transcript

Oct
21
2011

MS. IFILL:  Three big stories tonight: the death of Gadhafi, the coming end of the war in Iraq, and the year of the debate, tonight on “Washington Week.

Brutally and finally, Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi meets his end. 

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN [NATO Secretary General]:  Finally, Libya can close this long, dark chapter in its history and turn over a new page.

MS. IFILL:  The Arab spring uprising claims another dictator.  And the president today announces the end of the war in Iraq. \

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Today I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays.

MS. IFILL:  We examine the fallout.  At home, Republicans battle each other for the upper hand.

FORMER GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R-MA) [GOP Presidential Candidate]:  Rick, I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life.  And so I’m afraid – I’m looking forward to finding your facts on that because that just doesn’t –

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R-TX) [GOP Presidential Candidate]:  I’ll tell you what the facts are.

GOV. ROMNEY:  Rick, again –

GOV. PERRY:  You had

GOV. ROMNEY:  Rick, I’m speaking.  I’m speaking.  I’m speaking.

GOV. PERRY:  Your newspaper – the newspaper –

GOV. ROMNEY:  I’m speaking.

GOV. PERRY:  It’s time for you to tell the truth.

MS. IFILL:  Bad blood as the stakes get higher.  Covering the week: Martha Raddatz of ABC News; Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times; Dan Balz of the Washington Post; and Gloria Borger of CNN

ANNOUNCER:  Award winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill,” produced in association with “National Journal.”

(Station announcements.)

ANNOUNCER:  Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.

MS. IFILL:  Good evening.  Within the last 48 hours, two gigantic shoes have dropped on the foreign policy front.  And both events mean the U.S. role abroad is about to shrink.  Today, the news was about Iraq. 

PRES. OBAMA:  After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.  Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home.

MS. IFILL:  And in Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi’s killing may not stop the government from unraveling.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted as much on Tuesday, even before Gadhafi was killed. 

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON:  Getting a national army and a police force under civilian command is essential.  And the United Nations, the United States, and other partners stand ready to do that.  But we are still at the point where liberation has not yet been claimed because of the ongoing conflicts that persist and, of course, the continuing freedom of action of Gadhafi and those around him. 

MS. IFILL:  The upheaval in the Middle East and northern Africa began in earnest just months ago.  Since then, there have been three major crackdowns in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria, and three toppled strongmen: in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya. 

Martha was in Libya with Secretary Clinton this week.  Where is all of this going, Martha?

MS. RADDATZ:  Well, certainly liberation is almost complete now in Libya, except the announcement.  And I think you will also see NATO standing down in the military mission by the end of this month.  Where this goes, I think you have the three key places – you have Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, and what happens there.  And those leaders have to be saying uh-oh at this point.  But, as Secretary Clinton also pointed out on this trip, every place is different and how everyone responds in those places will be very different.

MS. IFILL:  The manner in which Moammar Gadhafi was killed has caused a lot of unease.  We’ve seen this footage over and over, bloody footage and pretty shocking and grotesque.  Does that also – does that cloud the victory?

MS. RADDATZ:  Well, I have to say when I look at that video and I think, wait a minute, are these the people that you want to turn this over to?  I’m sure Americans are saying the same thing.  I’m sure there will be some sort of investigation launched into how exactly that occurred because the video we’ve all seen, and some people saying, hey, I’m the guy who shot him, I did this, I did that, and very joyful about this.   He was a horrible man.  He was a horrible, horrible man who did terrible things, but is that who you want to leave your government in the hands of? 

And that was a point that Mrs. Clinton made over and over and over again.  These militias have to get under control.  These militias, these rebels – there has to be some unifying factor, someone in charge and to figure out who exactly they are.

MS. IFILL:  So, Doyle, does that mean that the U.S. is part of that or does the U.S. now just washes hands and NATO of this entire enterprise?

MR. MCMANUS:  Well, NATO will be part of it.  The U.S. will be part of it, but what part of what the “it” is is the question.  There are a lot of proposals out there for military advisers, for trainers, for somebody to get on the ground and help the National Transitional Council, which is supposed to become a government and move to Tripoli and never quite does that, get its arms around this problem of 100 different militias holding 100 different neighborhoods in Libya. 

The Libyans have even said they’ll pay for it if we send trainers.  I don’t detect an awful lot of appetite in the Obama administration to put boots on the ground in Libya, even as military advisers, after spending so much time saying, we’re not going to have boots on the ground, so my guess is they’ll be British or French boots on the ground.

MS. RADDATZ:  I mean, you also have some Americans on the ground and they said they will get more looking for the shoulder-fired missiles that have gone missing, tens of thousands of missiles.  But I don’t think there’s much appetite either on the ground for exactly what you say, although I have to say it’s a little strange when you’re in a convoy with Secretary Clinton and there are guys with AK-47s following the convoy, and the technicals, the pickup trucks -- a little different than most convoys. 

MS. BORGER:  But what interested me here was the political reaction.  And you had Republicans pointedly coming out and saying, I’d like to thank the British and the French for leading in this.  And then you had the administration talk about it as a vindication of sorts for its policy of not going it alone.  So which is it?  And is this the template for military involvement in the future?

MS. RADDATZ:  Well, the British and French certainly helped a lot, but the United States, even though they wanted to say we’re taking a backseat, provided most of the surveillance and they continued to do the surveillance, certainly the airstrikes in the beginning were all the U.S.  The United States played a huge role in this, but they preferred to have it not seem like they were leading it, which they technically weren’t after a month or so.

MR. MCMANUS:  As to whether this is a template or a precedent for what may happen in Syria or Yemen or anyplace else, the best headline I saw all week was actually in National Journal.  And it read this way, “What Happens in Libya Stays in Libya.”  And Libya was a very unusual circumstance – small country, incompetent army, incompetent rebels.  That’s one reason this took so long. 

MS. RADDATZ:  Which started with what looked like a humanitarian crisis.

MR. MCMANUS:  Humanitarian crisis –

MS. IFILL:  Which didn’t happen, it should be noted.

MR. MCMANUS:  – close to Europe, Britain and France got exercised about it.  The Arab League approved it.  The U.N. Security Council approved it.  Now, none of that has happened in the case of Syria.  But this does set up a future dilemma for the Obama administration.  Having said we are willing to commit limited force in a multilateral way if a humanitarian disaster is going to happen, well, what happens if the Syrian government says, we’re finally going to move on Homs and wipe –

MS. RADDATZ:  And you have what appears to be a humanitarian.

MR. MCMANUS:  Exactly.  You’re already having –

MS. RADDATZ:  And Mrs. Clinton again, again, every place is different.  We’ll have to make an individual decision.

MS. BORGER:  But it does set up a precedent. 

MR. MCMANUS:  It does.  Or a half precedent.

MR. BALZ:  And does the success of this suggest to the administration that there may be some ways to deal with those other three that they haven’t been prepared to do up to now?

MS. RADDATZ:  I think certainly they will look at it on a case-by-case basis.  One of the things that happened with Libya is it was airstrikes.  And you think about how much the United States, and particularly Joe Biden, has talked about you can do it through airstrikes.  You can do it through drones.  Look at how much we’re using unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out wars.  A convoy where originally they said, we don’t know whether Gadhafi is in it or not, but there were apparently airstrikes and drone strikes.  So this may be in a different future.

MS. IFILL:  But, you know, President Assad still cracking down in Syria and the U.N. coming out today with a resolution once again asking President Saleh in Yemen, please, please get out of the way.  None of that seems to exactly be happening, and on the same day that the president walked out and said, we’re through in Iraq.  Now, we know that we expected at the end of this year for troops to withdraw.  But this announcement seemed awfully final and awfully real.  Was it?

MS. RADDATZ:  I think it is real.  I mean, I think they may try to find ways to train the military through civilian contractors.  But the number of troops that the military thought would remain there – at one point it was 20,000, then it dropped down to 10,000.  In the end, they wanted about 3,000 to 5,000 troops to remain there, military trainers to help out the Iraqis. 

MS. IFILL:  The U.S. wanted this, but Iraq didn’t.

MS. RADDATZ:  Iraq didn’t want it in the end.  And Iraq – there were some negotiations, but what they couldn’t promise is immunity.  They couldn’t promise U.S. troops immunity.  And that means if U.S. troops are over there and the Iraqis say this soldier committed a crime so we’re going to prosecute him, they would prosecute him, we couldn’t.  And we couldn’t intervene there and they would be in charge.  And that was the final straw.  The U.S. said, we can’t do it.

MR. MCMANUS:  And the White House tried very, very hard to spin this as a tremendous victory.  And, okay, it was President Obama keeping his promise to get the troops out, but this didn’t happen the way they wanted it to.

MS. RADDATZ:  It was the wink-and-the-nod promise anyway, originally, because they all thought that there would be troops there.

MR. BALZ:  The Republicans attacked the administration.  The presidential candidates today attacked the administration for the way this played out and said it was a great failure.

MS. IFILL:  They said it was politically expediency.  Yes.

MR. MCMANUS:  For it being so disorderly.  That’s fine.  I’m not sure –

MR. BALZ:  And for failing to bring about a successful mission.

MS. RADDATZ:  You take care of the politics on that side of the table.  We’ll all try to – (inaudible).

MS. BORGER:  But here’s the thing.  I mean, Mitt Romney that it was either sheer ineptitude or naked political calculation.  In truth, let me ask you folks this, is there anything the president of the United States could do to convince the Iraqi parliament that he should have gotten the immunity for American troops?

MS. RADDATZ:  Apparently not, because I think they really did try.  And, in the end, it’s also politics in Iraq.  I mean, Maliki, whether he really wanted U.S. troops to stay or not, he’s got Muqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City saying if troops come in, there’s going to be more violence.  He has his own politics to take care of.

MS. IFILL:  But, Doyle, the politics here revolves around what the philosophy is about U.S. involvement abroad.  And right now we see both with Libya, and in all of these other kind of turbulent places we see the U.S. stepping back and stepping back more behind the curtain.  Is that a correct read?

MR. MCMANUS:  Well, it certainly looks that way this week.  I would argue that the administration’s principles have been fairly consistent, but it’s very hard to track them because all of the cases are so different. 

The principles have been – and this goes all the way back to Obama’s campaign for president – draw down those big-footprint wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, okay.  He confused the picture by in fact escalating in Afghanistan before drawing down.  But be ready to use force in small-footprint ways.  And we’re seeing that in drones in Pakistan.  We’re seeing that in the interesting role in Libya that Martha talked about.  We’re seeing that in Africa where –

MS. IFILL:  Uganda.

MR. MCMANUS:  Exactly, where the administration has actually sent 100 advisers there –

MS. RADDATZ:  Because we’re drawing down, because they finally have the Special Forces to do it.  They specifically said that.

MR. BALZ:  But does this add up, when you try to put it all together, to an Obama doctrine that can be enunciated by the president of the United States?

MR. MCMANUS:  The administration says it’s allergic to that.  All administrations are allergic to doctrine because they get trapped.

MS. IFILL:  Because they have to be held to it.

MR. MCMANUS:  Exactly.  Then you figured out what rules were going to go by.  But, in fact, I think it is a kind of Obama doctrine.

MS. RADDATZ:  Can we also remember that as often – and I was struck by it again today with the president talking about the drawdown in Afghanistan – we’re going to be in Afghanistan for a long time.  We’re going to be in Afghanistan for three more years with probably about 60,000 troops and after that you probably will have – (off mic.).

MR. MCMANUS:  It was striking to me the president tried to make this a big day by saying the tide of war is receding.  But in Afghanistan that tide has taken a long darn time to go out.

MS. RADDATZ:  Not really.  They’re fighting every day.  I was just there too.

MS. IFILL:  It is really quite interesting how much this is being talked about in one part of Washington.  But the other part, which is to say the campaign part, very little talk about foreign policy.

MS. BORGER:  That will be us.

MS. IFILL:  That would be you.  Six weeks, five Republican debates, and more yet to come.  Oh, joy.  These debates tell us a lot about the candidates, what they believe, who they consider a threat, and whether they have the skills to survive an eight-way contest.  But they also tell us quite a bit about strategy.  Texas Governor Rick Perry betrayed his in response to this question from moderator Anderson Cooper. 

ANDERSON COOPER [CNN Anchor/Moderator, The Western Republican Presidential Debate]:  Let me ask a question to Governor Perry.  Governor Perry, the 14th Amendment allows anybody, a child of a legal immigrant who’s born here is automatically an American citizen.  Should that change?

GOV. PERRY:  Let me address Herman’s issue that he just talked about.

MR. COOPER:  Actually, I’d rather you answer that question.

GOV. PERRY:  I understand that.  You get to ask the questions and I get to answer like I want to.

MS. IFILL:  Where have I heard that before?  So in providing the platform for the candidates to say whatever they came to say, are these debate stages changing the nature of the traditional primary campaign?  Dan, what do you think?

MR. BALZ:  They have this year.  I can’t remember a series of debates, first that have come in such a compressed period of time, or a series of debates that have had such an effect on a presidential nominating process.  I mean, they helped launch Michele Bachmann.  They helped knock out Tim Pawlenty – remember him, the former governor of Minnesota.

MS. IFILL:  Who’s now wondering why he got out.

MR. BALZ:  Who’s now wondering why he got out.  They’ve clearly hurt Rick Perry.  They have helped Herman Cain, clearly.  And yet when we get through all of this period, the race is very similar to what we thought it was going into them, which is to say Mitt Romney is still the person that everybody else feels they have to beat.  And the party is looking for – a good part of the party is still looking for somebody they can fall in love with who will be the alternative to Romney.

MS. IFILL:  So assuming that the horse race itself doesn’t really change that much from debate to debate, what is this kind of campaigning, this campaigning from a stage instead of door to door, how is that changing what we learn about these individuals?

MS. BORGER:  Well, first of all, it’s a very wholesale campaign rather than being retail right now.  And I think it will turn to retail politics when we get to Iowa and New Hampshire.  But these are candidates who are essentially on a job interview here.  And what I think it tells us, what’s so interesting is that the tea party constituency, which was very powerful in the midterm elections, is kind of fickle and doesn’t know where it wants to be. 

MR. BALZ:  Kind of fickle?

MS. BORGER:  It’s fickle.  And Pew Research did a poll of Republicans.  And 51 percent of Republicans who identify with the tea party said that these debates caused them to reassess the candidates.

MS. IFILL:  On a weekly basis.

MS. BORGER:  On a weekly basis.  And you do learn a lot about the candidates.  I mean, in that clip you just showed, we learned a lot about what was at stake for Rick Perry in that debate because he wasn’t going to answer that question.  He wanted to talk about what he wanted to talk about.  And you learn something – when you’re sitting in your living room, you learn something about a candidate and how he goes toe to toe against his opponents.

MS. RADDATZ:  What did we learn about Mitt Romney in that great moment where he puts his hand on Rick Perry?  That had to be a --

MR. MCMANUS:  I was hoping you’d invade my – (inaudible).

MR. BALZ:  We learned –

MR. MCMANUS:  Did that quiet you down, Doyle, at all?

MR. BALZ:  We learned that you can get under Mitt Romney’s skin.  I mean, Mitt Romney has been a pretty skilful debater through this period and he’s managed through most of these debates, even though he’s often been a target, to kind of stay above it and to glide through them.  And in this case, Rick Perry came with a strategy designed to rattle Governor Romney.  And it appeared he did for a bit.  Now, both sides can argue that they got the better of these exchanges.  But, nonetheless, we saw a different Romney this time.  We saw somebody who was more energetic, more aggressive, a little more defensive than we’ve seen him in the past.

MS. RADDATZ:  But did he go in that way or was he just rattled?  Or was it a little bit of both?

MS. BORGER:  He was rattled.  He was attacked more directly and frontally, particularly by Perry but also by Rick Santorum and everybody else.  And so I think Perry really got under his skin, particularly when he raised the immigration issue and the question of whether Romney had hired lawn workers who were illegal knowingly.  And that was an issue that went back to the 2008 campaign.  Romney has made a point saying, oh, that’s old news, 2008, I’m moving on.  This is a new campaign.  And what Rick Perry said to him was, you know what, that’s not off limits.  I’m going to raise 2008 all over again.

MR. MCMANUS:  So what did we learn about Perry?  Clearly he felt he had to go on the offensive and get back on his feet somehow after bad performances earlier.  Did he succeed?

MS. BORGER:  Well, I think he may have stopped the bleeding.  I mean, he had some bad debates.  He was heading down in the polls.  He had to go on the attack and he did all of that. 

MR. BALZ:  I think he was trying to make up for a lot of lost time.  I mean, the Perry campaign sees the next phase of the campaign as more helpful to them than the current phase.

MS. IFILL:  And how does Herman Cain see the next phase of the campaign, because after this debate – I mean, at this debate, just prior to it and after it, he offered kind of differing opinions about what his 9-9-9 plan would do, who it would actually tax, about abortion and whether families have the right to decide abortion or whether the federal government should, but he’s 100 percent pro-life, he said.  And on something else too – it felt like all week long he was kind of trying to figure out where he ought to be.  

MR. BALZ:  He’s had a difficult week.  And now there’s something about Herman Cain that there’s a little bit of Teflon so far around Herman Cain and he’s been able to slide through some of these.  But the three things you mentioned this week I think are all very problematic for him.  He did not handle them well.

MS. IFILL:  Guantanamo detainees was the third one, negotiating with terrorists.

MR. BALZ:  And I think there’s much more of this to come.  I mean, I think once a candidate kind of lets – makes it clear that they’ve got – you know, they don’t have all the facts, they don’t quite know what they think about some of these issues, people are going to – (inaudible).

MS. BORGER:  Here’s the thing about Herman Cain.  He was in the third tier or the fourth tier.  And he suddenly catapulted up to the first tier.  When you’re in the first tier, you’re going to get a different kind of scrutiny.  The reason people – one of the reasons Republicans like him is because he’s likeable.  On that stage, he’s the guy – even when he was attacked, he responded in an amiable way to all the attacks.  And people still like –

MS. IFILL:  And the attacks were kind of like, you know, I’m sorry, my brother, I disagree with you.

MS. BORGER:  Oh, yes.

MS. IFILL:  But it was friendly.

MS. BORGER:  It wasn’t a knife.  It was like, I congratulate you for being bold, even though your plan is silly.

MS. IFILL:  Yes, you’re wrong.

MR. BALZ:  But he can’t continue, for example, on the 9-9-9 plan – when presented with a lot of evidence about problems with it.  He can’t simply say, well, I’m right and you’re wrong.  He’s going to have to answer these criticisms.  And he’s begun to make some modifications.

MS. RADDATZ:  And his modifications – but what do Romney and Perry do next?  What kind of modifications, given what you guys have said about those recent fights?

MS. IFILL:  Does it become retail instead of wholesale?

MS. BORGER:  I think they are going to continue attacking each other because I think when we see the polls coming out we’ll see that it didn’t make that much of a difference.  I would assume that people are now going to give – Republicans are now going to give Perry another look because they saw him be bold, if inartful, at times in his attacks.  And here’s – we’re going to go into another phase.  These men both have a lot of money to spend.  And what we saw this week with these web ads that came out, and they’re going to attack each other over the airwaves and they’re going to do it in person as well.

MS. IFILL:  Don’t these debates kind of disguise the fact that you still have to have a structure, you still have to have – or maybe you don’t need to have a 99-county structure in Iowa?

MR. BALZ:  I think you’re absolutely right about that.  And it’s what this debate period has masked -- that ultimately this campaign is going to come down to a series of state-by-state battles.  In some states Romney is better positioned than he is in other states.  His Iowa problem has long existed.  He didn’t do well there as he had hoped four years ago.  He’s been reluctant to make a real commitment to Iowa.  He now actually has an opportunity in Iowa, but there’s a risk.

MS. IFILL:  There are some people who say he has a stealth operation in Iowa.

MR. BALZ:  Well, but it’s –

MS. BORGER:  It’s hard to be stealth in Iowa, though, after a while.

MR. BALZ:  He’s not put the investment in that he did last time.  Governor Perry, obviously, needs Iowa more than ever now.  And he still has a lot of ground to make up because Herman Cain has risen.  But between the on-the-ground campaigning and the television ads that are coming, we’re going to see a different campaign.

MS. BORGER:  But what we’re seeing with these debates and what’s so interesting to me is we’re seeing the public vetting of candidates.  Herman Cain is a perfect example.  He doesn’t have much of a policy team.  I would argue he needs a policy team.  You point out all the problems he’s had with 9-9-9, et cetera.  And we’re seeing Michele Bachmann one day be up in the polls, then the next day come out and say something about the HPV virus causing mental retardation when she had nothing to back it up with, it caused her real problems.

MS. IFILL:  Well, and today there were reports that she lost her entire New Hampshire staff but she didn’t seem to know about it.

MR. MCMANUS:  These debates are getting terrific ratings for debates.  They’re getting a big audience.  They’re exposing all of these Republicans’ ideas to a broader audience.  But, as you just mentioned, Gloria, not a lot of them are looking very elevated out of this.  Is this good for the eventual Republican nominee or is it good for Barack Obama?

MR. BALZ:  Well, the Obama team would argue it’s great for them because the more the Republicans are arguing among themselves, the less people are going to like them in the long run.  That’s good for the president.  I think this is a phase that we go through in every nomination battle.  Some debates get more heated than others.  And parties usually get through that.  So I think unless this becomes a total food fight through all these, it’s not necessarily that helpful for President Obama.  The Republicans have to have a fight before they can figure out who they want as their nominee.

MS. BORGER:  Remember Hillary Clinton fighting against Barack Obama and it didn’t seem to hurt Barack Obama too much in the general election, so --

MS. IFILL:  But it made for a long and expensive struggle in the primaries, which is what the White House is kind of hoping happens on the Republican side as well.

MS. BORGER:  Absolutely.

MS. IFILL:  Okay.  Well, I’m glad you guys made it back from Vegas.  Did you lose any money?  Anything we need to know about?

MS. BORGER:  No.  What happens in Vegas –

MS. IFILL:  Yes.  Yes.  Thank you everybody.  We’re out of time here, but the conversation will continue online on our “Washington Week Webcast Extra.”  It will post by 11:00 p.m. Eastern. 

And while you’re online, check out my weekly blog.  This week, on whether foreign policy drama helps a struggling president.  Keep up with daily developments with me on the PBS “NewsHour.”  And we’ll see you here again next week on “Washington Week.”  Goodnight.