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MSNBC Meet The Press-Transcript


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MSNBC Meet The Press-Transcript

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Should the United States set a firm deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? Yes, says Democratic presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd. No says possible Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Dodd and Gingrich square off in an old-fashioned, robust political debate.

Then a special MEET THE PRESS roundtable on the newly released Reagan diaries with the editor, historian Douglas Brinkley, and two longtime Reagan advisers, Michael Deaver and Ed Meese.

Welcome, Senator Chris Dodd, Speaker Newt Gingrich. Good to see you both.

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): Good to be here.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT): Nice to see you.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Dodd, should the United States set a firm deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq?

SEN. DODD: I, I believe we should, Tim. I, I didn't come to that decision a, a long time ago. It's been an evolving situation here. It seems to me if you use the template of national security, of how secure are we today, this is something all of us have to be concerned about, what's happening to us, I think most would agree today that we're more isolated today, our, our moral standing in the world has suffered terribly, in my view, over the last number of years as a result of our involvement in Iraq. We're feeling, I think, less secure, more vulnerable today. What's happened to our military as well, you hear this not just from people in public life but retired generals and others talking about the condition of our National Guard, of the condition of our combat readiness of our troops. It seems to me here that the Iraqis really do have to assume this responsibility. I thought it was terribly reflective of what's going on in Iraq when you had the parliament actually considering taking a two or three month vacation this year from their duties at a time when young men—American—and women are putting their lives on the line. And my view is there's a greater likelihood, I think a greater likelihood that the Iraqis, if they understand that this is not an open-ended process here, there's a beginning time and an end time for our military involvement here, and that we're willing, over this next year, to do what we can to help on border security, to help on counterterrorism, to help train troops, but that, come March, the end of March, the first of April next year, our military participation is over with.

Now, let me quickly add that's not enough of this debate. What are we—why aren't we using state craft? What's happened to the utilization of other tools available to us—our economic, our political, our diplomatic resources—which are significant in this country and are almost been neglected in this entire process in my view? So my view is, without the clarity here, the boldness of this, the directness of this, I deeply worry, by the hour, that our security's going to be greater and greater in jeopardy as a result of this policy of refusing to set that time frame.

MR. RUSSERT: Speaker.

MR. GINGRICH: Well, I think you have to approach it from two different levels. I disagree deeply with, with Senator Dodd on two different levels. First of all, at the immediate human level this morning, there are young men and women risking their lives in uniform who, I think, are dramatically going to be demoralized by the idea of who's the last person to die trying to win in Iraq. I mean, if, if, if we have to set a deadline, then let's set it for next Tuesday. Let's get out of there. Because I think the idea that we're going to set a magic moment a year from now or 11 months from now or 10 months from now basically says we are prepared to accept defeat if that's—if the, if the deadline's real and we, and we can't find a way to get to victory, then we will accept defeat, we will have legislated defeat. So, first of all, at the level of our young men and women in uniform, I think it's very demoralizing. And Senator Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Democratic from Michigan, said something very similar in voting against a, a firm deadline.

But there's a, there's a bigger problem. Here I actually partially, partially agree with Senator Dodd. I, I am not comfortable either with the current situation in Iraq—and you've heard me on this show as early as December of 2003 talk about major mistakes—nor am I comfortable around the world with our extraordinarily limited use of state craft. And I think that point you're making's right. The North Koreans are cheating on their agreement now for over 30 days. They'll have nuclear weapons. We still, after five and a half years do not have control of, of Warziristan in northwest Pakistan, and it is both the place Bin Laden's probably hiding and it is the place the Taliban uses to attack Afghanistan. We have been told by the U.N. in the last few days that the Iranians are now produce—producing at least 1300 centrifuges, producing nuclear material, and that they almost certainly will have a nuclear weapon within a year. We see in Israel that Hamas rockets being fired from Gaza have led the Israelis to actually abandon a town. I mean, nobody's covered this very much, but an entire town has been abandoned now because it's indefensible under the current rules of engagement. The British just arrested—just sentenced to life in prison without parole five terrorists. And in New Jersey two weeks ago, we arrested six terrorists, three of whom had been in this country illegally for six years and had had 75 encounters with the police without anybody noticing they were illegal. If you take this worldwide pattern—and by then, lastly, Estonia has been under assault, probably by the Russians, in cyber warfare for three weeks now, as a member of NATO and as part of the European Union. I mean, you look around the world, the forces of freedom are on retreat, the forces that are anti-freedom, pro-dictatorship, and, in some cases, purely evil are on offense. I agree with Senator Dodd that we need a dramatically expanded ability to use state craft. But I think it's—I think you got to make any Iraq decision within the framework of this larger maelstrom of dangers that are growing across the planet.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Dodd, if you withdrew American troops by a date certain, what happened if total chaos erupted, total civil war erupted, bloodshed, ethnic cleansing? What would you do?

SEN. DODD: Well, well, it's—I don't think you have to ask the question hypothetically, that's what's going on today. Sixty-thousand Iraqis have lost their lives over the last four years, two million have left the country, a million more displaced within the country. I don't know what the paper said this morning, but how many more lost their lives yesterday? I'm talking about Iraqis in this particular case. So it seems to me the issue of chaos, it's already upon us here. You're looking at a, at a conflict—we always talk about the conflict in the Middle East being an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What we fail to understand, there's been significant conflict within the Muslim world for years; going back to 1632, in fact, when you trace, trace the history of the conflict between the Shias and Sunni populations.

We're in the middle of a civil war. And this is the point where I think Newt and I really probably part ways on this, talking about winning or losing in Iraq. This is a civil war in the country. It is a civil war. We're in the middle of a civil war. This is not the United States vs. some sole enemy in the place there. Yes, there are elements of al-Qaeda there, I know that. But the conflict is fundamentally one between Shias and Sunnis. Kurds are involved as well, but principally Shias and Sunnis. No one has ever suggested—none of our top military people have ever suggested from day one that there was a military solution to this. In fact, major military leaders have been highly critical of the Bush administration for embracing this notion that there was somehow going to be a military victory here. I don't believe that. I don't think most people do. There's a political diplomatic solution to this, if we give it some space and an opportunity to succeed. I can't guarantee it, Tim, that if we, if we adopt what I'm suggesting—and that is leaving within a year, militarily leaving within the year—that there won't be problems that come afterwards. This much I do know: The status quo is doing great damage to that country and great damage to the United States. The moral authority's been shot on this thing, terribly.

What Newt just said is absolutely correct, these other issues we've got to focus our attention on. Our military people tell us today, Lord forbid that we were faced with a major military challenge tonight, all of us agreed that the only legitimate response is a military one, we'd be hard pressed to respond to it. That's public testimony of our senior military people in this country. That's very, very dangerous, and this, this, this notion that we're so wedded to be engaged in this civil conflict in Iraq is doing us great damage. That's why I'm advocating this time certain.

MR. GINGRICH: But notice, there are two things there. First of all, even if you accept that this is a civil war, people have won civil wars. I devoted three novels about winning the American Civil War. And the fact is, civil wars are hard. But we also—I just did a novel on Pearl Harbor and the Second World War. The Second World War was hard. Guadalcanal was hard. If we'd had today's Congress during Guadalcanal, the number of people who had said beating the Japanese is too hard, let's find a negotiated peace, would have been amazing.

SEN. DODD: I disagree with that.

MR. GINGRICH: But there's a course—we are, we are in a worldwide war, and, and I'm going to use a word that seems to be unfashionable in Washington. We need to think about winning this worldwide war. We need to understand that every week that goes by there are more young people recruited into al-Qaeda and into, into the various Iranian terrorist organizations. We just saw a video of a 12-year-old in Pakistan beheading a man.

So let me start with this, because here's what happened, and this is what, frankly, the Congress does to people. You have a freely elected democratic government in, in Colombia waging a campaign, but it's, it's a tough campaign. So the president of Colombia, democratically elected president, becomes persona non grata. Al Gore won't even appear with him on the same stage because the tone of the government's inappropriate, OK? So if we were to pull out of Iraq, and you suddenly had the chaos that Tim described, the next battle cry would be cut off the funding because the pro-American side would end up doing things that were "inappropriate." And then you'd say well, if only somebody perfect were in charge with a perfect government.

Now, let me point out, this is a Democratic Congress, which has not passed a single one of Nancy Pelosi's hundred day—hundred hour six items. Not a single one's gone into law. It's a Democratic Congress, which in its first four months has passed 26 bills, 12 of which are renaming federal buildings. And I think to set one standard for the Iraqi parliament and a totally lower standard for the American government after 225 years of practice is fundamentally flawed. Either we're for our allies winning, we should do what it takes for our allies to win, we should actually be in the attitude of winning the war—which we did in less than four years in World War II—or we should recognize, after five and a half years from 9/11, we are, in fact, on a worldwide basis, slowly, gradually losing the fight against terrorism and the fight against dictatorship.

MR. RUSSERT: But specifically, how would you win the war in Iraq militarily?

MR. GINGRICH: First of all, you, you would empower General Petraeus. You'd pass the supplemental immediately. You'd give him the money. Second, you would encourage the Iraqis to triple the size of their regular army. Third, you would, you would encourage the development of a, of a military tribunal system to lock people up the way Abraham Lincoln would've done it. Fourth, you would establish a nationwide ID card with biometrics so you can actually track everybody in the country. Fifth, you would make sure that the State Department actually staffed the embassy with people in favor of winning the war and you actually had your fully, fully equipped intelligence and economic development teams. Six, you would say to the Iranians, "If you don't cut off everything you're doing, we'll begin to bring enormous pressure to bear with you," if necessary, blockading the flow of gasoline into Iran, which has to import 40 percent of its gasoline because it only has one refinery in the entire country.

So I would take—I would lean forward and say to the world, "We are, by George, going to make sure that the allies of America and the forces of freedom win, and we are the most powerful nation in history, and we have more than enough assets to do this." And we ought to do what it takes to win, not tolerate legislating defeat.

SEN. DODD: Well, what you're suggesting, first, is terribly naive to assume that all of these things are going to happen with a government that even, to this day, can't even leave the green zone to get out and function. I just met with some soldiers at, at Walter Reed a few weeks ago, and, listening to them, young Americans coming back, and to quote them almost exactly, Tim, "We'll go in, we'll spend a month and a half securing an area out here." And these are young men very proud of their service, by the way. "Go into an area, secure it, take a month and a half to do it." And to quote him, "an hour and a half after we leave, an hour and a half after we leave, it's right back where it was. And senator," he said, "they know where the IEDs are, they know where the ammu-dumps are, and they won't even tell us where they are today." You've got almost 80 percent of the population of that country thinks we're the source of their chaos. A majority in the parliament called for a date certain forced to leave. Two billion dollars a week, $8 billion a month, and exactly the point Newt is making I agree with here. The war on terror's the legitimate war. We're, we're, we're building an army of radicals and the generation coming along, as a result of the legitimacy of the effort engaged in Iraq. The former commandant of the Marine Corps made that point in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post last week here. We're losing that particular area, Newt. You cannot continue here having this...


SEN. DODD: ...succeed here where these countries literally expanding their opportunities. We're bogged down in this matter. The war on terror's being neglected. We don't have enough troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban is resurgent here, Pakistan seems to be weak on the issue here. All of our attention—president goes to Latin America, he almost has to hide out for a week and a half. He's losing the public relations battle to Hugo Chavez. This is incredible to me. And literally, a lot of it has to do with the fact that there's no willingness to consider alternatives in a different mission in Iraq. If we have a different mission, if you'd listen to your military commanders, listen to the diplomatic people, listen to Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton and their report—which I know you were highly critical of—but frankly, their suggestions make a lot of sense to people.

MR. GINGRICH: Look, there, there, there are two fundamental differences here. The first is the Baker-Hamilton Commission suggested that we engage Iran and Syria, who are our enemies in the region. The fact is the Iranians want us defeated. The Iranians are providing weapons, training and money to defeat us. The idea that the answer is—this would be like saying, "Why don't we turn to Nazi Germany to help us manage fascist Italy?"

SEN. DODD: Well...

MR. GINGRICH: But let me...

SEN. DODD: All right.

MR. GINGRICH: ...say a second thing. I reject totally the idea that the Iraqi campaign is at the heart of the war on terror. The Iranians killed American Marines in Lebanon when we weren't in Iraq. The, the Iranians killed Americans in Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia when we weren't in Iraq. Al-Qaeda killed, bombed two U.S. embassies when we weren't in Iraq. Al-Qaeda bombed Yemen when we weren't in Iraq. Al-Qaeda bombed New York City when we weren't in Iraq. We're in a war against people both on the Shia side, funded by the Iranians, and the Sunni side, largely funded by the Saudis, who are determined to destroy freedom as we know it. We have yet to come to engage in how serious this is. We have yet to mobilize—we...

I want to repeat this. We won the entire Second World War in less than four years after Pearl Harbor. We're now five and a half years into this war. We are rope-a-doping. We are playing domestic political games. We have—and I'm not, I'm not in any way defending the Bush administration. We have no grand strategy. We have no sense of a mobilization of national will. And I think someplace down the road we are in grave danger of losing one or more American cities to a nuclear or biological attack. And we ought to, we ought to take it seriously now, not afterwards.

SEN. DODD: Well, I agree with that. No, listen, I'm taking it seriously. And, and, and part of this is sort of labeling people, that, that we don't concern about the security of the country because we're willing to accept there's a, there's a winner or a loser. There is a winner or a loser in the war on terror. I agree with that totally. And we have an obligation in this generation to do everything in our possible. It's a, it's an, it's a, it's an international, multinational problem here—London, Madrid, Seoul, Tokyo...


SEN. DODD: ...where these bombs go off. It's global in perspective. It requires cooperation. The idea that we'll have no talks with people we disagree with—Ronald Reagan, who you'll be talking about in a few moments here, he would call the Soviet Union "the evil Empire." He'd meet in Reykjavik to talk about arms control. Richard Nixon, certainly as strong an anti-communist as existed in the latter half of the 20th century, would meet with Mao Tse Tung, not because of the end in itself, but to explore and to examine whether or not we can reach some commonalty of common interest here. The idea we don't talk to the Syrians, we don't talk to the Iranians in a moment like this, I think, is terribly naive and dangerous for the country, in my view.

MR. GINGRICH: First of all, I'm perfectly happy to talk to Syrians and the Iranians. We've had a number of secretaries of state who've gone to Damascus, several of whom have been snubbed. Our secretary of state was snubbed the other day by the Iranians. I just want us to understand who we're talking about. Reagan had no doubt that the Soviet Union was an evil empire. He had a clear vision of the Cold War. He said, "We win, they lose." He had—and here's what he did what you're calling for. He had a grand strategy that involved the pope and the prime minister. They, they unraveled the Soviet empire, starting in Poland, largely without firing a shot, except for the Afghan campaign.

But, but there's, there's a step deeper here. President Uribe is our ally against terrorism and against narcotrafficantes in Colombia, but the Democratic Congress finds him inappropriate. Prime Minister Maliki is doing the best he can in a chaotic environment, and he's not a very strong person, but if—imagine we were the French in the 1700s, debating the American Continental Congress and saying, "Well, should we really send aid to these guys? I mean, they can't even hold—you know, they've retreated to Lancaster. They're not even in Philadelphia. They've lost New York. George Washington's lost all these campaigns. This guy Washington has no major victories. I mean, why are we sending money over there? This is just bad money after good."

SEN. DODD: But, but, but equating, equating the American Revolution with a civil war in Iraq today, please, with all due respect.

MR. GINGRICH: No, it's exactly the same point.

SEN. DODD: This is—no, no. It's very different circumstances entirely here. And, again, I'll come back to the point earlier, this is, this is where Iraqis have got to make a decision. They have to decide whether they want to be a country or not. And it's a legitimate issue about whether or not they want to. They're talking about separating off of the three different federal zones: the Kurdish, a Shia, Sunni zone. They—they're uncertain themselves as to whether or not they want to be a nation.

MR. GINGRICH: We went...

SEN. DODD: Here they're asking us to decide that for them, Newt, in a sense.

They have to make that decision.

MR. GINGRICH: We went—wait a second, we went from 1775 with the first Continental Congress to 1789 when we adopted the Constitution. We had 14 years of confusion. Now, if you were advising the French how—in late 1776, Washington has been defeated in New York, he's been defeated in Brooklyn Heights, he's been defeated crossing—all, all the way across New Jersey, what would you have said then? Why would you have said, magically, the Americans are better?

SEN. DODD: Well, the fundamental issue, I've got George Washington, not Prime Minister Maliki, and I'll go with Washington every day of the week. Now, we've got a lot of other people sitting around, people in Massachusetts, Connecticut and elsewhere, in Georgia, who are sitting there who knew what they wanted in the end. The Iraqis don't apparently at this point.

MR. GINGRICH: But that's the...

SEN. DODD: And they're asking us to do it for them.

MR. RUSSERT: Another, I think, concern Americans have is that four years into the war, there are only 6,000 Iraqi troops...

MR. GINGRICH: Ready to right.

MR. RUSSERT: ...who are fully trained...


MR. RUSSERT: ...independent outside of American support. And people question why is that? Why are the Iraqis apparently unwilling to step up and shed blood...

MR. GINGRICH: It's just—look, we, we have these stunningly self-destructive reporting systems where you say what is an American quality brigade and could this brigade operate with no support, no communications, no logistics? And so some guy checks a box. The fact is there are about 139,000 Iraqi troops who are out on patrol with Americans who are risking their lives. The fact is the Iraqis are taking a lot more casualties than we are. And there's something wrong—and again this goes back to Colombia as a totally different place that has the same problem. People in local countries with relatively weak governments, with dramatically lower standards than the U.S., people who are standing next to us getting killed are dishonored. We say, "Oh, that's not really good enough." There are—look at all the Iraqis who walked to vote risking death. Look at all the Iraqis who have now twice voted, including Iraqi women who were engaged. Look, all these people—the same thing in Afghanistan where women knew the Taliban was going to target to kill them. I think sometimes we got to honor our—imagine the Second World War. You say, "Well what have the British done recently? Why are we helping Great Britain, or what, what have the Greeks done or the Poles done or the Belgians done?"

SEN. DODD: But the distinction—the distinction...

MR. GINGRICH: I mean, I just...

SEN. DODD: The distinction, you know—the survey done, I think, by NBC and The Wall Street Journal, over 50 percent of Iraqis thinks it's all right to kill Americans serving there. I don't—if we go back to the American Revolution I doubt you would have had 51 percent of the Americans saying it's all right to kill the French coming here. The distinctions—and let me mention the Uribe issue, because I've been deeply involved in that one for a long time, and I happen to like President Uribe. I've known him for a long time.

But we discovered recently that a lot of our funds are going in are supporting operations that are deeply engaged in the drug trafficking. Part of the, the military that have gone off and formed these death squads down there that are causing more difficulty and expanding the ranks of the FARC in many ways. So the question's being raised about how U.S. dollars are being used in Colombia is not illegitimate questions here when it comes to these kind of activities. I want the FARC to be defeated. I want that country to be whole again. Colombians have been through a dreadful decades of hard work. But the idea that you don't raise a concern about how dollars are being spent in these areas I think is something that needs to be addressed.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me go back to Iraq and give each of you a chance, in the closing minutes.

Speaker Gingrich, if we set a firm date for withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, what happens?

MR. GINGRICH: I believe we send a signal to enemies to wait patiently and destroy the country as soon as we leave. I believe we send a signal to our own troops to cease patrolling and do everything you can not to be the last person killed on behalf of something that Congress has decried will be a defeat. I think we send a signal to our allies around the world that we're unreliable. And I think that we have dramatically expanded the excitement and incentives of the terrorists, both in the Iranian-funded Shia wing and in the Saudi-funded Sunni wing of al-Qaeda. And I think you'll see a dramatic upsurge. And a simple way to measure this, watch what our enemies say. If this Congress passes a definitive end of American involvement, every enemy we have on the planet will exalt, and every terrorist group on the planet will claim it's an enormous victory, and they will increase their recruiting. And as New Jersey should just have taught us, they don't plan to stop in Baghdad. They are coming here as soon as they can get here.

MR. RUSSERT: Can you respond to that?

SEN. DODD: Yeah, I—in fact, I think just the opposite. I think the very things you're talking about, you have the opposite reaction here. I think the world is waiting for the United States to lead again with bold leadership in the country. It's deeply worried about security, deeply worried about global terrorism, and looks on—over this landscape of the world, says only one country can lead, it's the United States. The Chinese aren't going to do it, the Russians aren't going to do it, the Indians aren't going to do it, not in the foreseeable future. It's going to be the United States.

We're bogged down in a situation here where we're losing credibility, we're losing our moral value. The great moral reputation of the United States has suffered terribly as a result of this. That's a critical element and was critical in building the relationships that allowed us to develop the kind of international cooperation absolutely essential if you're going to deal with global terrorism. So my view is here, it's time for us to say that there's a new mission here, a new direction, a change in course here that will allow, I think, the possibility of Iraqis to decide they want to be a country. Allow us to encourage the moderate Arab states in the region to assume greater responsibility for their neighborhood than they presently are. I think the real opportunity, if you engage not as a—not as an end, but as a means to deal with the Iranian-Syrian issue, as we finally did in North Korea, you open up the, the perspective here—the prospects, rather, of a wider, better set of alternatives for the United States and our allies around the world. That, at least, is a real opportunity. The status quo and escalating this conflict in Iraq on the assumption there's a military solution, I think has been disproven and discredited by most major people who've looked at this, and I think they're right.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you both for making your views intelligently and passionately and in a civil environment. We appreciate it very much.

Speaker Gingrich, before you go, your new book, you co-authored "Pearl Harbor." We know you're an accomplished author. But we're curious about whether you're a candidate. Let me show you what you said here, and this—trace trace this very quickly. In ‘03, December, "I doubt it very much," running for president. Then in May of ‘06, "I doubt it." Then in December of ‘06, "Of course I'm thinking about it." And last week, "It is a great possibility."

As we sit on this day, May 20th, 2007, will Newt Gingrich run for president?

SEN. DODD: Two white—two white-haired candidates.

MR. GINGRICH: I, I am studying—I am studying Chris' campaign. If there's a big enough market among Republicans for a really white-haired candidate...

SEN. DODD: We got it.

MR. GINGRICH: ...then I may, I may...

SEN. DODD: How about a ticket?

MR. GINGRICH: I'll—I did—we did talk earlier about the idea of the nine dialogues of 90 minutes each from Labor Day to the election, and I think we may have at least one guy over here who...

SEN. DODD: I think it's a great idea.

MR. GINGRICH: ...leans towards that idea.

SEN. DODD: No moderator, Tim, though. We don't want to exclude you, but the idea of having two of us have a conversation about national issues in separate one hour discussions through nine weeks between September and November, an intelligent, thoughtful debate where we listen to each other, might be an interesting idea.

MR. GINGRICH: But if—I promise, if after the September 27th American Solutions workshop, I do decide to run, I will come back and be on MEET THE PRESS.

MR. RUSSERT: So you're thinking about running?

MR. GINGRICH: Well, I'm thinking about thinking about running. But I'm—I won't do anything at all about the possibility of running until after September 29th when we have our second workshop.

MR. RUSSERT: So by October you should have a decision?

MR. GINGRICH: By, by October I'm confident that we'll be chatting.

MR. RUSSERT: We'll see you here.

MR. GINGRICH: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: Newt Gingrich, Chris Dodd, thanks very much.

SEN. DODD: Thank you very much, yeah.

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