Interview on "Hardball"
June 19, 2006
NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening, I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, in for Chris Matthews, welcome to HARDBALL...
Earlier today, I spoke to the Democrats‘ national chairman Howard Dean and I asked him about this fight and the heated elections that are coming up this fall.
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: I believe that John Murtha, who served two terms in Vietnam and 37 years as a combat veteran marine, knows a great deal (more) about national defense than anybody in the Republican National Committee and than the large majority of people in the White House.
You can‘t— you simply can‘t trust the Republicans to defend America anymore. It‘s not that they‘re not willing to be tough, it‘s just that they‘re not smart. They‘ve gotten us into a situation in Iraq, we had one week of good news, now two of our brave soldiers are kidnapped. You cannot trust people who won‘t pay attention to the military and will send our troops abroad without proper equipment. You can‘t trust those people to defend America. I submit to you that it is the Republicans that are weak on defense, because they don‘t know what they‘re doing.
O‘DONNELL: Well respond directly to what Karl Rove was saying, because what he said is that they may be with you at the first shots, but they are not going to be with you for the last tough battles, both John Kerry and John Murtha voted for this war and Karl Rove says they‘re not sticking with us to the end, they‘re cutting and running.
DEAN: John Murtha and John Kerry served in Vietnam. Karl Rove did not, George Bush did not, Dick Cheney did not, Don Rumsfeld did not and they wouldn‘t listen to the people who did.
The fact is you can‘t trust these folks, they didn‘t serve abroad defending America. They talk tough, but the fact is that they are sitting in an air-conditioned office on various parts of their anatomy and it is cheap to talk in Washington or to fly in for a half a day with the troops, but what about sending our troops over there with proper equipment?
What about standing up for what the troops really need, not just talking a good game? You can‘t rely on the Republicans to defend America. Today we see North Korea about to set off a missile. North Korea has been doing that for five and a half years while George Bush has been president and the president hasn‘t done anything about it and now look at where we are. You‘ve got to be tough, but you‘ve got to be tough and smart, Norah.
O‘DONNELL: We‘re going to talk about North Korea in just a minute, but let‘s go back to the issue of Iraq. And Congressman Murtha says that we cannot win in Iraq. Do you honestly believe that the American voters are going to vote for Democrats in November who say we can‘t win in Iraq?
DEAN: We‘re not going to win with this president in command, because this president didn‘t understand what was happening when we went in there. He misled the nation about what we were going to find when we did. How about Don Rumsfeld saying their oil revenues were going to pay for all of this. It‘s going to cost us a trillion dollars. How about Don Rumsfeld saying that they were going to welcome us with open arms and parades. Give us a break.
This president got us in there without understanding what he was doing, I would be honored to have people who actually served this country in a war leading this country again, to talk to us about what it really takes to fight a war. I don‘t think the Republicans understand that.
O‘DONNELL: With all due respect, Chairman Dean, many of these issues were talked about in the 2004 election and so what many voters may be talking about in this election is the way forward. What do we do in Iraq now. Why is it that the Democrats, who just unveiled this new plan last week called the new direction for America make absolutely no mention of Iraq in a plan for Iraq. Doesn‘t that just reinforce the idea that Democrats are weak on national security, they can‘t come together and put together a plan?
DEAN: No, actually, the unified Democratic plan does call for something to do with Iraq, it calls for a transition now, it calls for a redeployment of our troops so we get them out of harm‘s way while we‘re still able to respond to the terrorist threat.
O‘DONNELL: What does a redeployment of troops mean?
DEAN: Well, let me first answer your question. What you were talking about is the House agenda for what they were going to pass, should they come back in power, which is increasing the minimum wage, balancing the budget, which the Republicans haven‘t been able to do. In fact, no Republican has balanced the budget for 40 years.
O‘DONNELL: You‘re still not dealing with the issue of Iraq. You have three quarters of the House Democrats who say they want some sort of phased withdrawal, if you will, from Iraq. You have multiple resolutions and amendments being put forward in the Senate, even a new one today by Senators Reid and Senators Levin. So with all this talk out there, why is it the Democrats can‘t put down on paper exactly what their unified plan is. What are you trying to avoid?
DEAN: Well, first of all, let me remind you that it‘s the Republicans that run everything. I think it‘s pretty terrific of the Democrats to put down a plan because the Republicans don‘t seem to have one of any kind, except a permanent commitment to a failed strategy, which we got into because we weren‘t told the truth.
Our plan is this is a transition year, which the Republicans have now adopted, which I think is great, and there‘s going to be a redeployment our troops, some to other countries, for example, Afghanistan, some in the region out of Iraq but in the region ready to respond to events in Iraq, some remaining in Iraq for a period of time, in order to train the Iraqis and the guard and reserves coming home. I think that‘s a good plan, I think it‘s a Democratic plan, and I think it‘s far better than the Republicans that have no plan of any kind.
O‘DONNELL: So this word phased redeployment, means a withdrawal with a timetable?
DEAN: No it doesn‘t. It means just what it, a phased redeployment. That means some troops will come home, others will stay in the region for a length of time. Because, we are not going to be able to bring all our troops out of this region. We can get them out of Iraq, but we cannot get them out of the region because the president has destabilized Iraq and created a situation where terrorists now are in Iraq, where they were not before.
O‘DONNELL: Let me ask you, you are the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. John Kerry is proposing an amendment, which would call for a timed withdrawal our troops, by next year sometime. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton rejects such a timetable. Who‘s right, John Kerry or Hillary Clinton?
DEAN: As a matter of fact, Hillary Clinton said what a lot of us have been saying, which is we cannot have a permanent commitment to a failed strategy. This is not an argument about whether to have a timetable or not.
This is an argument about what kind of timetable we should have and what you‘re going to see this week in the Senate is Senator Reid, Senator Feinstein and others asking the president for just exactly what the Iraqi government has already said, give us a specific plan to get out of Iraq. You cannot trust the Republicans to do this. They got us in there without knowing what they were doing and they still don‘t know what they‘re doing. We think we do know what we‘re doing.
O‘DONNELL: ... Let me ask you, Vice-President Cheney said today, it‘s no accident that the United States has not been attacked since 9-11, just last week, he said that taking out Saddam Hussein was, in part, the reason we‘ve not been attacked. Your reaction?
DEAN: That‘s complete hooey. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9-11. That‘s just part of the Republican nonsense that got us in to Iraq in the first place and the Americans now know that‘s complete hooey and the president and vice-president were not telling the truth when they said that.
O‘DONNELL: But he said it‘s in part because we‘ve done a better job protecting Americans overseas, by taking the fight over seas, it‘s in part because of the Patriot Act and in part because of domestic surveillance. Can‘t you give this administration some credit? It is true there‘s not been an attack on American soil in five years.
DEAN: That is true and that‘s terrific but they haven‘t secured our ports. They haven‘t secured our nuclear plants, we‘ve lost 2500 brave American soldiers, because we attacked the wrong country and we‘re not doing the job we should in Afghanistan because we don‘t have enough troops over there. These folks fundamentally don‘t know what they‘re doing.
O‘DONNELL: Let‘s turn to the issue of North Korea, clearly the top issue today. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying that it would be a very serious matter if in fact North Korea moves forward with this test of this long range missile. She called it a provocative act by North Korea. What should be done?
DEAN: I think what should have been done five years ago is we should have gotten much more serious about North Korea, and not let the hard liners in the Bush administration think that North Korea was going to fall apart by themselves. That‘s why nothing has been done in the last five and a half years. Look, we are where we are. I agree with Secretary Rice, it is provocative, we have to deal with North Korea.
The way to deal with them is to make the deal with the Chinese that should have been made five years ago, that we will resume food and fuel shipments to North Korea and they will allow an inspection, verifiable inspection on the ground in North Korea. The Chinese have the possibility of enforcing that agreement. We do not right now, unless you want to go to an all-out war.
This should have been taken up five years ago and it‘s exactly what the difference between the Republicans and Democrats on defense. We‘re tough, but we‘re also smart and we realize what the real priorities were. This is a real problem. Saddam Hussein was an ugly dictator who needed to be gone, but we were controlling him. We have not controlled North Korea, and that now is a threat to the United States of America.
O‘DONNELL: So are you saying then that if North Korea does in fact move forward with this test of a long range missile, that you would propose that there should be a military response by the United States?
DEAN: No, I‘m not proposing that immediately, but we are far closer to a military response than we ever needed to be because this could have been dealt with five years ago had we been tougher then.
O‘DONNELL: All right, the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean. Thank you for your time.
DEAN: Thanks very much.
Originally from MSNBC Transcripts.