The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: Patrick Buchanan, MSNBC; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Rich Lowry, National Review; Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report Taped: Friday, October 14, 2011 Broadcast: Weekend of October 15-16, 2011

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Iran Beware.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From video.) We don't take any options off the table in terms of how we operate with Iran. The United States will join with its partners and allies in making sure that they pay a price.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama announced this week that an elite military unit of Iran's armed forces was plotting to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, where he lives. The U.S. Department of Justice says flat out that Iran's military unit, known as the Quds Force, planned to hire a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a D.C. restaurant. But federal authorities foiled the plan, because one of the two plotters, Mansour Ababsiar, worked with an informant of the U.S. government. Ababsiar, who has dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship, is now under arrest at a federal prison in New York. The Justice Department says that Ababsiar had no concerns about how many U.S. lives would be lost if this plot were to be carried out.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: (From video.) When the confidential source noted that there could be 100 or 150 people in a fictional restaurant, where the requested bombing would take place, including possibly members of the United States Congress, the lead defendant said no problem.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The other alleged plotter is Gholam Shakouri, a member of the Iranian Quds Force. Shakouri is believed to be in Iran. U.S. Attorney General Holder was asked on Tuesday whether the plot was sanctioned by any high-level member of the Iranian government, whether a mullah or Iranian President himself Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

ATTY GEN. HOLDER: (From video.) We are not making that charge at this point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, believes that the highest levels of Iran's power structure were involved.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS (R-MI): (From video.) I have a high degree of confidence that there were the highest echelons of the Iranian government involved in this particular act.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: If this plot had succeeded, bombing and assassination in a D.C. restaurant, would it be an act of war? Pat Buchanan.

PATRICK BUCHANAN: Well, it certainly would. It would be another Lockerbie right in Washington, D.C., John. But this whole thing has an aroma of fish about it. This fellow Mansour is not -- he wasn't interested in politics or religion, according to his buddies. He drank and smoked and chased gals. He's a used-car salesman and he's an obnoxious character to all his friends, et cetera. The guy he contacted in the Zetas turned out -- just happened to turn out to be a DEA deep-penetration agent.

So I think there's something fishy about this. I do not for a second believe that the ayatollah or the Quds Force or anyone at a high level would authorize this insanity, because the next day there would be 20 B-2 bombers over Tehran and Natanz. So I think, you know, basically, John, you know, the neocons are gassing up the Enola Gay, but I don't think this thing justifies, as of now, any military action.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that would be quite a condemnation of the attorney general, who went on television. MR. BUCHANAN: Well, John, there's too many holes in this. Someone says this looks like a bad plot from a novel.


ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, the principal guy, who you described in very unflattering terms, he was kind of a ne'er-do-well. And he couldn't seem to carry out his life right; wouldn't be the kind of person that this elite force in Iran would normally pick. Plus he was dealing with non-Muslims, which is not their MO. And Iran's been very good at carrying out targeted assassinations around the world, so they know how to do this.

So I think it's appropriate to have skepticism, but the administration has a $100,000 wire transfer from the Quds Force in Iran to this fellow. And they feel comfortable enough that they have evidence tying this back to Iran. Now, whether it goes to Ahmadinejad or the mullah or whether it reflects some sort of disintegration of the Iranian regime and some sort of conflict between them, I don't think we know. But we shouldn't allow it to be a green light for the Israelis or for the U.S. -- the administration doesn't want to do it -- is to somehow wage war suddenly on Iran.


RICH LOWRY: John, the smoking gun is that money transfer that Eleanor mentioned, which apparently came from an account that was associated with Quds Force and that had been monitored before and that had transferred money for overseas operations before. So that apparently is why everyone believes this is the real deal. And it's not just Eric Holder. It's the FBI director. It's the southern district of New York. It's the guys on the Hill, as we saw from Mike Rogers.

So every intelligence service occasionally has sloppy operations. This would be a very sloppy operation. You wonder why they wouldn't have just plugged into their Hezbollah network here. But it seems to be real. And they may have just been responding to the fact that they assume that we or our allies have been killing their scientists on their own soil, and they just may not fear us very much anymore.


MORT ZUCKERMAN: See, I think they have a different interest and motivation, which is that they want to destroy or at least diminish the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, which is already very fragile. And were this to happen on American soil, it would certainly have a major effect on that relationship. And Saudi Arabia is Iran's principal sort of opponent within the Arab world. So in a sense, there's a motive there.

I agree. It's also crazy when you see how -- MR. BUCHANAN: But Mort, it doesn't make sense in this sense. If they -- let's say they blew up the restaurant and they killed this ambassador.

That would bring the Saudis and the United States together, because all of us would then say, look, they did this, and we ought to just hammer them. Let's go for Natanz and these other places that we want to target. And Saudi Arabia would love that.

MR. LOWRY: There would also be a lot of people saying, oh, the Iranians would never do this, and look, it was a crazy used salesman and the Mexican drug cartel. So the other argument for going this route is that it would give you plausible deniability, and all the same voices that are doubting this was real would say --

MR. BUCHANAN: We wouldn't catch --

MR. LOWRY: -- the evidence is not firm enough --

MR. BUCHANAN: We wouldn't catch the --

MR. LOWRY: -- to attack the poor Iranians.

MR. BUCHANAN: We wouldn't catch the cartel blowing up a restaurant in Washington, D.C.?

MR. LOWRY: No, but you would say the same things you're saying now.

MS. CLIFT: The Saudis might blame America for not being able to protect their person. I guess that's the thinking there. But I think the Iranians now have to worry about retaliation from the Saudis. And I'm not talking about military retaliation. It's the oil wars over there. And the Saudis just have to ratchet up their oil production a little bit, and that will bleed Iran's economy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we concluding that it's far-fetched?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I mean, it is -- there are several parts of it that are totally implausible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK. Now, is there any other reason --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But there are parts of it -- the part that is for real is the transfer of $100,000. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why did the attorney general make a big deal out of it?

MR. LOWRY: Because it's a huge deal.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, why? Because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He goes on television --

MR. LOWRY: It's an act of war.

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, if they were going to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He tells the American people -- why doesn't he leave that up to Obama?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, no, look, if they were going to do it, John, you're right. I mean, that would be an act of war right in downtown D.C. I just somehow -- you know, this says -- this looks like a false-flag operation to me.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the administration --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why would he do it?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any other reason why the attorney general would do it?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did anything else happen to him?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, let me tell you something. Let me tell you something. If --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There was another story.

MR. LOWRY: You're going to get into the Fast and Furious thing, aren't you?

MR. BUCHANAN: If the United States attacked Iran --


MR. LOWRY: Yeah.

MR. BUCHANAN: If Obama attacked Iran, I'll tell you, and it was close to the election, Obama would win the election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was there an embarrassing story, quasi embarrassing story, with regard to Fast and Furious? MR. BUCHANAN: It might be Fast and Furious.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Could you speak to that?

MR. LOWRY: It was very embarrassing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very embarrassing.

MR. LOWRY: He was caught on Capitol Hill giving a false answer. Whether he deliberately lied or not, it was a wrong answer about when he knew the program. But John, the idea that he would cook up this massive conspiracy to try to cover that up -- (laughs) -- Darrell Issa is not going to drop --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's not the point. That's not the point.

MR. LOWRY: -- Fast and Furious no matter what.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's assume everything he said was true as far as the factual details were concerned. Why did he go on television and tell that to the American people?

MR. LOWRY: Because, on the merits, it's a huge deal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was he unrolling another carpet?

MS. CLIFT: Because it's a successful --

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

MS. CLIFT: -- American national security mission --

MR. BUCHANAN: And it also --

MS. CLIFT: -- carried out, and they want to take credit for it.

MR. BUCHANAN: And it distracts attention from Fast and Furious.

MS. CLIFT: And they should take credit for it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, is that the reason?

MR. BUCHANAN: We get off of Fast and Furious and we get on Iran.

MR. LOWRY: Oh, please.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fast and Furious -- what's Fast and Furious? Translate that again, Fast and Furious.

MR. BUCHANAN: Fast and Furious is an insane program whereby our friends in the ATF, I guess it is, or the -- they gave -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Alcohol, tobacco and drug administration.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- firearms, 2,000 weapons, shipped into Mexico.

We got all the serial numbers so we could then trace them when the cartels used them --


MR. BUCHANAN: -- and get them for gun control.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How many guns --

MR. BUCHANAN: They're killing guys left and right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How many guns are now loose in Mexico that are --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they've got a Border Patrol -- an American Border Patrol guy was killed.


MS. CLIFT: This mission went awry. The guns ended up in the wrong hands. But this -- (laughter) --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That was the whole point. That was the point.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. This kind of mission began under the Bush administration. This went awry. But the fact that the National Rifle Association is using it to go after the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms, because they want the free flow of weapons across --

MR. BUCHANAN: No, they don't.

MS. CLIFT: -- into Mexico --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: Of course they do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's get out.

MS. CLIFT: And they're afraid this will be used to shut down assault weapons transfers. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This will be -- doubtless this is going to be around for a while.

Exit question: Should the United States, with its allies, pre- emptively strike Iran's nuclear facility? Yes or no? That doesn't mean a nuclear strike; just a total disablement of their nuclear capability.

MR. BUCHANAN: It would an act of insanity to start another war in the Middle East against Iran over this thing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Insanity, Eleanor. What do you say?

MS. CLIFT: I agree. I'm with Pat on that.


MR. LOWRY: Not in response to this, but eventually I believe we will have to do something like that to stop this criminal --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Currently insane?

MR. LOWRY: -- bizarre --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Currently insane?

MS. CLIFT: But not --

MR. LOWRY: You wouldn't do it in response to this plot. But if you want to stop them from getting nuclear weapons -- and I think we should redouble our seriousness in light of this kind of plot -- eventually you're probably going to have to take military action.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think they're redeemable?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Beyond redemption.

MR. LOWRY: Totally beyond redemption.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree. They're beyond redemption. And I also agree this is not the occasion on which we should go into Iran. We've got enough on our plate at this stage of the game, with several other wars.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There is nothing in the international community or the domestic community that prevents a nation from developing civilian usage for nuclear energy, and you know that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have loads of nuclear plants.


MR. BUCHANAN: They signed the --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But that's not the issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then why should they be deprived of it?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because they're not developing it for nuclear --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do you know that? How do you know that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, I don't think there's any question about that.

MR. BUCHANAN: They've got a nuclear --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They deny that.

MR. BUCHANAN: Mort, they've got a nuclear reactor at Bushehr operating right now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They what?

MR. BUCHANAN: They've got a nuclear reactor operating at Bushehr, with Russian help, and the Russians take --


MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're making civilian electricity.

MR. BUCHANAN: They signed the NPT.

MR. LOWRY: This is an energy-starved country that needs civilian nuclear power.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What would the interest of Russia be in supplying them with a nuclear bomb? Why would Russia want to do that?

MR. BUCHANAN: Russia wouldn't do it. They're going to take the stuff when it's processed and take it out themselves.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's it called?

MR. BUCHANAN: Plutonium.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But that doesn't mean they're going to do it. Do we have any evidence of that?

MR. BUCHANAN: The Russians are going to take it --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is the evidence of their doing that?

MR. BUCHANAN: There is no hard evidence right now that our intelligence agencies have that they're going all out for nuclear weapons.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm not getting that. Why do we condemn Iran --

MS. CLIFT: It would be --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- for developing nuclear power when it's all over every place, practically, that wants --

MS. CLIFT: Because --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We have real concerns over what they're going to do with their power. And there's a very legitimate reason --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you lost sight of --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- to be concerned.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you lost sight of global warming? That used to be your theme song.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What produces global warming?

MR. LOWRY: You're so concerned about global warming --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I welcome global warming. That's why I moved south from Canada.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Burning all these -- oil and all these smokestacks. Nuclear is clean. MR. ZUCKERMAN: I know nuclear is clean, but not when it's used for military purposes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who says that Iran is definitely on that track?

MR. LOWRY: John, windmills are clean. Windmills are clean.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you listening to Netanyahu?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: What does that have to do with it?

(Cross talk.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You go through the entire American intelligence community; they're going to give you the answer to that question. The answer is yes, they're developing it for nuclear weapons.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do we have that proves it?

MR. BUCHANAN: Then why don't they go public with it, Mort?

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. Can I get in here? I would just point out that if Iran launched a nuclear weapon, they would be obliterated by Israel, if not us.

MR. BUCHANAN: Both Israel and the United States -- we have thousands of nuclear weapons.

MS. CLIFT: And I don't know that they're totally -- I don't know that they're totally --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is as discussed.

Pat, congratulations on the book, "Suicide of a Superpower."

MR. BUCHANAN: Thank you very much, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How is it selling?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, it's selling pretty well on, but it's not out yet, John, so it's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Four hundred and twenty-eight pages before you get to the great set of quotes you have.

MR. BUCHANAN: Thirty-five pages of footnotes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, it's encyclopedic. It's more than your opinion. You've got positive and negative views of various -- it's the issue of liberal and conservative. And it all comes together. The footnoting is terrific. It's really an encyclopedic book. I want to read one paragraph. America is entering a time of troubles. The clashes of culture and creed are intensifying. And both parties are perceived to have failed the nation. Republicans were repudiated in 2006 and 2008, Democrats in 2010. And the crises that afflict us" -- here you list them -- "culture wars, race division, record deficits, unpayable debt, waves of immigration, legal and illegal, of peoples never before assimilated, gridlock in the capital, and possible defeat in war, may prove too much for our democracy to cope with. They surely will if we do not act now.

I've got a question for you. What's the war we could possibly lose -- possible defeat?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think when we come out of Afghanistan, it's probably -- and my guess is we'll turn it back over to the Taliban. And I think Iraq, where we're leaving, is moving toward Iran. I don't think either war was worth it, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm assigning this right now to the other members of this group to read and to be able to report on.

MS. CLIFT: I feel confident it represents the maturing of Pat's views but not the mellowing. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: I detect a certain recalcitrance about reading it.

MS. CLIFT: That's right. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We are all anti-mellowing on this group.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We need Pat.

Issue Two: Cain Is Able.

HERMAN CAIN (R), (Candidate for President): (From video.) My top priority is 9-9-9.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's working. Herman Cain is now the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination to become U.S. president next year. Polls show that Cain leads Mitt Romney by four points and Rick Perry by 11 points. Cain's ascension is attributed to his 9-9-9 plan. He wants to replace the current tax code, with all of its provisions and loopholes, with a triple flat tax -- 9 percent flat tax on corporations, a 9 percent flat tax on individuals, and a 9 percent flat sales tax on bought goods.

Does this plan sound better than it is? Some reputable independent economists seem to think so. Roberton Williams, a senior fellow of the Tax Policy Center, linked to the prestigious Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, says this. ROBERTON WILLIAMS (Senior Fellow, Tax Policy Center): (From video.

) It will raise taxes on the poor. It will cut taxes on the rich.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So this will directly affect the two groups: One, low-income earners. Under the 9-9-9 plan, 30 million low-income households would be forced to pay a 9 percent federal income tax when they currently do not pay any income tax. On top of this new income tax, low-income households would also have to pay the flat 9 percent sales tax on all bought goods.

Two, high-income earners. Nine percent income tax is much lower than what richer households currently pay; 9-9-9 would dramatically cut taxes for the rich and heavily reduce income tax's role as a major revenue source for the federal government.

So is the 9-9-9 Cain formula a net plus? Cain says, in effect, that his critics overlook that 9-9-9 cancels out all these taxes.

MR. CAIN: (From video.) The 9-9-9 plan replaces payroll tax, capital gains tax, corporate income tax, personal income tax and the death tax.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By the way, Herman Cain, when he speaks about the death tax, he means of course the estate tax. Is the popularity of Cain's flat tax proposal a counterreaction to Obama's soak-the-rich tax proposals? I don't mean to, you know, postulate anything negative about the president --

MR. LOWRY: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but that's the way it's characterized.

MR. LOWRY: Well, people like it because it's bold and it's simple. And there's this hugely entertaining and appealing politician out there in the person of Herman Cain talking about it all the time. I'm not sure people have focused on the details. And you really have to add up the 9s. When it gets down to it, it's basically a 27 percent tax on wages.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, let me just say something. The tax code is an abomination, and everybody knows it. It is replete with special benefits, special privilege, earmarks, what have you. We should widen the tax base and simplify the tax code.

The Bowles-Simpson commission suggested it. The Rivlin-Domenici commission said it is the one thing we can do now that would be revenue-neutral and would stimulate the economy. He talks -- he attaches to that and he provokes that concern in the country. This program of his, frankly, doesn't work, but the simplification of the tax code and the broadening of the tax base really does.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got time just to hold on for a minute. Why doesn't it work?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Why doesn't it work? For some of the reasons that are mentioned. The fact is it is a huge increase on the poor and a huge deduction for the rich. That doesn't make any sense in this country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He postulates and he says you're failing to take into consideration the taxes that are eliminated, which directly affect the poor. They benefit by those eliminations.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm not -- I've looked through this. Without going into all the details, I don't share his views.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's an oversimplification of what's happening.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any way --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It will absolutely increase taxes on the poor --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any way --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- and decrease them for the rich.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any way of retaining the 9-9-9 and -- you know, the country takes care of the poor.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's no question about that.

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's get that straight. The truly poor --

MR. BUCHANAN: Sure. They get enormous --

MS. CLIFT: No, no, no, no --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm not fooling around with terms. We take care of the poor. MS. CLIFT: No.

MR. BUCHANAN: Free education, free food, free medical care and all these other things. Look, another thing, John, it would do -- it would almost eliminate the IRS. It would eliminate accountants; the billions of hours everybody spends doing their taxes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Eight billion hours -- 8 billion hours we spend on tax returns.

MR. BUCHANAN: If you eliminate it, it goes out the window.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you eliminate it and somehow you transfer some of that to assist those who are marginally poor -- we've got a poverty rate of 15 percent in the country.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right. Forty-six million people live below the poverty line in America.


MS. CLIFT: This is not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How does that make you feel?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It makes me feel terrible, OK? It would not eliminate the poor.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Below the poverty line doesn't necessarily mean poor, does it?

MS. CLIFT: This would be --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Do you know what the poverty line is for a family of four?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is it?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's $21,000 a year. That's poor under -- by any --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For a family of four.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is poor.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: By any definition.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is poor in today's society. MS. CLIFT: This would be --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what -- you know, this sounds like an abomination to exist today.

MS. CLIFT: It is an abomination.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe it's saying we should be thankful for him for bringing about a possible reform of the total tax code.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I hope it gets Republican support and Democratic support for this kind of simplification --


MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- of the tax code.

MS. CLIFT: His plan is simplification, but it would be a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. It would layer a 9 percent national sales tax --


MS. CLIFT: -- on top of the sales tax --


MS. CLIFT: -- that people are already paying. It would eliminate the funding for Social Security and for Medicare.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, wait a minute. I think it eliminates the existing --

MS. CLIFT: And I'm with Michele Bachmann --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You saw the category of taxes that are eliminated. He characterized those at the end to save his plan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Payroll tax.

MS. CLIFT: That's not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not to save -- you know, he cited those; in other words, give the plan some kind of a look again. Oh, Gad.

EMAD GAD (Deputy Director, Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies): (Through interpreter, from video.) I have never seen in my life armored vehicles speeding to run over protesters as if they were competing for a prize.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Emad Gad is talking about a disturbing wave of violence in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. Egypt was the cradle of the Arab spring, the wave of democracy in the Middle East. Today it is torn by violence between members of its 90 percent Egyptian Muslim population and members of its 9 percent Egyptian Christian population; 70 million Muslims, 7 million Christians.

Those Christians are called Copts, C-O-P-T-S, or Coptic Christians. Radical Muslims have recently been attacking the Coptic Christians because the Copts do not practice the Muslim faith. Coptic Christians last weekend took their frustration to the streets as they protested the attacks by Muslims and the lack of protection by the Egyptian military, who now run the country since former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

But the Coptic protests turned violent, and the Egyptian military drove through the crowd with armored vehicles, firing live rounds directly at protesters. The military claimed they were attacked by the protesters. The protesters claim that they were protesting peacefully and that the military started the violence. But 30 protesters were killed over two days. Almost all were Coptic Christians.

But despite this, President Obama backed the Egyptian military government.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: (From video.) I have -- really do have full confidence in the process that the Egyptian military is overseeing. I think they're making good progress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Secretary Panetta visited Cairo last week.

What do you think of that, Pat, what he had to say?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's -- this is horrible, John. The Christians in that whole part of the world, all the way from Egypt over to Pakistan, are being purged and persecuted and driven out. In Iraq, half the Christians were driven out in exile. They're killing them in their churches.

And this is -- one thing about this spring, Egyptian spring -- when you throw out the old tyranny, that unleashes a lot of forces, and not all those forces are benign. And anti-Christian attitudes are pervasive along the Muslim fundamentalist -- all through that region. And the Christians there, who have been there since the time of Christ, are paying the price. MS. CLIFT: Well, the Coptic Christians have had difficulties within Egypt for a long time. This is not new. And they were having a peaceful protest to -- because there had been arson in one of their churches. And what made the Arab spring different in Egypt was that the military did not fire on their own people. This was largely a peaceful protest, and the military decided to take matters into their own hands.

And I think that's a disturbing turn of events there, and I would blame the military for taking too much power than I would the clashes between the people. And they've done other things too. They want military tribunals for the citizens. And they are kind of reluctant now to begin to turn over their power. And I think there's nervousness that we may be going in Egypt from the Mubarak regime, a repressive regime, to another kind of repressive regime by the military.

MR. LOWRY: Unfortunately --

MS. CLIFT: They don't quite trust --


MS. CLIFT: -- the democratic, small "d," elements --


MS. CLIFT: -- that have arisen.

MR. LOWRY: Unfortunately, what you're probably going to see is what happened in Iraq, which wasn't a government actively hostile or itself repressing Christians, but just let it happen naturally. And Pat's right. When you have the regime, the lid kind of comes off of all these hatreds. And I fear you're going to see the Christian community in Egypt, which is a huge part of Egypt, 8 million people, suffer the fate of Christians in Iraq.

MS. CLIFT: Muslims actually came to their aid in this clash, so --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I thought the military were running the situation.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They are running the situation at this point. And our problem --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She seems to be distinguishing between the military and the military.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Our problem, frankly, from the American point of view, and our national interest is to make sure that something like the military remain in power rather than what the alternative is, which is the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, which would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States. So it's not a comfortable alliance that we will have with them, but it is the best of a lot of lousy alternatives.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you approve of what the secretary of defense says about the way the Egyptians are handling this?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I do approve of the fact that we have to establish a bond with the military there as the best alternative in terms of our own interests, in terms of what I just said.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that what Obama's thinking is on this: Maintain at least some level of government, even though it is unpalatable? So the secretary of state goes over and he -- not secretary of -- the secretary of defense --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- goes over, Mr. Panetta --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and he spends a day there; he comes back and says we are in agreement with what they're doing.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think, frankly, that makes sense from the United States national interest point of view.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He says --

MR. BUCHANAN: They've got an election coming. They've got an election coming. And the strongest force in that country, I believe, besides the military, is clearly the Muslim Brotherhood.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Brotherhood.

MR. BUCHANAN: They don't want -- some of them don't want to move to power right now. But ultimately that's the direction --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that what the Obama policy is, keep these elections on track no matter what you have to say? MR. BUCHANAN: I think they've got to do that, because everybody in Egypt wants the elections except for maybe the military.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, the military has been resisting. And I think the Obama administration wants them to go ahead. Also, I think Panetta probably made that statement before you had that clash with the Coptic Christians.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will Mormonism be a major issue in the fall? Yes or no.

MR. BUCHANAN: If Romney wins the nomination, the Democrats will promote it.

MS. CLIFT: An issue; not major.

MR. LOWRY: The left will smear Mormonism if Romney's the nominee.

MS. CLIFT: No way.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, I agree with Eleanor. It'll be an issue, but not a major issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It will not be a major issue, whether he runs or does not run.