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The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Panel: Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek/The Daily Beast; Guy Taylor, Washington Times; Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report

Taped: Friday, September 13, 2013
Broadcast: Weekend of September 14-15, 2013

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Moving the Goalposts.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) America is not the world's policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe. And it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama on Tuesday night delivered a primetime presidential address to the nation, focusing on Syria's crisis. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded in an extraordinary New York Times op-ed directed at America's political leaders, notably taking aim at Obama's claim that American values are exceptional.
Quote Putin: "My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday, and I would rather disagree with the case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States policy is," quote, "`what makes America different. It's what makes us exceptional,'" unquote.

"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ too. We are all different. But when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal," unquote.

Question: Why did President Putin seize on the stated U.S. value of exceptionalism? Pat Buchanan.

PAT BUCHANAN: John, from the hysterical reaction in this city to Putin's op-ed piece, he put this one right down the smokestack. What he did is he keyed off of what Obama said on exceptionalism, and he countered it with an argument which people all over the world believe. They are sick of hearing Americans talk about we are the indispensable nation, as Madeleine Albright said. We see further than others; that's why we can use force. We're the sheriff of the world. We are first. We are leader.

He's not only appealing to the people of the world. He's appealing to that half of the United States to whom Barack Obama himself was appealing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor Clift.

MR. BUCHANAN: So I think he hit home.

ELEANOR CLIFT: I think there was a little superpower envy there. As the leader of a former superpower, he now sees a moment for him to get back on the world stage -- appropriately so, I might add. I welcome his involvement and attempt to find a solution in Syria.

And in taking a poke at U.S. exceptionalism, I think, you know, he wants to make the point --

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

MS. CLIFT: -- that it's not only the U.S. that can make things happen on the world stage. But when there's a humanitarian problem, basically all those countries look to this country to act. And rarely does another country act. The French went into Mali. The British went into Sierra Leone. That was all very good. But mostly, when there's a humanitarian crisis, everybody comes to the U.S. with their hand out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Guy Taylor.

GUY TAYLOR: I think that Vladimir Putin is a varsity-level propagandist, and he used -- he honed in on this because he knows it's a wedge issue for the United States. Look at our last election when the GOP candidate built his entire foreign policy platform on this idea of American exceptionalism, lifted it right out of the Reagan playbook.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Romney.

MR. TAYLOR: Romney did that, lifted it out of the Reagan playbook. And he knows that Obama did not talk about American exceptionalism during the election. And here he is, up giving this speech about Syria, and he uses it, and Putin jumps in on it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MORT ZUCKERMAN: Look, I happen to think America is exceptional, and I think it's good that the president puts it forward, because it is one of the things that makes America such an appealing country. The problem is, how do you, in a sense, implement American exceptionalism? You don't do it by having the most limited kind of response to something like this. You don't do it by the various ways, it seems to me, that the president is operating --

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

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- on this principle of American exceptionalism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't see a little braggadocio in it?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I do see braggadocio. But there's something to brag about. But you also have to live up to it in the way you implement your policy. That is what people are so concerned about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's not much to admire about braggadocio.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, Syria's chemical weapons.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Over the last few days, we've seen some encouraging signs. In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons.

The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they'd join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, Mr. Obama. Now Mr. Putin.

Quote: "A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia, and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government's willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action," unquote.

Question: Does President Putin read President Obama right? Are the three leaders, including Bashar al-Assad, willing to defuse the crisis over the use of nerve gas in Syria? Obama, Putin and al-Assad.

MS. CLIFT: There's a lot of self-interest going on here. The president said they crossed a red line. He needs to deliver on his warning. Putin doesn't want loose chemical weapons in that area of the world, because they could find their way into parts of Russia. He has a vested interest in a stable Syria with Assad surviving. The only way Assad survives, if he gives up his chemical weapons and he wins the war conventionally. So everybody's acting out of their own self-interest here, which is why this has a chance of succeeding.

MR. BUCHANAN: This is a strategic --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Russia being a close ally to Syria.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- a strategic victory for Putin. Look, Obama's threat is off the table. Putin's got a veto in the Security Council. The Congress won't authorize it in the United States. He's been stripped of his guns. Wyatt Earp has lost his guns.

What the Russians are going to do in the U.N., John, is this. They're going to slow-walk this, and Assad's going to tell the Americans if I'm giving up my chemical weapons, you've got to, A, get rid of this threat against me, and B, stop supporting the rebels.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Guy.

MR. TAYLOR: Bad as this may have looked for the Obama administration -- they appeared to fumble into it -- we have to consider that, prior to this week, Moscow did not even recognize that Syria had chemical weapons.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Meaning what? They knew they had them.

MR. TAYLOR: They knew they had them, but publicly they had never said we know they have them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the point?

MR. TAYLOR: The point is, now they're acknowledging that it's a goal of the global community to get these weapons under control.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's hypocrisy.

MR. TAYLOR: This is a possible step forward. No matter how poorly the Obama administration executed it, this is a step forward.

MS. CLIFT: And they're not going to use those weapons.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- not publicize it, their friends. Is it hypocrisy for Russia to take that -- take a -- (inaudible) -- position on --

MR. TAYLOR: I don't think it's hypocrisy.

MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor's right. They want to get rid of them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me go to Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: This is a very serious strategic issue now that we're faced with. We have the Shiites and the Sunnis in that part of the world. Putin is trying to support Assad because he is part of the Shiite group, OK. Our communities, our friends, our allies, are among the Sunnis. In everything he is doing, he is protecting Assad, OK. And this is a huge strategic issue for us, because you look at all the Arab countries that we support --

MR. BUCHANAN: Mort --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- Saudi Arabia, all the Arab countries who are our allies, and they are appalled over what's going on.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who are the more numerous, the Sunnis or the Shias?

MR. BUCHANAN: The Sunnis are 17 to one, almost. And al-Qaida is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the point? What's the point?

MR. BUCHANAN: They're overwhelmingly Sunni if you've got a caliphate. Look, the Muslim Brotherhood is Sunni. Al-Qaida is Sunni.

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

MR. BUCHANAN: Are they our allies?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, giving no ground.

Not everything is rosy between Putin and Obama. In his televised address, Obama went to great lengths to establish that the Syrian government bears responsibility for the gas attack that killed 1,400 people.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad's government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening -- men, women, children lying in rows killed by poison gas.

No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cell-phone pictures and social-media accounts from the attack. And humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas. Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Vladimir Putin disagrees. Quote: "No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian army, but by opposition forces to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists," unquote.

Question: The U.N. reported this week that war crimes are widespread on both sides of the fighting in Syria. Given that background, is it conceivable that Putin may be right and Obama wrong about who ordered the sarin attack in Syria?

MS. CLIFT: No. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Guy Taylor.

MR. TAYLOR: Look, it's conceivable. It's just not true. The U.S. and European intelligence agencies collectively agreed that it was somebody within the Syrian government that did this, not the rebels. The question --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish.

MR. TAYLOR: -- is about whether or not Bashar Assad actually ordered the attack. And this is a question that will come up as we go forward now in this process of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why are you speaking with such certitude?

MR. BUCHANAN: Because --

MR. TAYLOR: Because I've spoken with U.S. intelligence --

MR. BUCHANAN: No one has nailed Assad.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Some people in the intelligence community?

MS. CLIFT: They have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The CIA?

MS. CLIFT: They have intercepts.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MS. CLIFT: They have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him talk. Let him talk.

MR. TAYLOR: I'm just -- I'm saying that, as far as the question of what Assad knew, when he knew it --

MS. CLIFT: They --

MR. TAYLOR: -- we don't know.

MS. CLIFT: The U.S. --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MR. TAYLOR: We don't have any --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The U.S. has turned over to the intelligence committees on the Hill intercepts of Syrian generals ordering these attacks and then talking about covering up the evidence. Now, they don't have President Assad on those calls --

MR. BUCHANAN: Here's where Russia may have a point, John.

MS. CLIFT: -- but that seems to be a pretty fine technicality.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll let you in.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'll let you in, but I want to get this out first.

OK, a picture is worth a thousand words. Whether or not Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the horrific attack on August the 21st, atrocities are happening on all sides. Take a look at this photo that made the front page of The New York Times on Thursday of last week, September 5. The line of captured soldiers facing down in the dirt were Syrian soldiers fighting for the regime of Bashar al-Assad. They were all shot in the head by the standing Syrian rebels. All 16 men are Syrian. That's Syrian rebels executing Syrian soldiers of Assad.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, question: Some experts believe these are not al-Qaida extremists but the secular, supposedly pro-democracy opposition. That persuades -- and does that persuade you they could also have used gas on their own people? I ask you.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I don't believe that they used gas on their own people. This is just --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're all Syrians.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's not the issue. The issue is that on both sides you will have extremists. But there is no question here but what's been going on in terms of the use of gas, OK. I think it is ridiculous to assume that Assad didn't know what was going on. It's just impossible to imagine that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The war's been going on for two years.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The country has been ripped apart.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think that -- you think that Assad should have stopped this and he was in a position to stop it?

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Of course, he is. What, do you think that's a democracy?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Visualize a civil war.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Do you think this is a democracy? What are you talking about? This guy is a tyrant on every level, as was his father. You think --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he faced a situation that was almost impossible to control in many respects. That's what I think.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, John, let me get in.

MS. CLIFT: There are war crimes on both sides.

MR. BUCHANAN: Let me get in, John, for a second here.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead.

MR. BUCHANAN: First, the Russians are saying not the August attack in one of their reports; an earlier attack by gas weapons was done by the rebels.

Secondly, the Free Syrian Army and al-Qaida this last week attacked a Christian village. They were cutting throats there. They emptied it out -- Maaloula. If the rebels win, the Christians go to the wall.

MS. CLIFT: OK, there are --

MR. BUCHANAN: There will be mass martyrdom of Christians.

MS. CLIFT: There are war crimes on both sides. What the president is talking about is retaliating against the significant use of chemical weapons against his own people, weapons that were delivered by rockets --

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

MS. CLIFT: -- that only that regime has. And the threat of force has brought people into -- to the negotiating table. We now have the possibility of a political settlement. So we're ending here --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right.

MS. CLIFT: -- this week much better --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Guy.

MS. CLIFT: -- than when we began.

MR. TAYLOR: He's also talking -- he's also talking about financing the opposition that's marbled through with al-Qaida-linked elements.

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MR. TAYLOR: So -- and this has been talked about this week. It's been talked about for the last two years.

MS. CLIFT: The CIA has been supporting them for two and a half years.

MR. BUCHANAN: He says he wants --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: John, he says he doesn't want to overthrow the government, but --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?

MR. BUCHANAN: He says he doesn't want to dethrone the government, but we are providing weapons to the rebels.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Yes, Vlad, It's a Red Line.
Vladimir Putin may not have called it a red line, but his New York Times column on Thursday of this week clearly spelled out the consequences for the United States if Commander in Chief Obama takes military action against Syria.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders.
A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Under current international law, force is permitted only in self- defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

Question: Would a unilateral military strike by President Obama constitute an illegal act of war, as President Putin claims? I ask you, Guy.

MR. TAYLOR: Look, I think that this is a double-sided issue, because Putin and Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 without U.N. Security Council approval. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 without U.N. Security Council approval. So it's an open question. We don't know. And Obama is arguing that, look, if the U.N. is blocked up with Putin and Russia saying we won't approve anything --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean they're equally untrustworthy?

MR. TAYLOR: They're equally --

MS. CLIFT: Well, and in this country --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, it would be --

MS. CLIFT: In this country --

MR. BUCHANAN: It would be both --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?

MS. CLIFT: In this country, Presidents Clinton and Reagan have launched similar strikes, and Congress didn't squawk. And I think both --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So that's the blessing out of it?

MS. CLIFT: No, no.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No.

MS. CLIFT: No, you're not going to have -- you're not going to have cries of illegality in this country.

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: And I don't think we should be --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, this is --

MS. CLIFT: And I don't think we should be taking advice from Putin.

MR. BUCHANAN: OK.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've made your point.

MR. BUCHANAN: This would be an act of war. It would be, first, unconstitutional, because Congress has not authorized it. It is an unnecessary war. And it would be illegal because the Russians and the Chinese would veto it in the Security Council. He has no authority from either body to launch a war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I have to say I disagree with you --

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- seriously. The president of the United States has always been the leading figure in terms of protecting the United States' national interest.

MR. BUCHANAN: Who threatens us?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's a matter of your judgment and a matter of the president --

MR. BUCHANAN: He threatens us?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- the matter of the president making a judgment on those issues, OK?

MR. BUCHANAN: You've got to threaten us or attack us in order to have the authority to strike first.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It all depends how you measure being threatened, OK?

MS. CLIFT: Were you saying this when Reagan acted -- when Reagan acted and when Clinton acted?

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, I wrote the speech --

MS. CLIFT: I didn't hear that argument.

MR. BUCHANAN: I wrote the speech on the -- on Libya. And it was in response to an attack on us in Berlin.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this an impasse, do you think, Guy? I think it's an impasse. Isn't it?

MR. TAYLOR: I think what we're going to see --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean in this conversation.

MR. TAYLOR: In this conversation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, it's an impasse. (Laughter.)

OK, Russia's motive. Russian President Putin not only cast the U.S. as the potential outlaw nation in his New York Times column, but he depicted Russia's role in Syria as merely enforcing existing international law. Listen.
"Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria, but there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue, enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law."

Buchanan, what about that?

MR. BUCHANAN: He is exactly right. Syria is no democracy, but it is a legitimate government, defending itself against a revolution and rebellion. And Putin, as an ally, has a perfect right to send arms to his ally.

MS. CLIFT: Right. But we're talking about the use of chemical weapons, which defies the chemical weapons. And you can't just collate --

MR. BUCHANAN: Putin has condemned that.

MS. CLIFT: -- it all into one -- into one big bundle.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Russia is giving Syria chemical weapons?

MS. CLIFT: Chemical weapons are like cooking meth in your kitchen. And I'm sure they got --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this intuition on your part?

MS. CLIFT: They got the basic -- no. They got the --

MR. BUCHANAN: Maybe (a little ?). (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: They got the basic ingredients from there.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It doesn't require Putin to have given Syria chemical weapons.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He wouldn't give Syria chemicals.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They have used chemical weapons --

MS. CLIFT: They're very easy to make, yeah.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- which has been an outlawed form of warfare and treatment for decades.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So there is a legitimate case here to be made about that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think Assad used and called for the use of chemical weapons?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Without question. I don't have the slightest doubt about it.

MR. BUCHANAN: Are you saying Assad ordered it?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with Mort? Do you agree with Mort on that?

MR. BUCHANAN: They haven't proved that.

MS. CLIFT: The Assad regime.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible) -- the major victim of chemical weapons in the last 25, 30 years? The Iranians. Iraq doused them --

MS. CLIFT: The Assad --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- with gas, and the Americans knew of it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The Assad regime used them. They were delivered on rockets that only the regime has. Whether Mr. Assad is in control of his government or not, I don't know. But he sure did well on the Charlie Rose show acting like he's in charge.

MR. BUCHANAN: But before you kill a thousand Syrians, shouldn't you be able to prove --

MS. CLIFT: I don't think we're killing a thousand Syrians.

MR. BUCHANAN: If you send 50 missiles in, you will.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Guy, you want to get in?

MR. TAYLOR: This has become an extremely important question of who actually ordered it, because as international pressure now mounts from the U.N., from Moscow, from Washington, on Bashar Assad to hand over the chemical weapons, whatever rogue generals there are in this wild two-year civil war will hold on to whatever cache of weapons they have as a trump card for their own survival.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you understand --

MR. TAYLOR: So it is an important question about who actually did it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that getting the chemical weapons out is a prolonged process --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- in terms of where they are and the dimension that they are probably in.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: If you want to assume that generals in the Syrian army, OK, used these weapons against certain people who were opposed to Assad, then you have a very, very different view of the way that government works.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, I want to squeeze this in.

Exit question: This is the first international crisis to test Commander in Chief Obama's capability. On a scale of zero to 10, 10 being JFK's handling of the Cuban missile crisis, zero being Gerald Ford's 1975 request for military aid to Saigon, rate Obama's handling of the Syrian crisis thus far, zero to 10. I almost got out of breath. Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's not as impressive as Gerald Ford. Look, it is one of the worst performances I've seen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: It's very much in progress. If you had looked at what was happening in the Cuban missile crisis at various steps along the way, you would have rated Kennedy a 10 or a two.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MS. CLIFT: So I think this can still turn out very positively.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, just give me a number.

MR. TAYLOR: Three. There's been fumbling --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Three.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. I would say it's as close to one as anything I've ever seen. It's the worst performance I've ever seen on foreign policy of any American president in your lifetime, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is five.

Issue Three: Pontificating.

Last week, the G-20 -- Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the U.K., the United States and the European Union -- met in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The meeting lasted for two days, September 5 and 6. A letter was dispatched to host Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, from another head of state, Pope Francis, head of Vatican City, a civilian state as well as the seat of Roman Catholicism.

The pope weighed in on the conflict in Syria. Quote: "To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome conflicting positions and lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution," unquote.

Pope Francis has been notably vocal in his appeals for peace in Syria. This past Saturday the pontiff held a prayer vigil for Syria, where he appealed to world leaders for peace and reconciliation. Thousands packed St. Peter's Square to hear his words.

"We have perfected our weapons, but our conscience has fallen asleep. And we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death. They speak of death.

Violence and war are the language of death. Brothers and sisters, forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation -- these are the words of peace, especially in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world."

Question: What's the impact of the pope's statements on U.S. Catholic hawks? And beyond that, there are 1.250 billion Catholics in the world. If that's the pope's position, what do you make of its political power, so to speak?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, I think -- well, the United States, during the Cold War and even in the aftermath of the Cold War, has fought more wars than almost any other nation. And I think the pope is respected. He's enormously popular. But I don't think, in the present time -- you remember what George Bush said? I mean, Pope John Paul II came out against the Iraq war, and George Bush said either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. So I don't know that the Americans respond very much to the pope's appeal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say, Mort?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think the pope is a moral leader. And this what the tone and what the substance is that he is speaking of. But political leaders, frankly, have to consider the interests of their own country, which are not necessarily consistent with a moral approach. I'm not saying that they aren't affected by it. And this is the difference between somebody like the pope and presidents or leaders of countries. And that's inevitable. It's been true forever, and it's going to continue to be true.

I think, actually, in truth, that moral issues are much more relevant today because of the media, frankly, than they used to be. But it's still not decisive.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Guy, the pope wants reconciliation. Do you think he can get it?

MR. TAYLOR: Well, first of all, John, I think it's very appealing and interesting to younger citizens of the world to see the pope speaking very seriously about geopolitical issues as they're happening. This is unusual.
As far as whether or not people in power are going to listen, it's an open question. I would say probably not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about his infallibility?

MR. TAYLOR: Look --

MR. BUCHANAN: That's on faith and morals, John --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- not on war.

MR. TAYLOR: The pope is a religious figure. He's not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you could derive war somehow within the scope of --

MR. BUCHANAN: There are just wars under Aquinas and Augustine.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're talking war doesn't have a morality?

MR. BUCHANAN: There's just wars, as you know from Aquinas and Augustine, with which you're familiar.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, (South China ?). Lead me down your merry little trail, Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: When is the last -- which pope last came out in favor of war? What happened during World War II? Was the pope advocating?

MR. BUCHANAN: Pope Pius XII wanted to get Hitler assassinated.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Putin is right when he --

MS. CLIFT: OK. So they're not always --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Didn't Putin say this is a religious and sectarian conflict, not a pro-democracy revolt, like the Balkans? The ultimate resolution may depend on --

MR. BUCHANAN: He spoke --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- partition?

MR. BUCHANAN: He spoke -- I think Putin spoke the truth about the character of the war in Syria. It's a horrible, ugly, dirty war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Putin and the pope. They have a lot in common?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, the pope is more of a religious character than a lot of -- (laughs) --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: -- some folks on this panel. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I thought you were going to say he's more religious than Putin.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me put it this way. If you had any inkling of the record of Putin when he was the head of the KGB, you would not put Putin and the pope in the same category.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that on a scale of one to 10, our TV director, Sheldon Schwartz, is a 10. In fact, he is a plus 10. Shelly has been guiding, directing and perfecting the McLaughlin Group for 20 years. He has a metaphysical sixth sense for capturing just the right reaction shots of our panel, notably the look on Eleanor's face when Buchanan dumps on yet another liberal government giveaway.

Shelly seems to foresee who will counterpoint and move the camera to that face even before that person speaks. And, of course, Shelly has made me look a little better too with each passing year.

Shelly, give us a wave from the master control. Here's a collective salute and a big thank-you --

MS. CLIFT: Oh, that's nice.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- from the Group on your 20 years, with more to come.

Bye-bye.

(C) 2013 Federal News Service

END