Copyright (c) 2006 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500 1000 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service, please visit or call(202)347-1400

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Iraq's Rough Waters.

LEE HAMILTON (Iraq Study Group co-chair): (From videotape.) Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward. Violence is increasing in scope and lethality.

JAMES BAKER (Iraq Study Group co-chair): (From videotape.) We do not recommend a stay-the-course solution. In our opinion, that approach is no longer viable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "Grave," "deteriorating," "dire," "daunting" -- the words were unsparingly grim from the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, the ISG, with its co-chairs, Baker and Hamilton, and members Eagleburger, Jordan, Meese, O'Connor, Panetta, Perry, Robb and Simpson.

The report has three key parts: U.S. military, the Iraq government, power diplomacy.

First, U.S. military. The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq has been combat; that mission of combat to become the primary mission of the Iraq forces. Our U.S. forces, 4,000 to 20,000 of them, should then become embedded within these combat units of Iraqi forces to train them, to equip them and to advise them.

MR. HAMILTON: (From videotape.) As this transition proceeds, U.S. combat forces could begin to move out of Iraq. By the first quarter of 2008, all U.S. combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What's the rationale for drawing down U.S. combat forces in Iraq? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, as they explain it, the Iraqis have got to take over this fight themselves, and ultimately they do, John. But this report is intellectually incoherent. They are saying the situation is grave, it is deteriorating, it is dire. In other words, we are on the verge of defeat, and the way to have a success is to pull out the pillar that is stopping the insurgents from winning; that's the American forces.

I think if you pull them out and try to rely on an army and police the ISG itself says is shot through with incompetence and corruption, you are inviting what John McCain said, which is a defeat. I don't think the president of the United States is going to follow this. I don't think the Pentagon is going to go along with it. I think the big solution they recommend is utterly utopian.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The U.S. forces in Iraq, it is believed, fuel the insurgency -- fuel it, make it worse. Secondly, there's no incentive to develop an independent military on the part of the Iraqis as long as our forces are there. Are those valid reasons?

MS. CLIFT: Yes, they're both valid reasons. But the principal function of this report was not to develop a blueprint for victory, because no such blueprint exists. It was basically to pronounce the administration's Iraq policy a failure. And the notion of increasing the embedding, which is already part of the policy, and they would just quadruple the number of soldiers that are serving that function, it's basically a face-saving military exit and it will mask defeat.

It is a gamble. It's not certain it's going to work, and the group says that. But it is a bigger gamble to leave 140,000 troops there and to leave the number of troops in open combat. It is time to begin a drawdown. And I think the president is going to accept that, because the only alternative is staying the course. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there also another reason, and namely that the American troops appear to be the enforcers for the Maliki government?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, look, in my exclusive interview with two members of the study group earlier this week, I asked them --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who were they?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Unknown members?

MR. BLANKLEY: Two of the members.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Unidentified.

MR. BLANKLEY: Just to maintain the ground rules. But I asked them specifically why they didn't hold as an option increasing the number of troops, as Senator McCain and many others have suggested. And what they told me -- and I asked the question twice to make sure I got it right -- was that the military advice they got was that there were not sufficient troops available to consider that an option, and that's why they excluded it.

This is the same week, by the way, in which the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine General Peter Pace, strongly suggested that there were enough troops to take on further missions. So the fact that they excluded from considering the only path that might lead to success and victory, which is to increase strength, that they didn't even consider it because their military experts said that there weren't enough troops available.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Caroline, did they exclude the consideration of adding troops to the U.S. Army?

MS. DANIEL: It was certainly something discussed by the Iraq Study Group. I mean, it's something that Chuck Robb, I think, was particularly advocating an increase in troops. But I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There you go, Tony. What do you say to that?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm telling you what they, in fact, said.

MS. DANIEL: But it's certainly true that the advice they got was that it would be impossible to increase troop numbers there.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but that's only one of the reasons.

MS. DANIEL: Some individuals on the commission wanted to increase troop levels, but it was accepted that it would be impossible to advocate that. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the only meaningful difference would come from 100,000.

It was stated categorically we don't have the troops for that --

MR. BLANKLEY: But that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- fully combat-ready.

MR. BLANKLEY: But that fact is disputed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, by the way --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, and look at what a great job he's been doing.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- and, by the way, Anthony -- what's it --


MR. BLANKLEY: -- Zinni, who, John, you quoted complimentarily for several years on this topic, himself says we need to put in more troops and they can.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he tell you where he's going to get 100,000 troops that are combat-ready?

MS. CLIFT: It is not a secret. It's spelled out in the report why they didn't recommend it. It's not a secret, just an exclusive interview with Tony Blankley. They spell out the reasons.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, three milestones.

The ISG called on the Iraqi government to take prompt action on three big milestones: First, national reconciliation, notably of Sunni and Shi'a; two, security for Iraqi men and women and children in their property and places of worship; and three, essential conditions of daily living, e.g., food, electricity, running water, plumbing.

MR. HAMILTON: (From videotape.) If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones, the United States then should reduce its political, military or economic support for the Iraqi government.

Question: Is this tough love necessary, Caroline?

MS. DANIEL: Well, I think the argument at the moment is blame the Iraqis so that gives -- (brief audio break) -- an exit strategy. MR. BUCHANAN: You know, John, if you do that, if he does that -- and they're threatening to do it -- you are pulling the rug out of the only government we have, and that will bring it down and the army could fall apart. I think Eleanor --

MS. CLIFT: Well, first --

MR. BUCHANAN: Hold it. Eleanor has a point. Eleanor has this point. I look at this thing and you look at how dire it is and you look at the absurdity of some of the recommendations, and it may very well be a cover for an American retreat from Iraq.

MS. CLIFT: It's a political document that recognizes the failure of the existing policy, a recognition that there are no good options, and a way to perhaps manage what is a defeat, but nobody quite wants to use those words.

MR. BUCHANAN: It solves America's political problem, but it does not solve the problem of the loss of Iraq.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but you cannot have an open-ended commitment of being a referee over there. They have no incentive to reconcile their differences. It's the political differences they have to reconcile. And if they can't, the country is going to have to divide along sectarian lines.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Let me let Caroline in.

MS. DANIEL: They do have an incentive to reconcile their differences, because they're killing each other. I mean, that's the incentive. They can see what's happening. Both sides can see what's happening in Iraq. I think now you've got -- the issue is how far can the Maliki government step up to it? And he's divided Shi'ites.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, hold on. I want to make sure we understand what the situation is as far as the people are concerned. Under Saddam Hussein, it was a command economy. They were allowed certain amounts for food, for clothing, for allowances, et cetera. So they were a totally dependent society, and the government comes from that dependent society.

Do you think the government can realistically take charge of these various functions assigned to it by the ISG and accomplish them, fulfill them, with the society it has to work with?

MS. CLIFT: That's really selling them short. MS. DANIEL: Yeah, but the question is, how far should the Americans step in to do that, and how far is it for the Iraqis to do that for themselves?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, is it time to cut the apron strings and really force them to do it?

MS. DANIEL: Well, as Don Rumsfeld said in his rather strange memo, he said they need to pull their socks up. I mean, there is a point when you have to step back and say it's not the American --


MR. BLANKLEY: John, let me make a point here. The argument that we have to pressure the Iraqi government to perform is an argument for defeat, because they're not capable of it right now, and they're not going to be in the short term, either economically or militarily.

And the fact that ultimately there's got to be a political solution, and everybody agrees on that, begs the question of whether, before we can get to a political solution, you've got to put down the Mahdi Army and these other death squads. And only the American military, beefed up, can do that. If you don't accept that, then all of this stuff is merely an excuse for defeat.

MS. CLIFT: The Mahdi Army is the de facto government, number one. Number two, you've got almost 2 million Iraqis -- almost anybody of any means have fled the country. Almost 100,000 are leaving every month. You can't find a dentist in Baghdad because all the professionals have gone. We have relegated the society back to the Stone Age. They were sophisticated people before we wrecked their world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If we are supporting them at the rate of $2 billion per week, is there any incentive on the part of any Iraqis to change things?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, no, look -- yes, there is. I mean, they're killing each other. A lot of them would like to end the war. But the point is, the Maliki government, in my judgment, is incapable of doing and carrying the load that we're going to put on them. Now, we're putting it all on them. We say we're going to pull the rug out from under them. We're going to pull the troops out. That is saying, in effect, "Good-bye and good luck."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I repeat the question. At the rate of $2 billion a week, is there any incentive for the Maliki government or any government to make the political process work?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, if they want to survive, because they know we're going home, because they know what is going on in the United States won't sustain it. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "If you don't meet the benchmarks, we're out of here."

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they look at America.

They see all the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Will President Bush be able to embrace these recommendations, getting our combat troops out and setting enforceable milestones for the Iraqis to meet? Yes or no.

MR. BUCHANAN: By early 2008, no.


MS. CLIFT: I think the combat troops will begin to come out, and I think the president will find a new word other than enforceable benchmarks, because the alternative to this is staying the course, and that is simply not politically sustainable or militarily sustainable.

MR. BLANKLEY: Is that yes or no?

MS. CLIFT: That's a yes.

MR. BLANKLEY: Okay. The answer is no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, are you going to develop that?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, you asked for a yes or no. No, because he doesn't believe in this solution and he's not going to do it.


MS. DANIEL: He's not going to set a benchmark for the number of combat troops coming out. Every single time they've tried that, it's failed. I don't see why he would try that again. But in terms of benchmarks, yes, they are. You've already seen the administration starting to talk openly about benchmarks, even though they refused in the run-up to the campaign, saying Democrats calling for benchmarks were wrong. They're now publicly embracing them. I think Bush will come out next week and publicly set some new benchmarks for Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think the answer is yes. I think that there's no other option.

Issue Two: Power Diplomacy. MR. BAKER: (From videotape.) The United States should promptly initiate a new diplomatic offense, and, working with the government of Iraq, should create an international Iraq support group. That support group should include Iraq, of course, but also all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Baker added the key regional states of the Gulf -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, plus Egypt, plus the United Nations Security Council, the U.S., China, Russia, France and Britain, plus a representative of the U.N. secretary general, plus an envoy of the European Union.

As for Iran being a presumptive adversary of the U.S. -- (inaudible) -- Mr. Baker reminds us of the Cold War.

MR. BAKER: For 40 years, we talked to the Soviet Union during a time when they were committed to wiping us off the face of the earth. So you talk to your enemies, not just your friends.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And, says Baker, Iran came through for us on Afghanistan.

MR. BAKER: Why did they agree to come to the table and talk about Afghanistan without talking about the nuclear issue? They did, and they helped us. And it was important.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Will Mr. Bush accept this third key ISG recommendation, diplomacy, and set aside his preconditions for talks with Iran? I ask you, Caroline.

MS. DANIEL: So far he's shown no signs of a willingness to accept direct engagement with Iran. He was asked, when he spoke with Tony Blair this week, would he accept direct talks with Iran and Syria. He continued to say, "No, not unless we accept these certain preconditions." And so, so far, the mood has been very much against that.

But there has been some subtle change behind the scenes in terms of saying, well, maybe they can back into it by the regional sort of compact so they won't be sitting down directly with Iran, compromising their views on the Iran nuclear power, but they will sit down as part of a wider group.

And they're starting to say as well that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Khalilzad, has already been speaking privately with the Iranians. So today in the press conference with Tony Snow they were starting to talk up how they already had some links with Iran. So I think it will be a quieter way than some big formal sit-down with Iran directly.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's useful to look at recommendation 15 in this report, because that's the recommendation where the Baker team says you should negotiate with Syria. And there's about a half a page of preconditions that Baker and the study group says, before you can negotiate with Syria, Syria has to meet the following conditions. And just one of those conditions was they have to agree to stop being involved in Lebanon.

This is a fantasy list. Baker has been very careful. He's a shrewd man. He's not going to be embarrassed, because he understands that we can't just talk to Syria, so he makes all these conditions that aren't going to happen --

MR. BUCHANAN: Caroline is right.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- but the headline that everybody gets on television is, "Baker says negotiate with Syria." But his actual report --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean the report undercuts and makes impossible any diplomatic overtures or response to overtures from Iran.

MR. BLANKLEY: Just look at recommendation 15 in the report itself.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look at the larger -- I think Caroline is right. If you get one of these large type conferences and you get everybody in and they're invited, I think that gives the administration running room to get around and get into a meeting with them that is not a one on one. This is the one recommendation I think that has the greatest possibility of success.

MS. CLIFT: I wouldn't pay any attention to Bush's petulant bravado at this point. Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, has talked about a regional conference. These other countries --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, that's what I'm saying.

MS. CLIFT: -- have a vested interest in some sort of stability. They don't want all those refugees.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, President Bush says any U.S. engagement with Iran will only happen if Iran verifiably suspends its enrichment program, to continue the point made here already.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Iran now has an opportunity to make its choice. I would hope they would make the choice that most of the free world wants them to make, which is there's no need to continue this obstinance when it comes to your stated desires to have a nuclear weapon.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president says he hopes Iran will renounce, quote, "your stated desires to have a nuclear weapon," unquote. Iran has never stated a desire to have a nuclear weapon. True or false? Pat. MR. BUCHANAN: Ahmadinejad has stated publicly, "We're not seeking a nuclear weapon. We don't want one." What he does say is, "We have a right, under the NPT," Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, "to enrich uranium," which he does. And they are not going to give that up. He has said so. And the president is going to have to deal with that reality.

And my guess is we are going to talk to Iran.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the president of the United States making that kind of an error is a grave indication of a lack of, what, knowledge, appreciation of the importance of what he says, "the stated desire to have nuclear weapons," when there's no stated desire?

MS. CLIFT: He's not precise in his verbalization; let's put it that way. I don't think that's a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But this is a fundamental point of policy.

MR. BUCHANAN: He made a mistake.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but that's not going to interfere with how we go forward here.

MR. BUCHANAN: He believes they're after a weapon. He made a mistake when he said their stated desire.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, it's a serious mistake, is it not?

MR. BUCHANAN: It is a mistake in public, no doubt. But I don't know how grave it is, because I agree; he makes mistakes a lot of the time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He is asserting they have a stated desire to have a nuclear bomb. They say they want electricity. They told me, in fact, the following. They would enrich the uranium --

MR. BUCHANAN: And you believed them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the grade until it becomes fissionable. They would stop there. They would not give up the right to go forward. They would give up the use of the right.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, what's wrong with that? And they would permit 24/7 IAEA inspection of all facilities.

MR. BUCHANAN: But they have not allowed inspection of all facilities. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?

MR. BUCHANAN: They have not allowed inspection of all facilities.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Under these conditions, they would. All right, go ahead.

MR. BLANKLEY: Bush made a mistake in using the word "stated." But the British, the French, the Germans all think that that is their intention.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The IAEA has never stated that -- never.

MS. CLIFT: Well, also, in the context --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also we've had aluminum tubes going into Iraq, which we stated were weapons of mass destruction.

MR. BLANKLEY: What does that have to do with the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We made the mistake once. Are we going to --

MR. BLANKLEY: The British --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- (inaudible) -- imputation when there's no facts?

MS. CLIFT: Also, in the context of Iraq, the study group says, "Leave the nuclear issue in the lap of the U.N." Compartmentalize -- that's what presidents are supposed to do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, key to stability.

MR. BAKER: (From videotape.) Practically every leader we talked to everywhere said, "Engage on the Arab-Israeli dispute," because it has a pervasive effect in that part of the world.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, question: Could Israel become a scapegoat for the American failure in Iraq? I ask you.

MS. DANIEL: I don't think Israel will become a scapegoat within America. The level of political support within America for Israel is such that they're never going to start attacking Israel. But outside, certainly in the U.K., for example, Tony Blair has been criticized for not making the Arab-Israeli situation the central issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's going over there. Will he accomplish anything?

MS. DANIEL: I don't think he's going to accomplish anything. This is -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It will help them in Great Britain, though, won't it?

MS. DANIEL: This is about Tony Blair's legacy. He's been criticized in Lebanon for being too close to Bush on the Middle East. He's been criticized for his Iraq policy. This is Bush's effort, in his last year in office, to try and save his reputation. He said explicitly this week, "This is about showing that we're even-handed in the Middle East."

MR. BLANKLEY: This is an important issue, because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean Tony Blair?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, who this week said under no circumstances will his government ever recognize Israel. This is the same week that the Baker committee comes out and says, "You've got to negotiate with these people." Once again it's fatuous. There is no good-faith negotiating partner that Israel has.

MR. BUCHANAN: The solution --

MR. BLANKLEY: The Palestinians, led by Hamas, say they don't want --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know what Jimmy Carter said? He said it's a condition of apartheid over there imposed by the Israelis on the Palestinians.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you could --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He also said that the greater fault to be assigned is the fault against Israel.

MS. CLIFT: President Carter --

MR. BLANKLEY: Jimmy Carter has been wrong since 1977.

MS. CLIFT: President Carter negotiated --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, let me say this. Look, look, it would be a wonderful thing if we could get a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. We're not going to get it. But let me tell you, even if we got it, the Sunnis would be killing the Shi'a in Baghdad. It's not going to stop it. The chain reaction has begun, and it's going critical in the whole Middle East.

MS. CLIFT: This administration -- we're paying a huge price for their failure to act as an honest broker in the Middle East. And President Carter has negotiated the only long-standing peace treaty over there. He's a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He has far more standing to speak out than you have. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quick exit question. The exit question is as follows. Is the ISG report a de facto ultimatum to President Bush -- either get on board or risk two years of history-making political alienation? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: The ISG report will be forgotten in two weeks.

MS. CLIFT: It's full of loopholes, but the general direction of we're looking for the exit ramp has to be taken seriously.

MR. BLANKLEY: It is intended as an ultimatum. But I agree with Pat. I think it'll be largely forgotten.

MS. DANIEL: I agree it will be largely forgotten. The average age of the people on the commission is 74. They're all going back to their legal jobs, their homes, their retirement homes.

MR. BUCHANAN: Retirement centers. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Now, that's not fair. They're very active people.

MS. DANIEL: I think after next week it's going to become a partisan issue on the Hill, and the world will move on and people will no longer --

MS. CLIFT: It's bipartisan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it becomes an anchorage for popular opinion.

MS. CLIFT: I agree.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And I think that anchorage will give popular opinion a magnitude and a force that it does not have now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Another Republican scandal brewing up in the north country of Alaska, and it may get bigger.


MS. CLIFT: This week was a good week for the Washington wise men, and their report will have staying power. It gives political cover to not only President Bush but Republicans on Capitol Hill, beginning with Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, who gave a very emotional speech on the Senate floor denouncing our policy in Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He called it absurd, if not criminal. Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: This is not quite a prediction. It's a strong hunch that Bush is going to come out in favor of substantially increased troop levels in Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting.


MS. DANIEL: Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, will leave the administration early in the new year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Honestly, I can't improve on that.


(PBS segment.)

Issue Three: Bush Dynasty Kaput?

Jeb Bush, the president's younger brother, is stepping down this month after finishing his second term as governor of Florida. At a Florida forum on Monday, Jeb's father was the guest speaker. He recalled how Jeb was defeated in his first try for governor in '94. George Bush Sr. is an emotional man, and he became emotional.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: (From videotape.) When Floridians chose to rehire the governor, they took note of his defeated opponent, who showed, not merely with words but by his actions, what decency -- (breaks into tears). (Applause.) I can do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why did President Bush break up? Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: I have no idea. I mean, there are lots of theories floating around.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know Jeb.

MR. BLANKLEY: I know him a little bit. Obviously a lot of people think it has something to do with the whole family and which son was going to become president and all the rest. But I obviously have no insight into his emotions at that moment.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, if he had defeated Chiles and become governor in '94, he would have been halfway through his second term and he would have been set up to become --

MR. BLANKLEY: A lot of people always thought Jeb was going to be the son to run for president, and it turned out to be W. MS. CLIFT: Right. Jeb lost his election that year. George W. won, and so the family launched the son who won as opposed to the son they wished had won. But you have to think that this display of emotion was all out of proportion to what he was talking about and that it has something to do with he knew the Iraq Study Group report was coming, being co-chaired by his best friend of 40 years, a repudiation of his son's leadership. And that has to have been in his mind.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me let Pat in here, quickly.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think the older president is carrying around a huge tumor or agony and concern about his eldest son in the White House.


MS. DANIEL: I think he's actually never been more powerful. All his old friends are coming back to try and save his son's administration.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And they look good, don't they?

MS. DANIEL: They don't look too bad. Well, James Baker looks pretty good these days.