THE BLOG
11/23/2005 07:43 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Great Thanksgiving Debate

A few weeks ago I posted an articulation of mine in 14 short, simple statements as to how I see the situation in Iraq. My statements were written affirmatively, as a legal document called a Request for Admissions. I've used these 14 points as a frame of reference to question noteworthy guests of my radio program. In the past few weeks I've had the opportunity pose these points to Senators Specter, Santorum and Bayh, former National Security Advisor Richard Clarke, political commentator Pat Buchanan, Professor Alan Dershowitz and Hardball's Chris Matthews. I then had their responses clipped in their entirety and put back to back, as though the guests above were sitting at the same table. This debate aired this morning on my radio show after which I invited listeners to go to my website www.mastalk.com to vote on with whom they most agree. Below you will find the Transcript of The Great Thanksgiving Debate.

The Michael Smerconish Program
1210AM WPHT November 23, 2005

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: The first statement --

remember, do you agree or disagree; are you willing to admit or

deny those statements that I'm about to make?

Statement Number 1: 9/11 was the work of radical Islam.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: Correct.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: Agreed.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: No doubt about that.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: Certainly right.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: It was the work of Islamist

al Qaeda, bin Laden and people he had trained.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Right.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Statement 2 - Post-9/11 there was a

consensus in the country to be forward-leaning, meaning to be

pre-emptive if necessary to protect against further attack.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: Absolutely correct. Just

unfortunately that we haven't been able to be pre-emptive

enough.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: Agreed.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: Yes.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes. I'm writing a

book about it. It will be out in January. It's called

Pre-emption.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: That's right.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: I agree that we ought to use

pre-emptive strikes on people who are preparing to strike the

United States. I think that's certainly true of al Qaeda.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Yes.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Item Number. 3: Iraq played

no role in the events of September 11.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: No evidence that they did.

Whether they did or not, I don't know, but no evidence that they

did.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: No direct role, I agree.

Indirect, I would say that when you support terrorism generally,

which they did, that's an indirect role. But direct role, I

would agree.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: That's correct.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: That's totally true and the

9/11 Commission has certified that.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: Iraq played no role.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Yes.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Number 4: Iraq was

nevertheless perceived by American and foreign military and

intelligence operations to pose a threat, based principally upon

the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: Correct.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: Basically agree. I would

say principally that's a yes, probably more than any other

issue. But there were other issues.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: There was a universal belief

both in Republicans and Democrats and abroad and here at home

that he did possess weapons of mass destruction, yes.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: No, I think I would dispute

that. I would say that there was a belief, a widespread, almost

universal belief, that they possessed some chemical weapons and

maybe some missiles but -- so technically WMD.

But I don't think there was a widespread belief

that they posed a threat to anybody. In fact, people like Condi

Rice and Colin Powell when they first came into office said

publicly that Saddam and his regime were militarily weakened and

militarily contained.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Are you saying that the

belief was not widespread that Saddam possessed WMDs?

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: No, I'm saying that part of

the sentence is right. But the part of the sentence that says

it was a widespread belief that he posed a threat, is wrong.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: What I hear Richard Clarke

saying is a lot of us thought he had WMDs but not necessarily

that he was threatening with them. Is that a fair articulation?

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: Or not that they were

necessarily significant, because all we thought he had, all most

of us thought he had was some old plopped-out chemical weapons

and missiles buried in the sand.

What the Bush administration did was to take that

and run with it and say that he had reconstituted a nuclear

weapons program, and there was absolutely no evidence of that.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: I don't think that Iraq and

Saddam Hussein were a threat to the United States of America

when we had flown 40,000 flights over Iraq and he had been

unable to shoot down a single plane in ten years. I never

believed Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States unless

he acquired nuclear weapons.

Even if he had mustard gas and these things, he

didn't use them against us in the Gulf War. He didn't use them

against Israel when he fired the Scuds. He didn't use them for

ten years when we attacked him from the air at will. Why would

he attack the strongest nation on earth and get himself blown to

kingdom come or wind up in one of those rat holes where we found

him? So I don't think he was ever a threat to the United

States.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: No.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Item 5: Saddam Hussein's

perceived possession of WMDs was the primary reason advanced by

the Bush administration in support of the invasion of Iraq.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: I think that's right, but

the President talked about other items. But it was WMDs which

was our big, big concern.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: Again, if you go back to

the time, there were four reasons laid out. That was one of

four reasons. It may have been perceived as the most important,

and therefore, the word "primary" is probably acceptable, but --

so I would agree but with that caveat, that that was not the

only reason for sure.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: That is true as the primary

one.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: Until there weren't any WMDs

and then they advanced other reasons. But yes, at the time,

there was.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: It was the primary predicate

advanced. But the real reason behind the invasion, I think, was

a desire by the administration and the neoconservatives, who had

been plotting a war on Iraq for years, to get the United States

into the Middle East, get our force there in a big way, to get

leverage. And basically it was in many ways an imperial war to

enable us to deal with Iran and Syria.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: That's a tough one. He

advanced that to win the argument. Was that his reason? Yes,

I'll say it was.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Statement Number 6: It is

now apparent that Saddam had no WMDs, meaning the

Administration's predicate for going to war was faulty.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: Not necessarily. Your

previous question carefully says the primary reason. There were

other reasons. But I think we wouldn't have gone to war had we

not had this WMD concern.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: If you'd say part of the

Administration's predicate for going to war was faulty, I would

agree with that, but that was not the only predicate for going

to war.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: It is apparent today that he

possessed no weapons of mass destruction.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: That's right.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: He did not have them, but I

thought he had some. But it didn't concern me.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Right.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Item Number. 7: There can't

be any disagreement about this. With or without WMDs, Saddam

Hussein is nevertheless an SOB.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: No doubt about it.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: I think everyone would

agree with that.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: No doubt about that.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: True.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: Agreed.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Sure.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Number 8: The fact that the

Administration was wrong about WMDs does not mean that the

President lied on that subject.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: It is correct that that

does not prove the President lied. You have a Secretary of

State, Colin Powell, who I read about in the newspaper having an

interview with Barbara Walters, lamenting the fact that he was

misled and saying that that was a blotch on his record. I don't

think anybody would say that Colin Powell lied; certainly, I

wouldn't. At the highest levels, you can be misled.

So I wouldn't say that the President lied. You

don't call somebody a liar unless you really know what you're

talking about.

SENATOR RICH SANTORUM: I would agree with that.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: That is also correct. The

Senate Intelligence Committee conducted an exhaustive

investigation with this and concluded that while the evidence

was wrong, there was no evidence of fabrication or pressuring

the analysts to make statements they didn't believe in.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Correct. That's been

my view since the beginning of the war.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: No, I have trouble with that.

See, the intelligence that the CIA gave him -- and Cheney did

not say what he said it said. The intelligence he got was that

they might have this or they might have that, but it never said

that they had reconstituted a nuclear weapons program, that they

had a biological weapons inventory or that they had a role in

9/11. And the administration asserted all three of those things

knowing, I believe knowing, that they were not true.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Right.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Item Number 9, I know we've

got controversy on this one, the war in Iraq is going poorly.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: Correct.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: I would disagree with that.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: Regrettably, that is also true.

Look, our troops are making heroic sacrifices. I went last

Friday down to Walter Reed Army Hospital to visit with some of

the folks, so I think it's important for your listeners to know

that our Armed Forces are making valiant efforts there and they

are being of assistance to the Iraqis.

But to answer your question, by poorly, it's much

more difficult, much more expensive, many more causalities than

people had envisioned before this began. So if by poorly, if

that's what you mean, that's the answer. But I didn't want your

listeners to think that in any way I felt that our people were

doing it. There's a tremendous effort.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: It certainly is.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: The war in Iraq is not going

well. It's not going as well as we had hoped. Insurgency is

very near its highest level, and we do not have enough troops to

cope with it or defeat it. And it's hard for me to see how the

Iraqis being trained by Americans can defeat an insurgency the

Americans themselves could not defeat.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Right.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Item Number 10: It's

entirely possible that when all is said and done, we will have

facilitated the replacement of Saddam Hussein with a leadership

regime in Iraq that is beholden to Iran and unfriendly to the

U.S., albeit one that does not equal the evil of Saddam nor the

type of threat he could have become.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: I would say that you don't

know what's going to happen. When you establish a democracy and

a new leadership, the people of Iraq are going to decide things

for themselves, and they're going to make decisions on whether

they want to ally themselves with Iran, what they think about

the United States. And it would be pretty hard to be as bad as

Saddam was with his butchery and his mass killings and torture

of people and the corruption, so it would be pretty tough for

them to be that bad.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: It is possible, yes.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: Well, it's much too early to

know how this is going to turn out. That is possible, to use

your word in the question. It is a possibility. But it's not

yet clear that Iraq will continue to be one country. We hope

that it will. It's possible that it won't.

So is your scenario a possibility? Yes, it's a

possibility, but we just don't know yet how this is going to end

up.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I think that's right.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: I think that it has almost

already happened that the government in Baghdad is beholden to

Iraq.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: It's a real possibility

we're going to have either a Shiite dominated Iraq that is an

Islamic republic or an Iraq which comes apart into three pieces

with the Shiite south being a satellite and ally of the Iranians

and a catch-all for the Iranians as they move on the oil fields

in Kuwait and in Saudi Arabia. And we could have ignited a

Shiite-Sunni civil war and also a civil war inside of Iraq.

I do not know the outcome now of this war which I

opposed, but I think one of the reasons that I oppose imminent

withdrawal of American forces is we can have a tremendous

disaster there that can cause oil to go to 100 or $150 a barrel.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Yes.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Item 11. I hardly expect

disagreement. Leaving Iraq now, meaning immediately, would

embolden insurgents and terrorists.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: Well, I think that's correct,

unfortunately. We're looking for an exit strategy, but there's

no doubt that if we cut and run, it's going to encourage other

people to take us on.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: I would agree with that.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: If by now you mean in the next

week, month, that kind of thing, precipitously, yes, that would

be the result of that.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: That's true.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: I don't know what immediately

means. I think we could begin the withdrawal soon. I think we

would need to take about 18 months, maybe 24 months, to complete

it. But I think the insurgents are already emboldened. And

we're having between 85 and 100 attacks on us every day in Iraq,

so I think they're pretty emboldened.

I think we ought to begin right after they have

their election in December, maybe ought to begin in January,

begin a withdrawal.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: There's no question about

it. Leaving Iraq now precipitously would be a defeat for the

United States and so perceived across the entire Arab and

Islamic world. And I think the result would be you do not have

a strong enough central government to hold that country

together. It would probably come apart with the Shiites

controlling the south, the Kurds the north, and a general

all-out war of all against all in Baghdad and the Sunni

triangle. And I think Iran and Turkey would intervene.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Yes.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Item 12: Our presence in

Iraq provides a rallying point for the insurgency and the

radical Islamists.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: I think that's so, although

they've got so many rallying points. I don't know that they

need another. But they are making hay out of it.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: It depends what you mean by

rallying point. Are they rallying to there to fight against us?

Yes. Is it a rallying point that is causing more terrorists to

come out of the woodwork that otherwise wouldn't? I would

disagree with that.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: Well, that's true. But it's

also important to point out, Michael, that they attacked us

before we went into Iraq, so they had their own motivations

before all this began. But is it a place now where radicals

from around the region are coming to fight us, kill us and to

receive training? Yes, regrettably, that is now the case.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: One, but there are many

others as well.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: So is that a qualified

admission?

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: That's a qualified yes.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: It is, therefore, the majority

of the reason there is an insurgency.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: No question about it.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Definitely.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Item Number 13: Leaving Iraq

as soon as possible must be our goal.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: I think that's correct,

conditioned on doing so honorably and not leaving a worse mess

than if we stayed.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: I disagree with that.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: As soon as possible consistent

with the national security interests of the United States.

This gets back to a previous question you asked,

which is next week or next month. No, I don't think that would

be in our national security interests. But as soon as possible

consistent with our national security interests and stability

there, yes, that absolutely should be our goal.

And can I say one -- General Casey, our commander

in Iraq, was in Washington three weeks ago. It's part of his

battle plan to begin to withdraw our troops next year. Now, he

doesn't know whether he's going to be able to implement that or

not, but that's General Casey's plan, and I think that we should

work toward that resolve.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: Absolutely.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: Leaving Iraq as soon as we

can find some kind of assurance the situation will not go to

hell in a hand basket.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Boy, that's a general

question. Yes, I'll say yes.

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Final statement, last but

certainly not least, and I know we've got disagreement about

this one: It's time for the administration to set a timetable

to leave Iraq.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: I would like to see a

timetable, but I don't know that one is realistic.

SENATOR RICK SANTORUM: I disagree with that. Both

of those are together. Do I want us to be out of Iraq as soon

as possible? Absolutely. But that shouldn't be the goal. The

goal shouldn't be should we get out as soon as possible. The

goal should be should we attain a victory there and establish a

stable democracy and then get out.

SENATOR EVAN BAYH: As I mentioned, General Casey

is planning to begin withdrawing our forces next year, start

handing this over to the Iraqis.

It's impossible today, though, Michael, just to

pick a date on the calendar. This has to be event-driven. This

has to be driven by the substance of how we're doing, the Iraqis

do better. Hopefully, the political situation will do better.

So yes, I think we need to have a plan that

envisions our withdrawal. But it's got to be event-driven. You

can't just pick a date in the abstract. Because when you get

there, you don't know what the circumstances will be or whether

it will be responsible to do it at that time.

PROFESSOR ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes.

MR. RICHARD CLARKE: I could not agree with you

more. I think we have to set that timetable. Once we've

announced that timetable, I know they think it could somehow

help the insurgents; it's not. It's going to take the wind out

of the insurgents, and it's going to have the average Iraqi say,

"Thank God the Americans aren't going to stay forever." And

it's going to give a real impetus to the Iraqi government and

the Iraqi military forces to get their act together.

MR. PATRICK BUCHANAN: I say publicly no. But

privately, I think the President and Rumsfeld and Cheney should

sit down and make a determination as to how long we can stay

there, what we can achieve and what it will require in terms of

cost, the way Nixon did in the Vietnam War.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: Public timetable?

MR. MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Yes.

MR. CHRIS MATTHEWS: I'll say yes.