogs are out here. (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: I want to make one point. We don't know what the truth is. But the canard that a Koran has been defiled is an old one. It was used by the Afghanis against the Russians in the '80s, and I remember it. And we were laughing at the time that the Russians were victims of this old canard. And Islamists, when they're trapped, make these charges in prison. So the fact that the New York Times reports --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, the White House wants Newsweek to go further.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN (WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY): (From videotape.) Newsweek can do that by talking about the way they got this wrong and pointing out what the policies and practices of the United States military are when it comes to the handling of the holy Koran.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The White House press corps scorns McClellan's request.

(Videotaped excerpt of exchange between Mr. McClellan and reporter.)

Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the president of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help --

Q Pressuring them. MR. MCCLELLAN: No, I'm saying we would encourage them --

Q (Isn't that?) pressure?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad.

(End of videotape.

)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is the White House exploiting this episode to bash what it believes is liberal reporting? I ask you, Bill Press.

MR. PRESS: Does the pope wear a funny hat? Of course, they are. I mean, that's what this is all about. They see another Dan Rather here. That's what they're trying to make it. Here's the bottom line to me: Newsweek probably used faulty intelligence to write a magazine article. This administration used faulty intelligence to take us to war. And the difference is, Newsweek apologized.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, let me speak to this. I don't care whether it's true or false. This report is seditious. Putting this thing out there means American guys are greater at risk. It jeopardizes the cause for which people are fighting. Things like this took place in World War I. Eugene Debs went to prison. This undermines the war. I don't care whether it's true --

MS. CLIFT: Was reporting about Abu Ghraib also seditious?

MR. BUCHANAN: There's no doubt, you're exactly right, it did. But to put that thing in there, Eleanor --

MS. CLIFT: This is nothing compared --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your point, Pat? I don't get the point. Let Pat finish.

MR. BUCHANAN: Whether true or false, you do not publish something like that when your country is at war, which incites --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What kind of nonsense is that?

MR. BUCHANAN: It incites and inflames the whole Muslim world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So we don't do anything on Abu Ghraib either?

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, you've got a billion Muslims in the world. You antagonize, alienate and inflame them with a report like this. For what? What benefit? MR. PRESS: You want to muzzle --

MR. BUCHANAN: What benefit?

MR. PRESS: You want to muzzle the press, and that is wrong.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible.)

MR. PRESS: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram -- it ought to be reported, because it's wrong.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: In retracting the story, did Newsweek do the right thing? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Of course, they did. But they should never have published it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: They did the right thing in retracting the story. But Newsweek, like every other publication, is going to continue reporting on the conduct of the war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: Not being able to support it, they were obliged to retract it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They weren't obliged at all. They didn't have to retract it. They could have ridden it out.

MR. BLANKLEY: If a news organization admits they're wrong -- that's why we all have correction boxes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, they were under no obligation to retract it.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, you asked me my opinion. I said they are.

MR. PRESS: I think they caved too fast.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do?

MR. PRESS: I do. I don't think they should have retracted. They should have stuck to their guns and they should have sent somebody down there to find out the truth.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think that Newsweek would have been justified in maintaining their original standing on this subject. However, it was patriotic to do what they did.

Issue Four: Saddam de-pantsed. Another scandalous Iraq photo. This time it's not a nameless Iraqi. It's Saddam, seen here in this front-page photo, bare-chested and clad in his briefs. "Saddam is not Superman or God. He is now just an aging and humble old man. It's important that the people of Iraq see him like that to destroy the myth." So said the tabloid's anonymous military source.

Question: Will the photo have an impact on the Muslim world's perception of America? I ask you, Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: It will have some. You know, President Bush has condemned it. It not only undermines the dignity of Saddam, which I don't care about; it undermines our country's dignity when, I assume, negligently -- we don't know -- this photograph was taken by some guard and passed on, sold to a British newspaper. But it is regrettable, because it is an undignified way for us to treat any person who is in our custody.

MS. CLIFT: You don't humiliate prisoners no matter what you think.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's entirely --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish, Tony.

MS. CLIFT: This is behavior you would expect from 12-year-olds. But obviously the motive is that they thought they were helping --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does it --

MS. CLIFT: -- the U.S. forces there. And, in fact, by humiliating the former head of state, you just fuel the insurgency.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does it reinforce the notion that we are an occupying power in Iraq? Bill Press.

MR. PRESS: Yes, absolutely it does. And what I find interesting about this is the president did condemn this, but the president also said he doesn't think a photo is going to enrage the Muslim world the same week that he's saying a Newsweek article is responsible for the riots in Afghanistan. They can't get their story straight at the White House.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, Saddam Hussein is not quite as popular as the Koran in the Islamic world, which is the word of God. But John, this is degraded behavior. This is stuff we used to associate with the communists doing things to people. This is not America at its best. We treat POWs, or should ideally, with rights, even if they're as barbaric as Saddam Hussein. We ought not to be doing that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat. MR. BUCHANAN: If the nuclear option is exercised and works and the judicial nominees, the hostages, are released, the Senate will retaliate by taking Bolton hostage and not sending his nomination to the floor. A lot of conservatives are worried about it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: President Bush will not be able to sustain a veto against stem-cell research.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Next week, stem-cell research will pass by at least 260 votes in the House. But there may be enough votes there to sustain the veto. It will be close.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Republicans are behind it. Bill.

MR. PRESS: Within six months, there will be an official Pentagon report that will show that a Koran has, in fact, been desecrated at Guantanamo Bay, and Newsweek will be exonerated.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quite a prediction. This century will be defined by a debate that will run through the remainder of its decades: Religion versus science. Religion will lose.

Don't forget, you can watch the McLaughlin Group on streaming video worldwide at McLaughlin.com.

Next week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas comes to Washington to meet with President Bush at the White House. Will he ask the president to give some of the $200 million in U.S. aid directly to the Palestinian Authority?

Bye bye.

END.