Share

The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Panel:
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report;
Eleanor Clift, Newsweek;
Tim Carney, Washington Examiner;
Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly

Taped: Friday, March 15, 2013
Broadcast: Weekend of March 16-17, 2013

Copyright © 2013 by Federal News Service, LLC, 1120 G Street NW, Suite 990, Washington, DC 20005-3801 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, LLC. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Transcripts Database or any other FNS product, please email info@fednews.com or call 1-202-347-1400.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Shalom Obama.

Barack Obama is making his first trip as president to Israel. Air Force One lands next week, March 20th, at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. The Israel visit is one leg of a Mideast tour that will take the president to Ramallah in the West Bank, with its Palestinian municipal government officials.

His schedule includes meetings in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres. He'll also meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and with King Abdullah of Jordan.

The critical issues: One, diplomacy -- yes; new peace initiative -- no. President Obama told Arab- and Jewish-American leaders this week he will not be delivering a grand peace plan to Israelis and Palestinians. Peace negotiations have been stalled for more than two years, since 2010. Instead, the trip will provide the president with an opportunity to hear both sides out and make a push for a future resolution.

Two, mending fences, notably with Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu, who barely hid the fact he backed Mitt Romney, a personal friend, five months ago to win the U.S. presidential election.

Question: Do you think that when President Obama sets foot in Jerusalem next week, he will know that Israelis view him as the least friendly, encumbered president of the United States in living memory? Mort.

MORT ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think he knows it before going there. They know it before he comes there. And the whole hope is that they can, shall we say, get together a little bit in a bit of a friendly atmosphere.

Obama never visited Israel during his first term, even though he spent a lot of time in the Arab world. That was one of the points of dismay and contention that followed Obama's presidency. So I think this is an attempt to reestablish a better relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, but particularly between Obama and the Israeli people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

ELEANOR CLIFT: The speech is really a bookend to the speech he delivered in Cairo the first year of his first term. Now we're in the first months of his second term and he wants to speak, I think, to the broader public in Israel specifically.

And the speech that he's going to give is not going to be in the Knesset, which is where President Clinton and President Bush spoke, but it will be in the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, which holds a lot of people. And, you know, they've got a contest on social media over there to get tickets. They're bringing in college students from all over.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)

MS. CLIFT: I think he particularly wants to speak to the young people. He's aware of the fact that his approval ratings in Israel are lower than they are in other parts of that region, and he wants to rectify that. And I think he -- you know, security is the core issue in Israel, and I think he wants to reassure the leadership and the public that, as he puts it, you know, the U.S. has their back. And he's going to do that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he is also aware that that speech he gave in Cairo about halfway through his first year -- this is President Obama -- incited the Arab spring, which is now seen to be kind of a semi-failure?

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, if he had that power in a single speech, that would be pretty amazing. I think the discontent was building in that part of the world for a long time of young people, many of them without jobs, chafing under these dictatorships. You can't smother small "d" democracy.

And I think the reason why he's placing so much emphasis on public opinion in Israel is because it's public opinion that's going to be shaping the future of that region. It's no longer dictators from the top down.

TIM CARNEY: But it really -- your mentioning the Arab spring highlights that there is a tension between sort of this broader idea that President Bush and President Obama will talk about -- we want democracy; we want more reform around the world. But in Egypt, you had one of the most Israel-friendly regimes you're ever going to have, and it was not democratic, Mubarak, and he got driven out.
The Arab spring really could look like a bad thing for Israel, but it's the exact sort of thing that Americans and people like President Obama were talking about. So he's got lots of issues --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it was too much, too soon.

MR. CARNEY: I don't -- I do not think I can tell people in the Arab world how to live their lives. And I hope that President Obama --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, please.

MR. CARNEY: -- understands that too.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Please. We tell everybody how to live their lives.

Paul.

PAUL GLASTRIS: I think that what you have in Israel right now is an interesting situation where the broad public is more open to concessions and a deal for a two-state solution than they were in the past, much more in many ways.

But the Israeli political system is more frozen and unable to even consider such a thing, especially with the new coalition that Netanyahu is putting together, that is focused mostly on domestic affairs. And any move toward opening a peace negotiation is going to break that coalition. So I think he is going to speak to people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the level of motivation of President Obama is fortified by the prospect of his living on in history if, during this term in office, he can gain a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

MR. GLASTRIS: There's no president in my lifetime who hasn't thought that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They all tried.

MR. GLASTRIS: This is the golden prize.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Obama's kind of a different species. He's very good at what he does. He can be very persuasive. He's very learned. He's very cagey. He's sure-footed too -- a lot.

MR. GLASTRIS: No question.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No question. And he knows if he can gain the confidence of the two parties over there --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- he might be one of America's, at least in the second tier, if not the first tier of presidents we've ever had.

MR. GLASTRIS: This has to be playing on him. But as Mort was saying earlier before the show, he has John Kerry, right?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kerry's another plus in this regard.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John Kerry is a plus. Obama does not yet have the trust of both sides in this issue. I think he's going to try and do that. But another thing is that they have been trying to meet. The Israelis have been trying to meet with the Palestinians extensively over the last 18 months. And I can say this with direct personal knowledge. And the Palestinians have not been willing to meet with the Israelis. So he's got a real job, because if you follow what Mahmoud Abbas said, particularly the speech he made at the U.N. --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- I mean, it was the hardest-line, most regressive kind of speech that he's made. And he has shifted from the kind of -- he was always the most flexible Palestinian leader --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's wrong with Amr Moussa?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't know what's wrong with Amr Moussa. But the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's nothing wrong with Amr Moussa, and he's surrounded by some top Palestinian minds, young guys.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, but he doesn't have the power, OK? The power really is held by Abu Mazen and several of his closest aides. And that's where the power in the Palestinian -- he's the president of the Palestinians, basically, OK?

MS. CLIFT: Well, they --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So the question is, will he be willing to do it? He was at the beginning.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think that's a weak excuse --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He's not willing now.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- on the part of the Israelis for not having a meeting to resolve these problems.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's not a question --

MS. CLIFT: Well, the --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: These are all private meetings. Nobody's looking to have public meetings.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I understand that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Even private meetings they --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I understand that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- (inaudible). So they have no one to talk to.

MS. CLIFT: Well, as long as the settlements keep getting built, the Palestinians have a problem with getting talks started. But I want to point out that John Kerry is going to be with the president every step of this trip, and he does have the trust and confidence --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, he does.

MS. CLIFT: -- of people over there. So --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MR. CARNEY: (Inaudible) --

MS. CLIFT: They're laying the groundwork.

MR. CARNEY: -- over the next four years, yes.

MS. CLIFT: The president's got almost four years left. So there's time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, also there's the problem that the Palestinians don't even recognize still the existence of Israel. True or false?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: True. And they want to have all of what they call Palestinian refugees --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- move back into Israel proper, which is a nonstarter.

MR. CARNEY: (Inaudible) -- said in a speech recently, indicating that he's giving up the right of return.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He has not given -- the speech at the U.N. is totally in the other direction, believe me.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's something everybody follows very carefully.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is President Obama's Mideast trip all about optics, or is the substance of the trip serious? Mort Zuckerman.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, no, I think it's serious, without question. As you say, A, it's an historic opportunity for him in his presidency. B, it's his last presidency. And C, there may be a chance to make a deal. There is always the thought that, somehow or other, every new president comes in thinking they may be -- look, Bill Clinton was able to accomplish a great deal. Whether this will work now, I don't know. But it's worth a try. And he's absolutely right to try it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think there's a trace of optimism in what you just said.

MR. CARNEY: (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, there is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Perception is reality. And if he can change the perception, that's all to the good.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tim.

MR. CARNEY: Yeah. In this rare case, I give President Obama the benefit of the doubt. I think he thinks he can accomplish something over four years, and this is laying the groundwork.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Paul.

MR. GLASTRIS: I hope Mort's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Carney's right.

Issue Two: Habemus Papa.

POPE FRANCIS: (From videotape; translation provided by Mr. McLaughlin.) Before I give you a blessing, I ask you for a favor. I want you to bless me. I want the people to bless the bishop of Rome.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: White smoke and the first pope named Francis -- Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Pope Francis is the first pope from this hemisphere, and he's the first pope from Latin America. Also, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to become pope.

The former cardinal of Buenos Aires, he was born to Italian parents and reared in Argentina. For the first time in over a millennium, the pope is not a European. Ideologically, Pope Francis is known as a conservative and an intellectual.

The 266th pontiff was elected by a two-thirds majority on the fifth ballot after the 115 cardinals convened. Pope Francis is known for his compassion and his practicality. He sits on the back row at church events. He travels by bus. He visits slums and he fights for the poor. And the 76-year-old is in good health, despite having one half of one lung removed when he was a young man.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: This is the first time that a pope has chosen the name Francis as his official papal name. What's in a name, Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: Well, he has said that he chose the name after the saint, Francis of Assisi. And that is a saint who was associated with the poor. And so I think he wants to telegraph his concern for the poor, and I think that's quite wonderful.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he himself say that he chose the name because of Francis of Assisi?

MR. CARNEY: That came out of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because there are two Jesuits who are prominent whose name is also Francis.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's Francis Xavier --

MS. CLIFT: I know.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- close friend of St. Ignatius, who founded the order. They founded it together.

MS. CLIFT: And --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he was a great apostle. He did most of his work in India, particularly in Goa.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then there was another Francis who was St. Francis Borgia, and he was descended from the Borgia family.

MS. CLIFT: Well, you have more --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: His great-grandfather was Alexander VI, a pope.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Figure that out. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: You have more knowledge of the Jesuits, John, than I have, having been one, and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, why wouldn't he stick with a Jesuit, because he himself was a Jesuit?

MS. CLIFT: When he has his first press conference, that's what you ought to ask him. It is -- he is sort of -- maybe he's ecumenical in terms of the different Catholic orders. And ecumenalism (sic), if that's the word -- ecumenism and evangelism, I think, are what he's all about. He needs to revive the energy of his church.

MR. CARNEY: Eleanor's point is right about sort of within the Catholic Church, the ecumenicism, the Jesuit and then the Franciscan angle, and then he's affiliated with something called communion and liberation, which is a conservative push within the church. And all these things -- he has reaches into all corners of the church. And he's from the Western Hemisphere, but he's Italian. So it's catholic with a lower-case "c."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: St. Francis Borgia was the third general of the order. Ignatius was the first. Laynez was the second and Borgia was the third. And he passes right by Borgia and he goes, according to you, to --

MR. CARNEY: Yeah. I assume --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- to St. Francis.

MR. CARNEY: I assume that it was not St. Francis Xavier, a great saint, a great missionary, who went around the world spreading the word. But --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think he named himself after St. Francis Xavier?

MR. CARNEY: No, that's what I assumed at first, but word has come out of the Vatican that it was St. Francis of Assisi.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that official word from him?

MR. CARNEY: That --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or was this -- I understood this originally as a press conclusion because they don't know about these other saints.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But John --

MR. CARNEY: No, but word has come out of the -- a reporter has said they've gotten it from the Vatican.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And this is a moment when the -- frankly, when the Catholic Church needs somebody like that, because they have a lot of problems that have emerged that has really upset the hierarchy of the church. And he is somebody who is both an outsider and an insider, but an outsider to the point where he can come in and deal with it. And he brings such a level of personal humility that I think he will also connect the church back with the poor instead of some of the, shall we say, eccentricities and indeed scandals that have now been visited upon the church.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he's Argentinian.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: His parents were Italian. And Argentina was one of the first nations to declare gay marriages OK. What do you think of that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You know, I don't think that's a terribly relevant reference or relationship. I mean, he's not somebody who's had that kind of control over what happens in Argentina. The real question is what is he going to do within the church, in a sense, to restore some of their integrity, shall we say.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, gay marriage --

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- in itself can be -- can certainly be defended --

MS. CLIFT: Actually --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- on the basis that there are adoptions frequently in gay marriage.

MS. CLIFT: Well, we clashed --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And we need to have adoption, do we not?

MS. CLIFT: He was very public --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You agree with that. Also it's been established psychologically that those adopted children of gays do not inherit the gaydom of their parents.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You understand that.

MR. GLASTRIS: I do. I do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is true.

MR. GLASTRIS: You won't get an argument from me.

MR. CARNEY: But, OK, he fought against -- I think this is what you were going to say.

MS. CLIFT: This is what I've been trying to say. He clashed very publicly with the president of Venezuela (sic/means Argentina), a woman, who was pushing adoption for gay parents, and also on the issue of contraceptives.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: He is not going to move the church one whit on any of these social issues.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question.

MR. CARNEY: Thanks be to God, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pope Francis's grandparents --

MS. CLIFT: Unfortunately.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- were immigrants to Argentina from Italy. Given his ethnicity, is this choice of pope a ploy to get an Italian pope? Yes or no.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I don't think that's it at all --

MR. CARNEY: (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- not that I'm an expert on the church. But, no I do not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you (underestimate ?) the intrigue inside?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I do not. I think they know exactly what -- he's 76 years old, I believe.

MS. CLIFT: It fits --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They've got huge problems.

MS. CLIFT: It's what we call double --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your point about 76?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He's 76 years old.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He knows what he has to do. He, I think, actually hinted at what he's going to do, and it's not those social issues.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MS. CLIFT: Ethnically, he's Italian. They are double-tracking. But all the aspects of this man's personality is like pick one from column A, pick one from column B. It's actually a brilliant choice.

MR. CARNEY: It helps to be able to reform the curia, which is basically the administration within the Vatican, to have somebody who has that background, who is, as Mort said, an outsider, but with some of an insider.

MR. GLASTRIS: It was a ploy by an Argentinian to get a job in Italy.

MR. CARNEY: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is he's Italiano superlativo.

Issue Three: Adios, Hugo.

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, lies in state in Caracas. He passed away last week after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 58 years of age. Thousands of Venezuelan mourners have waited to view their leader on a mile-long line. Chavez ruled Venezuela for 14 years. He was a socialist, a friend of the Castro brothers in Cuba. He drew loyalty from Venezuela's poor and silent derision from Venezuela's wealthy.

Chavez was an outspoken critic of the U.S., particularly American capitalism. At the United Nations, he called President George W. Bush a devil. As for President Obama, Chavez called him, quote-unquote, "poor ignoramus."
Notwithstanding the obloquy, the U.S. took Chavez and Venezuela seriously. Why? Oil. Venezuela has one of the largest oil reserves on the planet. The oil company Citgo is Venezuelan-owned, and U.S. refiners buy roughly 1 million barrels a day of Venezuela's thick crude.

In 2005, Chavez announced Citgo would be sending discounted heating oil to some 200,000 poor Americans. Chavez had partners with a nonprofit group called Citizens Energy, operated by Joseph Kennedy II, son of Robert F. Kennedy. The former Massachusetts congressman's program provides inexpensive or free oil to low-income households in 16 states.

JOSEPH KENNEDY II (founder, Citizens Energy Corporation): (From videotape.) When we asked the biggest oil companies to help families in need, only Citgo, the people of Venezuela and President Hugo Chavez responded.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For this reason, Mr. Kennedy challenges Chavez's critics.

MR. KENNEDY: (From videotape.) Why is the only company, the only organization that I can get help from the Venezuelans? And shouldn't -- if he gives us a half a billion dollars worth of help, don't you think maybe we should say thanks?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Did Chavez support Joe Kennedy's free home heating oil initiative for altruistic motives, out of the goodness of his heart? Tim Carney.

MR. CARNEY: He did it as propaganda. And, I mean, he was undemocratic. He oppressed any dissent within his country. And he wanted to gain good favor and maybe sow dissent among his critics -- discredit some of his critics in the U.S. And so this was a propaganda move.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know that he sells 20 percent of his oil -- that is, his country does -- to the United States. You know the extent to which we depend upon Venezuela --

MR. CARNEY: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- for our oil.

MR. CARNEY: There are lots of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, with that background --

MR. CARNEY: -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- how can you say what you just said?

MR. CARNEY: I don't understand why his selling oil -- I mean, he's also trying to run a profitable --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because he's appreciative of the business and he wants to help Kennedy out, and Kennedy struck a deal with him.

MR. CARNEY: All right. And if ExxonMobil was giving away free oil, it would be for good public relations. He's doing it for good public relations.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you made a good point there. That shows the stupidity of ExxonMobil, right?

MS. CLIFT: Well, there's an element of propaganda --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: -- in all the aid that one country gives to another. I don't think that should discredit --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a very unusual thing --

MS. CLIFT: -- what he's doing. And the way you --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- because those oil companies are tight as can be.

Go ahead.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. And the American oil companies, or the oil companies based here, are too busy lobbying on Capitol Hill to keep their tax credits to pay any attention to an outfit as small as the former congressman Kennedy's. But how you feel about Chavez depends where you sit. You know, he brought millions of poor people out of the shadows in Venezuela. They think he's God. And he delivered, not
fully, in part on his revolution.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about --

MS. CLIFT: But he did deliver.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about going to Cuba and stashing his cash in Cuba? Do you know that?

MR. CARNEY: He's a billionaire. He died a billionaire.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do we know that?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I remember Mr. Mubarak --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He did --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You ought to be able to speak to that. Is he on your list of billionaires? I mean, as a member of that circle, you should be able to speak to that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, actually, I think I'm at the bottom of that list and he's never been on that list. So (I don't know ?).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) Exit question: Hugh Chavez, villain or hero? Mort Zuckerman.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: To my mind, he's a hero to the poor of Venezuela and a villain to many countries and to the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Villain or hero?

MS. CLIFT: Certainly a hero to the poor. And his
relationship with the U.S. has not been the best. I hope his successor does better with us.

MR. CARNEY: A villain to the idea of political freedom and a villain for buddying up with people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What political freedom?

MR. CARNEY: Within his country -- the quashing of dissent. And he did not -- I mean, he demonstrated what Hayek said. He said if you grow the government, take away economic liberty, eventually you end up taking away political liberty.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I visited Caracas less than a year ago, and I was surprised at the support he had on the street. I will also say that he did little to improve the condition of that capital city.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's got a gray aura to it that's unfortunate.

MR. GLASTRIS: Like great history, a long line of leaders, elites who plundered their country, Hugo Chavez and his cronies did the same. The great thing to say about it is, beginning with the Clinton administration all the way through the Bush administration and the Obama administration, we never rose to the bait. He was always trying to get us in a fight. We never took it. And he's a cipher in history.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is Chavez was a Robin Hood without the charm.

Issue Four: Karzai U.S. Lackey?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) President Karzai updated me on the Afghan government's road map to peace. And today we agreed that this process should be advanced by the opening of a Taliban office to facilitate talks.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was two months ago. Afghan President Hamid Karzai had then met with President Obama in the White House.

Last weekend, President Obama's new secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, made his first trip to Afghanistan. His visit was marred by the behavior of President Karzai, who vilified the United States. Secretary Hagel had intended to hand over, in a final way, Afghanistan's largest prison to Afghan control. That transfer was canceled when Karzai suddenly said that he wanted first to free some of the prisoners.

Karzai then accused the U.S. of holding daily talks behind his back with the Taliban. Karzai claims that the U.S. and the Taliban share a mutual interest in destabilizing Afghanistan.

President Karzai went further and issued an executive order charging that U.S. forces and the Afghans working with them were harassing, annoying and detaining Afghan students. Karzai ordered the alleged treatment to stop.

OK, in Kabul, a scheduled press conference between Karzai and Hagel was hastily canceled. Finally, President Karzai and the defense secretary did meet over dinner behind closed doors. Here's what Hagel says he said to President Karzai at that dinner.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: (From videotape.) I told the president it was not true that the United States was unilaterally working with the Taliban in trying to negotiate anything.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Over this past weekend, two suicide bombings killed at least 19 people, including eight children. Karzai again blamed the U.S. Quote: "They're trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents," unquote.

The next day, a man dressed in an Afghan military uniform seized a gun turret on a truck and opened fire, killing two American soldiers and multiple Afghans in what is called an insider attack, one in which alleged comrades kill alleged comrades.

Question: Do you have an explanation for Karzai's behavior? Paul.

MR. GLASTRIS: Well, he wants to survive his post-presidency. Most Afghan leaders, when they leave the office, are either run out of the country or executed. He is showing his nationalist colors after having been seen by his enemies and citizens as a lackey to the United States. So --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he's stiffing the United States --

MR. GLASTRIS: He's stiffing the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- because he's thinking of his post-career.

MR. GLASTRIS: His post-career, his post-skin. But, you know, you'll recall a year ago Mitt Romney was saying -- was criticizing Barack Obama for getting out too quickly from Afghanistan. And what we're seeing is we're accelerating our exit from Afghanistan, and we can see the reasons why.

MS. CLIFT: Right. He is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are there limits to the acceleration we can exert in getting our troops out?

MR. CARNEY: No. I think a huge thing keeping us from getting troops out is the fact that Americans don't want to look like we're cutting and running. We want to pretend that we can declare some sort of victory there, which is illusionary.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's also the safety of the troops too.

MR. CARNEY: There's the safety of the troops.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And if you take them out too fast, you're exposing those who are left. And you've got to do it gradually.

MR. CARNEY: But that's not the factor that's making us keep troops there. We are trying to somehow claim that we are winning in Afghanistan.

MR. GLASTRIS: Well, what we --

MR. CARNEY: That's going to be illusionary.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We can't look as though we've been routed. Do you understand? It's also a matter of image.

MR. CARNEY: Or we can keep letting these American soldiers be killed by supposedly friendly Afghan soldiers.

MS. CLIFT: Well, there is a withdrawal plan in place, and I don't know that they can get any faster. There's a lot of equipment and a lot of stuff over there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The relatively weak unemployment numbers or employment numbers that just came out are going to continue. We're going to see weak employment numbers for quite a while in this country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: They just created over 200,000 jobs. That was a better number than we've gotten for a long time.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's the wrong number. That's the wrong number. That's not --

MS. CLIFT: But my --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We'll get into that another time.

MS. CLIFT: My prediction is that House Speaker John Boehner will regret turning down the president's invitation to join the entourage to attend the installation of the pope.

MR. CARNEY: Democrats will run away from the assault weapon ban. It won't even pass the Senate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Paul.

MR. GLASTRIS: The continuing-resolution battle will not get rid of the sequester.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that Paul Ryan, who ran for vice president a few months ago, current chairman of the House Budget Committee, will be unable to get approval to change the age that Americans can enjoy Medicare support.

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Erin go Bragh. Bye-bye.

(C) 2013 Federal News Service

END