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"THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP" HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANELISTS: MORT ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, SYNDICATED RADIO COMMENTATOR; MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN'S FORUM TAPED: FRIDAY, JULY 25, 2008 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JULY 26-27, 2008

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DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One -- Barack's World.

Barack Obama toured the Middle East and Europe this week. His whirlwind itinerary included nine locations -- Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Germany, France, Great Britain. Barack drew the biggest crowd in Berlin.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee): (From videotape.) The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christians and Muslims and Jews, cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The wall metaphor used by Barack Obama echoes Ronald Reagan in Berlin in 1987. PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: (From videotape.) Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: John F. Kennedy also famously addressed a throng in Berlin in 1963.

PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: (From videotape.) Ich bin ein Berliner.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question -- Both Reagan and Kennedy were sitting presidents of the United States when they delivered their historical orations in Germany. Barack Obama is a candidate for U.S. president. Was his history-making oration a fitting oration for a presidential candidate? Mort Zuckerman.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: If you were the presidential candidate, you would have been thrilled by it. So he was thrilled by it. Of course it was. It was terrific politics back home. I'm not saying that it's going to change the attitudes of the Germans, but it also demonstrates that he's probably the most popular political figure that the United States has produced since John Kennedy. And so there you are.

It's great politics back home. I'm not saying everything about his trip was a success. He was very lucky with the trip. He hit that three-pointer in Kuwait the first time. When he goes to Afghanistan, he gets a chance to make it clear that he's not just a wimp and that he's going to try and be forceful against terrorism in Afghanistan. He goes to Iraq and Maliki basically supports his position. That was a great trip for him.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, was that beyond a presidential candidate to negotiate in a foreign land on a key subject, a key issue, with another head of state -- with a head of state?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, who says he was negotiating? Maliki came out with his position, not necessarily because it was Obama's request. It's because he had a view about what the United States ought to do. And, in fact, from what I understand, Ahmed Chalabi, the famous Chalabi, was the guy who advised him, "Find a way to get on the good side of Obama. He'll be the next president."

MS. BERNARD: John, if you look at the polls recently and you think about what we're seeing in polls, polls have been showing that people feel that John McCain is the strongest candidate on foreign policy. And McCain went to Europe this winter. He's been to Mexico. He's been to Colombia.

If you look at the press coverage of John McCain versus the press coverage of Obama, and particularly look at the audience and how he was received, no matter what anybody can say, I think this trip has been an absolute slam dunk for Barack Obama. I kept saying, you know, earlier in the week that if he made one gaffe, it would be a fatal error and it would be a fatal flaw to his campaign. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Berlin drew the most people. But Barack's most formidable audience was in the Middle East, where he addressed delicate foreign policy issues.

Foreign policy issue number one -- What nation is the central front in this war against terrorism, sir?

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) We went to Afghanistan first because it is the central front in the war against terrorism. That is where the 9/11 attacks were planned. And today in Afghanistan and the border region of Pakistan, al Qaeda and the Taliban are plotting new attacks against the United States. I called over a year ago for additional U.S. troops to be placed in Afghanistan.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: When he said, "We went to Afghanistan first," he's talking about his own itinerary -- "we, those traveling with me on this trip."

Question -- If the Germans are so responsive to Obama, as this dramatic scene illustrates, why didn't he use this occasion to call on Germany to commit more troops to the NATO fight in Afghanistan?

MS. CLIFT: Because he's not the sitting president yet, John. (Laughs.) This was a trip that was staged on the level of a sitting president, without all of the apparatus of the White House to pull it off. It's amazing. I mean, it was, in effect, five state visits. And his performance was flawless throughout. He did admit that he could fall asleep standing up. But, tired as he was, he was impeccable. I mean, he's quite a political talent.

But with Afghanistan, you now have a convergence of views between the two presidential candidates, each saying we need two or three more brigades in Afghanistan. The difference is that those brigades can only come from Iraq. And it's rather fortuitous that Prime Minister Maliki is now, in effect, endorsing a withdrawal plan over 16 to 20 months. And the White House has come out supporting an aspirational time horizon, which is a euphemism for a withdrawal plan. So Barack Obama has been vindicated in his foreign policy views on this trip.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, foreign policy number two -- When will U.S. troops be withdrawn from Iraq?

SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) My view, based on the advice of military experts, is that we can redeploy safely in 16 months, so that our combat brigades are out of Iraq in 2010.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question -- Why 16 months? Why can't they be removed sooner? Monica Crowley.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, because Barack Obama has been campaigning on the 16-month timetable for a very long time. He cannot go off of that, for political reasons here at home. I mean, I'm sure that the Obama team is very excited to have Germany's 44 electoral votes and France's 25, but his arguments here at home -- he is walking a tightrope here, because look, when you mentioned Afghanistan, and he was talking about shifting some of those troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and initiating a surge in Afghanistan, what he cannot tell you is the reason he's advocating a troop surge in Afghanistan is because the troop surge in Iraq has been such a huge success. He cannot admit that.

Remember, the Democratic rap on President Bush is that he was inflexible, stubborn, unmoving, wouldn't listen to dissenting voices. That wasn't true of President Bush. But now the Democrats have a candidate who refuses to admit that the policy that Bush actually changed is now winning the war in Iraq. So when he talks --

MS. CLIFT: You're mischaracterizing his views.

MS. CROWLEY: No, no, no. He is absolutely inflexible when he talks about the surge --

MS. CLIFT: You're mischaracterizing his --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let her finish.

MS. CROWLEY: No, no. But when he is presented with the actual empirical evidence on the ground in Iraq that all of these things are jelling, and now that we are winning the war, and that the general time horizon for troop withdrawal --

MS. CLIFT: You're mischaracterizing his views.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay --

MS. CROWLEY: No, but he is incapable of saying that the surge has worked, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: You've mischaracterized his views. MS. CROWLEY: Well, then --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Are you saying that she's mischaracterizing his views? (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: I think I'm saying that.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Katie Couric pressed the issue of the Obama- Petraeus timetable face-off.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: If General Petraeus or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, say to you, "Hey, President Obama," if that comes to pass, "you cannot take out the final complement of combat troops; we need them in theater," you would say?

SEN. OBAMA: I will always listen to the commanders on the ground, and I will make an assessment based on the facts at that time.

(End videotaped segment.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the question is, what precisely did Obama commit to with that answer? What do you think?

MS. BERNARD: (Laughs.) I've seen people who are calling this like a sort of McCain-Obama answer, which is what he's committed to. He has said that he wants to withdraw the troops within 16 months. But we know that General Petraeus and others feel that you cannot stick to a rigid time line. So that's why he's continued to say to the American public he's still going to listen to what the people on the ground are saying.

MS. CLIFT: Keeping his options open, which is what a president should do.

MS. BERNARD: And McCain has to absolutely do the same thing.

MS. CROWLEY: But Obama is splitting the baby here. He's saying, "Well, I'm committed to a 16-month withdrawal time line. But, oh, I'll also listen to the generals." But when he was sitting with Petraeus on this trip, Petraeus said, "Look, we can't commit to that because we don't know what the future security conditions on the ground are going to be."

MS. CLIFT: But we don't know --

MS. CROWLEY: He's trying to have it both ways, as he always tries to. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about -- didn't we used to think that a brigade a month was about it? And don't we have about 140,000 troops over there?

MS. CROWLEY: But look -- but it may, in fact, be those conditions -- if the security conditions continue to improve, it may be that he will be allowed and it will be appropriate to do that in that order. But it may not also be --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think, aside from the fact that he's precommitted to the 16 months, as she said -- let's say that you were doing this ab ovo, from the very beginning, and you wanted to effect a careful withdrawal, but a systematic one. What would it be in terms of manpower, removed from combat duty from Iraq?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, the estimate is that you could take one or two brigades out every month. And that's why they think 16 to 20 months is a good --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fifteen hundred in a brigade.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes -- 3,500 in a brigade.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thirty-five hundred in a brigade?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: So that's about 7,000 maximum a month.

MS. CLIFT: There are 5,000 in a brigade, actually.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You could take out 7,000 a month -- excuse me -- and in 15 or 16 months you'd have basically all the combat troops out. But bear in mind, when he said he would refine his views -- and the word "refine" was his word -- it created a political fire storm. And the next thing you know, he spoke again and basically reinterpreted and reinforced the 16-month commitment. So in a sense, all he said was that he would listen to the commanders. He didn't say he would obey the commanders. So I think that part of it is still sort of the fuzzy part --

MS. BERNARD: The wiggle room.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- the wiggle room. But that puts him in a very, very awkward position.

MS. CLIFT: But then he --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Politically he's -- let me just finish. Politically it's going to make it very, very difficult for him. And it's true; I mean, John McCain is really left out in left field, so to speak, here. Here was a man who said, when we went into Iraq originally, we didn't have enough troops. He was the one who was almost uniquely in support of the surge. And he's getting no credit for this at this point. And Obama is getting credit for his --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama makes a fundamental distinction. This is for you. He says the strategy of going into Iraq was wrong; we should not have gone in -- the strategy. The tactics being used, however, are working in the sense that they are lowering the level of violence in Iraq. He admits that.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: So there is no real inconsistency if you accept his basic distinction between strategy and tactics.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Except --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was wrong to go in. But having gone in and made a mistake --

MS. CLIFT: But he's still saying --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- we are minimizing the human damage from that mistake.

MS. CLIFT: But he is still saying that the surge has not brought about the political accommodation and that --

MS. CROWLEY: Which is also wrong.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: -- developments on the ground also played into the fact that violence is down. And he is also saying that the more critical problem -- he calls it urgent and precarious -- is Afghanistan. And if you want more troops in Afghanistan, there is only one place to get them from, and it's Iraq. And you have Prime Minister Maliki vindicating the view that the troops could come out over a period of 16 to 20 months.

MS. BERNARD: I think --

MS. CLIFT: So, you know, it seems to me that Barack Obama emerges here as a credible voice on foreign policy.

MS. CROWLEY: He's been wrong on everything.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He only wants to shift 10,000 troops to Afghanistan. That is not going to be an overwhelming problem. Yes, they have to come from Iraq. Nobody thinks we're not going to be able to take 10,000 troops out, in fairness.

MS. CLIFT: I'm sorry, but --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And he opposed -- MS. CLIFT: -- you'd have to have --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And he opposed the surge, in addition to that.

MS. CLIFT: -- you'd have to have redeployments to Iraq. You'd have to have people going back for five and six redeployments.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, look --

MS. CLIFT: The Army cannot handle --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hear from --

MS. BERNARD: I think the political problem for Barack Obama, at least over the weekend, will be that people have asked him in interviews, while he has been in the Middle East and in the Europe this week, "If you had to do the surge all over again, would you?" And his answer has continued to be no. That is a problem. I think we will continue to see him, because it is a political problem, to continue to switch the conversation to Afghanistan, because the world community is now saying that is the war we must win.

(Cross-talk.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Al Qaeda says -- to use his phrase, al Qaeda says the central front in the war with us is in Iraq. That's what al Qaeda says.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, look, he has to address Afghanistan because --

MS. CLIFT: Do they have electoral votes too? (Laughter.)

MS. CROWLEY: He has to address Afghanistan because he can't frontally address Iraq because he has been wrong on the surge. He's been wrong -- nobody will ask him a forward-looking question, which is, "Senator Obama, if we stick to your timetable and remove all of these combat troops after 16 months and there is a catastrophe and Iran pours back in and al Qaeda pours back in, what, sir, are you prepared to do? Are you prepared to reintroduce troops?" No. So he's got to address Afghanistan.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you know so much about this --

MS. CROWLEY: That is his back-door way -- excuse me -- that is his back-door way of trying to cover up the fact that he has been wrong on Iraq.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you're so knowledgeable about this, do you know what Zbig Brzezinski said about putting troops into Afghanistan?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. He said -- DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know what he said? He said, "Don't put troops into Afghanistan or we will end up the way the Russians did when they were in there for 10 years, and they had to withdraw."

MS. CROWLEY: We have a standing force in Afghanistan. The problem is that the al Qaeda and Taliban threat is not in Afghanistan. It's in Pakistan. And until we're able to address that problem --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, I want to get out on this.

MS. CLIFT: I want to say one thing.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, just a moment.

MS. CLIFT: I want to say one thing.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, quickly.

MS. CLIFT: The voters have a choice between two candidates. One candidate wants to end the war in Iraq. The other candidate wants to win the war in Iraq, which is an undefinable objective.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. McCain on Barack.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ, presumptive Republican presidential nominee): (From videotape.) Senator Obama said that the strategy of the surge would not succeed. He said it was doomed to failure. He said that there would be an increase in sectarian violence. He still to this day has said that the surge has not succeeded.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: McCain met with the dalai lama in Aspen on Friday. How is that for counter programming? I ask you, Mort. (Laughter.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I suppose if you want to go from -- both of them are dealing in counter programming. I think McCain is trying to show he's not totally closed to a man of total peace. So it's all to the good.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this is -- almost McCain is not running in the sense that this election is a total referendum on Barack Obama? If it's a referendum of Barack Obama, McCain has a chance, correct?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If it's a focus on McCain against Obama, Obama will not lose the election.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't think it's going to be on either issue. I think the election is going to be on the economy. I've said that before. That's going to be -- it is the dominant issue in the polls, and it's going to continue to be -- DR. MCLAUGHLIN: So that's going to help McCain.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, it'll help McCain.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The polls already show that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. Well, actually, it shows --

(Cross-talk.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The economy helps McCain.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, no. Right now Obama is 19 points ahead of McCain in terms of how he will address the issues of the economy. The Republicans are going to be blamed for the economy. They're the party in power. And frankly, they deserve a good deal of the blame for the economy. And therefore, McCain is not going to be helped by the economy --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It turns on the subject of risk.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- unless he finds somebody who is credible on that issue as his vice president.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the poll focuses on the element of risk and one's attitude towards the two candidates, the less risky candidate by far is McCain.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's correct.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And on the basis of that, the economy flows in and the economy, therefore, helps McCain, because --

MS. BERNARD: But the polls aren't showing that right now.

MS. CLIFT: Barack Obama actually said that in his interview with Brian Williams. He understood that he is the riskier candidate, and it's really a case, as he put it, between the devil you know --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because he's unknown relative to McCain.

MS. CLIFT: -- and the devil you don't. But the driving force for change in the country -- and people do want to take a risk. They don't want sort of a pale imitation of what we've been through. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me a quick one-word answer.

MS. CLIFT: And the images of Barack Obama on this trip and John McCain in a golf cart with the former President Bush and strolling the cheese aisle in a local supermarket --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we don't need -- you don't need a burlesk of John McCain. I mean, it's all there for you anyway.

A quick one-word answer -- only one word. This was a tightrope walk for Obama, a real tightrope. He could have crashed and burned. Did he survive the tightrope, which means, in effect, was he flawless? You can't make mistakes on a tightrope.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It was a great success for him. He was flawless.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Flawless?

MS. CLIFT: Flawless.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Flawless?

MS. CROWLEY: It was a success, yes.

MS. BERNARD: Flawless.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is flawless.

We'll be right back.

(Announcements.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two -- Veep du Jour.

SEN. MCCAIN: (From videotape.) All I can do is make the blanket assurance that the person I choose will share my values, my principles and my goals and my ideals.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The media spotlight now shines on Barack, but many believe the afterglow of his trip is the perfect time for John McCain to shift the focus to his own candidacy by announcing his choice for vice presidential running mate.

In the running -- Charlie Crist, governor of Florida; Rob Portman, former head of the powerful OMB, Office of Management & Budget, for the Bush administration; Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, 2008 presidential candidate; Mike Bloomberg, current mayor of New York City, Democrat turned Republican; Colin Powell, former secretary of State, Bush administration; Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota and co-chair of McCain for President; Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, former presidential candidate. Question -- The pundits are chanting the mantra that McCain needs a vice presidential running mate with credibility on the economy. If that is the criterion, who gains favor? Michelle.

MS. BERNARD: He needs somebody with more than credibility on the economy. I have said it before; I'll say it again. He needs somebody with real "wow" factor. You know, it's almost as if the energy is being sucked out of his campaign, and the American public is bored to death. If you're going to go for "wow" factor, go for Colin Powell. Go for Tom Ridge. That's "wow" factor, somebody strong on the economy.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Romney is "wow," Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Romney is like "The Sound of Music." You get the whole Romney family coming over the mountain singing. (Laughter.) It's a beautiful family. And he does probably bring Michigan. So those are two positives. And I think he was very graceful about -- the money that he gave himself to run, $4.5 million, he's not asking anybody to raise it for him. He's just eating that money. And I think that speaks well of him. So he's a commendable choice.

MS. CROWLEY: I do agree --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he's got about $250 million, doesn't he?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I guess --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that about right, Mort?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He ran, in my judgment, a terrible campaign.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who, Romney?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Romney, when he ran for the presidency. He had no integrity whatever. He changed his views depending on which group he was talking to. And McCain hated him. So I don't know if he's going to be able to be the selection. But I do believe that he needs somebody who would be "wow" factor on the economy, and there's one person to do that, and that is Bloomberg.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or Romney.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, but Romney, as I say --

MS. CLIFT: I think Bloomberg would do it, but it seems a rather -- a bridge too far for the Republican Party. MS. BERNARD: It would be an odd marriage, yeah.

MS. CLIFT: But I agree with you --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is it odd?

MS. CROWLEY: To take a pro-choice candidate.

MS. CLIFT: Whoever wins the White House will have Michael Bloomberg running the country. (Laughs.)

MS. CROWLEY: I do --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pawlenty is supposed to be a person that McCain likes.

MS. CROWLEY: Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, which is somebody that Eleanor predicted that he might look at.

Look, I agree with Michelle. John McCain is vanilla ice cream. He needs a scoop of rocky road to run with, okay? Barack Obama is the exact opposite. Obama's rocky road. He needs more vanilla ice cream. And I think the economic issues are the prevailing force on McCain as he looks at a VP. That makes Romney and, I think, Michael Bloomberg, who on Friday of this week said that he is going to start touting John McCain, not formally endorsing him but touting him. And it may be that they are trying to sort of triangulate this, because Bloomberg is very liberal on the social issues and it may cause some difficulties with the conservatives.

MS. CLIFT: And Bloomberg is just launching a quit-smoking effort around the world, which I'm sure the Republican Party would love to take on. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Take your pick. We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ehud Olmert, prime minister of Israel, will resign before October 1. Yes or no? Mort. MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think he will.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Only if he's indicted.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: Yes, he's toast.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michelle.

MS. BERNARD: Sayonara.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ehud is gone.

Bye-bye.

END.

: It was wrong to go in. But having gone in and made a mistake --

MS. CLIFT: But he's still saying --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- we are minimizing the human damage from that mistake.

MS. CLIFT: But he is still saying that the surge has not brought about the political accommodation and that --

MS. CROWLEY: Which is also wrong.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: -- developments on the ground also played into the fact that violence is down. And he is also saying that the more critical problem -- he calls it urgent and precarious -- is Afghanistan. And if you want more troops in Afghanistan, there is only one place to get them from, and it's Iraq. And you have Prime Minister Maliki vindicating the view that the troops could come out over a period of 16 to 20 months.

MS. BERNARD: I think --

MS. CLIFT: So, you know, it seems to me that Barack Obama emerges here as a credible voice on foreign policy.

MS. CROWLEY: He's been wrong on everything.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He only wants to shift 10,000 troops to Afghanistan. That is not going to be an overwhelming problem. Yes, they have to come from Iraq. Nobody thinks we're not going to be able to take 10,000 troops out, in fairness.

MS. CLIFT: I'm sorry, but --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And he opposed -- MS. CLIFT: -- you'd have to have --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And he opposed the surge, in addition to that.

MS. CLIFT: -- you'd have to have redeployments to Iraq. You'd have to have people going back for five and six redeployments.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, look --

MS. CLIFT: The Army cannot handle --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hear from --

MS. BERNARD: I think the political problem for Barack Obama, at least over the weekend, will be that people have asked him in interviews, while he has been in the Middle East and in the Europe this week, "If you had to do the surge all over again, would you?" And his answer has continued to be no. That is a problem. I think we will continue to see him, because it is a political problem, to continue to switch the conversation to Afghanistan, because the world community is now saying that is the war we must win.

(Cross-talk.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Al Qaeda says -- to use his phrase, al Qaeda says the central front in the war with us is in Iraq. That's what al Qaeda says.

MS. CROWLEY: Well, look, he has to address Afghanistan because --

MS. CLIFT: Do they have electoral votes too? (Laughter.)

MS. CROWLEY: He has to address Afghanistan because he can't frontally address Iraq because he has been wrong on the surge. He's been wrong -- nobody will ask him a forward-looking question, which is, "Senator Obama, if we stick to your timetable and remove all of these combat troops after 16 months and there is a catastrophe and Iran pours back in and al Qaeda pours back in, what, sir, are you prepared to do? Are you prepared to reintroduce troops?" No. So he's got to address Afghanistan.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you know so much about this --

MS. CROWLEY: That is his back-door way -- excuse me -- that is his back-door way of trying to cover up the fact that he has been wrong on Iraq.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you're so knowledgeable about this, do you know what Zbig Brzezinski said about putting troops into Afghanistan?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. He said -- DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know what he said? He said, "Don't put troops into Afghanistan or we will end up the way the Russians did when they were in there for 10 years, and they had to withdraw."

MS. CROWLEY: We have a standing force in Afghanistan. The problem is that the al Qaeda and Taliban threat is not in Afghanistan. It's in Pakistan. And until we're able to address that problem --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, I want to get out on this.

MS. CLIFT: I want to say one thing.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, just a moment.

MS. CLIFT: I want to say one thing.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, quickly.

MS. CLIFT: The voters have a choice between two candidates. One candidate wants to end the war in Iraq. The other candidate wants to win the war in Iraq, which is an undefinable objective.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. McCain on Barack.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ, presumptive Republican presidential nominee): (From videotape.) Senator Obama said that the strategy of the surge would not succeed. He said it was doomed to failure. He said that there would be an increase in sectarian violence. He still to this day has said that the surge has not succeeded.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: McCain met with the dalai lama in Aspen on Friday. How is that for counter programming? I ask you, Mort. (Laughter.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I suppose if you want to go from -- both of them are dealing in counter programming. I think McCain is trying to show he's not totally closed to a man of total peace. So it's all to the good.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this is -- almost McCain is not running in the sense that this election is a total referendum on Barack Obama? If it's a referendum of Barack Obama, McCain has a chance, correct?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If it's a focus on McCain against Obama, Obama will not lose the election.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't think it's going to be on either issue. I think the election is going to be on the economy. I've said that before. That's going to be -- it is the dominant issue in the polls, and it's going to continue to be -- DR. MCLAUGHLIN: So that's going to help McCain.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, it'll help McCain.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The polls already show that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. Well, actually, it shows --

(Cross-talk.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The economy helps McCain.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, no. Right now Obama is 19 points ahead of McCain in terms of how he will address the issues of the economy. The Republicans are going to be blamed for the economy. They're the party in power. And frankly, they deserve a good deal of the blame for the economy. And therefore, McCain is not going to be helped by the economy --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: It turns on the subject of risk.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- unless he finds somebody who is credible on that issue as his vice president.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the poll focuses on the element of risk and one's attitude towards the two candidates, the less risky candidate by far is McCain.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's correct.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: And on the basis of that, the economy flows in and the economy, therefore, helps McCain, because --

MS. BERNARD: But the polls aren't showing that right now.

MS. CLIFT: Barack Obama actually said that in his interview with Brian Williams. He understood that he is the riskier candidate, and it's really a case, as he put it, between the devil you know --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because he's unknown relative to McCain.

MS. CLIFT: -- and the devil you don't. But the driving force for change in the country -- and people do want to take a risk. They don't want sort of a pale imitation of what we've been through. DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Give me a quick one-word answer.

MS. CLIFT: And the images of Barack Obama on this trip and John McCain in a golf cart with the former President Bush and strolling the cheese aisle in a local supermarket --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we don't need -- you don't need a burlesk of John McCain. I mean, it's all there for you anyway.

A quick one-word answer -- only one word. This was a tightrope walk for Obama, a real tightrope. He could have crashed and burned. Did he survive the tightrope, which means, in effect, was he flawless? You can't make mistakes on a tightrope.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It was a great success for him. He was flawless.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Flawless?

MS. CLIFT: Flawless.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Flawless?

MS. CROWLEY: It was a success, yes.

MS. BERNARD: Flawless.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is flawless.

We'll be right back.

(Announcements.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two -- Veep du Jour.

SEN. MCCAIN: (From videotape.) All I can do is make the blanket assurance that the person I choose will share my values, my principles and my goals and my ideals.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: The media spotlight now shines on Barack, but many believe the afterglow of his trip is the perfect time for John McCain to shift the focus to his own candidacy by announcing his choice for vice presidential running mate.

In the running -- Charlie Crist, governor of Florida; Rob Portman, former head of the powerful OMB, Office of Management & Budget, for the Bush administration; Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, 2008 presidential candidate; Mike Bloomberg, current mayor of New York City, Democrat turned Republican; Colin Powell, former secretary of State, Bush administration; Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota and co-chair of McCain for President; Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, former presidential candidate. Question -- The pundits are chanting the mantra that McCain needs a vice presidential running mate with credibility on the economy. If that is the criterion, who gains favor? Michelle.

MS. BERNARD: He needs somebody with more than credibility on the economy. I have said it before; I'll say it again. He needs somebody with real "wow" factor. You know, it's almost as if the energy is being sucked out of his campaign, and the American public is bored to death. If you're going to go for "wow" factor, go for Colin Powell. Go for Tom Ridge. That's "wow" factor, somebody strong on the economy.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Romney is "wow," Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Romney is like "The Sound of Music." You get the whole Romney family coming over the mountain singing. (Laughter.) It's a beautiful family. And he does probably bring Michigan. So those are two positives. And I think he was very graceful about -- the money that he gave himself to run, $4.5 million, he's not asking anybody to raise it for him. He's just eating that money. And I think that speaks well of him. So he's a commendable choice.

MS. CROWLEY: I do agree --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he's got about $250 million, doesn't he?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I guess --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that about right, Mort?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He ran, in my judgment, a terrible campaign.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who, Romney?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Romney, when he ran for the presidency. He had no integrity whatever. He changed his views depending on which group he was talking to. And McCain hated him. So I don't know if he's going to be able to be the selection. But I do believe that he needs somebody who would be "wow" factor on the economy, and there's one person to do that, and that is Bloomberg.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or Romney.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, but Romney, as I say --

MS. CLIFT: I think Bloomberg would do it, but it seems a rather -- a bridge too far for the Republican Party. MS. BERNARD: It would be an odd marriage, yeah.

MS. CLIFT: But I agree with you --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is it odd?

MS. CROWLEY: To take a pro-choice candidate.

MS. CLIFT: Whoever wins the White House will have Michael Bloomberg running the country. (Laughs.)

MS. CROWLEY: I do --

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pawlenty is supposed to be a person that McCain likes.

MS. CROWLEY: Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, which is somebody that Eleanor predicted that he might look at.

Look, I agree with Michelle. John McCain is vanilla ice cream. He needs a scoop of rocky road to run with, okay? Barack Obama is the exact opposite. Obama's rocky road. He needs more vanilla ice cream. And I think the economic issues are the prevailing force on McCain as he looks at a VP. That makes Romney and, I think, Michael Bloomberg, who on Friday of this week said that he is going to start touting John McCain, not formally endorsing him but touting him. And it may be that they are trying to sort of triangulate this, because Bloomberg is very liberal on the social issues and it may cause some difficulties with the conservatives.

MS. CLIFT: And Bloomberg is just launching a quit-smoking effort around the world, which I'm sure the Republican Party would love to take on. (Laughs.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Take your pick. We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ehud Olmert, prime minister of Israel, will resign before October 1. Yes or no? Mort. MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think he will.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Only if he's indicted.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica.

MS. CROWLEY: Yes, he's toast.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michelle.

MS. BERNARD: Sayonara.

DR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ehud is gone.

Bye-bye.

END.