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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; MORT ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT TAPED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2007 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 15-16, 2007

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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Petraeus's War.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (commander, Multinational Force Iraq): (From videotape.) I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains we have fought so hard to achieve.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) I have consulted with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, other members of my national security team, Iraqi officials and leaders of both parties in Congress. I have benefited from their advice, and I have accepted General Petraeus's recommendations. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Bush this week announced the withdrawal of 30,000 troops by next July. That would bring the American force to the same number of soldiers, 130,000, that were in Iraq when Mr. Bush announced his surge strategy last January, eight months ago. So 10 months from now, come July 2008, the number of U.S. soldiers that will be in Iraq is 130,000.

Question: Has Petraeus pulled off mission impossible? Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Mission accomplished, John. There's going to be 130,000 American troops in Iraq on January 20th, 2009, more than two years after the Congress was elected to bring all those troops home.

It was a smashing success for President Bush, and added to it was the disgraceful performance of some of the Democrats on that committee -- their abusive, insulting, abrasive attitude toward the general and toward the ambassador, parading their angst before it.

They were badly damaged, the Democrats were, John. Politically now they are caught between middle America, which thinks they did a lousy job at that hearing, and the Democratic hard left, left by John Edwards, which is saying, "Get some guts and defund this war." This is a complete victory for George Bush and General Petraeus.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, do you believe his characterization -- Buchanan's, that is -- of the Democrats on the Hill and their treatment of Petraeus?

MS. CLIFT: I thought the Democrats acted responsibly and they questioned the man who is leading this effort that he wants to get American support and American dollars for. I think Petraeus did become the public face of this war. The president has managed to shift responsibility to the general, who is basically doing his job. He's a ground general. He's been given an assignment and he's trying to make it succeed.

But as we look at the overall picture of Iraq, it's a catastrophe if we leave, and if we stay, it's pointless. So getting another six months here is just more of the same. It's just ducking the real issue of Iraq and how to get out honorably.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I think it's unfortunate that we're calling it Bush's war, Petraeus's war. We've got 160,000 Americans who are fighting this war. Whether you agree with the policy or not, you've got 300 million Americans financing the war. It's America's war.

This idea that you can call it some politician's war or some general's war, I think, is to wrongly consider the nature of our nation when it goes to war. I completely agree with Pat on the analysis of what happened this week. I think Petraeus walked a very fine line and the Democrats stumbled badly with their tactics, particularly Hillary, who I was surprised; I thought she was going to be the most circumspective of these major senators. Instead, when she virtually accused him of being a liar when she said, "willing suspension of disbelief" to believe him, I think she may come to regret that statement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think, Mort, that the time line of the withdrawal -- we have a withdrawal at Christmas time, or by Christmas time -- that can be saluted by the public? And then we have the major withdrawal, the 25,000 remaining or thereabouts; they will probably be out by or in the process of being removed by the threshold of the Republican National Convention. Do you think that this time line was figured out in advance in relation to that programmatic?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't. I mean, I don't think that's what's driving it. I think what is driving it is something different, which is they want to buy as much time in terms of the way they present it to the public to keep as many troops there, because you had people there, like it or not -- and a lot of people don't like it -- who really believe, in the national security interest, in keeping those troops there. And that starts with the president, and it also includes a lot of our senior military people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So I think they are not doing this for political purposes; it's not that they are unaware of the politics of it. But I think Petraeus, just to agree with what Pat said, I think Petraeus accomplished what, in political terms --

MS. CLIFT: But the withdrawal --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bush projects, of course, what's going on in Iraq continuing after he leaves office. In order to accomplish that, he has to get a Republican in as president, or possibly Joe Lieberman. Now, how can he not be attentive to what impact this is going to be next year, leading up to the convention? He takes them out before the convention.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't agree with that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the Republicans win, he puts them back in.

MS. CLIFT: First of all --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Once you get a president in there -- I don't care who the president, Democrat or Republican -- it becomes a very different issue. It's not going to be some president who's going to willy-nilly just be able to walk out and pull those troops out.

MS. CLIFT: First of all --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's just not going to be possible. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know --

MS. CLIFT: First of all, the withdrawal --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: There's too many national security interests that we have involved.

MS. CLIFT: The withdrawals are dictated by the needs of the Army. Everybody knows that they were coming out, because otherwise you would have to extend tours beyond 15 months. They dress this up as something more when it is an inevitable drawdown, because the U.S. Army is broken.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think that's true, John. I think they made a virtue out of a necessity, what was coming. I think Eleanor is right to this extent. I think this is the worst foreign policy blunder in my lifetime, not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is? What is?

MR. BUCHANAN: Going into Iraq -- if not in the history of this country. At the same time, I think a precipitous pullout, as Petraeus said, would be a catastrophe.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's the problem.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Iraq --

MS. CLIFT: Nobody's talking about a precipitous withdrawal.

MR. BLANKLEY: Bill Richardson and Obama --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Iraq and al Qaeda. In an interview with General Petraeus, Brian Williams questioned why Petraeus was trying so hard to tie, apparently, Iraq to al Qaeda.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

BRIAN WILLIAMS (NBC News anchor): Over the last two days of testimony, you mentioned al Qaeda, by our count, 160 times. Explain what you mean, because al Qaeda in Iraq wasn't around that day.

GEN. PETRAEUS: No, al Qaeda Iraq is part of the greater al Qaeda movement. It receives direction and communications, and even really leadership. You know, I didn't mention that to try to tie this into the global war on terror. I mentioned it because they are the wolf closest to the sled, if you will. They're the organization that has carried out the most horrific, most damaging terrorist actions in Iraq with just barbaric casualties.

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Could the barbarism that's taking place now between the religious Sunni and the religious Shi'a be any less or more barbaric than what al Qaeda is doing in Iraq? Do you credit what he's saying?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, I do, because al Qaeda in Iraq may not have existed under Saddam. It is one of the major problems now. And the ugliest bombings of innocent people in that religious minority --

MS. CLIFT: It is a small -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What created the presence of so many --

MR. BUCHANAN: America's entry into the war, there's no doubt about it, incited --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We spawned jihadism.

MR. BUCHANAN: They all poured in.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Wait a minute.

MS. CLIFT: Al Qaeda --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Zarqawi and the al Qaeda blew up the Golden Mosque in Samarra, which is the single most important religious shrine for the Shi'a. He has particularly tried to incite the religious --

MR. BLANKLEY: That precipitated sectarian fighting.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That precipitated everything. So you cannot ignore their role in terms of the sectarian violence. If you read what Zarqawi --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Zarqawi a product of our intervention in Iraq?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, in one sense, yes.

MS. CLIFT: Yes.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But in terms of his hatred of the Sunni, absolutely not.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's there because we're there.

MS. CLIFT: Yes. Yes. We created --

MR. BLANKLEY: Look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her in.

MS. CLIFT: We created al Qaeda in Iraq. And they are a very small element of the overall fighting. And this whole Sunni awakening that the administration is touting in Anbar province, these are the Sunnis sheikhs who have decided they've had enough of al Qaeda. They would have enough of al Qaeda without us. We are now arming the Sunnis, who are probably going to wait us out and then enter a civil war with the Shi'ites. This a total mess.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. A mouthpiece? General Petraeus is not speaking for himself, some believe, but speaking for President Bush. He responds to that. GEN. PETRAEUS: (From videotape.) I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress until it was just handed out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The general says, quote, "I wrote this testimony myself and handed it out," unquote. So he's referring to his written testimony. Do you believe that the general did not share, as he says he did not, the content of his written testimony with the White House or the Pentagon or the Congress until it was just handed out before he testified? And, by the way, is that an okay question, or is it a cabal?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I assume he told the truth. I don't know. I wasn't there. None of us were there. I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it possible that he didn't share the content with the commander in chief?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, it's not -- as I understand it --

MS. CLIFT: He --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.

MR. BLANKLEY: As I understand it, he said he wrote it himself. And he let them know what he was going to be saying, but he didn't show it to them until just before he went up to testify. That seems perfectly reasonable.

MS. CLIFT: This was --

MR. BUCHANAN: Bush knows what he's going to say. The president and Petraeus agree on the policy and the strategy, and he doesn't need to see a copy of what he's going to put out there because he knows it.

MS. CLIFT: Right. He was --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That is not --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's just the opposite. It serves Bush's political interest not to have this appear as if it's a direct quote, as if he is Charlie McCarthy to Edgar Bergen. So it gives him some degree of credibility and independence when he says that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he equivocating? Is he being a Clinton with "What is the meaning of 'is'"?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, no, no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's talking about his testimony. I'll read it to you again. Watch the screen. "I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or Congress until it was just handed out." The written testimony.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm sure the actual testimony, the written testimony, was -- I'm sure he's being honest.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, is that a device and is it a form of equivocation?

MS. CLIFT: Yes. Yes! (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I am shocked to hear that, John. Somebody actually -- the head of our efforts in Iraq doesn't know --

MS. CLIFT: I'll answer it. I'll answer it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Bush the ventriloquist and is he the marionette?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No. No, I don't think he is.

MS. CLIFT: Yes. Look, he is quibbling. This was part of the biggest public relations rollout. The administration has been preparing this for weeks, if not months. Petraeus went through murder boards preparing his testimony. They knew every word he was going to say and he was in total accord with the president.

And the president also tried to make it seamless, as though it's the general's strategy and the president is just following what the generals are telling him to do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, The New York Times says he was hiding -- the president was hiding behind Petraeus.

MS. CLIFT: Biggest copout.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And there's some history of that. Colin Powell did the same thing in the Senate.

Question: How successful was General Petraeus in blocking the congressional guillotine from cutting off Bush's time to extend the Iraq war? How successful?

MR. BUCHANAN: General Petraeus has saved Bush his policy, and his policy is going to be in effect until George Bush leaves office, and Iraq will not fall on Bush's watch.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you give him a 10 on a 10 scale?

MR. BUCHANAN: I give him a 10 on a 10 scale.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: He succeeded in avoiding a total Republican collapse. And the Democrats are not going to cut off the war because they're not going to filibuster and have the blood of the troops on their hands.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me give you another angle.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's only one thing the Democrats can do, Eleanor, and that is to call for the troops to come home now. They can't equivocate.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me give you --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead.

MS. CLIFT: Well, they can keep calling, but they're not going to be heard. MR. BLANKLEY: Let me give you another angle on this. Our troops succeeded in the surge militarily, which was a condition precedent for the general reporting what, in fact, our troops accomplished. And as a result, the Democrats cannot undermine this policy for the next six months or so.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Our troops succeeded tactically.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Our strategic position in Iraq --

MR. BLANKLEY: That's another matter.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- is not necessarily -- (inaudible).

MR. BLANKLEY: That's another matter.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But certainly you are right. He's the first general who knew how to fight that war, and that's in part what is the platform on the basis of which he goes --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you give him a 10?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I give him a 9.89.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll give him at least a nine.

Issue Two: Democrats Foiled?

From the beginning, many Democrats have stood firmly against the war, and Petraeus's assessment makes their public opposition to the war more difficult to sustain. But most do not shrink from their convictions.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): (From videotape.) Are we any closer to a lasting political settlement in Iraq at the national level today than we were when the surge began eight months ago? And if we continue to surge for another six months, is there any evidence that the Sunnis, the Shi'as and the Kurds will stop killing each other and start governing together?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: The generals now get what they want -- troop levels, resources, money and manpower. They can wage an indefinite war. The military is in charge, not the elected civil leadership. Is that true or false?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I mean, since the executive branch, the president, is generally responsible for this kind of policy, that's false. If you're saying, "Is the Congress going to determine this policy?" it's true. But the fact is the president does. And Petraeus did a wonderful job, it seems to me, in, in a sense, creating some political space for that policy at home. And the Democrats didn't help. I mean, I think they handled it in ways that I thought were almost reprehensible. To attack Petraeus personally is no way for a man who's sitting there with a uniform filled with medals to --

MS. CLIFT: They didn't attack him personally. They are attacking --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They called him a liar.

MS. CLIFT: They are attacking his definition of progress in Iraq.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, they're not. When you say "a willing suspension of disbelief," you have to assume the man is sincere.

MS. CLIFT: President Bush, if you removed him from the equation, we would not be fighting this war. He has put forth a plan where we are losing slowly --

MR. BUCHANAN: What you're saying is --

MR. BLANKLEY: This isn't the question.

MS. CLIFT: -- which is what we've been doing ever since the invasion.

MR. BLANKLEY: This isn't the question John asked.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before you ask that question, I have a question for you. What will upset Bush's apple cart?

MR. BUCHANAN: Collapse of --

MS. CLIFT: A Tet-like offensive.

MR. BUCHANAN: Collapse of the government, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Collapse of the government.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's the key word.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, the government --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What else? What else?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, Eleanor said a Tet offensive. I don't think the enemy has got the capacity right now, when we've got 170,000 guys there, to do it. MR. BLANKLEY: Look, let me actually answer your question, because this is not a war right now that most of the Pentagon generals want to be fighting. Quite to the contrary, they are --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you talking about Admiral William J. Fallon, the superior of Petraeus?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm talking a very large number of men there. You know, they're doing it because they're loyal soldiers, but this is hardly the war they want to fight.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.

MR. BLANKLEY: But let me make another point, that although Bush has done very well in winning this round, and the Democrats have looked like fools and blaggards, nonetheless, they're in awfully good shape for the next election.

MS. CLIFT: Right. Exactly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When the death toll crosses 4,000 may have an impact.

Okay. Hillary on Petraeus.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY): (From videotape.) The reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What Hillary appears to be talking about here is that the surge is a tactic, not a strategy. General William Odom made this same point. Where there is no strategy, he says, there is tactic only, and that means no end. The fountain is poisoned at its source, so to speak.

GEN. WILLIAM ODOM (Ret.): (From videotape.) You see, to me, the real issue that doesn't get emphasized enough in the debate today is that we've got to raise this above the tactical level. The very strategic reasons we went in were wrong and therefore will generate a wrong outcome.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Odom right, namely, that if the strategy is flawed or nonexistent, then everything else falls apart?

MR. BUCHANAN: He's right in this extent, John. We should never have gone in. There was never a reason for this war going on. But let me say this about Mrs. Clinton. Rudy Giuliani pulled a 10-strike when he went and ran an ad in The New York Times answering Hillary and charging her with impugning the integrity of General Petraeus. He is riding this into the conservative part of the political base of that party, and he's doing extremely well. Hillary made the worst mistake of her campaign with that statement.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me answer about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with him that that's a stroke of genius on Giuliani's part?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I'm sure that Mitt Romney wishes he'd got the ad first.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah.

MR. BLANKLEY: But let me go back to General Odom, because he makes an important point which I think is half-right. If the strategy is wrong, tactics won't save it. Where he makes a mistake is you can change your strategy and change your objectives.

MS. CLIFT: Giuliani --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him go, and then you.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The issue now is not just whether our initial strategy was right. We're in there. The real question is, how do you get out? And what are the consequences of getting out if you get out the wrong way? We never would have had that issue if we hadn't made the mistake. And I agree that it was.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So I think that's a bit different.

MS. CLIFT: Giuliani is talking to the Republican base, which is still fairly supportive of the president on the war. He is not talking to the country. The country thinks that General Petraeus sugar-coated what's going on. They are seeing what's happened. They are seeing that we have an open-ended commitment in Iraq. And they're not going to be fooled again. This president has no credibility.

MR. BUCHANAN: I know the president doesn't and the Democratic Congress doesn't. General Petraeus has more credibility on this war than anybody. They attacked the wrong guy.

MS. CLIFT: General Petraeus is looking at only Iraq. And Admiral Fallon, who is his boss, was the missing player here, and he understands how we're losing ground in the region because of the overcommitment of resources to Iraq.

MR. BUCHANAN: Nobody in the country knows who Fallon is.

MS. CLIFT: And Petraeus better be careful. He's on the way to becoming the next General Westmoreland.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: General Petraeus thwarted the Democratic leadership on the Hill, and General Petraeus thwarted the voice of the American people in last year's elections; namely, withdraw from Iraq. Have we just witnessed a soft coup d'etat? (Laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: I think you've witnessed George W. Bush and General Petraeus taking the decision of the electorate and turning it around and winning a victory politically with a minority, and it was quite a success.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it is essentially --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's not a coup d'etat. They've got about 40 percent of the country with them. And they're running the war.

(Cross-talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: When you're president, you run the war. (Laughs.)

(Cross-talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: He is the d'etat. You can't coup yourself. MS. CLIFT: The president is happy to hand off any responsibility he can for this war, but he's putting his party in an impossible position.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Agreed.

MS. CLIFT: Would you want to be the candidate who goes in and says, "I'm for another 100,000 troops in Iraq"?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, I'll tell you --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The president is not --

MS. CLIFT: The Democrats can say, "We're going to end the war," and they're going to pick up seats in the U.S. Senate and probably the White House.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with that, a soft coup d'etat?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I do not agree -- of course not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course it's a coup d'etat.

MS. CLIFT: Willing coup d'etat.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely not. It's called the presidency. He was elected.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Are We Safer After 9/11?

Six years have passed since we were attacked on American soil. Terrorists hijacked four planes. The planes then headed for two targets in New York and two targets in Washington. Each of the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center was hit. In the D.C. perimeter, the Pentagon was hit. The fourth airplane, United Airlines Flight 93, was downed by heroic passengers and crew in rural Pennsylvania 200 miles west of Philadelphia.

Six years later, the biggest question, and the one most frequently asked, is, since 9/11, are we safer?

(Begin videotaped segment.)

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA): Are you able to say at this time, if we continue what you have laid before the Congress here as a strategy, do you feel that that is making America safer?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sir, I believe that this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.

SEN. WARNER: Does that make America safer?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sir, I don't know, actually. (End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What accounts for this unique moment of candor? He doesn't know.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, that's not fair. That's not unique. That assumes a fact very much contradicted by the evidence. He gave candid testimony throughout. But I have to say, I've always thought that this question that Republicans and Bush supporters tend to glibly say that made us safer, I've never bought that. I thought it showed real integrity on the part of the general, because you can make the claim and you can't prove or disprove it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let me go back to what the general's basic statement is, and that is that the surge is working and the al Qaeda has been --

MR. BLANKLEY: That's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment. But he's also saying, since he doesn't know whether we're safer or not, that Iraq is extraneous to the terrorist situation.

Is that what he's saying?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, it's not extraneous, but it's only a part.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you understand my question?

MR. BLANKLEY: And there are forces going on around the world that may be making us more dangerous.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He doesn't know whether we're safer or not, and he has suppressed, he says, the --

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's been successful in the military operation there, which is to suppress the ongoing violence in Iraq, and Iraq is tied to this. Iraq is not tied, therefore, to the state of terrorism.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, but the withdrawal from Iraq could be tied to whatever is going to be the threat to the United States. How we get out of Iraq is a wholly different issue. That -- it was what somebody said here; it may have been a mistake to go in.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've been there longer than we had in World War II.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Without question --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think precipitous means?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Precipitous -- I don't know what --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They can only get back about, what, two brigades?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: If you get out of the way, that produces an al Qaeda area there that becomes another area from which they can --

MS. CLIFT: We've heard all that from the president.

(Cross-talk.) MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, look, it was an honest moment on Petraeus's part. He says he doesn't know whether staying there is going to make us safer. But pulling out immediately, he said, would have devastating consequences.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: General Jones said that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you mean, a pullout? You can't pull out more than two or three -- at most three brigades a month.

MR. BUCHANAN: He said premature withdrawal would have devastating consequences.

MS. CLIFT: Nobody's talking about a premature withdrawal.

(Cross-talk.)

MS. CLIFT: Obama's talking about bringing home a brigade a month.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: The next European country to break apart will be Belgium.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Democrats will pick up at least four or five Senate seats in '08.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That means, what, 55?

MS. CLIFT: They won't get up to 60, I don't think, but they'll get close enough with some moderate Republicans.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's very likely that the White House -- the president is going to nominate Judge Mukasey to be attorney general, a solid conservative, but not Ted Olson.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm sure he is. But why doesn't he just leave it the way it is and let the acting attorney general handle it?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why won't --

MR. BLANKLEY: Because they need leadership in there. The top five slots are empty. You need to get leadership back in that vital agency.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort. MR. ZUCKERMAN: The financial crisis we're going through is going to have economic consequences that are much worse than most people anticipate, and we're going to have serious action by the Federal Reserve, much more drastic reductions in both the federal funds rate and the discount rate, in order to save the liquidity in our financial system.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you talking worldwide? Are you talking worldwide, Mort?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, absolutely. It's happening all over the place. The European central bank is doing five times as much as the Federal Reserve now in terms of providing liquidity for the European financial system.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that Vladimir Putin will follow the Russian constitution and in March will not seek re-election as Russian president.

Don't forget, you can iPod the Group.

Happy Rosh Hashanah. Bye-bye.

(PBS segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: From Russia With Love.

Being romantic in Russia can pay off if you live in Ulyanovsk. Couples are given one day off a year from work, September 12, as an inducement to procreate. Then couples who have a baby born nine months later, on June 12th, on Russia's national day, are awarded money, cars, refrigerators or other prizes.

SERGEY MOROZOV (governor of Ulyanovsk, through interpreter): (From videotape.) Almost all civil servants will stay at home, explained the region's governor. I hope they devote themselves to their children and to their partners.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Last September 12, Ulyanovskians were made the same offer. And on Russia Day this year, 78 babies were born.

Question: Should conception day not be fixed but made optional in the interest of reproductive biology?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You get the point here?

MS. CLIFT: Not quite, but I think that they'd have better luck if they gave incentives like rent assistance or child care. That's where the -- MR. BLANKLEY: No --

MS. CLIFT: And also, I don't think everybody ovulates on the same day. (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: The problem --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's right. That's what I'm getting at.

MS. CLIFT: Okay.

MR. BLANKLEY: The problem of not having babies isn't the failure to have sex. It's the failure to have enough sense of contributing to your society to want to have children.

END.