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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; CHRYSTIA FREELAND, FINANCIAL TIMES

TAPED: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2007
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 17-18, 2007

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Resolved, by the House of Representatives, with the Senate concurring, "Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States armed forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007 to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq."

That historic House resolution was passed on Friday, despite President Bush's pleading against it two days earlier.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Later this week the House of Representatives will vote on a resolution that opposes our new plan in Iraq before it has a chance to work. People are prejudging the outcome of this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: The president pulled out all the stops to limit Republican votes favoring the resolution. Seventeen Republicans, 8 percent, voted with the Democrats in favor of disapproval of the troop surge. What does the final tally tell you? I ask you, Pat Buchanan.

And before you have a chance to answer that, the Republicans who voted against disapproving the surge are Castle, Coble, Davis, Duncan, English, Gilchrest, Inglis, Johnson, Jones, Keller, Kirk, LaTourette, Paul, Petri, Ramstad, Upton and Walsh. The Democrats who voted against the resolution to disapprove were Marshall and Taylor, Jim Marshall and Gene Taylor.

What is there that you discern here?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, one thing is the Republican vote was minimal. A lot of Republicans who disapproved of the surge went along with the president out of loyalty to him and loyalty to the party, I think, and they felt that would be a mistake.

What this tells you, John, is we are coming out of Iraq. This is the first resolution that's nonbinding. Others are coming down the road. There will be no more surges into Iraq. The president has said we are not winning the war with the troops we have. So we are coming out.

And we'd better prepare ourselves for the consequences, then, of not a defeat for American arms but a defeat for American policy in Iraq, the potential loss of Iraq. And frankly, John, the situation is not looking all that good in Afghanistan either, where the NATO allies are not doing their bit. So we are at a historic turning point, I think, for the United States in the Middle East.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think that the unity in the Republican ranks has been shattered by this enactment?

MS. CLIFT: I think the unity in the Republican ranks was shattered in the November election. Actually, they held together to a greater degree than was anticipated. But I think Pat is right that this begins the exit plan from Iraq. But it's going to take a long time.

First of all, Congress moves at a glacial pace. They will, I think -- the next step will be some more substantial measures to rein in the president. This president is not going to be withdrawing troops as long as he's in the White House. He's going to kick the can down to the next president.

So, you know, while I agree with you that this sends a message about American will to remain in the middle of a civil war, the will is not there anymore. It is certainly not a definitive step. There's going to be a lot more steps before we have the last --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Chrystia Freeland.

MS. CLIFT: -- combat troops out of Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Chrystia.

MS. FREELAND: I think that presidential legacy point is a really good one. And some Republicans have been saying to me that this really now is one of the overwhelming concerns that we're seeing in the White House.

And I think we can't underestimate the extent to which one of the factors that play right now in this is a presidency which is coming to an end. There won't be another term. And there has to be a concern about how do you wrap things up, because it's not just as easy as saying, "Yes, we can withdraw from Iraq." As Pat says, there are tremendous consequences, and consequences in the whole region.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The press conference itself was filled with energy. The passion of the president was demonstrable. Did you discern it that way?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. I mean, I don't think -- I mean, he was reasonably energetic. I don't think that's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was energetic. He was alive.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- either here or there. I'd like to talk about the central issue, which was this vote. And if the congressmen and women think that they can vote for either this country's safety or themselves' political safety by this, I think they are sadly mistaken.

We're going to pay a huge price if -- and it's not yet a certainty, as everyone else suggests -- we're going to fail and withdraw from Iraq. I don't think we're going to withdraw under this president's watch. But if they think they've got political safety by going with the current mood of the country, when the country starts seeing the consequences of this surrender process that we're involved in, they're not going to like it. And voters have a way of being fickle. And, being sovereign, they can very well get angry at the same congressmen who are trying to save their miserable skins this week.

MS. CLIFT: The country is seeing the consequences of a failed policy. This is basically a message to the White House to change course. And this is not a simple decision of being for victory or for defeat.

MR. BLANKLEY: It is a simple decision.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, no, it isn't.

MR. BLANKLEY: Of course it is.

MS. CLIFT: This is a multifaceted war that's going on over there. And it's not even a war that involves us anymore. For us it's an occupation. These are Shi'as fighting among themselves, Shi'as and Sunnis fighting --

MR. BLANKLEY: You can claim that --

MS. CLIFT: -- 23 separate militias.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, we all know those details.

MS. CLIFT: They're not details. They're facts of life in that country.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, the thing is, look, everybody wanted to get out of Vietnam by '75. Nobody wanted to rescue Cambodia or Vietnam. It was over and done with. And it was a horror show. There was genocide in Cambodia, horror in Vietnam.

I think Tony is right to this extent. The country has got to look at the consequences of where we are going.

The country wants out. It can get America out of the war. I mean, there will be no more Americans dying over there. But all hell could break loose in that region, and we'd better look it in the face.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha have devised a plan whereby how the money is used that's in the pipeline for Iraq will become voted on by the Congress. If their enactment goes through, they will be able to control how the disbursement takes place, where it goes, whether it involves another deployment of troops or not. That is essentially their plan, correct?

MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah, they'll restrain the president from being able to send more troops by saying, "You cannot abuse the troops that we have. They are entitled to be at home for a year before they're redeployed. You can't send people over there for a year and then keep them for another year or two."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That --

MS. CLIFT: So they're going to tie the president's hands. That way we do not have the manpower to send over there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That, in combination with the Senate disapproval, means that the president is isolated, is he not?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, because the Senate Appropriations Committee will not as easily roll over as in the House. And Murtha and Pelosi have two problems. One, they may not get their entangling micromanagement of the appropriations of war through the Senate.

Even if they do, there's a strong constitutional argument, not conclusive, but a strong one that the commander-in-chief powers trump micromanaging. While the Congress can cut off the purse -- they say, "No more money for war" -- they can't say, "You can't spend money to send a troop to this location but not that location."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: If it becomes obvious that the so-called surge is not working, which is probably going to be --

MR. BLANKLEY: It's obvious to you before it even happens.

MS. CLIFT: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Does this vote --

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible) -- underway.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Does this vote mean a definitive turning of the tide, meaning that the war is on its way to a close? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: No, the American war is on its way to a close. This war is just starting in Iraq and the Middle East.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The American involvement in this contest.

MR. BUCHANAN: The American fighting and dying -- I think we are at the beginning of the end of America's involvement. We are at the beginning of a great explosion in the Middle East.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The American involvement over there -- the war has gotten worse each year and each month. So it's questionable whether we are a force for good or not. Every responsible plan has U.S. forces redeploying, has them perhaps monitoring the divisions between sectarian neighborhoods.

It's not as though every soldier is going to walk out of Iraq or fly out of Iraq tomorrow. It's going to be a lengthy disengagement.

MR. BLANKLEY: American military involvement started in Iraq 16 years ago, in 1991. We've had troops or airplanes and their crews there since then. They're going to be there for another 20 years. We can't get a powder out of that part of the world.

MS. CLIFT: Not in combat for 20 years.

MR. BLANKLEY: And there will be combat going on for many years to come.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible.) You just redefine the terms.

MS. FREELAND: No, Tony is being disingenuous, because there is clearly --

MR. BLANKLEY: I am not being -- don't tell me I'm being disingenuous.

MS. FREELAND: -- there is clearly --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her speak. We let you speak.

MR. BLANKLEY: Don't characterize me.

MS. FREELAND: There is clearly a difference between the hot war that American forces are involved in in Iraq right now and an American military presence previously.

MR. BLANKLEY: Dropping bombs, which we were doing. That wasn't a military presence in the no-fly zones all through the '90s? That was --

MS. FREELAND: There is a very big difference between American soldiers being there and dying --

MR. BLANKLEY: And when the Saudi oil fields --

MS. FREELAND: -- and coming out --

MS. CLIFT: That was containment.

MR. BLANKLEY: Wait a second. I'm not being disingenuous. Don't accuse me of lying. When --

MS. FREELAND: I wasn't accusing you of lying, but I was saying --

MR. BLANKLEY: Disingenuous means I didn't believe what I --

MS. FREELAND: -- there is a difference, Tony, between --

MR. BLANKLEY: Disingenuous means I don't believe what I'm saying.

MS. FREELAND: -- a military presence and --

MR. BLANKLEY: Honey, disingenuous means I don't believe what I'm saying. I believe what I'm saying.

MS. FREELAND: Tony, don't call me honey.

MR. BLANKLEY: I'll call you madame, anything you want.

MS. FREELAND: That would be nice.

MR. BLANKLEY: But the fact is that when the oil is challenged in the Saudi oil fields and the Straits of Hormuz are closed, we'll be fighting even by your definition of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm going to give a fatwa. Now, quiet down. My answer to the question is that in a democracy you cannot sustain the current level of hostilities, which can be characterized as a war, without the approval of the American people. He doesn't have it. He's isolated. And we are just at the beginning of our way out.

Issue Two: Cold War, Volume II?

Vladimir Putin unleashed a torrent of venom against the United States this week. He accused the U.S. of using military force irresponsibly. At the Munich conference, Putin declared that U.S. foreign policy today is driven by self-serving politics. "And, of course, this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this: No one feels safe, because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race. The forces dominant inevitably encourage a number of countries to acquire weapons of mass destruction."

Then Putin threw the U.S. condemnation net even wider.

VLADIMIR PUTIN (President of Russia): (From videotape, through interpreter.) One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way -- in economics, in politics, in humanitarian, all imposed by one state. Who would like that?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And on Thursday, as was featured in the Financial Times, whose editor is right here, Putin threatened to pull out of a key nuclear arms treaty unless the U.S. backed away from plans to install a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. This would mean quitting, Russia quitting a nuclear arms pact with us.

Question: What accounts for Putin's outburst? I ask you, Chrystia Freeland.

MS. FREELAND: Two things: The high price of oil, so he's feeling rich and bolshy; and Russia has its own election race in 2008, and he is already playing to a domestic audience and positioning himself and the people around him as the strong guys who can re- establish a resurgent Russia on the world stage. It's dangerous.

MR. BUCHANAN: There's a reason --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The detente that has existed between the United States and Russia, is that now dead?

MS. FREELAND: Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, it's moribund.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think that this is just rhetoric. You think he feels as strongly as he expresses himself.

MS. FREELAND: Yes.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, so do the Russian people. So do the Russian people. The problem is, the United States, ever since we had our Cold War victory, has been pushing NATO all the way up to his borders. We've been building pipelines that cut Russia out. We're putting an ABM defense there. We're putting permanent bases in Central Asia.

We are provoking the Russians. They think we are taking advantage of them; not only Putin, but the Russian people. That's why Putin is near 75 percent approval.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's justified in those assertions he made?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think a lot of it was hype and a lot of it was Cold war rhetoric. But there's a lot of justification for what he said. We've been pushing these people to the wall. We ought to get out of their face.

MS. CLIFT: It used to be if a Russian leader said these things about American conduct, it would be laughable. But there was enough of a huge kernel of truth in everything he said that it's quite believable. And we're now defending ourselves. And President Bush turned the other cheek. He didn't want to engage in this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How is this going to sound in Munich and in Paris and in London and in other parts of Europe? Are they going to say Putin is right about the United States?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is our international reputation so wretched that he can get away with what he said --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and it will go over with the Eastern bloc, let us say?

MR. BLANKLEY: The Europeans have a fairly poor view of the United States. They don't have a very good view of Putin with his --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The United States or Bush? Which is it?

MS. CLIFT: Bush.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, Bush --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It started with Bush. Has it morphed into the United States?

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me finish a sentence, if I could. Russia's policy of using energy and cutting off energy and the threat of that to Europe, not only Europe but also Georgia and the Ukraine and all through the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Belarus.

MR. BLANKLEY: (inaudible) -- have turned the Europeans very suspicious of Putin. Right now they don't like either Putin's Russia or Bush's America.

MR. BUCHANAN: But Putin has got a right to raise the price of oil to world levels. I mean, this is exactly what the United States did with dollar diplomacy. He's using it because everybody's getting in his face. So he says, "Okay, you want to play hardball? I can play it too."

MS. CLIFT: Well, his comments --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. What's the fundamental diplomatic mistake that Bush has made with Vladimir Putin? I ask you.

MS. FREELAND: I think the fundamental mistake was to look deeply into his eyes right at the beginning and say he had found a friend.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, Bush operates on the level of whether or not he feels positive regard and almost affection for the person he's talking to --

MS. FREELAND: I'm just quoting what he said after the first meeting.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- whereas Putin, like anybody but a rookie diplomat, would base it on national interest, would he not?

MS. FREELAND: Well, I wouldn't say only national interest. And I would just add to Pat's point that there is also an extremely rich kleptocracy that is running Russia right now. And this nationalist rhetoric is --

MR. BUCHANAN: But the Russians love --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it also due to the fact that the oil production is up and the mineral production is enormous over there?

MS. CLIFT: Well, he also spoke at the same time that the administration was ginning up this, if not phony, highly exaggerated case about Iranian involvement in Iraq. And there's a credibility issue there. And he spoke at the same time raising questions about American credibility. His timing was perfect on the world stage.

MR. BUCHANAN: They've had a rotten experience also with democracy in the '90s. You talk about kleptocracy. They robbed that place. They had the Americans in there. It was a mess. The Russians like authoritarian rule.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a middle class coming into being now in Russia because of the economy, the success that he's had of the economy?

MS. FREELAND: I wouldn't say it's his success. I would say it's the success of high oil prices. But, yes, there is a middle class --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, now we have Blair on the currency. We have Abe in Japan, who has dropped from 80 percent in the polls to about 35 percent. We have President Bush, who I saw one poll that has him down to 24 percent in a hard approval rating. And the only one left there is Putin on the world stage, with an ongoing 70 percent popularity rating since he's been in office.

MR. BLANKLEY: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about that?

MS. FREELAND: He owns all the television stations. He has terrorized the media. Journalists are murdered.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that the only reason, or is he leading the country the way the people want the country led?

MS. FREELAND: It's not the only reason. But if Putin were absolutely secure and confident in his public support --

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, the reason the Putin statements don't carry quite the thundering weight that Brezhnev's would have is that he's playing from a fairly small deck. He doesn't have a population. As Pat's pointed out, the population is shrinking. It's going to be smaller than, I think, Vietnam in about 30 years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does anybody worry about that except Buchanan?

MR. BLANKLEY: They don't have an economy other than a minerals- based economy.

MS. CLIFT: Russia is not a superpower.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you been to Moscow lately? Yes, you have.

MR. BLANKLEY: I have. I have.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Aren't you impressed by Moscow these days?

MR. BLANKLEY: I love --

MR. BUCHANAN: They lose 1 million people every year.

MR. BLANKLEY: I love Russia. I think Moscow is doing well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't sound as though you love Putin.

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't love Putin. I think he's a KGB operative.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, exit question. I'm glad we got that straightened out. Exit question: Was Putin's outburst primarily for political show, or should it be taken seriously? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Both, both. I mean, listen, when you start talking about getting rid of the intermediate-range ballistic missile treaty, he's ticked off. And yeah, did he overstate it for political reasons? Yes.

MS. CLIFT: He's looking over at Iran as thinking maybe a better ally is Iran than the U.S. And he's enjoying tweaking the superpower here.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I don't think he wants and he's too smart to try to get into another arms or economic race with the United States. But we should take seriously the calculations of Russian national interest in our foreign policy. And there are still important areas we need to work with him on, on the (arc ?) of terrorist danger and Islamic radicalism. And I think we should try to find those ways where we can work with him, because he can still be useful.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should he be taken seriously?

MS. FREELAND: Yes, he should be taken seriously.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very seriously?

MS. FREELAND: Yes, very seriously.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I agree. I think he should be taken very seriously.

Issue Three: Romney Unleashed.

MITT ROMNEY (Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) With the fine people of Michigan in front of me and with my sweetheart at my side, I declare my intention to run for president of the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Willard "Mitt" Romney, Republican; born, Detroit, 59 years of age; wife, Ann; five sons, 10 grandchildren; BA, Brigham Young University, class valedictorian; Harvard University, doctor of laws and master of business administration; Bain & Company, vice president and CEO, Boston, seven years total; Bain Capital, founder, Boston. The $40 billion investment firm launched such Wall Street titans as Domino's Pizza, Staples and Brookstone.

Massachusetts Republican candidate for the Senate, 1994, lost to Ted Kennedy in the general election; Salt Lake City Winter Olympics Organizing Committee CEO, turning a $379 million operating deficit into a $100 million profit; Massachusetts governor, 2003 to 2007; estimated net worth, $500 million; mandatory health care for all, Massachusetts legislation, seen as the prototype for other states, namely California with the Schwarzenegger plan; religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka Mormon.

Question: Is America ready for a Mormon president? I ask you, Tony Blankley?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, a majority are. About 35, 37 percent tell pollsters they would not vote for a Mormon. I think that number is probably going to end up being high. Certainly there are some elements of Christian sects who believe that a Mormon is not a Christian and they won't vote for a non-Christian.

I think -- and everyone's been talking about that. I think it's a little exaggerated. Every --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What? What? You're talking about Mormonism?

MR. BLANKLEY: The Mormon problem. I think every candidate has problems with large segments of the electorate. If Romney turns out to be as strong a candidate as he appears, I think he could surmount that; not predicting he will, but he has a lot of strength. And a lot of conservatives are looking at him compared to Giuliani and McCain and finding him reasonably favorable.

MS. CLIFT: Addressing the Mormon issue head-on gives him a chance to talk about his faith and his values. I think he's going to turn that into an asset. His bigger problem is the way he's trying to elbow himself over to the right in his party and his positions on some of the social issues.

He's talking about these personal conversions he's had from, you know, pro-choice to pro-life. I think that's going to look like it's highly political and convenient.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's reversed himself; I think it's been noted here. Is that what you're referring to?

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's reversed himself on abortion. He's now against abortion. Here he is in 1994 on abortion.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's reversed himself on gay rights also. Now he's against gay -- well, I don't like to say he's against gay rights, but he has problems with that issue. In 1994, however, here he is on gay rights.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts, regardless of their sexual orientation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's also reversed himself on gun control. Now he's in favor of gun control.

Exit question --

MR. BUCHANAN: He's in favor of it? He must be against it now. That would be the position to be in. (Laughs.)

MS. FREELAND: He says he's a member of the NRA now.

MR. BUCHANAN: Okay, good. Look, John, what he has done is it is hard to take this credibly. He says he's moved to the right on this, and I assume he's moved for political reasons for my own belief. And the question is, will he be faithful to the conservative agenda if he gets elected? I think he's got to persuade the country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's pick that up in the exit question; pick it up in the exit question.

MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor's point is correct. That's more of a problem than Mormonism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to pick it up in the exit question, and that is that conservative Republicans vote heavily in primaries and caucuses. Is it realistic to think that Mitt Romney can win the nomination? I ask you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Against whom? All of the front-runners on the Republican side -- John McCain, Rudy Giuliani -- have problems with the core of the party. They're all moving to the right. Let's see who is most believable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We want to get predictions in. What's the answer to the question? Can he win the nomination?

MR. BLANKLEY: He can. But Eleanor's right. There's no solid conservative. So every conservative who votes in the primary is going to be compromising their policies to find, whether it's Giuliani or McCain or Romney or others.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's telegenic. He's from a dynasty family, George Romney. He's got high personal wealth magnitude, you know. And he's --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's possible, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Huh?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's possible.

MS. FREELAND: And he's a real businessman. I mean --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's possible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's a real businessman. He can get things done.

MR. BUCHANAN: And he's very likable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he could squeak out the nomination.

Issue Four: Dixie Chicks Fixed.

The Texas trio took home five trophies from the Grammy Awards this week, the first time in 13 years an artist or group has taken the top three awards -- album, record and song of the year. Four years ago, 2003, saw the Chicks tarred as country music castaways after lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience, quote, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," unquote.

The insult proved devastating for the pop-country trio. The industry shunned the Chicks. Country radio refused to play their music. Ticket and CD sales plummeted. But the girls bounced back with their 2006 CD and the Grammy-winning song "Not Ready To Make Nice."

Question: Is this an example of politics triumphing over art, meaning the Dixie Charts are being rewarded for their political tune more than their musical tunes? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Their music is excellent. But this is Hollywood sticking its finger in the eye of Nashville. It is basically country music said goodbye to the Dixie Chicks, and the Grammys, which are given out there in Hollywood by, I think, the Recording Artists, they gave her this big award, John. And so, yeah, there is politics. This is part of the culture war. But the Dixie Chicks aren't selling 10 million records anymore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this (reflects ?) the sea change in politics, especially with regard to President Bush? So what they said then -- you understand the logic. Is it your thinking that this is politics as much as it is art?

MS. FREELAND: Well, I think art can sometimes be about politics. And they are artists who have taken up a political theme. So I think these two are not necessarily at war.

MR. BLANKLEY: But their art is not -- if that's what it is -- is not about politics. It's their extraneous statements outside of their artistic expression that is political.

MS. CLIFT: But their music --

MS. FREELAND: They make nice music.

MS. CLIFT: -- stands on their own. They could have won on the strength of the music. But the politics doesn't hurt. And frankly, it was a shameful time in our history when the White House was trying to shut down dissent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Pat; three seconds.

MR. BUCHANAN: Segolene gets whipped in the French election.

MS. CLIFT: A new documentary, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," will revisit the policies of torture in the administration.

MR. BLANKLEY: Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters are going to Lebanon to undermine the Lebanese government.

MS. FREELAND: Huge private equity deals will dominate the business news.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The detention center in Guantanamo in Cuba will be shut down before Christmas.

Bye-bye.

END.e Russian people. That's why Putin is near 75 percent approval.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's justified in those assertions he made?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think a lot of it was hype and a lot of it was Cold war rhetoric. But there's a lot of justification for what he said. We've been pushing these people to the wall. We ought to get out of their face.

MS. CLIFT: It used to be if a Russian leader said these things about American conduct, it would be laughable. But there was enough of a huge kernel of truth in everything he said that it's quite believable. And we're now defending ourselves. And President Bush turned the other cheek. He didn't want to engage in this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How is this going to sound in Munich and in Paris and in London and in other parts of Europe? Are they going to say Putin is right about the United States?

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is our international reputation so wretched that he can get away with what he said --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and it will go over with the Eastern bloc, let us say?

MR. BLANKLEY: The Europeans have a fairly poor view of the United States. They don't have a very good view of Putin with his --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The United States or Bush? Which is it?

MS. CLIFT: Bush.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, Bush --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It started with Bush. Has it morphed into the United States?

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me finish a sentence, if I could. Russia's policy of using energy and cutting off energy and the threat of that to Europe, not only Europe but also Georgia and the Ukraine and all through the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Belarus.

MR. BLANKLEY: (inaudible) -- have turned the Europeans very suspicious of Putin. Right now they don't like either Putin's Russia or Bush's America.

MR. BUCHANAN: But Putin has got a right to raise the price of oil to world levels. I mean, this is exactly what the United States did with dollar diplomacy. He's using it because everybody's getting in his face. So he says, "Okay, you want to play hardball? I can play it too."

MS. CLIFT: Well, his comments --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. What's the fundamental diplomatic mistake that Bush has made with Vladimir Putin? I ask you.

MS. FREELAND: I think the fundamental mistake was to look deeply into his eyes right at the beginning and say he had found a friend.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, Bush operates on the level of whether or not he feels positive regard and almost affection for the person he's talking to --

MS. FREELAND: I'm just quoting what he said after the first meeting.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- whereas Putin, like anybody but a rookie diplomat, would base it on national interest, would he not?

MS. FREELAND: Well, I wouldn't say only national interest. And I would just add to Pat's point that there is also an extremely rich kleptocracy that is running Russia right now. And this nationalist rhetoric is --

MR. BUCHANAN: But the Russians love --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it also due to the fact that the oil production is up and the mineral production is enormous over there?

MS. CLIFT: Well, he also spoke at the same time that the administration was ginning up this, if not phony, highly exaggerated case about Iranian involvement in Iraq. And there's a credibility issue there. And he spoke at the same time raising questions about American credibility. His timing was perfect on the world stage.

MR. BUCHANAN: They've had a rotten experience also with democracy in the '90s. You talk about kleptocracy. They robbed that place. They had the Americans in there. It was a mess. The Russians like authoritarian rule.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a middle class coming into being now in Russia because of the economy, the success that he's had of the economy?

MS. FREELAND: I wouldn't say it's his success. I would say it's the success of high oil prices. But, yes, there is a middle class --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, now we have Blair on the currency. We have Abe in Japan, who has dropped from 80 percent in the polls to about 35 percent. We have President Bush, who I saw one poll that has him down to 24 percent in a hard approval rating. And the only one left there is Putin on the world stage, with an ongoing 70 percent popularity rating since he's been in office.

MR. BLANKLEY: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about that?

MS. FREELAND: He owns all the television stations. He has terrorized the media. Journalists are murdered.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that the only reason, or is he leading the country the way the people want the country led?

MS. FREELAND: It's not the only reason. But if Putin were absolutely secure and confident in his public support --

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, the reason the Putin statements don't carry quite the thundering weight that Brezhnev's would have is that he's playing from a fairly small deck. He doesn't have a population. As Pat's pointed out, the population is shrinking. It's going to be smaller than, I think, Vietnam in about 30 years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does anybody worry about that except Buchanan?

MR. BLANKLEY: They don't have an economy other than a minerals- based economy.

MS. CLIFT: Russia is not a superpower.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you been to Moscow lately? Yes, you have.

MR. BLANKLEY: I have. I have.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Aren't you impressed by Moscow these days?

MR. BLANKLEY: I love --

MR. BUCHANAN: They lose 1 million people every year.

MR. BLANKLEY: I love Russia. I think Moscow is doing well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't sound as though you love Putin.

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't love Putin. I think he's a KGB operative.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, exit question. I'm glad we got that straightened out. Exit question: Was Putin's outburst primarily for political show, or should it be taken seriously? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Both, both. I mean, listen, when you start talking about getting rid of the intermediate-range ballistic missile treaty, he's ticked off. And yeah, did he overstate it for political reasons? Yes.

MS. CLIFT: He's looking over at Iran as thinking maybe a better ally is Iran than the U.S. And he's enjoying tweaking the superpower here.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I don't think he wants and he's too smart to try to get into another arms or economic race with the United States. But we should take seriously the calculations of Russian national interest in our foreign policy. And there are still important areas we need to work with him on, on the (arc ?) of terrorist danger and Islamic radicalism. And I think we should try to find those ways where we can work with him, because he can still be useful.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should he be taken seriously?

MS. FREELAND: Yes, he should be taken seriously.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very seriously?

MS. FREELAND: Yes, very seriously.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I agree. I think he should be taken very seriously.

Issue Three: Romney Unleashed.

MITT ROMNEY (Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) With the fine people of Michigan in front of me and with my sweetheart at my side, I declare my intention to run for president of the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Willard "Mitt" Romney, Republican; born, Detroit, 59 years of age; wife, Ann; five sons, 10 grandchildren; BA, Brigham Young University, class valedictorian; Harvard University, doctor of laws and master of business administration; Bain & Company, vice president and CEO, Boston, seven years total; Bain Capital, founder, Boston. The $40 billion investment firm launched such Wall Street titans as Domino's Pizza, Staples and Brookstone.

Massachusetts Republican candidate for the Senate, 1994, lost to Ted Kennedy in the general election; Salt Lake City Winter Olympics Organizing Committee CEO, turning a $379 million operating deficit into a $100 million profit; Massachusetts governor, 2003 to 2007; estimated net worth, $500 million; mandatory health care for all, Massachusetts legislation, seen as the prototype for other states, namely California with the Schwarzenegger plan; religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka Mormon.

Question: Is America ready for a Mormon president? I ask you, Tony Blankley?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, a majority are. About 35, 37 percent tell pollsters they would not vote for a Mormon. I think that number is probably going to end up being high. Certainly there are some elements of Christian sects who believe that a Mormon is not a Christian and they won't vote for a non-Christian.

I think -- and everyone's been talking about that. I think it's a little exaggerated. Every --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What? What? You're talking about Mormonism?

MR. BLANKLEY: The Mormon problem. I think every candidate has problems with large segments of the electorate. If Romney turns out to be as strong a candidate as he appears, I think he could surmount that; not predicting he will, but he has a lot of strength. And a lot of conservatives are looking at him compared to Giuliani and McCain and finding him reasonably favorable.

MS. CLIFT: Addressing the Mormon issue head-on gives him a chance to talk about his faith and his values. I think he's going to turn that into an asset. His bigger problem is the way he's trying to elbow himself over to the right in his party and his positions on some of the social issues.

He's talking about these personal conversions he's had from, you know, pro-choice to pro-life. I think that's going to look like it's highly political and convenient.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's reversed himself; I think it's been noted here. Is that what you're referring to?

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's reversed himself on abortion. He's now against abortion. Here he is in 1994 on abortion.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's reversed himself on gay rights also. Now he's against gay -- well, I don't like to say he's against gay rights, but he has problems with that issue. In 1994, however, here he is on gay rights.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts, regardless of their sexual orientation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's also reversed himself on gun control. Now he's in favor of gun control.

Exit question --

MR. BUCHANAN: He's in favor of it? He must be against it now. That would be the position to be in. (Laughs.)

MS. FREELAND: He says he's a member of the NRA now.

MR. BUCHANAN: Okay, good. Look, John, what he has done is it is hard to take this credibly. He says he's moved to the right on this, and I assume he's moved for political reasons for my own belief. And the question is, will he be faithful to the conservative agenda if he gets elected? I think he's got to persuade the country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's pick that up in the exit question; pick it up in the exit question.

MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor's point is correct. That's more of a problem than Mormonism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to pick it up in the exit question, and that is that conservative Republicans vote heavily in primaries and caucuses. Is it realistic to think that Mitt Romney can win the nomination? I ask you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Against whom? All of the front-runners on the Republican side -- John McCain, Rudy Giuliani -- have problems with the core of the party. They're all moving to the right. Let's see who is most believable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We want to get predictions in. What's the answer to the question? Can he win the nomination?

MR. BLANKLEY: He can. But Eleanor's right. There's no solid conservative. So every conservative who votes in the primary is going to be compromising their policies to find, whether it's Giuliani or McCain or Romney or others.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's telegenic. He's from a dynasty family, George Romney. He's got high personal wealth magnitude, you know. And he's --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's possible, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Huh?

MR. BUCHANAN: It's possible.

MS. FREELAND: And he's a real businessman. I mean --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's possible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's a real businessman. He can get things done.

MR. BUCHANAN: And he's very likable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he could squeak out the nomination.

Issue Four: Dixie Chicks Fixed.

The Texas trio took home five trophies from the Grammy Awards this week, the first time in 13 years an artist or group has taken the top three awards -- album, record and song of the year. Four years ago, 2003, saw the Chicks tarred as country music castaways after lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience, quote, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," unquote.

The insult proved devastating for the pop-country trio. The industry shunned the Chicks. Country radio refused to play their music. Ticket and CD sales plummeted. But the girls bounced back with their 2006 CD and the Grammy-winning song "Not Ready To Make Nice."

Question: Is this an example of politics triumphing over art, meaning the Dixie Charts are being rewarded for their political tune more than their musical tunes? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Their music is excellent. But this is Hollywood sticking its finger in the eye of Nashville. It is basically country music said goodbye to the Dixie Chicks, and the Grammys, which are given out there in Hollywood by, I think, the Recording Artists, they gave her this big award, John. And so, yeah, there is politics. This is part of the culture war. But the Dixie Chicks aren't selling 10 million records anymore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this (reflects ?) the sea change in politics, especially with regard to President Bush? So what they said then -- you understand the logic. Is it your thinking that this is politics as much as it is art?

MS. FREELAND: Well, I think art can sometimes be about politics. And they are artists who have taken up a political theme. So I think these two are not necessarily at war.

MR. BLANKLEY: But their art is not -- if that's what it is -- is not about politics. It's their extraneous statements outside of their artistic expression that is political.

MS. CLIFT: But their music --

MS. FREELAND: They make nice music.

MS. CLIFT: -- stands on their own. They could have won on the strength of the music. But the politics doesn't hurt. And frankly, it was a shameful time in our history when the White House was trying to shut down dissent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Pat; three seconds.

MR. BUCHANAN: Segolene gets whipped in the French election.

MS. CLIFT: A new documentary, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," will revisit the policies of torture in the administration.

MR. BLANKLEY: Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters are going to Lebanon to undermine the Lebanese government.

MS. FREELAND: Huge private equity deals will dominate the business news.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The detention center in Guantanamo in Cuba will be shut down before Christmas.

Bye-bye.

END.