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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; MORT ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT

TAPED: FRIDAY, AUGUST 12, 2005

BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF AUGUST 13-14, 2005

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Homeless in Gaza.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (FORMER ISRAELI FINANCE MINISTER): (From videotape.) I cannot be a partner to a move that I think compromises the security of Israel. Gaza will become an Islamic terrorist base which will endanger not only Israel, but many others in the world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's finance minister, resigned last week in protest. Israel's unilateral withdrawal from 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza Netanyahu finds dangerous and deplorable. He stunned the Sharon cabinet by walking out of a meeting, several hours underway, announcing his resignation. "The pullout from Gaza by Israel could not be stopped," he admitted. Shortly after his departure, the cabinet voted 17-5 to press on with the unilateral withdrawal of 9,000 Jewish settlers from the Palestinian-populated Gaza.

There is tumult from extremists on both sides -- killings, shootings, abductions. Besides violence, lawlessness is rampant -- carjackings, kidnapping, extortion. Remains of dead Jews are being exhumed, and all graves will be moved to a cemetery inside Israel.

The pain of the Jewish settlers is wrenching. The Jewish settlers have until the 17th, Wednesday, to become homeless in Gaza.

Prime Minister Sharon has requested $2.2 billion over four years from the Bush administration for the costs of the pullout and relocation.

Question: Should the U.S. foot the bill for the resettlement of the Gaza Jews inside Israel? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, that's $2.2 billion, John. There are about 1,900 settler families there. That's over a million dollars for each settler family, when we give $100,000 for the family of every American killed in Iraq.

This is an outrage to request that kind of money. We don't owe a dime here. The Israelis should not have moved into Gaza. It was never their territory. They went in there against our advice and counsel and against international law. They should pay the price of the withdrawal here.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's over four years. Also, war costs more money than resettlement.

MR. BUCHANAN: Why should it cost the American taxpayers a dime?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, Gaza should have been settled 20 years ago. And the tragedy is now that it pits Jew against Jew, and it also produces a fresh grievance for Netanyahu and other politicians on the extreme right to continue the division that we now see within Israel.

In terms of the money, I think if it comes to that, I think that it's worth it to pay for peace if it comes to -- if it's presented to the U.S. Congress. But I think we do send a lot of money to Israel, and I think the preferable position would be for them to underwrite this. But if it comes to a political issue in this country, they have a very strong position on Capitol Hill. And this is an important step in the peace process. It's probably worth paying for.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you amortize that over four years, that's less money than we pay per month in Iraq. MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. I mean, I don't think it should be seen, as Pat sees it, as a per-person payment. On that basis, I agree with Pat. But if you see it the same way Clinton saw it, you know, as part of trying to resolve a peace process, you have to -- we're going to give money to the Palestinians; we're going to give money all the way around, the same way the British did. They spend money to buy peace. And in that sense, if it leads to peace -- I have my doubts that it will -- I think it's probably money well spent. And Israel is voluntarily giving up the land that she's held for some time now, and that's a pretty unusual event.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would you not agree that this will establish a precedent and this will mean money for the Palestinians because they have been displaced too, and that it's money well spent, because if there is peace there, that will be one of the principal components of the cancer of terrorism?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: There's no doubt about that. This money, as Tony is saying, is not going to the individual families. It's going to cover a lot of costs, including a lot of security costs that come under the fact that now it is, in all likelihood, going to be Hamas that's going to take over Gaza. And there's also another sector in the northern part of the West Bank that the Israelis are withdrawing from, as what they have made clear is a down payment on further withdrawals from the West Bank.

So I think we are, if there is -- if Gaza becomes a template, if it becomes an area where there is reconciliation and constructive activity rather than another platform for terrorism, I think there's a much more viable hope for a future peace settlement.

Right now it looks very, very bad. As you pointed out in the piece, there are armed gangs all over the place. That has become a state of anarchy. Abu Mazen has not done anything to tamp down on the terrorists. Islamic Jihad has completely abandoned the so-called (comitabiya ?).

So there is going to be, I think, an explosion in terms of what's going to happen out of Gaza in the next 60 or 90 days that is going to create enormous problems for the prospects of peace going forward.

And that's the most distressing part about it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a consolidation of the population of Israel?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And is it also --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: There was never any Israeli prime minister or any real faction in Israel who said, "We have to remain in Gaza." That was not it. The issue was, do you walk out without real concessions from the Palestinians? Do you encourage terror by walking out without that? That's what --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it also establishing defensible, clear boundaries for Israel?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does that mean that the war will -- the division between the two will be lessened; there will be a de facto partition --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- until there is some resolution of the side- by-side states?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, but the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What I meant was, by this triggering terrorism, what I meant was it helps the recruitment of al Qaeda because of the TV-portrayed aggression on both sides. Correct?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I don't know about that. I mean, there is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they see it all the time.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: There is no shortage -- the recruitment of terrorists there is caused, more than anything else, by the incitement to hatred that you have on every public platform in the Palestinian community -- every school, every television station, every imam. That's where it's coming from.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that is broadcast throughout the Muslim world.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, absolutely.

MS. CLIFT: And the --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, what about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, therefore, it enables recruitment. If that went away, you will admit that, in your view, terrorism would recede somewhat?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, what about some balance here?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It would certainly reduce some of the issues that exist between the Muslim extremists and the West. There's no doubt about that.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't see how they could spend our money any better.

MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, for heaven's sake. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And when the Palestinians come along, I would give them a couple of billion dollars easily, readily.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They're going to get $9 billion from the West. Three billion dollars is being arranged right now by Jim Wolfensohn, who is the representative of the quartet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the Israelis approve of that. Anything that would help the Palestinians to recover, correct?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The hope -- it gives them a hope that they'll recover.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are they asking for, $9 billion?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They're going to get $9 billion.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Palestinians are getting $9 billion. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think that's terrific if we can buy our way out of that situation.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree with you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I've been recommending that since the beginning.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree with you.

MS. CLIFT: I don't question Abbas's sincerity. I think he does want to tamp down the violence. The question is, does he have any, what they call in the diplomatic world, deliverables.

MR. BLANKLEY: Careful.

MS. CLIFT: Can he -- deliverables. Can he actually present anything and give these people any hope that he can make their lives better? And to do that, he needs help from the West and he needs money, too. And so if there's some balance here --

MR. BUCHANAN: There is no balance.

MS. CLIFT: -- maybe there's, you know, balance on both sides.

MR. BUCHANAN: There is no balance. John, if you've got $2 billion, these poor Palestinians are poor as church mice in Gaza. The Israelis probably have 20 times the income they do. We're giving the Israelis the $2.2 billion. The Israelis are one one-hundredth of the population and got 25 percent of the land. What about a little more balance? There's a reason why there's such hatred on the part of the Palestinians, and it's because horrible injustices have been done to them for 50 years.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Fifty years.

MR. BLANKLEY: But there's another point. Beyond the money, what General Sharon is doing is being a good general. He is bringing -- he's removing the (salients ?) that are either indefensible or defensible only at a high cost and getting to a point, a consolidated place, that can be defended with relatively low terrorism internally in Israel, and then wait for the Palestinians if they're ever able to be a negotiating partner.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Netanyahu a prophet or is he a spoiler?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, we're going to find out. There is a -- he makes a very legitimate case. I'm not sure it's the right case, but it certainly is a legitimate case felt by a large portion of the Israelis. But the Israelis are willing to take the risk, in part because their choices are bad and worse. They don't have good choices. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's a spoiler. What happens -- if Gaza fails, if it sours, then he wins, and he's set up to return to office, which he ambitions greatly, that of prime minister. Correct?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely. But he was primed to succeed Sharon in any event.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He didn't need this to do it. I met with him just several weeks ago. He feels very, very strongly about this that it is an unacceptable risk. Now, Sharon feels it's an acceptable risk. There are two legitimate arguments.

MS. CLIFT: Well, it could force --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I support Sharon's view of this thing.

MS. CLIFT: It could force the alliance once again between Sharon and the liberal Labor Party. And if they can do that and have some sort of unity government, maybe they can keep the religious extremists, which is what Netanyahu represents, keep them on the sideline.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think there's something sort of unsound about this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What? What? What?

MR. BLANKLEY: Netanyahu is pulling out at this point when he can't affect the decision. At this point, it seems to me a responsible statesman stays in for the process. He's taken this position, but to theatrically leave --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he's a spoiler.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's exactly right. The guy's a complete opportunist here. And you're right when you said, John, look, if this thing blows up, he can say, "I was right." And there's a huge constituency over there that doesn't want to give up an inch of land. He gets that by default.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What happens if it's a success, if it doesn't sour? Then he's sidelined forever, is he not?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's not going to be a complete success.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he sidelined forever? This is a two-edged sword.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's not going to be a success. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: It's never been a complete success. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Will the U.S. Congress okay the funds to help move the Gaza settlers to Israel, yes or no? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: They will roll over every time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I think if it gets to that point, they will okay it, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: If the president submits it, it'll get passed by Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think Tony's absolutely right. If the president submits it, it'll get passed by the Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are the Jewish settlers in Gaza moving the graves to a cemetery for all the remains in Israel?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They're moving graves and synagogues. Everything else virtually is going to be demolished except for what is going to be transferred to the Palestinians, such as the greenhouses. That might provide a basis for some kind of economy there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is yes, Congress will provide the funds.

Issue Two: Grounded -- For Good?

NASA OFFICIAL: (From videotape.) Until we're ready, we won't go fly again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: STS-114, the flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station, was supposed to be NASA's comeback. But after two and a half years of being grounded and hundreds of millions of dollars in re-engineering to prevent a recurrence of the Columbia tragedy, STS-114 was a dismal failure.

The trouble started when the launch had to be delayed. A hydrogen fuel sensor mysteriously malfunctioned. Ever since the 1986 Challenger explosion, NASA flight safety rules prohibit a shuttle launch when any of the four sensors is not working. But after engineers failed to discover why the fault had occurred, the safety rules were waived. Discovery could launch.

Then, two minutes into the launch, NASA's nightmare recurred. NASA managers believed their re-engineering had made it impossible for a foam piece larger than three one-hundredths of a pound to come loose. But a chunk of foam debris almost three feet wide tore loose from Discovery's external fuel tank.

In 2003, the Columbia was doomed when a briefcase-size piece of foam tore loose 82 seconds into the launch, piercing the left wing so that superheated gases penetrated it on re-entry into the earth's atmosphere, devastating Columbia and its crew.

Had the foam debris torn off Discovery 15 seconds earlier in the launch, it too could have met Columbia's fate. As a result, the remaining two shuttles, Atlantis and Endeavor, have been grounded until NASA can re-evaluate the problem.

But some NASA insiders say it's a waste to try to fix the shuttle. Quote: "When your design stinks, Engineering 101 says admit your mistakes and go back to the drawing board. I would like all top NASA managers to read the following words very carefully: 'The space shuttle is a Rube Goldberg contraption that is never going to be reliable no matter how much money, time and engineering careers you throw at it.' So let's just put the shuttles on the shelf right away and give engineers the gift of designing and building new ships to carry humans into space."

Question: So is it time to shelve the shuttle permanently? Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: No. I mean, I'm in favor of the continued development of the next generation of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, that's not the shuttle.

MR. BLANKLEY: That's not. But I don't think it's time to shelve the shuttle permanently. First of all, it's performing better -- had less debris coming off than ever before.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: What we're doing is we're raising -- no, wait, don't giggle. We're raising the standards because we have a lower threshold to risk. This is still an experimental space project. And the fact that you giggle at it doesn't mean it has a very good safety record for an experimental project, and we should continue doing that while also funding the next generation. But to put it aside completely while it still has a lot of utility for space exploration is --

MS. CLIFT: Right. I'm giggling --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: NASA has already destroyed two-fifths of its shuttle fleet. If the Air Force or the Navy had such a record with their aircraft, they would have shut down the aircraft long ago and discontinued the model. MR. BLANKLEY: No, you're comparing it to a civilian airliner. How many planes did we lose in World War II? This is a hostile environment.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They wouldn't be trying to re-engineer it. They would say --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, look, when we build new planes, whether B- 29s, B-24s, early models crash all the time. I think this is a great project.

I agree with Tony on this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You believe in the STS?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's a wonderful thing. I do believe in the STS.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Space Transportation System, or shuttle, the way it works on the ground from LA to San Francisco --

MR. BUCHANAN: Here's what I think ought to be done. Here's what ought to be done.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- from New York to Washington D.C., reusable?

MR. BUCHANAN: Here's what ought to be --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, it ain't working.

MR. BUCHANAN: Here's what ought to be done. This thing ought to be sent to the Air & Space Museum. The other two shuttles should be given to the military. I think they should be kept and maintained because they are an element of risk. I think that program is over. I agree with Tony 100 percent. Move on to the next --

MS. CLIFT: It is too risky.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the harm of retiring this early? What's the harm?

MR. BUCHANAN: Give them to the military.

MS. CLIFT: It is too risky to send human beings out in that thing. I think Commander Eileen Collins was terrific, how cool she was under all of the tension of this little piece of foam, going out with the tweezers and fixing this, doing back flips.

MR. BLANKLEY: The man went outside to fix it.

MS. CLIFT: I'm sorry. She was the commander. She was the commander. And I would not demean her --

MR. BLANKLEY: She was busy giving environmental speeches. MS. CLIFT: Oh, boy. I would not demean her position.

MR. BLANKLEY: She was up there exploiting her position to give her environmental screed. I thought that was very inappropriate of her.

MS. CLIFT: This is breathtaking what you are saying.

MR. BLANKLEY: She was talking about seeing the environmental damage out there.

MS. CLIFT: Tony, you aren't qualified to carry her -- what do I say? She doesn't wear a jock strap. Her brassiere, okay? (Laughs.) But we don't need to send these shuttles into space with human beings. You can learn as much with unmanned space vehicles. And the flight to Mars, which went up on Friday, is a good example of the kind of thing we should be doing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fortunately, Reagan went forward with the production of the other space vehicles.

MR. BUCHANAN: Challenger -- after Challenger.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We got the Delta 2 rocket. We got the Atlas Centaur. We got the Titan. Those are still out there.

MR. BUCHANAN: Those are rockets, yeah.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You know, I'll tell you, I attended a couple of those --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The conventional rocket production line. Those were halted when NASA came along with this, with the shuttle.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, no, no. It's Mercury-Apollo-shuttle, John. You're talking about rockets. There's a difference between rockets and capsules.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll tell you what I'm talking about in a minute. Go ahead.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I was just saying, I attended a couple of those shuttle launches, and it is a breathtaking event to attend. But I will also say, these are some of the best people that we have serving this country --

MR. BUCHANAN: They are.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- who are going up in these things. MR. BUCHANAN: We ought to go ahead, though -- I disagree with Eleanor. We've got to go with space.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And it is --

MR. BUCHANAN: This is one government program that's really got something to it, to put men into space, I think build the next vehicle. We've had some problems with this. We had problems with Apollo. But go ahead with this program. It's one government program I'm enthusiastic about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When Columbia blew up in 1986 --

MR. BUCHANAN: Challenger in '86. Columbia was most recent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me, Challenger in '86. When that happened, NASA shut down its other rocket production lines.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, they shut down -- the other shuttles didn't go up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They mothballed its other conventional rocket production. Now, do you want me to give you the reference on it?

MR. BUCHANAN: No. Look, the shuttle is the vehicle. The rocket is what puts it up there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know that. But the Challenger blew up in '86, and then it mothballed its other rocket production line.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.) No, it took the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The conventional one.

MR. BUCHANAN: It took the other shuttles out of service --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because NASA had --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- for a couple of years and then sent them back.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because NASA had overpromised on the shuttle.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do a little more research on this, Pat, will you?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: True or false, President Bush will mothball the shuttle program in favor of the development of a new generation of manned spacecraft. Pat Buchanan. MR. BUCHANAN: I think the shuttle has probably flown the last time with a civilian crew, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: That's a no-brainer. I mean, it's 40 years old. It's outdated. If you're going to continue this, you need a new vehicle.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: The history of NASA is that we never cancel programs; we underfund them. So my hunch is that we'll somehow sort of trundle along with this a little bit and underfund the next project. That's what the history of this is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, if they send this shuttle or its like up again, the country will have a nervous breakdown --

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no. Pat's right. They'll use --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- waiting to see whether it makes it back.

MR. BLANKLEY: They'll use military pilots.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But the other deadline here, or the other pressure on continuing this, is the space station. They need five more missions to complete the space station. And we've put in a huge investment in that, so that's going to be another form of pressure on continuing this program. But I do agree, we should stop flying these things. They're 40 years old. They're unbelievably fragile.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the defense contracts? What about the military-industrial complex? What about the investment of the business community in the production of the shuttle? Will that keep it alive?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, it's going to be one of the pressures that will keep it alive. They've kept a lot of programs alive like this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The shuttle is dead.

Issue Three: Iraq in Crisis.

With barely one-third of August now expired, the death toll, well over 40, if maintained, will make August the deadliest month in the war's entire two and a half years. Against this backdrop, a U.S. military official says that bloodletting will only increase through the proposed October 15th referendum and the December 15th election. The insurgency remains not only unabated, but building in its tenacity, in its fury, and in its technical sophistication. At his Crawford ranch this week, the commander-in-chief said that the United States will hold firm.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) The important thing for the American people to know is we are making progress. There's a political track on which we're making progress and there's a security track on which we're making progress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The operative word is now, quote/unquote, "progress." Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld echoed that concept, using the word, quote/unquote, "evolve."

DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: (From videotape.) Once Iraq is safely in the hands of the Iraqi people and a government that they elect under a new constitution that they're now fashioning and which should be completed by August 15th, our troops will be able to, as the capability of the Iraqi security forces evolve, pass over responsibility to them and then come home with the honor they will have earned.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the mid-August metric for U.S. withdrawal is no longer defeat of the insurgency and no longer political success, but military progress against the insurgency and political progress under a new constitution.

Exit question: Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel? Quickly, Pat; five seconds.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the forces that we are fighting?

MR. BUCHANAN: Insurgents, foreign jihadists, and some criminal elements.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, that's gone. We're fighting fragmentation now. Read about the partitioning going on there, the attempted effort at that. Go ahead.

MS. CLIFT: We're in the middle of a civil war, and this is the week when the war came home to America with the Gold Star mothers' vigil in Crawford, Texas.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly, can you see light at the end of the tunnel, Tony, General Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: The solutions are far more complex and difficult than the president is (describing ?). Let me finish. And the dangers of getting out quickly are far greater than people who are calling for a quick exit. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I do agree with you. I think there is a centripetal force that is going to fragment the Kurds and the Shi'ites, who want to establish some kind of separate entity. And I don't know how this is going to resolve, but we don't know yet how in the world these people are going to be able to defend themselves. So when we say it's conditional upon their ability to defend themselves, I don't see that happening for a longer period of time than --

MS. CLIFT: Defend themselves from each other.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think we're on the defensive. I think they have the momentum. And I don't think we can see light now at the end of the tunnel.

The Group joins me in offering heartfelt sympathy to Peter Jennings' wife, his children, his family and his friends. Peter was not only a gifted journalist; he was one of nature's noblemen. May he rest in peace.

Issue Four: Vox Populi. We're talking here about polling, Pat. And I want to know what these brand new polls are telling you. "Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?" Here we see "approve" on the screen, 45 percent; "disapprove," 51 percent. What do you think?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think the president is, as Tony has been telling us for a long time, he's in a particular range at somewhere between about 43 and 52, or something like that. It's a deeply divided country. The president -- he's had some good things happen in Congress, some good things in the economy, and some bad hits on Iraq. And I think it tells us nothing more than that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I think he's been in the low 40s or mid 40s at best for quite a long time, and I think he's getting into a place where those views are going to harden. It's going to have real trouble, because it's in the face of an extremely good economy, with a 5 percent unemployment rate. Think about that. That's always been such a critical determinant of public support for a president.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, well, the polling -- I mean, if you look at the polls, I think it's been a little higher than that. It's been as high as 48 only a few weeks ago. And it's ranging in the mid 40s. But if it drops a few points and stays there, he's got some trouble.

Regarding the economy, this is an extraordinary phenomenon. I've never seen an economy which is objectively, by the criteria of GDP growth, interest rates, inflation, jobs, unemployment rates, as solid as this is with as negative a public attitude. And it's because the public is concerned about much bigger things -- MS. CLIFT: Well, Iraq is draining --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let me throw this question to you. I want to move it on to this, which is really right track/wrong track. "Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. at this time?" "Satisfied," 36 percent; "dissatisfied," 45 percent.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Fifty-four.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me -- 54 percent.

MS. CLIFT: I think there's uncertainty about the economy. Even though there's low unemployment, people are not earning what they expected to. This is probably the first generation where kids are going to be less well off than their parents. But Iraq is the culprit here, really draining confidence in the president. And his refusal to meet with this Gold Star mother just reveals how rigid he is and how he operates by belief and conviction and is isolated from reality.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye bye. Queen's wave, Pat.

END.