Meet The Press

With Tim Russert. March 14, 2004

Go to Full Transcript of Meet The Press episode

NBC News

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:

(Videotape):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: We will bring freedom to others, and we will prevail.

(End videotape)

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:

(Videotape):

MR. DAVID KAY: Clearly, the intelligence that we went to war on was inaccurate, wrong.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: And 566 Americans dead, 3,219 injured and wounded. The war in Iraq, is it worth it? With us, for the war...

(Videotape):

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.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: ...the president's national security adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Against the war...

(Videotape):

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.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: ...former Democratic presidential candidate, Governor Howard Dean. Rice and Dean square off on the war in Iraq-- only on MEET THE PRESS.

[Condoleeza Rice portion omitted]

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?

(End videotape)

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.

(Announcements)

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.

2004 MSNBC Interactive

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