MS. IFILL: A fresh try for Middle East peace; stepping back in Iraq; drumming up campaign money; and the politics of Islam – tonight, on “Washington Week.”
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: I’ve invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on September 2nd in Washington, D.C.
MS. IFILL: The Obama administration dives head first back into the thorny and historically difficult Middle East peace process. What’s different this time? U.S. troops celebrate the long promised pullout from Iraq.
U.S. SOLDIER: We won. It’s over. America, we brought democracy to Iraq.
MS. IFILL: But events there, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan show it’s more complicated than that. At home, Democrats and Republicans raise money hand over fist for the midterm elections.
TIM KAINE [Chairman, Democratic National Committee]: We’ll be able to put more money into the midterms by far than we’ve ever put in, probably north of $50 million. And the presidential events are huge.
MS. IFILL: And as the president steps into the debate about a New York mosque –
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The answer is no regrets.
MS. IFILL: – a secondary discussion builds.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): It’s being used as a political football by both parties.
MS. IFILL: How do Americans view Islam? And why do so many think their president is Muslim?
FRANKLIN GRAHAM, Evangelist: I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim.
MS. IFILL: Really? Covering the week: Helene Cooper of the New York Times, Martha Raddatz of ABC News, Jeanne Cummings of Politico, and Michael Duffy of Time magazine.
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.
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. Well, we’ve got a surprise announcement at the State Department today. The Palestinian president and the Israeli prime minister will come to Washington in two weeks to begin face-to-face peace talks without preconditions.
SAEB ERAKAT [Chief Palestinian Negotiator]: We’ve been there before. We’ve seen this before. I don’t think that failure should be an option for us now. I would view this as the last shot.
MARK REGEV [Israeli Government Spokesman]: We want to make sure that there are ironclad arrangements to make sure that there will be peace and security because you can’t have one without the other.
MS. IFILL: Former Senator George Mitchell, who’s been pushing President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu to do this for more than a year, was asked today why these negotiations will work when previous talks haven’t.
FMR. SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL, SPECIAL U.S. ENVOY: We believe that there is a basis for proceeding and achieving a successful result and we’re going to pursue that. We do not take the position that if you don’t get everything you want the first time you ask for it, you pack up your bags and go home.
MS. IFILL: Or the second or the third time apparently, Helene. So what’s different this time?
MS. COOPER: Why do you always start with the hard questions?
MS. IFILL: You know what? It’s my job.
MS. COOPER: The difference is that – and this is not necessarily a very good difference. The difference is that there’s so very little specificity in this agreement. You know, in the past, you’ve seen the two sides commit to specific agenda items, what they call terms of reference which is diplo-speak for what are we going to talk about and what are the parameters of how we’re going to do this. For instance, there is this agreement no reference to the 1967 borders, which in the past have been a plank, a basic plank for talking about peace between Israelis and Palestinians. So there’s a lot of vagueness there that doesn’t leave a lot of people feeling too optimistic.
At the same time, you have Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in many ways sort of strong armed into doing this -- he had said, I’m not coming to peace talks unless there is an Israeli freeze on settlements –
MS. IFILL: Right.
MS. COOPER: He didn’t get that. And here he is now at peace talks basically taking a pretty big gamble that he’s going to get something in the end.
MS. IFILL: How was the administration or the quartet or whomever able to pressure him if it was against his best interest?
MS. COOPER: I think when it finally came down to it, he felt that he had no other choice. There was not other saleable option for him. The Arab League last month, for instance, said – put out a statement saying that if you want to go ahead with and join direct talks, we’re not going to stop you. You know, it’s up to you to decide. So that sort of moved the political cover that he was using internationally. He’s very weak at home right now politically with Hamas governing Gaza. And you see sort of the turmoil that’s been going on there. When you look around, you have the United States pressuring him and the European Union pressuring him and the Arab League sort of removing the political cover. And at the end of the day he felt that he had nowhere else to go.
MS. RADDATZ: I was surprised that Hillary Clinton said one year, I think we can do this in one year and it brought back memories of listening to George Bush say the same thing in 2008 – I think we can do it in a year, and then you had the Gaza war in less than a year. So that one year really stuck out. Why one year?
MS. COOPER: Well, one year sort of puts all – in a lot of ways, that’s probably the best thing that the Palestinians got out of this is the one year deadline. There’s nobody out there that thinks in a year they’re going to get the Palestinians and the Israelis are going to reach any kind of agreement. What they hope now is that they’ll go at this for a few months – and this is the expectation – they’ll got at this for a few months and then, President Obama is going to have to step in with some sort of bridging proposal where he puts “this is what the United States thinks should be done” on the table and that’s what is going to take to get them anywhere.
And that’s when it’s really going to get interesting because at that point, you’re going to see how far Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to go, how far the Palestinians are willing to go, and how far – just what do the Americans think a peace plan should actually look like, because President Obama at that point will be basically having to say, this is what I think you guys should do.
MS. CUMMINGS: Helene, with these negotiations, it always seems like we start out with more non-starters than we have real areas where they might be able to compromise. What’s different?
MS. COOPER: It’s so interesting to like go around this again and again. I mean, the non-starters it’s not necessarily as hard as the years and years that we’ve spent doing this would make it seem. Everybody knows what a general peace agreement would look like. They have the final status, the status solutions that they need to work out, and that’s the status of Jerusalem. That’s the right Palestinian – right of return. There’s the security for Israel. And there’s the borders of an eventual Palestinian state. Most people who’ve been in this game for years kind of know there were the Geneva Accords that sort of laid this out and kind of know what they would – they’ve reached – they’ve come to like 95 percent, 90 percent back at Taba in 2000 to what a final peace process would look like and what a final peace deal would look like. The problem, again and again, has been the political will to take that final step and take on the politicians at home.
MR. DUFFY: That’s one of the things I wanted to ask which is that for the last year we’ve heard that the people who would have to do this deal haven’t been strong enough, either Abbas or Netanyahu. Have they now consolidated enough power to make a difference? And is Barack Obama, who had been powerful but now necessarily isn’t as, able to make a difference there? Are the stars aligned better than they have been in the last few years for these people doing the negotiating?
MS. COOPER: Absolutely not. They’re not. You know, Benjamin Netanyahu has a really weak coalition. He has a right wing that’s threatening to pull out at any point that he makes any kind of concession. Mahmoud Abbas is incredibly weak politically. So it really in some ways will come down to President Obama and just how much he’s willing to put on the line and how much can he bring these two guys along.
MS. IFILL: Well, maybe that’s why King Abdullah and President Mubarak will be at the table as well to give it that extra shove. We’ll be watching, obviously. Well, American combat involvement in another contentious and longstanding conflict approached its end this week as the last brigade pulled out of Iraq in advance of the August 30th deadline.
PRES. OBAMA: We are keeping the promise I made when I began my campaign for the presidency. By the end of this month, we will have removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and our combat mission will be over in Iraq.
MS. IFILL: But as the war in Afghanistan ramps up and the floods in Pakistan divert a key ally from that cause, that kept promise the president was talking about could fade pretty quickly. But still, and again, how significant was the pullout this week that we saw?
MS. RADDATZ: It was really an historic week. It really was. And watching those – that last combat brigade pull out of Iraq, one thing I would say is the combat mission technically may be over. You may have pulled out the combat brigades but everybody there still has guns. All the U.S. troops that remain there –
MS. IFILL: All 50,000 of them.
MS. RADDATZ: You bet they do. And what they will do now is advise and assist the Iraqis. And frankly, the Iraqis still need quite a bit of advising and assisting. And that may very well include combat missions. So, in some ways it’s rather disingenuous to say – I mean, a lot of people are saying the war is over, mission accomplished. Let’s not forget what is really going on there. It is incredibly significant how much they have reduced the troop numbers by but it is not over yet. In fact, it is a very complicated time there right now, particularly with the political situation.
MR. DUFFY: I think I heard you report a few weeks ago that it’s been a long time since U.S. troops were actually involved in what might be considered a combat mission in Iraq. So what are the 50,000 who are left going to do in a little more detail? And how long, Martha, do you think they’re going to be there?
MS. RADDATZ: Well, in a little more detail, here’s a couple of examples, Michael: medical assists. The Iraqis, if they get into trouble, when they’re in some sort of combat situation, you have to have medical evacuation. You have to have intelligence resources. You have to have the technical resources to help them out. Now, how long will they be there? How long will those 50,000 – the Status of Forces Agreement says everybody out by December of 2011. In order to change that, the Iraqis have to say, wait, we’d like you to stay. I really haven’t talked to anybody who doesn’t think that’s going to happen. I think U.S. troops, based on people I have talked to, will be there for a very, very long time. Will it be 50,000? Maybe not. But I think right now they’re down to as few as they think they can possibly get by with. You know, there’s force protection. They have to protect themselves. They have to protect the people who are there. So that takes a number of troops as well. And counterterrorism too – U.S. will be doing counterterrorism operations.
MS. CUMMINGS: Martha, as much as these soldiers now have come home, which is a great thing for them and for their families, will they be here for long or will many of them be sort of flipped around now and headed into Afghanistan?
MS. RADDATZ: Well, I think that’s a good question because these troops who have just left are not going to go right back to Afghanistan and you have to retrain. But, eventually, I would pretty much bet on the fact that a lot of them will end up in Afghanistan because while we have had this huge drawdown in Iraq, we have had a huge ramp up in Afghanistan. We have triple the number of troops in Afghanistan or at least by the end of this month, the end of next month we’ll have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. So triple the number when President Obama came in. And you have to keep rotating in and out. I mean, the army in particular would really – all the services would like to increase dwell time, as it’s known, get the troops home more. They’re really working for that but as you continue to ramp up in Afghanistan, that’s harder and harder to do.
MS. COOPER: Well, when you’re talking about Afghanistan – I mean, whenever you talk to the people in the administration, they say, we’re in Afghanistan but actually, the real problem is in Pakistan. I mean, I was looking at the flood stuff, the flood footage which has been so horrific this week. I mean, how does that affect what we’re doing both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan?
MS. RADDATZ: It really does affect it. I mean, you’ve had a lot of helicopters and other assets having to go into Pakistan, wanting to go into Pakistan to help those flood victims. But another thing that happens is – I mean, there were drone strikes constantly in that area, constantly. You know, just going after so many targets there. And those have really slowed down and it slowed down first of all because of the weather probably. I mean, you really can’t fly those predators if you can’t see what’s going on over there. But also the Pakistani army and the Pakistani security forces, they’re pretty tied up now. They’re not going after – you need intelligence to go after those targets. And if they’re tied up in helping flood victims, that really hurts this.
MS. IFILL: Looking at this region, it seems like we have three fairly weak political leaders – Maliki in Iraq – there’s still no government; Karzai in Afghanistan who goes back and forth in his relationships – this week he wanted to pull all the contractors out with the U.S.
MS. RADDATZ: That’s a big problem.
MS. IFILL: And Zardari in Pakistan who is below – less than zero percent popularity at this point in his own country. Exactly how do you work to try to get a working plan for that whole region?
MS. RADDATZ: I mean, that’s obviously what the administration has said it’s been trying to do. And by looking at the region, particularly Pakistan and Afghanistan together and how they work together. But it’s a huge, huge concern, Gwen, in particularly in Pakistan. And watching the performance of Zardari during the floods, I mean, he wasn’t there. He came back at the last minute. I mean, people – 20 million people are affected by this. This is truly the international Katrina.
MS. IFILL: And it’s an international – in fact, it’s bigger than Katrina. It’s bigger than the previous earthquake.
MS. RADDATZ: Haiti. It’s bigger than the tsunami –
MS. IFILL: Haiti, the tsunami, all together.
MS. RADDATZ: – all of that together. Yes.
MS. IFILL: And yet – and so it has political and it has humanitarian but it also has security consequences.
MS. RADDATZ: It has. It has extreme security consequences because of exactly what I was saying, because you have everybody tied up with this, not only a rescue effort now but this is going to go on for years and years to come. In fact, I think the worst is to come because they have no place to go back to. You can rescue people. You can give them food. You can give them supplies. But when they realize their homes are gone, that many people – I don’t know how you handle it.
MS. IFILL: Well, let’s come back to the United States for a moment because President Obama spent the week hopscotching across America, embracing some candidates, allowing others to avoid him, talking up the economy and talking down the Republicans. Most important, he raised millions of dollars for his party, probably the most useful thing a president can do.
PRES. OBAMA: You remember our campaign slogan, yes we can?
AUDIENCE: Yes. (Applause.)
PRES. OBAMA: This year, their campaign slogan is no, we can’t. (Laughter, applause.) It’s pretty inspiring, huh? (Laughter.) You know, you wake up in the morning and you hear, no, and that just puts a little pep in your step. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: He never seems to be having a better time than when he’s attacking the Republicans. But Republicans haven’t been layabouts either. Their Senate Committee raised a little more than $4 million in July, only a little less than the Senate Democrats. How are they raising? How are they spending? And why does it matter? Jeanne.
MS. CUMMINGS: Well, it’s interesting because you can almost flip time and go back to 2004 and 2006 to see what the two parties are doing. You have the president out helping the establishment committees, which is the best thing, as you said, a president can do. And despite his unpopularity ratings, generally with the public, he can still draw a pretty good crowd. Helene was out there on the road with him. He was filling the ballrooms. He was making a lot of money. Now, you look at the Republicans. The Republicans are trying to model what the Democrats did when they were in the minority. And so their committees are raising money but they also have a coalition of outside groups that are starting to get together to try to raise even more money and try to fill the gaps for where the Republicans are lagging. And notably, the National Governors’ Association has got practically double the amount that the Democratic Governors’ Association has. So that gives them a big fat kitty that they can play with. And when you help the governors, you help the state legislatures and you help the federal candidates too. Anytime you get a statewide organization like the Governors’ Association working in a state, they’re lifting all votes.
MR. DUFFY: You know, in 2008, Jeanne, the Democrats clearly out raised the Republicans for all kinds of reasons. With 10 weeks to go, roughly, can you give us a kind of scorecard tally of who’s ahead and by how much, and does it matter?
MS. CUMMINGS: The Democrats are ahead substantially. The Democratic Party’s and candidates have raised $590 million, give or take $1 million. And the Republicans have raised $390 million. So pretty good gap there which is why those outside groups are so important, and the RGA, the Republican Governors’ Association, is so important. They need those outside groups to try to fill in. So far, the outside groups, including one called American Crossroads, which is run by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, two well-established Republican insiders, they’re taking corporate money based upon the Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to it. They’ve raised around $10 million. They’re already out there banging up some of these vulnerable Democrats out there. They could have a big impact.
MS. RADDATZ: Jeanne, who are these corporate donors? Go one about that. Give more detail about who these corporate donors are. I think I know who one of them is.
MS. CUMMINGS: Well, we know who one is, but it’s hard to tell right now with some of these –
MS. IFILL: Tell everybody else. (Laughter.)
MS. CUMMINGS: The one we know about is Target. Target jumped into the governor’s race in Minnesota. They gave money, $150,000, to a pro-business group called Minnesota Forward. And Minnesota Forward then started running ads for the Republican gubernatorial candidate called Tom Emmer. And the reason they picked him was because he’s low taxes – you know, his business record. What’s unclear if Target really knew his social record when they gave the money or not but come to find out his social record – his record on social issues is as conservative, if not more so, than his economic policies. And so he is anti-gay marriage. He’s strident on abortion. He opposes contraceptives and birth control in some cases. And so, the target community, which is pretty progressive, went nuts.
MS. COOPER: You mentioned the RGA. Didn’t Rupert Murdoch just give a lot of money to –
MS. CUMMINGS: Another corporation.
MS. COOPER: – Republican – yes.
MS. CUMMINGS: Yes. News Corp.
MS. COOPER: Yes.
MS. CUMMINGS: News Corp gave $1 million to the Republican Governors’ Association and they didn’t match that, which many corporations do. They kind of play both sides. They didn’t. They gave $1 million to the RGA. And the Democrats are raising all kinds of (cane ?) and saying Fox should put disclaimers on their news.
MS. COOPER (?): And the Wall Street Journal.
MS. CUMMINGS: And what both of these stories tell us about News Corp and Target is that there are hazards to corporations who take advantage of that new liberty that the Supreme Court has given them.
MS. IFILL: And both of you people who used to work for the Wall Street Journal, you have a lot to explain for – explain – to answer for. Finally tonight, we turn to the debate that has had us scratching our heads. Why do so many Americans think Barack Obama is Muslim? He’s not. But if he were, why would it be considered a negative thing? And how did a local debate about an Islamic center in New York become central to those two questions? A Time magazine poll conducted earlier this week provided grist for that mill – 55 percent of those polled say U.S. Muslims are patriotic Americans but 46 percent said they’re not or they’re not so sure. Forty-six percent say Islam is more likely than other faiths to encourage violence. And although 55 percent said they wouldn’t mind having a mosque in their own neighborhoods, 61 percent oppose one proposed for Lower Manhattan. American attitudes toward Islam are complicated and often not very pretty to look at. Time magazine’s cover raises the question this week, “Is America Islamophobic”? Did your magazine come up with an answer, Michael?
MR. DUFFY: We did. It’s out there and it’s growing, Gwen. You know, we weren’t really surprised by the lopsided results on whether there should be a mosque in Lower Manhattan. What surprised us was the depth, the intensity of feelings on a bunch of other measurements. And I’ll just mention two in particular. A full third of the American public believes that a Muslim American should not be allowed to even run for president. And a similar margin does not think a Muslim American should be allowed to sit on the Supreme Court. So that puts that group of people fully in line with Americans in about the 1840s who thought that only white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males should have full citizenship.
Another amazing number was the one you referenced at the top of 24 percent, nearly a quarter think Barack Obama is a Muslim. That’s almost two years after he was inaugurated when half that many thought he was a Muslim. So these are astonishing figures. We saw them. But you can see these fears rising in other areas. There are 2,000 mosques in the United States. The language and the contentiousness that surrounded the one in Manhattan can be found in other places, even this month, places like California, Florida, Wisconsin. And off – on the web, those fights are much more toxic and just as big as this one has become. And I think this obviously began to take a deep root after 9/11. There was a suppressing factor for the first five or 10 years of the decade because George W. Bush worked very hard at setting a different – in setting a very tolerant, very tolerant signals, meetings with imams, going to mosques. That’s gone. Obama comes in –
MS. IFILL: Saying it’s a religion of peace.
MR. DUFFY: And as a consequence things have changed. I’ll say one other factor is at work here and that is in the last year there have been a number of plots by homegrown terrorists that were thwarted by authorities but involved Muslim Americans on targets at home. And I think that has led people also to be scared.
MS. RADDATZ: And the president’s reaction to this, Michael, pretty defensive. And is he in danger of going too far, like the question that Gwen brought up. Is he in danger of going too far -- no, no, no, I’m not a Muslim -- as if that’s a bad thing?
MR. DUFFY: The performance was shaky this week. He gave a very profound speech last Friday night when he said Muslims have a right to build a mosque there or anywhere, but he walked it back the next day saying, that doesn’t mean I’m actually for this particular project. That opened the door to all kinds of criticism from right and from left. And it got so bad that by the end of the week he actually had to issue a statement last night, I believe, saying – affirming, restating that he is a Christian. He just doesn’t wear it on his sleeve and that he prays every day and listens to devotionals, which is an astonishing evolution in a very short period of time.
MS. COOPER: Michael, what is it about this president that sort of leads to all of this? And beyond that, what’s the political impact for President Obama?
MR. DUFFY: Well, there’s obviously lots of factors at work here in this situation. You know, a lot of this is just ignorance and unfamiliarity. There are two and a half million Muslims in America. That’s less than 1 percent of the population but when we polled, we found that roughly a third of the country says it knows a Muslim personally. I don’t really believe that number. I think this is still –
MS. IFILL: I think it’s less than that.
MR. DUFFY: I think it’s far less than that. I think this is still a culture of unfamiliarity and ignorance. I think in addition to that, I’ll say, the culture of fear – I think in addition to that, we’ve been at war for a decade in Southwest Asia. We have an economy that’s in deep trouble. And there’s a measure of hatred here as well.
MS. IFILL: It’s getting worse.
MR. DUFFY: And it’s getting worse. When I looked at the number of the people who thought that Obama was a Muslim and then looked at how they thought about politics, it’s eight or nine to one against – disapproval of President Obama. So there’s some politics involved. I think if had polled also – there’s some – feelings about Obama are quite intense at the moment. I think if we had polled, do you think he’s a vampire, some percentage of the country would have said that.
MS. IFILL: Yes. Well, that’s one of the subjects we can talk about forever, but we’ve got to go for tonight. Thank you everyone. The conversation will continue online. Catch up with our “Washington Week” webcast extra at pbs.org where we’ll answer all the questions we didn’t get to tonight. And if there’s more you want to know, drop us a line at “Washington Week” at pbs.org. Keep up with daily developments at the PBS “NewsHour.” And we’ll see you right here next week on “Washington Week.” Good night.