Meet The Press
With Tim Russert. Sunday, March 14, 2004
GUESTS: National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice and former Gov. Howard Dean, D-VT, former presidential candidate
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS(202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday, these were the words one year ago:
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: We will bring freedom to others, and we will prevail.
MR. RUSSERT: And this was the scene in Baghdad. Nine months later, Saddam Hussein was captured. But 12 months later, still no weapons of mass destruction:
MR. DAVID KAY: Clearly, the intelligence that we went to war on was inaccurate, wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: And 566 Americans dead, 3,219 injured and wounded. The war in Iraq, is it worth it? With us, for the war...
Dr. CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The war on terror is greatly served by the removal of this source of instability in the world's most unstable region.
MR. RUSSERT: ...the president's national security adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Against the war...
FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN, (D-VT): I will never send our sons and daughters and our children to die in a foreign country without telling the truth to the American people about why they're there.
MR. RUSSERT: ...former Democratic presidential candidate, Governor Howard Dean. Rice and Dean square off on the war in Iraq only on MEET THE PRESS.
Dr. Rice, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
DR. RICE: Good morning, Tim. Nice to be with you.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me start with Spain. This is the cover of Newsweek magazine: Europe's 9/11, a new threat to America. Eerily, this attack occurred exactly 911 days after September 11th, 2001. Are you convinced that al-Qaeda was behind the attack in Spain?
DR. RICE: I think we still do not really know who was behind this brutal attack in Spain. The Spanish authorities still suspect that it might have been ETA, the Basque terrorist group, or it might have been a foreign terrorist, like al-Qaeda. We've offered to do everything that we can to help the Spanish authorities determine who was behind this attack, but I'd just like to say one thing to the Spanish people. Terrorism is terrorism in the view of the United States and this president, and we stand with them at this terrible time when, once again, we have seen what brutal killers will do in the name of a cause. They will take innocent life, they will do so without any warning, and they will do so in places as varied as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia and Morocco and Spain and the United States. It simply doesn't matter to them.
MR. RUSSERT: Al-Qaeda has issued audiotapes taking responsibility for the attack. It says, "It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies." About 90 percent of Spaniards were opposed to Spain's helping the United States in Iraq. Are you concerned that the Spanish government and today's election may fall as a result of embracing the president's policy on Iraq and this attack?
DR. RICE: I believe that the Spanish people understand that they've had strong and good leadership in President Jose Maria Aznar and his government, that fighting terrorism cannot allow one to be intimidated. We are fighting a global war on terrorism, and the events in Spain are just more evidence of the lengths to which these killers will go to try and intimidate free people. Whether they were ETA or al-Qaeda, it is the same method. It is to try to intimidate people to use methods that are violent, to try to terrorize people, and no one can be intimidated.
We're at war with these people, and yes, they will try and attack those who they believe might defeat them. That is a part of their game. But they will not win and we will not falter, because if we allow them to intimidate, if we ever fall into the notion that we would be better off just to sit back and let them grow and continue, that if we don't bother them, they won't bother us, that's simply a notion that cannot be tolerated after 9/11. The idea that somehow someone stirring up a beehive of terrorists, creating terrorists where they all were not simply ignores a history that goes back into the early '80s where a progression of terrorist incidents, terrorist activities have gotten stronger, where they began to think that they were inevitable in their victory, where inadequate responses probably emboldened them further over a long period of time. And now they recognize that they have a United States of America and a coalition that's taking them on. They've committed acts of war against them. We have no choice but to take them on wherever they may be.
MR. RUSSERT: But there appears to be no finite number of terrorists. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld suggested recently that it appears that we're-- more are being created faster than we can arrest or kill them.
DR. RICE: We do have several layers with which we have to deal with this, several strategies. At the first layer, we have to continue to fight the organizations like al-Qaeda, we've rounded up two-thirds of their known leadership. People like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, who used to be their field generals, are now in custody. Others of them have been killed. We are hurting that organization. We also have to continue to work to break up their financing, to break up the support networks that would help them. We have to try and defend here at home, as my colleague, Tom Ridge, and people in Homeland Security do every day.
But, Tim, we also have to take this fight to the terrorists. They committed an act of war on 9/11 against the United States. They went for the Pentagon. They were going for the Capitol and for the White House. They were trying to decapitate us. That's an act of war. And unless we recognize that we have to go after them in their strongholds, we're going to sit here and try to defend, and we will not be able to do it in a way that is consistent with the openness that we would like to maintain as Americans.
We are succeeding because slowly, but surely, their world is getting smaller, not larger. They don't have Afghanistan as a base of operations. They will not have Iraq as a base of operations. They will not have Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, countries that now have joined in an aggressive way in the fight against terrorism. They will not have Libya. They will not have Sudan. Slowly but surely, their world is getting smaller, and it's only through a policy that is aggressive and tough that we're ultimately going to defeat them. In the final analysis, though, and it's why the president has talked about a forward strategy for freedom in the Middle East, we do have to change the very nature, working with those who want a different Middle East, of the Middle East itself, because it is obviously a place where hatred and ideologies of hatred are being-- are flourishing because of lack of opportunity and the freedom deficit.
MR. RUSSERT: But if this was al-Qaeda and they successfully killed 200 Spaniards and wounded 1,500, they're far from being decapitated. Al-Qaeda is alive and well.
DR. RICE: They are going to win skirmishes in the war on terrorism. They are going to, from time to time, pull off an attack. We know that. We know that even though we are safer, much safer in the United States, we are not yet safe. But they are not going to win the war, and they are losing many of their most important assets, not only parts of their leadership, but their world is getting smaller. The places where they can operate with impunity are shrinking because the president has managed to put together a global coalition that daily fights them through law enforcement and through intelligence, but also fights them on the ground for territory where we can take regimes that were once supporters of terrorism, regimes that were once problems with weapons of mass destruction, and make those places that are on the road to democratic development. The terrorists are losing.
MR. RUSSERT: U.S. unmanned Predators spotted Osama bin Laden on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that's why we've launched Operation Mountain Storm?
DR. RICE: Tim, I can't talk about operational matters, but let me just say that there's an awful lot floating around about Osama bin Laden and where he might be caught and where he might not be caught that I think is really not backed up by sound intelligence. People should stop speculating. We're on the hunt for him. We're working with our allies in Afghanistan and in Pakistan to try to find him and to try to find his associates. That is a daily, hourly activity and task. But we will find him when we find him. And the best news is that he is on the run because we have real allies now in the war on terrorism that we did not have prior to September 11.
But while it is important to focus on capturing bin Laden-- all of us look forward to the day that we get the phone call that we got about Saddam Hussein, that he's, indeed, been captured or otherwise dealt with-- it is also important that we keep focused on the organization and continuing to bring down its senior leadership. There are others, like Zarqawi, who is operating in and around Iraq, Zawahiri and those who we've captured and killed. So this is not just about one man, but obviously we look forward to the day when Osama bin Laden is brought to justice.
MR. RUSSERT: And the president's policy is still "We'll get him, dead or alive"?
DR. RICE: The president has said that we're going to get him, and he will come to justice one way or another.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the war in Iraq. This is the first anniversary. Looking back at the primary rationale that was given to the American people, that we had to disarm Saddam Hussein, we had to find those weapons of mass destruction, and destroy them, and they have not yet been found, in your mind, is it worth 566 American lives and 3,219 injured or wounded Americans simply to remove Saddam Hussein even though there were no weapons of mass destruction?
DR. RICE: Tim, first of all, let me say that we all grieve with the families of those who have been lost and pray for those who go through the trial and tribulation of trying to recover from injuries in Iraq, but these are people who have served in a noble cause, in America's noblest traditions, and that is to bring freedom and to bring security to America. Let's remember that after 9/11, the president was looking at a situation in which he was presented with an intelligence picture of a Saddam Hussein who had weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical weapons, and continued activities to try, over some period of time, nobody knew when, to eventually acquire a nuclear weapon.
It was not as if this came out of the blue. The United States intelligence agencies were not the only ones who believed that he had weapons of mass destruction, intelligence agencies all over the world, the United Nations itself. In fact, he was under very, very tough sanctions because of his weapons of mass destruction. And the United Nations, as late as March of 2003, said that his explanations about what had become of his weapons of mass destruction were not credible. He refused to account for them. There was a new resolution passed unanimously in the Security Council, Resolution 1441, that told him disarm or you will face serious consequences.
The international community had a serious credibility problem where it came to weapons of mass destruction and the willingness to enforce tough resolutions, and what the president and the coalition did was to rescue, really, that credibility and to finally enforce the will of the international community of states that had been there for 12 years. Now, when the-- when we find the full understanding of what precisely has become of the weapons of mass destruction, we will know any differences between what we thought going in and what we now know.
But let's remember that we have already found that he certainly had the intent, this is someone who had used weapons of mass destruction in the past, who was continuing to try to pursue these programs, who had capabilities to develop these weapons, and who was the most dangerous regime in the world's most dangerous region. We were, practically every day, flying no-fly zone patrols, our pilots were, trying to keep his forces intact, and trying to keep his people safe. This was not a neutral situation. The idea that somehow if we'd simply left Saddam Hussein alone, we would have been safer, that it was not worth it to take him out, I think we just have to go back and look at the time...
MR. RUSSERT: More dangerous than North Korea?
DR. RICE: I think more dangerous than North Korea because-- and it's not that North Korea isn't dangerous. Don't get me wrong. It's dangerous. But look at where he sits. He sits in the Middle East. This is someone that we had gone to war against in 1991 because he attacked and invaded his neighbor, Kuwait, and people were worried that he was on his way to Saudi Arabia. This is someone who in 1998 President Clinton used airpower and cruise missiles against because he said we can't allow him to sit there with his weapons of mass destruction. Yes, the most dangerous regime in the world's most dangerous region.
MR. RUSSERT: David Kay, the man who led the CIA's postwar effort to find weapons of mass destruction said this, that the Bush administration should "`come clean with the American people' and admit it was wrong." "Kay said the administration's reluctance to make"-- the-- "admission"-- that-- "was delaying essential reforms of U.S. intelligence"-- agency-- "and further undermining"-- the-- "credibility at home and abroad." "`It's about confronting and coming clean with the American people. [President Bush] should say we were mistaken and I'm determined to find out why.'"
Will the president say he was mistaken about weapons of mass destruction?
DR. RICE: I have enormous respect for David Kay and what he has found and what he did out there. He's a real patriot, but that job is not over of determining precisely what the nature of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs were. There is a-- Charlie Dulfer has now gone out there. The Iraq Survey Group will come up with its findings.
But let's remember that the president looks at a body of issues and evidence in making a decision to go to war. Yes, we worried about unaccounted for stockpiles, we worried about the fact that Saddam Hussein would not account for what became of anthrax or botulinum toxin. Yes, we worried about those things. Everyone worried about those things, which is why Resolution 1441 was passed. But we also worried about the intentions and capabilities of a regime like the Iraqi regime to make those weapons if and when sanctions were lifted. We worried about what we didn't know in Iraq.
The president wants to know, as much as anybody, and probably more than anyone else, what became of the weapons of mass destruction. We were all somewhat surprised that we have not yet found them. That is why he has put in place an independent commission that will look at the entire range of evidence about what we did know in Iraq and what we now know. They will also look at what is a broader question, which is that when you're dealing with highly secretive regimes that are determined to deceive, that are often using dual-use technologies to build the world's most dangerous weapons. That's a tremendous intelligence challenge, and we may, indeed, need to make changes to the way that we gather, collect, analyze intelligence, but we need to look at it systemically, we need to look at all the cases, what we're learning from Libya, what we're learning from the Iranian case, what we've learned in Iraq, and the president will be one of the people most interested in what reforms need to be taken.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Dr. Rice, leading up to the war, the rhetoric of the administration was much different than Saddam could be a threat or he has weapons programs. The president said he was, "a unique and urgent threat." It was, "a unique urgency," "a grave threat." You and the president both talked about the mushroom cloud. Scott McClelland, deputy press secretary, said it's "an imminent threat." Ari Fleischer, the press secretary, said, "absolutely," it was an imminent threat. In hindsight, looking back, it was not an imminent or urgent threat.
DR. RICE: I think what the president said in his State of the Union, Tim, is that we cannot wait until it becomes imminent. It is a gathering and grave threat. We all believed that it is an urgent threat and I believe to this day that it was an urgent threat. After 12 years of refusing to account for his weapons, of refusing to account for his activities, after 12 years of defying the international community, shooting at our pilots in no-fly zones, threatening his neighbors, sitting in the world's most dangerous region, it was an urgent threat. This could not go on. And we are safer as a result because today Iraq is no longer going to be a state of weapons of mass destruction concern. It's simply rewriting history to suggest that people did not think that Iraq was a serious weapons of mass destruction state of concern. After all, President Clinton in 1998 had committed military action to deal with Saddam. In 1998, the United States Congress had adopted a regime change strategy because we couldn't live with the threat of Saddam Hussein.
MR. RUSSERT: But the head of the CIA, George Tenet, testified this week he never said it was an imminent threat and he said it three times he had to correct the vice president or president on comments they had made about intelligence.
DR. RICE: Well, first of all, I think that what George Tenet said is that he never said it was an imminent threat. The president said in his State of the Union, "We cannot wait until it is an imminent threat." The question was how long were you going to wait with the grave and gathering danger of a regime like Saddam Hussein with capability and intent and money, refusing to answer the legitimate questions of the international system, continuing to fire at our pilots in the no-fly zone, continuing to threaten his neighbors-- how long were you going to wait? And the president decided that it was time to deal with this problem, particularly in light of September 11, when we learned that we don't ever know when a threat is really imminent. Did we know on September 10 that September 11 was imminent? No, we did not. And so the president was dealing with this in a very different set of circumstances after September 11.
As to what George Tenet said about the intelligence, I believe that George Tenet made his comments to the president when there were processes to examine and clear, presidential statements, but George Tenet also said that the administration never, to his mind, mischaracterized the intelligence or misused it.
MR. RUSSERT: On September 11, there is a commission now in place which the administration originally resisted and also resisted extending the deadline. They now want to interview the president. He has said he'll only sit down with the chairman and co-chairman of the committee for one hour. Will the president meet with the full commission and will he do it for longer than an hour?
DR. RICE: The president, of course, is the president, and he does have a schedule to keep, but he has said that he will sit with the chairman and with the co-chairman and that he will answer whatever questions they have. And I'm quite certain he will take as long as they need to answer those questions.
MR. RUSSERT: Several hours, a day if they need?
DR. RICE: Well, I would hope that they would recognize that he's president and that people would be judicious in the use of his time. But he wants as much as anyone to understand what happened on September 11, the causes of that, and what we can do to prevent future September 11s.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you testify under oath in public about September 11?
DR. RICE: Tim, this is not a matter of preference; this is a matter of principle. It has long been a legal and constitutional principle that assistants to the president, the presidential staff, do not testify before legislative bodies. But this is not a matter of preference. I have spent more than four hours with the commission going through the details about 9/11. I'm prepared to spend more time with the commission in discussion about whatever they'd like to know about September 11, but as a matter of principle, we cannot breach this wall between the legislature and the executive.
MR. RUSSERT: John Kerry said, "The president has time to go to a rodeo but not spend time with the commission."
DR. RICE: As I've said, Tim, I believe the president is prepared to spend whatever time they need to answer their questions, but I hope that people will be judicious with his time.
MR. RUSSERT: In the president's new commercial for re-election on the air, he says, "We can't turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat." Is that suggesting that John Kerry does not believe terrorists are plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat? Who is it turning back to?
DR. RICE: I think it's simply a statement of fact that prior to September 11, our policies as a nation, going really all the way back to the bombing of the Lebanon barracks or perhaps even before that, to the Iranian revolution, were not in a mode of the kind of war that we were fighting; that we believed for a long time that law enforcement would get this done, that we did not have to roll them back in terms of territory. That's really the debate we're going to have. When the al-Qaeda committed an act of war against the United States on September 11, what was the appropriate response? Was it an appropriate response to not just rely on law enforcement to try and bring them to justice, but to also mobilize the military power of the United States to take down their base in Afghanistan and to begin to make their world smaller by dealing with the long-time problem that had been there in Iraq?
We're going to have a debate about whether or not the Patriot Act, which allows for the kind of sharing and collection activities between the FBI and the CIA that finally break down the walls between domestic and foreign intelligence, allow us to relate the foreign threat to what is going on in the country. Are we going to roll back the Patriot Act? Are we going to remember that perhaps the one thing that we might have done before September 11 was have better sharing of intelligence and collection between the CIA and the FBI that would have given us a fuller picture of what was going on inside the country? Tim, I can tell you that that was really the problem. We didn't know what was going on inside the country. But if we're going to roll back the Patriot Act, the people of America are going to have to know that they're taking an enormous risk that we could go back to the days when that kind of collection and sharing activity is not permitted. Those are the debates we're going to have. We're going to have a debate about whether we're at war and whether that requires a response that is strong and bold and up to the task.
MR. RUSSERT: President Putin of Russia is up for re-election today. Are you concerned about his trampling on democracy in Russia?
DR. RICE: We are concerned that, in Russia, the independent media has receded into the background in Russia. We are concerned that the elections have perhaps not allowed for full debate among candidates.
MR. RUSSERT: In 2001, the president said President Putin was straightforward and trustworthy, that he looked into his soul and he found-- looked the man in the eye and found him deeply committed to his country and the best interest. Does the president stand by that?
DR. RICE: Oh, I don't have any doubt that Vladimir Putin is completely committed to his country and to its best interests. I also have to...
MR. RUSSERT: And trustworthy and straightforward?
DR. RICE: I have to say that he has been straightforward with us. He has been-- to his word, when he said he would do something, he would do it. But that does not mean that it is inappropriate for the president to express his concerns about the development of Russia in terms of its democratic development. This is a country that only came out of its Soviet past 15 years ago. The road to democracy here is not going to be smooth and easy. But because we have a very good relationship with the Russians, because the president has a very good relationship with President Putin, he can talk to him about the obligation that Russia has.
MR. RUSSERT: And no concerns that Russia's going to try to reassert itself militarily around the world?
DR. RICE: I think that we believe that Russia's best interests are in trying to associate itself with both Western values and with the democratic values, and we believe that that is still an open question in Russia. We have those conversations openly with the Russians, but I have to say that we have very good cooperation with the Russians on most issues. We have more in common than we have apart.
MR. RUSSERT: Should former Haitian President Aristide go to Jamaica?
DR. RICE: We think it's a bad idea. We believe that President Aristide, in a sense, forfeited his ability to lead his people because he did not govern democratically. Even the day before he stepped down, and stepped down voluntarily, by the way...
MR. RUSSERT: No coercion.
DR. RICE: President Aristide said that he stepped down because he wanted to avoid bloodshed. That was the right decision.
MR. RUSSERT: He was not duped by the United States?
DR. RICE: He was not duped by the United States. And the fact of the matter is that now he has stepped down, Haiti is moving forward. There's a new president. There is a new prime minister. There is a new chief of police. There's an Eminent Persons Council that is trying to guide that process. There's a United Nations assessment team that has been in Haiti assessing the needs of a follow-on security force. The Haitian people need to move forward, and the best thing the President Aristide can do for his people is to now go into the background and let them try and achieve the kind of democratic process and progress that they were unable to achieve under him.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Rice, we thank you for your views.
DR. RICE: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the former Democratic candidate for president who spoke out forcefully against the war in Iraq. Governor Howard Dean of Vermont is next right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: A leading voice against the war in Iraq, former presidential candidate Howard Dean, after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Governor Dean, welcome.
DR. DEAN: Thanks for having me on, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you the same question I asked Dr. Rice. Five hundred and sixty-six Americans dead, 3,219 injured or wounded-- Was it worth that human toll for war in Iraq?
DR. DEAN: Well, first let me say that you never say that-- to somebody's family who's lost their child in Iraq that it wasn't worth it, that your son or daughter died in vain. I would have made a very different choice. And I think that the debate that Dr. Rice and the Bush administration are setting up is exactly what the Bush administration has been doing all along. It's misstating the case and diverting attention. The truth is this is a straw debate. Everybody's going to fight terrorism hard. The question is: Has the Bush administration done a good job? And the answer is absolutely not because Iraq was a diversion.
There was no evidence that Iraq was ever an imminent threat to the United States, the CIA director has said so, there was no evidence that Iraq ever had-- was about to acquire nuclear weapons, as Vice President Cheney said. The administration has admitted that wasn't true. There was no evidence, as President Bush said a year ago, that Iraq was buying uranium from Africa. They subsequently admitted that wasn't true. This administration did not tell the truth about why we went to Iraq.
If they had simply said Saddam Hussein is a bad man and we should go take him out, the American people would have said no, we don't think that's worth the war. Now, there have been a lot of justifications for attacking Iraq. Most of them have turned out not to be true. The argument is: Did the capture of Saddam Hussein and the attack on Iraq make us safer? I said no during the campaign. I think it's very clear that the answer is no. We've spent 566 American lives and $160 billion when we should have been going after Osama bin Laden. And that is why I think this president is weak on terrorism, not strong.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Rice said that Saddam Hussein was the most dangerous regime in the world.
DR. DEAN: That was ridiculous. This is a pathetic old man who we'd been containing for 12 years by overflights. We had sanctions on him that were paralyzing him. It turned out that there were no weapons of mass destruction, as the administration-- although the administration said otherwise. It turned out that there was no relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda or the killing of the 3,000 Americans at the World Trade Center, even though the administration tried to lead us in an opposite direction. The administration simply did not tell the truth about Iraq. The debate is not about whether we should fight terrorism. I supported the war in Afghanistan because I think we did the right thing in Afghanistan, although I think the conduct of the war is not being very well-managed, after the fact. But fighting Iraq had nothing to do with terrorism.
Paul O'Neill had said, according to the book "The Price of Loyalty," that was out a couple of months ago, that President Bush always intended to go into Iraq long before 9/11. He did. He didn't tell the truth to the American people about why. Whether he was misled by his own people or whether he deliberately didn't tell the truth, we don't know. We need to find that out. He needs to spend a lot more than an hour before the commission that's trying to figure out who knew what and when did they know it.
MR. RUSSERT: But you yourself believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
DR. DEAN: I did, because the president told us. And I'm inclined to believe presidents in most circumstances. I think most Americans, Democrats or Republicans, ought to believe the president of the United States when he does something as serious as send us to war.
MR. RUSSERT: Republicans watching this morning, some will say, "OK, Dean, if you had your way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power."
DR. DEAN: That's not necessarily so. I did believe that the United-- and I said at the time that the United Nations could and should remove Saddam from power. My objection was to a unilateral war when America wasn't being told the truth about why we're going to war. The president told us that Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States. That wasn't true. The president allowed us to think that he had something to do with the attack on 9/11. Turned out that wasn't true, and there was no evidence for that, as the president himself admitted a few months ago. So my concern was: How can we remove this evil person in the way that we try to remove other evil people?
I think there's an attempt to, for example, remove Robert Mugabe from Zimbabwe, which we should be doing, but you do that with sanctions, with overflights, and with multilateral actions. You don't do that-- unless the country is a direct threat to the United States, which Iraq clearly was not, you do not do that. And if the president was so interested in going in and unilaterally removing Saddam Hussein, how come we didn't unilaterally remove Kim Jong Il of North Korea, which is a far greater danger to the United States than Iraq ever was?
MR. RUSSERT: Because he has nuclear weapons and can use them against us.
DR. DEAN: Exactly so. And the question is if unilateral attacks on other countries are the rule for countries that we deem dangerous, then we have a standard that makes no sense to the rest of the world. And the reason that we have lost the moral leadership in the world since this president has taken office-- we used to be the moral leader as well as the most powerful nation militarily. We're not the moral leader anymore. You would be hard-pressed to find the majority in very many countries around the world where people admire the United States the way they did from the end of World War I right to the day we went into Iraq. And that is a product of an inconsistent foreign policy which is not in the best interest of the defense of America against terrorism. It simply reflects the peak of the president of the United States and that was illustrated when Paul O'Neill, who I believe is telling the truth, said that, in one of his early Cabinet meetings long before 9/11, this president intended to go to war against Iraq for reasons that the American people today do not know.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Rice seemed to suggest this morning that after September 11, the president and others must connect the dots. In all the intelligence from the United States CIA and other intelligences around the world said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and the president acted on that information in good faith, and that if he didn't remove Saddam Hussein, Saddam would still be there now at least trying to develop a nuclear weapon and why would we want that?
DR. DEAN: Well, the truth is our own intelligence did not signal to the vice president and the president that there was clear evidence that they had weapons of mass destruction. I mean, the language-- I thought George Tenet's testimony was pretty striking a couple of weeks ago when he made it clear that again and again, he went to the White House and went to the vice president's office and tried to pull them back from the rhetorical brink that they had overstepped by making claims that simply weren't so. The truth is the evidence that we had for the existence of weapons of mass destruction wasn't nearly as strong as what the president and the vice president were telling us.
So again, the bottom line is not whether we should defend ourselves against terrorism. Of course, we should. And John Kerry, when he becomes president on January 20, I have no doubt will defend us against terrorism having served abroad in a war. I think people who've served abroad in a war are always more cautious about committing troops because of their own experience than those who have not. And very few people in this administration who made that decision have survived abroad in a way.
The argument is not whether John Kerry or George Bush is going to be better about protecting against terrorism. They're both going to try to do the best they can. I happen to think that Kerry will be better than the president, but the argument is: Should we have gone into Iraq or not? That's the argument we're having today and the answer for me, it seems to me, is very clearly no because we went in on bad information, we've spent $160 billion, and had we spent that money in Afghanistan and in the northwest provinces of Pakistan, we might well have Osama bin Laden.
For the president of the United States to assert that we are safer because Saddam Hussein is in jail is ludicrous given what happened three days ago in Spain.
MR. RUSSERT: Al-Qaeda is alive and well?
DR. DEAN: It's very clear that al-Qaeda is alive and well. We don't know for sure if al-Qaeda was responsible for the bombings, but when you have three Moroccans and three people with Indian passports-- or two people with Indian passports that were clearly involved, it certainly does not indicate that it's likely that ETA was, in fact, the culprit.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you something you said in the campaign way back in July. "If I as governor of Vermont can figure out the case is not there to invade Iraq, how can three senators and a congressman who claim to have authority in public affairs manage to give the president unilateral authority to attack Iraq?" The three senators being Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman and Congressman Gephardt.
DR. DEAN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: Having said that, how can John Kerry make a case against the president on Iraq when he voted to give him the authority?
DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, in campaigns, we focus on the differences, and this was a big difference in the campaign. But I think you also need to look at the similarities now that the campaign is over. For whatever our differences were on the war-- and they were significant-- there are some significant important similarities. First of all, John Kerry has made it very clear that he wanted a real multilateral coalition. The president's coalition of the willing, composed of people like Kazakhstan and Eritrea, is not exactly a real multilateral coalition.
MR. RUSSERT: He had Great Britain and Spain and some big countries.
DR. DEAN: He had Great Britain and Spain and that was it, and Poland. The rest of the list was not a major impressive array of armaments from around the world. So this was a unilateral, essentially, action. I think John Kerry has spoken out very clearly about that. But the biggest difference I think between Senator Kerry and President Bush on this issue is that Senator Kerry really does believe in internationalism and George Bush does not. George Bush said during the campaign there would be no nation building, that he believed that the United States' power ought to be exerted more clearly and more forcefully.
And John Kerry believes, I think-- and I don't want to speak for Senator Kerry, because I'm not on this show to do that, but he made it clear during the campaign that you get more-- I think you can get more results with cooperation with other countries than not. And I think the illustration of that is very simple, because the comparison is really most interesting between George Bush and his father, who I thought was quite deft diplomatically. George Bush's father had over 100,000 foreign troops in Iraq when we went in the first time, an invasion that I also supported, because I think that when a dictator takes over another country that's your ally, you have an obligation to come to their defense.
This president couldn't get those troops. They have some troops from Britain, some from Spain and some from Poland and a smattering of others. I believe that John Kerry, who is a multilateralist, would have been able to put together the kind of coalition that George Bush's father had, which served us well in the first encounter with Saddam Hussein. This president is not going to ever be able to get us out of Iraq without, I think at this point, Iraq dissolving into chaos or a fundamentalist Shiite theocracy, both of which are very bad for the United States. I think John Kerry will be able to get us out of Iraq because I think he will engender much better cooperative relationships with the kinds of countries that he needs to get those 100,000 foreign troops in so that we can bring home our Guard and Reserve and one of our two divisions.
MR. RUSSERT: You think that Iraq may be on the verge of civil war?
DR. DEAN: I think that is the unfortunate indication. I actually fear-- and this is an interesting thing for one of the most anti-war candidates to say-- my greatest fear right now is that President Bush for political reasons will withdraw our troops prematurely from Iraq, and that Iraq will descend in-- either to civil war or to chaos. There are significant divisions. If you, for election reasons, bring home the troops too early, then you risk the-- either al-Qaeda establishing a beachhead, and we know al-Qaeda is in Iraq now, even though they were not in Iraq before we went in, or you risk the attempt by the Shiite religious majority to enforce a Shiite theocracy, which is what they have in Iran. I think that would be a very serious problem.
MR. RUSSERT: So Howard Dean would not cut and run if he was president?
DR. DEAN: No. I don't think you could do that, and I'd be surprised if either of the candidates-- I'd be more worried about President Bush in this arena because I think that he is more sensitive to poll numbers and he understands that there are a lot of people asking questions about why we're there. You know, the significant issue in Iraq is not whether we're in there or not. If that were the significant issue, I'd be the nominee and Senator Kerry would not. People care about Iraq, but they really wanted-- they voted for John Kerry because they thought-- for a number of other reasons. The significant issue-- and this is where the president is going to rise or fall in this election-- is did the president tell the truth? And I think an increasing number of Americans believe that he may not have told the truth. And when the president of the United States has problems with his credibility, that brings his re-electability into question.
MR. RUSSERT: Last July, you suggested on this program that it would take-- may take more American troops in Iraq in order to stabilize it. Is that still your view?
DR. DEAN: No. What I have since said is that we need more troops, but not more American troops. And I do believe we need additional foreign troops to make sure that Iraq is stabilized. They should not be American troops. I think the American people have no appetite for sending more American troops to Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: You talk about John Kerry and Iraq, and I want to go back to this, because six weeks ago on this program, we talked about it. And I'm very curious about whether or not you believe that John Kerry has the credibility to engage the president on Iraq. Let's watch our discussion from Wisconsin:
(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, February 1, 2004):
MR. RUSSERT: This is what you said to The New York Times last week. "[Dean] defined the nomination battle as a choice between [himself]" and "a Washington insider who shifts back and forth with every poll."
Who is that?
DR. DEAN: That's John Kerry.
MR. RUSSERT: On what issues?
DR. DEAN: Iraq, for one. He couldn't make up his mind whether he was for Iraq or not for the longest time.
They all voted for that stuff, and then they come around and find out it's unpopular, so now they're saying, "Well, we've got to do this and we've got to do that." How about a little foresight and how about standing up for what you think is right and not worrying about what the focus groups and the polls say?
DR. DEAN: It was a tough campaign, one that I did not win. Evidently more Democrats did not agree with me than agreed with me, and I accept that. The great thing about a democracy is that you have a vote. And, you know, people say, "Oh, aren't you angry?" I'm not the least bit angry about the way the campaign turned out. John Kerry won fair and square. And now the question is: Are we all going to pull together as a team or not?
MR. RUSSERT: But is he consistent enough on Iraq to debate George Bush?
DR. DEAN: You know, one of the things-- I've gotten to know John a little bit since the campaign was over, and I think that what he does sometimes is muse in public. He does what, actually, I've done, which has gotten me in trouble and sometimes it gets him in a little trouble-- is you think out loud. I think that he is really struggling with the right way to fight terrorism, and I think he and I agree that the right way to fight terrorism is not to send several thousand troops to Iraq without first being candid with the American people and explaining to them why you're doing that. Did we have our differences in the campaign? Yes. Was it a very hard-fought campaign? Yes. I made my case. I think we had a significant impact on the race in-- about allowing Democrats to say things they wouldn't have said before.
But John Kerry is the nominee of this party, and the choice is between John Kerry and George Bush, and there's no question in my mind that John Kerry will make a far better president than George Bush, both on the economic and jobs side, which is going to be the biggest issue in this campaign, and most certainly, in my view, in the conduct of foreign policy. John Kerry is an internationalist. We forfeited the moral leadership of this world, a position that we had been in since the end of World War I, when George Bush went into Iraq unilaterally. We deserve that moral leadership title back again, and I think Kerry will bring it to us.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you a bumper sticker that can be seen on automobiles around the country, and actually available on the Kerry Web site. And I'll put it on the screen: "Dated Dean, Married Kerry." What's that mean to you?
DR. DEAN: Well, that means we had a great run. We didn't quite get there, and John did. And, you know, God bless him for it. You know, this is a tough business, politics, as I've discovered, and you get out there and you give it your best shot. We did. We think we got a lot of people excited. We got a lot of grassroots people excited, and we're going to talk about that on "Larry King" on Wednesday. But we didn't get to the nomination. We fell short. And I accept that. That's the voters that decided that, and now we've got to move on.
And so now the question is: Are we going to fundamentally change the country? And I think we can. I'm going to work for fundamental change for the country. I don't get to be the captain of the team. That's not what the voters said. John Kerry gets to be the captain of the team. And the question is: Do you want to be on the team and work for change, or do you not? And I do want to be on the team and I'm going to work for change.
MR. RUSSERT: Why did voters date you, though? Date you heavily? You know? Is it the wild and crazy boyfriend and then settle down for a more somber husband?
DR. DEAN: Well, I hadn't thought about that. You know, I think we were saying things that other people didn't dare say for a while. I mean, if you look at what happened-- and I've said this before on MEET THE PRESS. If you look at what happened is that George Bush got into office with 500,000 fewer votes than Al Gore got. And a lot of-- for the first two years, we all laid down in front of him, we let him get away with all this stuff, and we passed his right-wing program. Furthermore, he governed far further to the right than I ever thought he would, knowing him as governor of Texas. I was just shocked by the stuff that he has passed. The Medicare prescription bill, imagine having your administration order somebody not to testify that it's going to cost $140 billion more than you thought. I mean, if this was going on in the Clinton administration, there would be all kinds of inquiries and hearings and people being fired. What is going on in this Capitol and what is going on in this country? That's the case we made to the American people, and I think it was a pretty attractive case.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you think the defining issue or issues will be in this race?
DR. DEAN: Jobs. Jobs. Right now, the unemployment rate is high, but the worst thing is all the people who have quit looking for work, health insurance, which goes right around with jobs-- I should really have said economic security, not just jobs. Economic security in this country is a disaster for people unless you're one of the few favored people that got George Bush's $3 trillion worth of tax giveaways. Or unless you're in the pharmaceutical business or the insurance business and you got all that money from the Medicare prescription bill which did very little to help seniors. People want economic security. This president is concerned about a very small group of people at the very top. He's forgotten about ordinary Americans. That's why I'm going to support Kerry.
MR. RUSSERT: You think Ralph Nader's candidacy will hurt John Kerry?
DR. DEAN: I think it's too early to tell. You know, my belief is that the question is: Do you want John Kerry or do you want George Bush? If you want George Bush, then you should vote for George Bush. But, unfortunately, voting for Ralph Nader is going to have the effect of helping to elect George Bush, and we hope that that doesn't happen.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you serve in a Kerry Cabinet?
DR. DEAN: I have not been asked. And I certainly have no comment on that. You know, if I get asked, I'll make the decision at the time. But I think it would be very premature for anybody. And I'm sure Senator Kerry is not asking people to serve if they'll serve in his Cabinet right now.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you be interested in running as vice president?
DR. DEAN: I think that-- I've publicly said that I'm not sure he's going to want two people from adjacent states running.
MR. RUSSERT: Clinton-Gore.
DR. DEAN: Oh, well, yeah, that. You know, I haven't been asked about that either. And I'm not going to make any comments about that either.
MR. RUSSERT: You will have an announcement about your future later this week, about organizations and your plans for the Democratic Party.
DR. DEAN: I will. We built an enormous grassroots organization. We want to keep that very active, not just in Washington-type politics, in trying to get a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president, but we want to encourage people to run for office at the grassroots and we want to support them. Our supporters all over the country have done great things and we're going to talk exactly about how to do that on Wednesday night.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be covering it. We thank you for your views, Governor Dean.
DR. DEAN: Thanks, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back, right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Watch NBC News and MSNBC for continuing coverage of the war in Iraq; one year later, the special series, Objective: Peace. It continues this week. It includes Tom Brokaw's interview with Colin Powell Wednesday night on "Nightly News." And next Sunday here on MEET THE PRESS, an exclusive interview with Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
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