CBS "FACE THE NATION"
HOST: BOB SCHIEFFER
GUESTS: SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL); GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR)
MR. BOB SCHIEFFER: Today on "Face the Nation," presidential politics, fallout from the ports deal and worsening bloodshed in Iraq as the war nears its third anniversary.
At a big party gathering in Memphis, Republicans get a head start on 2008. Is the president an asset or a liability? Plus, Dubai helps the administration by scrapping the ports deal, but Congress has tasted blood. Is their political push back a sign of things to come? And how will Democrats capitalize on White House woes?
These are the questions for Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois and Governor Mike Huckabee, Republican of Arkansas.
I'll have a final word on Iraq three years and counting. But first, what would Democrats do differently there and how do Republicans outside Washington really feel about the president?
MR. SCHIEFFER: And joining us now -- Senator Barack Obama is in the studio with us. And I must say before we get serious -- you were the absolute star of last night's Gridiron Show in Washington, which is put on by local journalists. It's all parity when people from both parties come together. And I must say when you said that you were a little nervous at the beginning of your speech because you realized people were drinking alcoholic beverages and the vice president was just 30 yards away, it really brought down the house. What would the Gridiron have done this year without Vice President Cheney? He became the target of targets.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: You know, it was like shooting quail in a barrel. (Laughter.) So we appreciate it. He was a great sport about it. The president was a great sport about it. And the truth is, though, in my family, my wife is the funny one so I'm glad she didn't get up on there because she could have done a rip on me that would have lasted 20 minutes.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, I'll tell you, if she's funnier than you are, then she's my candidate to host the Academy Awards next year -- (Laughter.) -- because you were my candidate until you said that.
Well, we need to get serious, Senator. We're coming up on the third anniversary of the war in Iraq. What do we do now?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, at this point I think it's clear that there's not going to be a military solution to this. I think there's going to have to be a political solution determined by the Iraqis.
And obviously, all of us have been watching with growing concern when we see the Shi'as, the Sunnis, at each other. The bombing of the mosque, I think, brought us close to civil war. Now it's Iraqi leadership that is going to have to come to the fore and say we want a nation that is unified and are willing to make sacrifices, each faction saying we are willing to give something up to accomplish that vision.
If they are not willing to do that -- and I think we'll know in the next several months. If you don't see concessions from the Shi'as on the constitution, if you don't see in the interior ministry and the security apparatus of the country Sunnis as well as Shi'as who are in power and that there's a non-sectarian perspective in how the central government should be run, then it's hard for me to imagine how we can be successful. And I think that at that point, we're going to have to make some serious determinations about how we deploy our troops.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, what do we do? Let's suppose that a civil war does break out. What should American troops do? Whose side are they on?
SEN. OBAMA: You know, I'm not a military expert. What I know is is that this year should be the year in which we start withdrawing our troops. I think the footprint that we have on the ground is actually exacerbating some of the tensions.
My view -- and I always thought that this enterprise was poorly thought out, but I also felt that once we were there, we should try to make the best of a bad situation. But if, in fact, the Iraqi leadership is not interested, we can't function essentially as a replacement for Saddam's revolutionary guard and try to hold the country together by sheer force.
What we can do is advise, help build up the Iraqi security forces, but if politics break down and you start seeing all out civil war, it is not appropriate for our troops to be in the middle of that. And I think I would then be asking the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others to figure out how do we deploy ourselves where we can be helpful in minimizing death and destruction.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, what you're talking about is pulling out.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, there are certain sections of the country -- even if there was a civil war -- that I think remain safe and stable. Certainly that's true in the Kurdish north. There are certain portions, both in western Iraq and southern Iraq where, conceivably, some of our troops could be deployed.
But certainly what would not be appropriate would be for American troops to be placed in the midst of a civil war having to choose sides, not knowing who our allies were and who our enemies were. That would be a recipe for disaster.
MR. SCHIEFFER: So you're not with Congressman John Murtha who says it's time to leave, that we've done all we can do.
If, in fact, the United States did pull the troops out, do you think that would be seen as a sign of weakness by the insurgents and that they would strike America someplace else?
SEN. OBAMA: You know, the challenge right now is not simply the insurgency. The challenge is the Shi'as and the Sunnis maintaining their own militias, engaging in a low-level civil war as it is. That is the real problem. And so, what we have to recognize is that if you don't see significant political accommodations between these various parties, then our role necessarily is limited.
It's not going to matter how many troops we have there if the Iraqi people have not taken the responsibility for forming a government that recognizes the importance of all parties being involved. And, most importantly, makes certain that the government apparatus, the security apparatus, is in the hands of non-sectarians, then we are not going to be able to impose order in that country.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Senator, let's talk a little bit about politics. The White House is, I think, even their strongest supporters would say they've had a very hard time lately kind of culminating in this port deal that went haywire.
Yet, Democrats do not seem to be getting their act together at all.
What do Democrats need to do here because I'm not sure I understand what the Democrat's message is right now? Do you have one?
SEN. OBAMA: Well look, it's always more difficult when you don't control any branch of government and we don't have one central figure who is delivering the message in a consistent way and a disciplined way. But the Democrats, I think, stand for some things that the American people stand for and it's a matter of us projecting it going into the '06 election.
I think we all believe that we should achieve energy independence, that the notion that we're sending billions of dollars to countries like Iran that are hostile towards us makes no sense. And so being serious about an energy policy that switches to alternative fuels and biodiesel is something that the American people, I think, can get behind.
The health care crisis -- since I've been in Washington, we have not had a single serious debate on the floor of the Senate about what to do for not just the uninsured, but people who have insurance and seeing their co-payments and deductibles going up, for businesses that are straining under the costs and can't compete internationally. So having a serious message that said, you know, by '08 we're going to have every child in America insured and by 2012, we've got every American who's working able to have accessible health insurance, that would be an agenda that makes sense.
Education -- being serious about ensuring that our young people are competitive around issues of math and science.
And on security -- being serious about the ports, chemical plants and rails that the 9/11 commission says we have not adequately protected since 9/11 and has to be part of our national security apparatus.
Those are all issues where, I think, if the Democrats are clear, focused and, frankly, are willing to repeat themselves -- sometimes we have more problems than the Republicans just keeping our talking points simple so that the American people can understand them -- then I think we can be successful.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this -- are you going to have to campaign on these social issues like abortion rights, on gay marriage, these hot button issues that seem to be so much in favor of many people and by the same token so many people are opposed to them? Where do you come down on all that? Do you emphasize those or do you not?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, I think those are difficult issues and I think that people feel passionately about them. I don't think you can avoid them completely and let me take the example of abortion. I think the Democrats historically have made a mistake just trying to avoid the issue or pretend that there's not a moral component to it. There is -- and I think that no matter what side of the debate that you're on, you're going to agree that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a profound decision for the woman and for society and that we have to have a serious conversation about how to reduce the circumstances in which women feel obliged to make that choice. But I think that --
MR. SCHIEFFER: You are pro choice.
SEN. OBAMA: I am pro choice, but I also think that it's important even as I indicate that I'm pro choice to say this is not a trivial issue and we have to listen to the profound concerns that other people have.
More broadly, you know, the red state phenomenon where Democrats just say well, we can't campaign in those areas because they're going to vote Republican I think is a mistake. You know, I'm a Christian, for example. I want to go into churches and have a debate about moral values. Of course, my moral values don't just include issues of abortion or gay marriage, I'm interested in our obligations to the poor. I'm interested in Sermon on the Mount and I think it's important for us to willingly engage in a values discussion in America because ultimately, that's where a lot of people live. They're trying to figure out how to have meaning in their lives in a complicated, dynamic, topsy-turvy society. And the fact that we have not engaged in that, I think, has given the Republicans an advantage.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Hillary Clinton is leading most of the polls as the Democratic favorite right now. Do you think she's the best candidate that the Democrats can put forward?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I've got -- I think half of my colleagues are running for president so I'm not going to take the bait on that one, Bob.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Why?
SEN. OBAMA: I think Hillary is a wonderfully intelligent and capable person. I'm sure that should she decide to run for president, she will be a formidable candidate. I think there are a lot of other candidates who are running who bring terrific qualities to the table.
I think right now, my focus is on '06 because it's critical I think for all Americans to say that we need some balance in our government. You know, if we don't have any capacity to investigate the administration when it makes bad decisions -- around the port deal or wiretapping or a whole host of other issues -- if we don't have some check on the unfettered power of the White House, then I think that we're going to continue to see some of the problems that we've had over the last several months.
MR. SCHIEFFER: One final and one quick question. It seems now that ethics reform, which was on the front burner of everybody for a while, looks like it's just almost about to slide right off the table. What happened?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I'm not going to let it slide off the table. I mean, we've got a bill on the Senate floor that makes some small, incremental steps and it's my effort, along with others on the Democratic side as well as the Republicans, to try to strengthen it. We're going to try to see if we can ban some of the corporate jets that are being used and perks. We're going to see if we can put a strong enforcement agency in place that can take complaints outside of the Senate. So we're going to work hard and I think that ultimately, we're going to see a product come out of the Senate that is a decent product. That's my hope and I'm going to be pushing my colleagues.
I'm a little concerned about what happens on the House side. There seems to be a lot of back peddling. Given that most of the scandals came out of the House side, I would think that they would be more interested in moving on this than they have been so far.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Senator, thank you very much and good luck. I hope to have you again many times on "Face the Nation."
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you, Bob.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Thank you. We'll be back in a moment with Republican Governor Mike Huckabee.
MR. SCHIEFFER: And with us now from Little Rock, Arkansas the Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. He is also chairman of the National Governors Association and earlier this weekend, he was in Memphis where all the people who are thinking about running for the Republican nomination -- all the wannabe's, the think-about-it'ers, the people who are trying to get on the great mentioners list -- they are all there and Governor Huckabee was there with them.
Well Governor, let's just clear it up. Do you want to announce today, this morning, that you're going to seek the Republican nomination?
GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: I think I'll hold off just a little bit. I may go ahead and announce for 2016, but not for '08 just yet.
You know, it was a wonderful weekend in Memphis. I made the comment that it was one of those times where everyone was trying to go around acting as if no one of us had any ambition or ego and we really weren't thinking at all about '08. We just were there and going to places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina because we were invited to go make those speeches and it just happened that that's where we ended up.
MR. SCHIEFFER: (Laughter.) -- well, that's probably the most candor we'll get out of any of the people who were in Memphis over the weekend.
You know, Governor, I want to say one thing.
Regardless of ideology or a party, you are a politician that I think anyone would admit leads by example. Like me, you came down some years ago with type two diabetes. One of the things you have to do is lose a little weight and you really have to get on a program. And it is my understanding you lost how much weight, Governor?
GOV. HUCKABEE: Over 100 pounds -- about 110 pounds total, Bob.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, Governor, somehow I seem -- do you hear me, Governor?
GOV. HUCKABEE: Yes, I hear you just fine.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Because suddenly I have lost all communication with you.
GOV. HUCKABEE: Oh, okay.
MR. SCHIEFFER: I'm very sorry to hear that. If you didn't -- and if it didn't come out -- you lost 120 pounds, which I must say is just a remarkable thing. And Governor, I guess I'm going to have to sit here and keep talking about you because we seem to have lost all communication with you.
Governor Huckabee is a Republican, of course. He comes from what is becoming the home of recent presidents because he comes from Hope, Arkansas. We all know who came from Hope, Arkansas some years back and that would be Bill Clinton.
And Governor Huckabee in his effort to lose this weight -- he's now on the program, he lost 120 pounds -- he has enlisted the help of former junk food addict, Bill Clinton.
And let's see -- Governor, can you hear me now?
GOV. HUCKABEE: Yes, sir, I'm hearing you fine.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right, Governor. Well, we're back on the program now so I guess we'll try to get as serious as we can here now that we have the sound back.
I want to ask you about what you're hearing from the people in Arkansas about Iraq and what we're going to do about that situation there. Obviously, the president's had a really hard time. What do you think the president needs to do?
GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, I just came back from Iraq. I was there a little over a month ago. It was a very enlightening experience and I had a chance to meet with a number of Arkansas troops who had been there for some time as well as to talk to some of those troops who have just come back having been there for 18 months. We've had about half of our entire 11,000-member National Guard over there at some time or another. So I feel like that the information that I'm getting from them -- those that are actually there, as I say, sucking the sand into their lungs and putting their boots on the ground -- is a little more accurate than maybe those who have yet to go or who really haven't seen it up close.
The reality is establishing a beachhead of democracy in a place like Iraq is no easy task. It's a messy process, but it was messy in this country 260 years ago, too, and we're still working to get it right. The good news is the progress is significant and I think a lot of Americans underestimate the incredible job our American military is doing in turning over the security to the Iraqis. We are no longer simply doing something for them, we're doing things with them and we are making progress.
MR. SCHIEFFER: You really do believe that. Now, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, said last week he thought things were going very, very well. There's been a lot of talk about that statement that maybe the administration is just trying to put the good spin on hit here when, in fact, the country appears to be sliding into civil war.
You don't believe it's at that point yet?
GOV. HUCKABEE: I do not believe it's at that point. In fact -- again, with my own eyes and my own ears, I looked, I watched, I listened, not only to the Americans, but I would pull the soldiers off line. Not the official briefings that the Pentagon was going to give us because I knew they were going to tell me things were going well. They were supposed to do that. But when I pulled the soldiers from Arkansas and said look, I'm not going to quote you, I'm not going to bust you out. I want to know are you being equipped? The answer was yes. Are you doing something important? The answer was yes. Do you feel your mission here is accomplishing something worthwhile and do the Iraqis appreciate what you're doing and are you getting something done that you believe will have lasting value? And again, the answer was yes.
This was not from a diplomat. This was not from a politician. This was from a guy whose own life was at risk every day he was there. A person who has the most reason to want to come home today, but who said I'm ready to stay to get this job done. I was impressed with the kind of commitment I saw out of our military, but also the competence and the sense of commitment to the task ahead and a belief that that mission was a vital mission to bring stability in the Middle East and, for that matter, the rest of the world.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Governor, I think even you would admit as a Republican that this has been a very difficult time for the president. No matter what poll you look at, he is going down in those polls and he's, I think, at an all-time low for his presidency right now.
Do you think as a Republican that he is now an asset or a liability for the Republican Party?
GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, polls, I think, for an executive are certainly troubling because when you make very tough decisions, overnight you can plummet. I think governors understand that better than most members of Congress do because they are always able to sort of hide amidst the votes of others. But when you're the sole executive having to make tough decisions, you often make them knowing they're going to be unpopular, but also knowing that in the long-term, you have to make those decisions.
One thing about this president that I respect very much and one of the reasons I like him a lot is that he's willing to make tough decisions knowing full well they're not necessarily going to be popular. But he makes them out of a deep sense of conviction and also a deep sense of believing that it's the long-term importance of the decision, rather than the short-term political impact, that ought to really gauge what he does.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just ask you this quickly. What do you think he ought to do right now? What's the most important thing he could right now?
GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, there are about 270 million people all telling him what he ought to do. I'm not sure I'm best qualified to do it. But I think the most important thing is not so much to change the course, but to continue to communicate in clear, plain language the value of seeing democracy established in that part of the world and making sure that Americans understand that if we succeed there, the ramifications are going to be dramatic for generations. But by the same token, if we fail there, not only with the ramifications for our security and safety be compromised, but I believe the credibility of the United States is going to be compromised for generations with people not believing that we have, in essence, the stamina to stay to the task that we announce that we're going to engage in.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. Governor, I'm sorry about the loss of communications there. Thank you so much for being with us. I hope we'll see you again on "Face the Nation."
GOV. HUCKABEE: I look forward to it, Bob. Thanks.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Back in a minute.
MR. SCHIEFFER: This week marks the third anniversary of America's invasion of Iraq and tomorrow the president will deliver the first in a new series of speeches on why we must persevere.
We need to hear the reasons. We're in a situation now where none of us -- those of us who believe we had to invade and disarm Saddam and those who opposed it -- can say with any real certainty what action will guarantee success. But it's the Iraqis who need an explanation more than we do. What needs to be explained to them is this -- if you can't stop killing each other and form a government, we cannot help you.
On this broadcast last week, Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said it comes down to whether Iraqis want to be Sunnis and Shi'ites or if they really want to come together and be Iraqis.
In a sardonic column, my friend, Tom Friedman of The New York Times, picked Vice President Cheney to deliver just that message because, he said, Cheney can deliver it in the toughest way.
What must stop is the ongoing government effort to sugar coat it, trying to blame it on the media or saying it's all going very, very well, as our top general, Peter Pace, did last week. The Iraqis hear that and take it to mean we believe their excuses and they'll continue to dawdle.
At this table last week, Congressman John Murtha said it's not a we problem, it's a them problem. The Iraqis need to be told that. Sure, threatening to leave is a risk, but when people realize they have to do something to survive and they are the only ones to do it, they generally give it their best effort.
We'll see you next week right here on "Face the Nation."