THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; EDWARD ALDEN, FINANCIAL TIMES
TAPED: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2005
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF DECEMBER 10-11, 2005
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Forget Abroad.
THOMAS KEAN (9/11 COMMISSION CHAIRMAN): (From videotape.) We're frustrated, we're passionate and we're angry, because the United States government is not doing what it needs to do to protect American citizens.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The 9/11 commission, headed by Chairman Thomas Kean, has released a new report, one that grades the U.S. government on its progress on the commission's final recommendations, made one and a half years ago, in July 2004, in an acclaimed report of over 550 pages. For three years, the commission investigated every angle, every aspect of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. This week the commissioners, five Republicans, five Democrats, have issued the report card to the government on its progress on the commission's July 2004 recommendations.
Item: Make first-responder communications possible through the radio spectrum.
MR. KEAN: (From videotape.) Four years after 9/11, it is a scandal that police and firefighters in large cities still can't talk to each other reliably when they are hit with a major crisis.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Congress is only now reviewing a bill that frees radio airwaves for emergency calling that went dead in 9/11 and in Katrina. Get this: When that bill, in its present form, is passed, this provision won't take effect for four more years, not until 2009. The 9/11 commission graded the government's performance F.
Item: Airline passenger pre-screening.
MR. KEAN: (From videotape.) It's scandalous that airline passengers are still not screened against all names on a terrorist watch list.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Government grade: F.
Item: Homeland Security funds: Dole them out on the basis of risk and vulnerability, not pork.
JAMES THOMPSON (9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER): (From videotape.) Why aren't our tax dollars being spent to protect our lives? What's the rationale? What's the excuse? There is no excuse. Congress needs to get this done.
MR. KEAN: (From videotape.) It is scandalous that we still allocate scarce Homeland Security dollars on the basis of pork-barrel spending and not on risk.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One example of pork: New Jersey used funds to buy air-conditioned garbage trucks. Grade for the government: F.
The overall record, 41 grades, of the U.S. government is dismal, so poor that it could get any student expelled -- five Fs, 12 Ds, one A, and that A an A-.
Question: The grading by the 9/11 commission of the performance of the federal government in implementing its directives over the past year and a half is so bad that it may leave the impression that President Bush ignored the directives. Is that impression politically dangerous? Pat Buchanan. MR. BUCHANAN: John, it is politically dangerous if we have another attack and it can be traced to ignoring something that this commission recommended. But the truth is, the country, I'm afraid, has moved on. It's four years since 9/11. You've got the intelligence czar. I think a lot of these recommendations they made are excellent. They're outstanding. But there's no way you can get this Congress not to vote some of these funds by pork.
And so I think these people are doing a good job. They're keeping this before the public. But the truth is, I think there is really no political fire beneath what they recommend unless and until something big happens.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Well, something big did happen, and we should have gotten a wakeup call then. And I think the way they have laid out the omissions in the way this country is protecting itself should reawaken the American people. And I wouldn't blame the American people for being passive. This is about presidential leadership. And the White House resisted the creation of this commission and they have humored the commission ever since it came out with its recommendations.
The only thing they did -- and they did it reluctantly -- was to install an intelligence czar. They have really not taken any aggressive steps towards implementing any of the other recommendations. And God bless the commission, because they really haven't gone away. They have been around, and they're back on television and they're back out there and they're hammering away. And I think that's going to continue.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Unfriendly skies.
MR. KEAN: (From videotape.) Terrorists coming through the airport may still not be spotted because the agencies still haven't gotten together. There's still not a unified watch list.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The terror watch list may not be unified because it is so huge. Eighty thousand names of suspected terrorists are on it, as revealed this week. They are not allowed to enter the United States. The list has exploded in number since September 11th. On 9/11, the list had 16 names. By the end of 2001, three months later, it had expanded to 1,000. Then, a year after that, in 2002, it vaulted from 1,000 to 40,000. By December of '05, as you can see, it vaulted again and doubled to 80,000.
Question: Is the explosive growth of the terrorist watch list alarming? Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, the growth isn't alarming. The fact is that the idea of even having a watch list is only limitedly useful because a lot of the terrorists turn out to be people who, until they became terrorists recently, had no track record and wouldn't be identifiable to put on a list. But it's certainly the case. And I, by the way, going to the first question -- you know, my book, "The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?" focused on the complacency of our government, both the administration, the Congress, the media that covers it.
This report of Fs is overdue.
And it's incomplete itself, because there are many issues they don't deal with where we have complacency across the board. It's not just the president's problem. He can't even get Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act without it being watered down.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ted Alden of the Financial Times, welcome. Do you find 80,000 entries on the terrorist watch list disturbing?
MR. ALDEN: I'm not sure it's a plausible number. I mean, we talk about a terrorist watch list. There are multiple lists that the government keeps that overlap in various ways and are not necessarily terribly reliable.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think the criteria have grown too lax for entry onto the list?
MR. ALDEN: Not necessarily. The thing is, there isn't a single list. I mean, what happened after September 11th was that they were desperate to be seen doing something, so they took the FBI criminal lists and they dumped them into the terror watch lists. So a lot of people who are on these lists are people who have been charged with --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it true that those that are on the list have gone through the jihadist training under al Qaeda in Afghanistan?
MR. ALDEN: They have not identified 80,000 people who have gone through jihadist training under --
MR. BUCHANAN: John, you know what these lists are?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think they have?
MR. BUCHANAN: John, you don't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because if they had, the ratio of our combat troops to the terrorists who are not in the supply capacities of many of our accountants and other office workers within the United States Army -- if there are truly 80,000 terrorists out there, then we have a lot to worry about, do we not?
MR. ALDEN: I would be worried if it were 80,000. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much do you think it's exaggerated by?
MR. ALDEN: I have --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A factor of two? There are 40,000?
MR. ALDEN: The question is, what qualifies as a terrorist? It's a very difficult definition. There are lots of people who are there on these lists for different reasons.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's assume it's jihadist training. What do you think that true number is?
MR. ALDEN: I don't have the slightest idea --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We knew that bin Laden put 40,000 through.
MR. ALDEN: We know a lot of people went through the training camps in Afghanistan. I doubt we've identified 80,000 of them.
MR. BUCHANAN: All this is, John -- the reason you got -- you had 16, which shows we weren't even paying attention. You've got 80,000 now because my guess is all the western intelligence agencies that got names, all the guys that went through the camp, everybody that we can identify, it's like Nixon's enemies list. Put them all on the list. And that's where they all are.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So we are making enemies faster than we capture them.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, no --
MR. BUCHANAN: No. John, what they've got is everybody who's a possible potential risk, for some reason or other. It's a good list.
MS. CLIFT: The ballooning --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to know what the five-alarm, worst-case scenario is in explaining this phenomenon of 80,000, assuming that it has some validity, albeit less than 80,000. I ask you. What's the worst-case scenario?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, let me tell you --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does it suggest to you?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, let me tell you, the Guardian newspaper in Britain a year ago did a poll of the one and a half to 2 million British Muslims. They found that over 10 percent supported the idea of terrorism. The head of British intelligence, MI-5, announced that Britain was facing an insurgency, not merely terrorist cells. The magnitude of the threat is so great that even the 80,000 list doesn't capture it. MS. CLIFT: The ballooning of this list has to do with institutional tush-covering. Anybody who you remotely suspect gets on the list. And we all had a big laugh when Senator Ted Kennedy made the terror watch list. And he was able to get off. But people who are on for no good reason find themselves in an Orwellian world where they don't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you're debunking the list.
MS. CLIFT: I am. I think it's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I thought what you say, Eleanor, that the worst- case possible scenario explanation of this is the Iraq war is causing a multiplication of terrorists, hand over fist.
MS. CLIFT: No, I think it's a lot of people in various positions just covering themselves.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So how many do you think are on the list?
MR. BUCHANAN: There are 80,000, John. But, look, I'm telling you, every intelligence agency, the CIA and the others, call up, "Give us all your names. We'll put them on one big compiled list. We all share it." What they should have -- it's not a bad idea. What they should have is a computer which tells them as soon as somebody tries to get on an airline and alerts them. But obviously -- I think Eleanor is right -- there's a lot of ridiculous names on there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. It's debatable whether Congress or the White House deserves more blame for failure to implement 9/11 commission recommendations. That's debatable. But is this debatable? If another major attack occurs on U.S. soil, the blame will fall squarely on George Bush. Debatable or not debatable? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: Sure, it's debatable, because Americans, when terror attacks come, they generally go to the tough-line party and they go to the president, as they did to Carter during the hostage crisis. Bush will benefit. He will be hurt if it's found that they came across the southern border or that some precaution that's in this 9/11 report was not taken.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will they see the White House as the primary branch of government responsible for another major terrorist attack if, God help us, it happens?
MS. CLIFT: The whole rationale for President Bush's re-election is that he would keep us safer. And if he doesn't keep us safer, it's a failure of leadership. And I think people already doubt that he can keep us safe, which is reflected in his poll numbers.
MR. ALDEN: I think that's -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. BLANKLEY: When there's another attack, and there will be, it'll be an indictment of the entire political class, because there's complacency across the board, particularly in the media, Congress, as well as in the federal government.
And I --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With an equal distribution of culpability?
MR. BLANKLEY: Now, as far -- equal distribution of culpability. Now, what the public will blame, we'll have to wait and see how events unfold. But everybody's responsible for the complacency.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ted Alden.
MR. ALDEN: I think if you read what the 9/11 commission has said, Congress at this point is more culpable. I think more of the problems in implementing the recommendations right now lie in Congress. But politically, if there's another attack, it'll fall on the president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Doesn't Congress expect the initiative and need the catalyst that is provided by the White House in pushing this through? It was a presidential commission, was it not?
MR. ALDEN: Well, it was a commission that was foisted on the president. He didn't want it. No, it was a congressional initiative that created the commission.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I have to disagree with you, despite the fact that you are upsworn by Lionel Barber, who, by the way, I understand -- who used to do this show -- has taken over the entire Financial Times operating out of London. Is that correct?
MR. ALDEN: He is now the editor-in-chief in London.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell Lionel to come back and do the program when his busy schedule permits.
MR. ALDEN: I will.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's no denigration of you, of course, Ted. I disagree with Ted. I think it will fall squarely on George Bush if another major attack occurs.
Issue Two: Military Money. PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) Listen, we're at war. And we're going to spend what it takes to support our troops in harm's way. That means we've got to show real discipline in other areas of the federal budget.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much money is the Pentagon allowed to spend? Congress takes that up next week. In 2006, the Defense budget is slated to be $440 billion. That's not including Iraq. With Iraq, the Pentagon spending will be $530 billion. Add Afghanistan to that and it's $550 billion, well over half a trillion dollars, for 2006 fiscal year. The increase over 2001: A 41 percent hike in four years.
Reviewing all of this, the congressional watchdog, the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, describes the Pentagon as exhibiting a, quote/unquote, "decided lack of restraint." The GAO gives Mr. Rumsfeld a warning: If the Pentagon cannot discipline itself now, then draconian budget-driven decisions may have to be made later.
Supposedly heeding this threat, the White House says that it wants to force, quote/unquote, "fiscal discipline" on the Pentagon. So it's calling for a $32 billion cut of a projected $2.3 trillion five-year Pentagon outlay. How much fiscal discipline is that $32 billion? Less than 1.4 percent.
Question: What would it take to bring defense spending under control? Ted Alden.
MR. ALDEN: I think it would take a determined focus on what the country's priorities are. I mean, it's clear that the Pentagon has had a very difficult time making up its mind what kind of war it needs to fight. I mean, we've learned just today that the Pentagon is going to maintain the long-standing two-war strategy, the notion that the U.S. needs to be able to fight a full-scale war in the Middle East and at the same time fight a (whole new?) war on the Korean peninsula.
I just don't think there's been a lot of thinking about what the most realistic and pressing threats to U.S. security are. And unless there's some rethinking of that, I think the budgets are going to continue to be very high. I mean, we are now at a level, if you exclude Iraq, roughly where we were in the final days of the Cold War in 1989, which is a very high level, given that we don't have a competitor the nature of the Soviet Union to contend with.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to talk about the waste, fraud and abuse in the Pentagon as far as money is concerned?
MR. BLANKLEY: No. Look, there's always --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't want to talk about that?
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You remember the $650 toilet seat? MR. BLANKLEY: Under Reagan, when I was in that administration.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wouldn't that be a good idea to put these two fellows in charge of 9/11 back in it with another commission?
MR. BLANKLEY: No. Look, the reason why the Pentagon has trouble reducing its spending beyond -- everyone's got waste, fraud and abuse -- it's because the world is more dangerous. We're going to be spending more on the Pentagon because the military is too small. We're probably going to need another $100 billion a year on personnel costs to increase the military size.
We have to have -- Murtha argues, and I don't disagree with him, that we need to be prepared to fight China if we have to while we're trying to transform into nation-building responsibilities, which we're going to have for the indefinite future. And the responsibilities that the American people are going to expect on the Pentagon is going to cost more money than we're currently spending, even if we can save some money on waste, fraud and abuse.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see that Nancy Pelosi is now backing John Murtha? You see which way the Democrats are minueting?
MR. BLANKLEY: I was chuckling at that, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Chuckling at that?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, you think that was a dumb move?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. So did Steny Hoyer, her number two. So did Democratic operatives, who are being quoted around town being appalled at the fact that she's trying to lead the Democrats to that position.
MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, Democrats probably made a mistake to allow the likes of Tony Blankley to start labeling them defeatist and retreatist. They should have let Murtha continue to lead the fight.
But about the Pentagon budget, they're packing all those dollars in there to fight a war against the Soviet Union that we will never fight. Those big weapon systems are very expensive. What we need is a smaller, lighter, more mobile military, one that meets future needs. And this notion that we're going to be prepared to fight two wars -- we can't even fight one war. The notion that we could fight another war --
MR. BLANKLEY: So we need to spend more money and be better prepared. Would that be the argument?
MS. CLIFT: We can't fight wars the way you're outlining them. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't forget the graft that's going on now in Iraq in the reconstruction effort -- enormous.
Okay, the military-industrial complex. President Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star general and supreme allied commander in World War II, said this at the end of his second term, words he wanted the nation to remember, three days before leaving office.
"Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
Exit question, and you have a little time for development. Eisenhower warned that American democracy was imperiled because of the military-industrial complex. What do you think of that? Do you think that we are losing our liberties because of excessive militarization?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think that's silly. Under Eisenhower we spent 9 percent of GDP on the military. Now we spend four and a half percent. Under Eisenhower we had 3 million men-plus under arms. We now have 1 million men under arms, and women.
John, the truth of the matter is that the United States military is perfectly adequate to defend the United States and its vital interests. We do not have a large enough force to defend the American empire. You've got to start giving up the empire. Or, as Tony said, if you want to keep it -- and I don't -- you've got to start building American --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Our military is incomparable. I mean, we dwarf every other country. But we don't know how to fight the kinds of wars that we're going to be facing, and those are these insurgencies. And we need to understand cultures and we need to understand nation-building if we're going to get involved in that. And the big weapon systems don't answer those needs. They just feed the fat cats in Washington.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When you couple the military-industrial complex, for whatever harm it may be doing, with the USA Patriot Act, what do you think we have in the United States today? Do you think we have a surveillance society?
MS. CLIFT: Well, I think that they made a wise step on Capitol Hill to sunset the notion that the government can go snooping through library records. I think that Tony calls that watering down the Patriot Act.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --
MS. CLIFT: We came to some sense on that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think there's an overload on militarization as a solution to problems in the world, whereas diplomacy is in utter neglect?
MR. BLANKLEY: No. I think that, as we're seeing with Iran and trying to get them to forbear from developing nuclear capacities --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see Condoleezza Rice as fresh air?
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just finish my sentence.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you?
MR. BLANKLEY: She's doing a pretty good job. But, look, diplomacy without the (back?) of coercive threat, it doesn't work. The world we live in and the world we're going to live in requires the military capacity, if not its use. And anyone who doesn't recognize that risks our national security.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you don't reckon with waste, fraud and abuse as a factor in the size of this budget at all?
MR. BLANKLEY: There's always waste, fraud and abuse in everybody's budget. But the point is that if you could get rid of all the waste, fraud and abuse, you haven't gone to the strategic challenge of our budget at the Pentagon.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you going to echo this complacency?
MR. ALDEN: No. I'm going to say that there's one thing that Eisenhower knew that the current administration doesn't, and that's how to use military force with restraint. And I think that's the problem in the current administration is that our military power has been used recklessly. And I think Eisenhower knew better.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I can't improve on that, Ted.
MS. CLIFT: That's right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're a good successor to Lionel. Issue Three: Saving Face.
JEAN-MICHEL DUBERNARD (TRANSPLANT SURGEON): (From videotape.) As doctors, if you have the possibility to improve our patient, that's what we can do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was a first for France and a first for the world -- a first face transplant. A 38-year-old woman, Isabelle Dinoire, was mauled by her dog eight months ago in her home. Ms. Dinoire lost her lips and chin and part of her nose and cheek.
The face that was transplanted was that of a 38-year-old French woman who reported committed suicide by hanging. The surgical operation lasted 15 hours, an amazing feat of microsurgery and reconstruction, connecting nerves, muscles, blood vessels, tissues.
The doctor, French surgeon Jean-Michel Dubernard, led the team. Dubernard had other French firsts. He led the team that performed the first hand transplant in France and the first double hand and forearm transplants in the world.
Question: Are there ethical implications for this type of transplant surgery? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: I don't believe there are. I think it's perfectly ethical. I think it's perfectly moral. The motivation is good here to repair a woman whose life, face and everything had been damaged. They're using materials here which I think are perfectly legitimate. And I think the doctors doing this -- I have no moral/ethical problems. I think it's -- John, I think it's a great advance forward.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is from the Times of London, which is a competitor to your Financial Times.
MR. ALDEN: Indeed.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't mind my reading it, do you?
MR. ALDEN: I don't. Be my guest.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, I'll proceed.
MR. ALDEN: Many friends who work there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Many friends? Okay. The Frenchman who had the first face transplant has signed a deal that could make her tens of thousands of pounds from the sale of photographs and a film of the operation. Under the deal, which could be worth more than 100,000 pounds, Mademoiselle -- correct? -- Madam -- Madam Dinoire will keep all profits from the sale of the photographs and the film after deducting Mr. Hughes', whoever he is, costs and fees. Oh, he's going to do the photography of the agency, or he's done it, distributing his work. And they've sold it to a French magazine for 60,000 pounds, it is believed. Now, someone comments that it is unfortunate because it is not only the commercial aspect that shocks the medical practice, but the medical practice demands secrecy and confidentiality on an ethical level; this is not proper. I don't think she signed any agreement or there was any agreement that her identity would be concealed, so I don't know where that leaves that. But do you have any thoughts on this, Tony?
MR. BLANKLEY: No. It seems like a wonderful procedure to me. If they're selling publicity about it, I don't understand the problem. I mean, unless there's some medical ethics of some arcane nature, to me this sounds like a wonderful medical procedure.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But we're into cloning here, are we not?
MR. ALDEN: No, no. I mean, I think the ethical issue here is not face transplants. The ethical issue is how this particular procedure was done. I think there's concerns about whether this woman was a good choice because of a history of mental instability. And I think there are concerns about how exactly the procedure was done. It's a highly experimental procedure. And there's certainly talk from the American medical establishment -- it might just be professional jealousy -- that the way it was done, we're not going to learn nearly as much about how these procedures should be done as we could have.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if the surgeons --
MR. ALDEN: But those are concerns within -- they're not big concerns about face transplants.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, answer me this. If surgeons can replace faces damaged by mauling, tumors, car accidents, fires or explosives, why shouldn't we be allowed to use cloning to grow replicas of our own faces for transplantation?
MS. CLIFT: The idea of that is not very appealing. And I think there are genuine visceral feelings against human cloning. But in terms of growing skin for a face, I don't have any problems with that. And frankly, I just wish this operation had been done in this country. The fact that the French are ahead of us here should give us some pause, because we have lost a lot of ground in part because of fears about therapeutic cloning and the fact that stem cells were used --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction. Will Donald Rumsfeld survive 2006? Yes or no. Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, he will.
MS. CLIFT: No.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes.
MR. ALDEN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is no. Bye bye.