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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Putin and the Wolf.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a thinly veiled attack on the U.S. this week during his prestigious annual Russia state of the union speech.

Putin used barbed and taunting language to describe the U.S.'s more aggressive foreign policy in recent years. He reminded his audience that the U.S. military budget is 25 times bigger than Russia's. Then he added language likening the U.S. to a wolf.

Quote: "Their house is their fortress. Good for them. But that means that we must make our own house strong and firm, because we can see what is happening around the world. As they say, Comrade Wolf knows whom to eat. He eats and doesn't listen to anyone. And judging by appearances, he has no intention of listening," unquote.

The fight started when Dick Cheney last week ripped into Russia in a blistering speech in Lithuania, the first of the Soviet republics to declare its independence, 1990. Cheney was speaking to an audience of citizens of the former Soviet state. Gone was the language of partnership that both the White House and the Kremlin had used about each other. Gone was Mr. Bush looking into Vladimir's eyes and seeing his good soul. Here was Cheney napalming Putin.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: (From videotape.) From religion and the news media to advocacy groups and political parties, the government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of her people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Cheney went on to say, quote, "And no one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor or interfere with democratic movements," unquote.

Then, one day after the vice president made this speech, he visited the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan and praised its democratic reforms, despite the well-publicized autocratic behavior of its leadership.

Putin took note of what he saw as Cheney's fawning over Kazakhstan and all but said that Cheney's talk was because Kazakhstan has vast reserves of oil. Quote: "Where is all this pathos about protecting human rights and democracy when it comes to the need to pursue their own interests? Here it seems everything is allowed; there are no restrictions whatsoever."

Question? How worrisome is the strain in Russian-U.S. relations today? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's very worrisome. And I blame Cheney and the administration for this, for their provocative, in-your-face assault on Putin right there in Lithuania.

Look, the United States has moved its NATO alliance right into the Baltics and we're moving it toward Ukraine. We're interfering in elections in Ukraine and Georgia and Belarus. The United States is putting military bases right in their backyard. We don't want them in our backyard. We should not get into theirs.

I don't know why the administration, when we're in a fight with everyone all over the world, would pick a fight with a country whose relationship, I mean, is the most important almost on earth except for us and China.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did you think of Cheney going on to Kazakhstan and praising Kazakhstan publicly? MR. BUCHANAN: That shows human rights hypocrisy. But let me say this, John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did that president win by in the last election?

MR. BUCHANAN: He got 91 percent, and they got a lot of oil, and he runs a very tough shop over there. But look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's an autocrat.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's exactly -- I think Putin to me is a tough patriot and nationalist. He's got a hellish situation. His population is dying out. He's threatened by Russia. Why we would push and antagonize him --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why did Cheney do it? That's the question. Why did he do it? Was he authorized to do it? Was it cleared by the State Department?

MR. BUCHANAN: It was not only cleared by that. I'm sure it was cleared by the president of the United States, the NSA. The truth is, the neoconservatives want a confrontation with Russia.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, he was trying to placate the neocons. Is that it?

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, the notion that the vice president would go over there and lecture Putin about his disregard for human rights and democracy and criticize him for hording oil, that's a little lecture he might have in this country. And then to go to lavish praise on a dictator who is far worse than Putin reveals the hypocrisy.

Why did he do it? Because he wants to torpedo any hope that the Iranian situation over the nuclear standoff will be settled with Russian help and will be settled diplomatically. I think the vice president is spoiling for a military confrontation, that he thinks it's the right thing to do, and he wants to do it before he leaves office.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why this provocation on Cheney's part?

MR. BLANKLEY: First of all, we've had unfortunately an up-and- down relationship with Russia. They are neither our ally nor necessarily our enemy. And we need to recognize they've got their interests and they're going to move towards them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you forgetting how buddy-buddy -- MR. BLANKLEY: That's my point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Putin was with Bush early on?

MR. BLANKLEY: That is my --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bush looked into his eyes. He saw his soul.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He said, "This man is a good man."

MR. BLANKLEY: John, that was my point, that we shouldn't have it up and down. That was the up; now we've got the down. It should be more level.

Now, as far as Putin's statements, although the statements about the wolf and stuff, that was to some extent for his domestic consumption. He's got tremendous pressures within his own military to be tougher. There's no realistic chance that he's going to become an enemy of ours. But as Pat says, they have tremendous interests on their borders. And we have been getting intrusive in the whole crescent from (Central America to ?) Africa.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MR. BLANKLEY: Now, as far as Kazakhstan, the one good thing they did was that they get rid of their nuclear weapons. And so we've been praising them and Cheney's been praising them legitimately on that point. Obviously it's not a democracy, though.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the provocation on the part of Cheney and the hostile response on the part of Putin could have been wired? Do you understand what I mean?

MR. BLANKLEY: I understand what you mean. I understand what wired is. And, no, I don't think it was wired.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would there be any reason for wiring it and making it happen? Now we have the possibility that they both trash each other, then they move towards the center, then they collaborate on a new understanding of the distribution of oil --

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't think either side --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and how oil must not be made a tool of politics. (Laughter.) And we look like grand diplomats. What about that? Was it wired?

MS. DERGHAM: Listen, I think that's why Cheney did what he did. I believe it has to do with the position of Russia and China on Iran. The Russians are feeling really good about what's happening to the United States in Iraq, and they feel that Iran is a good opportunity to just show who really is mighty here.

And the message was necessary. I agree about the hypocritical point of view -- the point that Eleanor made. But I think it was important that Cheney tells Putin, "We are watching what you're doing with Iran." And there is something called the Chinese-Russian axis of oil that's really running policy that is against our interests.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, China -- excuse me -- Russia is selling nuclear technology at the cost of up to $2 billion to Iran, right? MS. DERGHAM: That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So that's an annoyance to this administration. Is that legitimate, however?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, isn't what Ahmadinejad said, as we will see in a few moments, legitimate, to say that they have the right, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy? And we've had yet no proof that they have anything but non-weapons-grade uranium.

MS. DERGHAM: But you really need to be careful. Iran is playing a very serious game, and it's taking as its allies both Russia and China. And I think it's important that this conversation amongst the big powers takes place, to say, even if it is a bit rough, just like what's going on between Cheney and Putin, to say, "We need to really talk about this," because you can't run the show to Putin and China. They can't do it alone.

MS. CLIFT: What needs to be injected into this conversation is the fact that Putin is riding high. He's at 70 percent approval.


MS. CLIFT: Russia is awash in oil revenue, and they have closed the gap in many ways in developing a consumer class. And so when the president looked in his eyes and saw his soul, Putin was at a much -- he was in a subservient position. And now he's much closer to an equal. He's carrying a lot of high cards.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Russia has lots of gold, lots of oil, lots of other commodities, and a huge run-up now, and here to say, price run-up. So will Russia again be an economic and military superpower, say, in five years? Patrick.

MR. BUCHANAN: It is a military superpower. It is a resource superpower. It is not an economic superpower; never will be again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Never will be again?

MR. BUCHANAN: Never be again. Its population is dying out at a rate of a million a year. And one of these days it's going to lose Siberia to China.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting.

MS. CLIFT: No, you've got to check the latest statistics. They've cut the poverty rate from 40-something percent to 20 percent in the last several years. They've had 6 percent growth rate for the last seven years. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But a big birth drop-off.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but when people start feeling better about themselves, I imagine that birth rate is going to go up. I think they will be an economic powerhouse again someday -- not in five years; that's too soon.

MR. BLANKLEY: Pat is largely right. They are going to be able to become a regional military power again, but they can't possibly, in the next five, 10, 15 years, remotely be competitive with the West on a universal basis. Their economy is strong, but they only make $45 billion a year on oil. We have a $3 trillion economy -- $11 trillion economy. So while they're going to be more profitable, they are not at an international -- their economy will be smaller than, what, 15, 20 economies.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you disturbed at all by Cheney acting, as many believe, a provocateur?

MR. BLANKLEY: I've argued for a long time that we should not be beating up Russia on democracy, because the Russians don't want democracy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you're uncomfortable with Cheney.

MR. BLANKLEY: I didn't say that. I'm saying we shouldn't do that. I'm perfectly comfortable with the vice president --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does Cheney know the way you feel about him?

MR. BLANKLEY: (Laughs.) I doubt it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The discomfort -- you cause him discomfort. You said as much --

MR. BLANKLEY: No. (Laughter.)

MS. DERGHAM: I think it's important for Russia that the United States is not the only superpower left. Right now the U.S. is feeling great about it. That preemptive doctrine by invading Iraq was about also securing the supremacy of the United States alone.

What's happening is just the opposite. Again I want to say that it is the partnership, if not an alliance, between Russia and China that is going to be --

MR. BUCHANAN: The Russians are making a mistake, because the Chinese are -- they're moving their people across the Amur and Ussuri Rivers. And all of that area they took from China they're going to lose. We are not an enemy of Russia.

MS. DERGHAM: Maybe they're making a mistake -- MR. BUCHANAN: It is a stupid Russian policy. It's as stupid as our policy is.

MS. DERGHAM: Maybe they're making a mistake, but that's their thinking, that they are going to count. And we have now a renewed race in armament. Look at what Putin said.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think Russia --

MS. DERGHAM: Putin said, "Let's just go again for it," and they want to arm.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think Cheney is borrowing trouble unnecessarily. I don't know what his motives are. I think we've discussed the various possibilities here. I haven't given up the notion that it could have been wired. (Laughter.) Well --

MS. CLIFT: Give it up, John. Give it up. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Give it a rest.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You cannot get too fabulous in your thinking on this.

MR. BLANKLEY: You think Condi and Putin sat down together and worked this one out? (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think Vlad -- you're going to hear a few tough remarks; don't take them seriously.

I'll tell you where this is going to go, and I think you're going to like the idea.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.) And I'm going to give you a Comrade Wolf reply. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: I only wish that we were so worldly in our diplomatic capacity.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think Russia is really on the comeback trail. And I'd say within five years they will be not on a par with the United States and probably China, but up there very close and fighting for a greater and a stronger emergence yet to come.

Issue Two: Hayden at the Helm.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Mike Hayden was unanimously confirmed by the Senate last year for his current post, and I call on the Senate to confirm him promptly as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Four-star Air Force General Michael Hayden was nominated by the president to fill the vacancy created by the sudden resignation of Porter Goss this week.

A great deal is being made of the fact that General Hayden is an active-duty military officer. Because of that, the worry is that the CIA will be dominated by the Department of Defense. And Secretary Rumsfeld does control nearly 80 percent of the nation's intelligence budget.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR): (From videotape.) I particularly want somebody who's independent of the Pentagon. I want somebody who's going to tell the truth to the president.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the core issue, as many see it, is what does General Hayden himself think, and what will he assert about the CIA's independence? Is this a question of Hayden's inner loyalties, not whether he is an active-duty military officer? After all, even if he retires from the Air Force, he can still allow the CIA to be dominated by the Pentagon. Therefore, the real question is, does Michael Hayden believe that the CIA serves a unique purpose in the American intelligence community that is worth fighting to preserve? Or does Michael Hayden think the CIA is a dysfunctional agency that should be broken up and its duties redistributed across the intelligence community with a big piece to the Pentagon?

Well, this is what the general declared to the American public this week.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (CIA director-designate): (From videotape.) There's probably no post more important in preserving our security and our values as a people than the head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No post more important -- not even the presidency.

Question: Before we get drawn into a discussion of General Hayden's career at the National Security Agency, with that data mining of citizens' telephone records and all of that, let's go straight to the main point: Does Michael Hayden have the right stuff to head up the CIA?

MR. BUCHANAN: He certainly does. He's got the brains, the intelligence, the experience. You cannot deny this man a post for which he's highly qualified simply because he served his country for 30 years in the military. So I think that's a canard. I think General Hayden is going to get through, John. I do think they're going to take up this question of the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, would you vote for him?



MS. CLIFT: At a time when we have an administration that operates like a little cabal between the vice president and the Defense secretary, to install somebody at the CIA who comes out of the little inner circle, who's John Negroponte's deputy, there's no independent thought involved here; plus the fact when we need human intelligence, you get a guy who's a nerd on the technical end of eavesdropping and snooping and all of that.

He is the wrong person, and he brings no independence, no push- back. And that's why they want him there. They just want a mind meld of Dick Cheney and his cronies in the White House.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's develop that a little bit. General Michael Hayden was the head of the National Security Agency, as you can see -- the fabled NSA. What is that history? And will it derail the Hayden nomination? What's this history at the NSA? What is she talking about there about snooping, et cetera? MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, we're talking about the NSA keeping track of not the contents but the routing and phone numbers --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who phoned whom --

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the phone numbers.

MR. BLANKLEY: I've got to go back to this point of Hayden not being qualified. He is -- aside from being remarkably qualified, he is also extraordinarily independent. He had a real policy brawl with Rumsfeld when he was head of NSA, when Rumsfeld was his actual boss, and he stood firm and argued regarding some jurisdictional matters at NSA.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're trying to say that the NSA, as is the case, is a creature of the Defense Department since it's within the architecture of the Defense Department.

MR. BLANKLEY: Right. And even then, he -- let me say this. I think it's good that he's going over there. And that's no reflection on Porter Goss. Some of the negative stuff coming out of Republicans regarding Hayden is out of loyalty to Porter. I'm loyal to Porter, but this is a separate question. And the fact that he was a deputy to Negroponte doesn't mean he's going to be subordinate to him at CIA. I wouldn't be surprised to see a little bit of Thomas a Becket in him once he becomes --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does that mean?

MR. BLANKLEY: Thomas Becket was the friend of the king and became the archbishop of Canterbury and then stood up for the interests of the church.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And was killed.

MR. BLANKLEY: And was killed.

MR. BUCHANAN: And what happened to him? (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: But my point being, he was independent. I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think Hayden's capable of that?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think Hayden is going to stand up for what he thinks is the best interest of the CIA, even though he has very good relationships with Negroponte, which is useful.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you get a kick out of the fact that the administration is saying, quite correctly, that what they get from the NSA is telephone numbers, who called -- not the name, but the number called and the number received, et cetera, and there's not much more than that -- but they also have a massive contract with something called ChoicePoint, which is a commercial outfit?

And ChoicePoint can cross-match phone numbers with a full consumer dossier and provide gun ownership -- let's see, what else -- driver's licenses, Social Security numbers, school records, how many people live in the household, their ages, their sex, and even their health records. So this is Poindexter's total information awareness, correct?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, what the NSA guys are getting is nothing more than your phone bill -- what number, where from, what number --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I know, but then they have another contract that's legal, but, you know, they get all the data from the second contract.

MR. BUCHANAN: They can run these through computers --

MS. DERGHAM: This is coming after eavesdropping. And, you know, there is something called sort of accent profiling. Just try to speak Arabic on the phone and just really know that you're already in the system.


MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a point --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you feel that?

MS. DERGHAM: Of course.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you hear a click? Do you hear any --

MS. DERGHAM: I know --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a quick point here. On policy, everyone understands the war on terror is an asymmetrical war with the terrorists having advantages on us. Our asymmetric advantage against them is our technology. It is the NSA capacity. And we need to use it to be able to offset their capacity.

MS. CLIFT: But we're a democracy. And if you're going to use it, you use it with oversight from the courts and from the Congress. You don't assert you're a king. You don't assert --

MR. BLANKLEY: It's completely constitutional and statutorily justified.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me.

MS. CLIFT: You don't assert you're a king and do what you want.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Okay, trolling, yes, but for terrorists.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With that reassurance, the exit question is, will Hayden be confirmed? Yes or no, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, and he should be.


MS. CLIFT: The Republicans have the numbers to confirm him, and I don't think they will stand up to the White House on this one. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's a no.

MS. CLIFT: No, I think he will be confirmed.


MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, with about 57 to 62 votes.

MS. DERGHAM: Yes, he will be confirmed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. Five yeses.

Issue Three: Iran's Olive Branch?

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) Our objective is not to let them get the bomb. The first choice, and the choice that I think will work with the Iranians, is diplomacy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The U.S. is open to diplomacy with Iran. Now a possible opening has come from Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He sent an 18-page letter to President Bush, the first communication between the two powers in nearly three decades.

In that letter, Ahmadinejad asked Bush to examine U.S. government actions as described by the Iranian president in the context of Mr. Bush's own religious beliefs. Quote: "Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ, the great messenger of God, but at the same time have countries attacked? How much longer will the blood of the innocent men, women and children be spilled on the streets?"

Ahmadinejad then asked, "Why is it that any technological and scientific achievement reached in the Middle East region is translated into and portrayed as a threat to the Zionist regime? Is not scientific R&D one of the basic rights of nations?" unquote.

The U.S. was quick to dismiss the letter.

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: (From videotape.) It really was a kind of philosophical and indeed religious attack on U.S. policies. There was nothing in it that suggested a way out of the nuclear stalemate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rice is against it. How should Mr. Bush respond to the letter? Pat, quickly.

MR. BUCHANAN: Rice has zero imagination. They shouldn't have done that. You should answer toughly every point he made against America. You should speak with respect of Islam and you should pick up the aspects of the letter that are positive and say, "We have something to talk about."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should we engage them in broad dialogue? I ask you. MS. DERGHAM: Broad dialogue, yes, but not exclusively on Iraq like the idea was in the past or exclusively of a nuclear weapon. What I'm trying to say is that the letter has another constituency it was addressing, which is the Muslims and the Arabs throughout the world. Ahmadinejad was saying, "I can stand up to the United States and I dare speak openly to them."

I think the president should say and understand why the appeal of Ahmadinejad is relating to Israel. I think he should just make sure that the Arabs and the Israelis -- absolutely right now there's an opportunity to get that issue resolved. That will take care of at least 50 percent of the war on terror and 50 percent of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think Bush's mind is already made up on --

MS. CLIFT: Ahmadinejad ran circles around President Bush. This was an opportunity to communicate with the world, with the Muslim world, to lay out the U.S. case.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think Bush's mind is already made up that he wants to pursue the axis of evil and no talks.

MS. CLIFT: It looks like he does not want to go down the diplomatic route seriously or creatively.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think he's hoping that he can hang on to the Europeans and say, "They've attempted it and it's failed; therefore, no talks."

MR. BLANKLEY: I think he hopes there will be diplomacy. I think he's skeptical that there will be. I agree with Pat --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would you advise him to talk or not to talk?

MR. BLANKLEY: I would -- (inaudible) -- reasons. He should have taken the letter and talked to them, understanding it was really a ploy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: The New Power Couple.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY): (From videotape of NBC "Today" interview when she was first lady.) The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Former First Lady Hillary Clinton accused conservative influencers, notably Rupert Murdoch, media baron and owner of the perceived-to-be right-leaning Fox News Channel and the New York Post, of trying to ruin her husband, then-President Bill Clinton. Now alas, the vast right-wing conspirator is helping Senator Clinton, throwing a fundraising party for the senator's 2006 re- election campaign. This means that Murdoch is putting the weight of his global empire behind Clinton.

Observers should not be surprised. Mr. Murdoch has a promiscuous political history -- ideologue, yes, but Murdoch plays the political odds. So over the years he has donated tens of thousands of dollars to outspoken liberal Democrats; notably Senators Reid, Schumer, Boxer, Kennedy, House liberals Pelosi, Dingell, Nadler and Rangel.

Who gets the better of this deal? Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, I think both of them have a keen grasp of reality. And Hillary is going to win big in New York. She may be president. And Rupert Murdoch knows where the power is. And for her part, if she can defang the New York Post, which is a player in New York elections, that's a big advantage for her. It's a win-win.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, he wants money, so he courts power. She wants power, so she courts money. What's new in the world?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Money is the mother's milk of politics, to quote whom? Jesse --

MR. BLANKLEY: Jesse Unruh.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Unruh. Do you want to add to that?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yep. I think Murdoch is a great diplomatic player. He's the head of a small country, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think a deal could be made with Iran?

MS. DERGHAM: Only if everything is on the table, to say -- if the United States will say to Iran, "Here are guarantees, security guarantees, so long as you stop interfering in neighboring countries, stop terrorism, stop everything else, including nuclear ambitions." But I don't think Iran is going to do that. That's why I don't think the carrot and stick is going to stay too long.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want a quick prediction here?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah. Bush will wind up talking to Teheran.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Your predictions will have to hold, as will mine.

Happy Mother's Day. Bye-bye.