THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: PATRICK BUCHANAN, ELEANOR CLIFT,
DAVID GERGEN, AND ERIC FELTEN
TAPED FRIDAY, JULY 3, 1998
AIRED THE WEEKEND OF JULY 4-5, 1998
TRANSCRIPT BY: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE
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ANNOUNCER: From the nation's capital, the McLaughlin Group, an unrehearsed program presenting inside opinions and forecasts on major issues of the day. "GE is proud to support the McLaughlin Group. From medical systems to broadcasting, GE: We bring good things to life."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Did we change China, or did China change us?
U.S. PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) Now we see China at a moment in history when your glorious past is matched by your present sweeping transformation and the even greater promise of your future.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Clinton returns this weekend from an historic nine-day visit to China. The journey included stops in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong. Even before Clinton's return, the trip was being hailed as a banner performance.
And indeed it was. Clinton exhibited his fabled power to connect with people, through his charm, the energy of his ideas, and his ostensible sincerity.
Days into his super summit, it was clear that this trip was a watershed, meaning that what will follow the trip will be different from what has gone before. U.S. policy towards China has changed. The key points:
China's self-democratization. China's president, Jiang Zemin, argues that with 1.2 billion people and an annual $700 per capita gross domestic product, China's democratization process cannot and should not be compared to the U.S., with its 260 million people and a $30,000 per capita GDP.
Clinton agrees that the situations are different.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON (From videotape.) We must understand and respect the enormous challenges China has faced in trying to move forward against great odds, with a clear memory of the setbacks suffered in past periods of instability.
Question: Do we see a shift in U.S. policy towards China in Clinton's words about how China is democratizing? Pat Buchanan?
MR. BUCHANAN: John, there's no doubt that Bill Clinton is pursuing a policy of constructive engagement with China, strategic partnership. He's moving much closer to China. He's making an extraordinary bet on China. And he handled the theatrics very well, John, but he's got two big problems. Number one, as the Washington Post said, his performance on Taiwan was a fiasco which is going to come back to haunt him. Secondly, Clinton has not addressed the fact that China's trade surplus with us is running at the rate of $1 billion a week.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, do you see a shift in our change -- in our attitude towards China, our treatment of China, on the basis of democratization?
MS. CLIFT: Well, I think the president is acknowledging a new China, a commercial power. And China understands that if they're going to globalize their economy and be a member of the family of nations, they've got to have rules that are modern, and that means a legal system and that means expanding freedom. And I think that Jiang Zemin, the Chinese president, could well be the Gorbachev of China, in the sense that he will try, at least, to preside over this change in a peaceful fashion. He might pay a personal price for this. We don't know.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There you are, Eric. Glasnost from Jiang Zemin.
MR. FELTEN: Well, Jiang may be the Gorbachev, but Clinton is no Reagan. When Reagan went to Moscow in 1988, he talked to dissidents and he made the case in Jeffersonian terms for the freedom that those dissidents were trying to earn. And Bill Clinton noticeably did not meet with dissidents and did not make any of those kinds of ringing Jeffersonian claims for the power of freedom and people putting their lives on the line to get that freedom.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: David Gergen, did you discern what Clinton said on democratization and how it's being conducted in China a shift in U.S. policy towards China?
MR. GERGEN: Less of a shift in substance than a shift in tone. I think the president is very much acting as if China is now a more important player in Asia than Japan, and I think he shifted the tone of U.S. policy toward a much more dramatic embrace of what's going on in China. And I think that for a lot of people in Taiwan, I think Pat is right, it's created a lot of nervousness.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. I'm going to conduct this little test with you further, David, and see whether you discern any shift in the following sectors.
Okay, human rights. On the delicate subject of human rights, the U.S. president is critical of China.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) Tiananmen Square is a historic place, and there, nine years ago, Chinese citizens of all ages raised their voices for democracy.
I believe, and the American people believe, that the use of force and the tragic loss of life was wrong.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But Clinton is careful to soften the blow.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: (From videotape.) (Tape begins in progress) -- that our country has had terrible problems in this area. Keep in mind, slavery was legal in America for many years and that we are still not perfect.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Do we see a shift in the U.S. policy towards China in the way Clinton discusses China's human-rights record against a background of the U.S. human-rights record of the United States? I ask you, Eleanor Clift.
MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, he was asked a question about human-rights abuses in this country, and he was responding to a question. But, John, we do live in a concessional age. And for him to go over there and lecture or hector them about the abuses in their society, without conceding that we have walked through fires here, I think, would not be appropriate. I think he made a connection with the people over there. He spoke about human rights, forthrightly, in Tiananmen Square, and I think it's appropriate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he gave too much away?
MR. GERGEN: On human rights? I think he was about right on human rights. I could do -- we discussed this before, when he went to Africa --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: An, yeah.
MR. GERGEN: -- and he seemed to be just apologizing all over the place. (Laughter.) (Short audio break) -- so that, you know, I could do with less of that. But I think that the president deserves credit for (putting it about right ?).
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How did you feel about when he threw up the background of the U.S. history of human rights as opposed to, say, China?
MR. FELTEN: Well, I think to have to go back to slavery to then find something to do a "mea culpa" on, that this does not hold up America as the beacon that it rightly should be, and I think Clinton blew it on that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And do you think it signifies a shift there?
MR. BUCHANAN: (On this ?), no. But (President ?) Clinton cannot help but going for these apologies for what we did before he says something else. But, look, Clinton -- I will say this -- Clinton did much better than was expected, and by his critics thought he was going to do, but Eric is dead right. He fell short of the great standard of Ronald Reagan in Moscow.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. I think this will be responsive for you, Pat, and that this will hit a chord. (Laughter.) Taiwan.
According to the Taiwanese people, Taiwan is a nation. To mainland China, Taiwan is a breakaway province, and it's also the key to U.S.-China relations. For the first time, a U.S. president explicitly articulated the three no's of U.S. policy toward Taiwan; no independence, no two Chinas, no Taiwan seat in the U.N.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: (From videotape.) We don't support independence for Taiwan or two Chinas, or one Taiwan, one China. And we don't believe that Taiwan should -- a membership in any organization for which statehood is a requirement.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Do we see a shift in U.S. policy towards China in Clinton's explicit articulation of a "three noes" policy towards Taiwan? I ask you, Patrick.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, the guy that asked that question was a ringer. This was a setup for Mr. Clinton, and he has taken our policy to the point where he is stiffing Taiwan, which is trying to break out of any isolation, establish relations, get into these organizations. He's taken it far behind the Shanghai Communication. I think he's made a terrible mistake, and it's wrong for Taiwan.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the Shanghai Communication?
MR. BUCHANAN: That's what was signed when we were in Shanghai with Richard Nixon in 1972, which basically said the United States -- the Chinese on one side of the strait believe this, on the other side of the strait they believe that; the United States accepts these sort of opinions. We are now on the side -- we're now --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, well, listen, this was a -- this is a policy that goes back to 1979 --
MR. BUCHANAN: It does not.
MS. CLIFT: -- and a congressional resolution that was passed overwhelmingly. Nobody likes to talk about it, because it upsets you guys on the right --
MR. BUCHANAN: Mmm-hmm.
MS. CLIFT: -- who still are clinging to Taiwan as a relic of the Cold War. (Laughter.)
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: If -- the worst Clinton did was to openly talk about what is a family secret.
MR. GERGEN: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on.
Eric, are you clinging to Taiwan as a relic of the Cold War? Are you one of those?
MR. FELTEN: I don't see why -- how we have any right to sell out Taiwan, a group of people who are living -- a democratic nation. The people in Taiwan, at the beginning of the week, had one hope: Oh, please, please, President Reagan (sic), don't go out there --
MS. CLIFT: President Reagan?! He'd be happy to do it! (Laughs.)
MR. FELTEN: Right, President Clinton, whatever -- yeah -- whatever you do, don't go and say the three noes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MR. FELTEN: And that's exactly what he did.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. And the Chinese really wanted him to say this about Taiwan -- more than anything --
MR. BUCHANAN: Sure, sure.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- more than anything. And he gave it to them.
MR. GERGEN: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did he get in return?
MR. GERGEN: I don't think, on Taiwan --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he get the agreement to put everything on television? Was that the deal?
MR. GERGEN: No, I think he's got more than that. I think he got not only the agreement on television, but I think that -- at least our reporting from U.S. News over there shows -- that the administration now expects the Chinese to behave better on their external relations, so they can concentrate on the internal, that they expect now more cooperation on China -- on India and the Pakistani question -- the "Islamic bomb," if you will -- and other issues like that.
But I think the Taiwanese have a right to be nervous.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, but I saw what the president said about that. It looked pretty loosey-goosey to me. You know, we have shifted the direction of their -- they've shifted the direction of 13 --
MR. GERGEN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and we've shifted our direction. You can reverse that in about two or three hours.
MR. GERGEN: But let me tell you, John, I don't think that this was a change in policy on the part of Clinton toward Taiwan.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't?
MR. GERGEN: What it was -- it's a change in --
MR. FELTEN: All right.
MR. GERGEN: It's -- American presidents have always --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Look, I'm going to get you, David, on this.
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Tibet: Tibet is region nearly half a million square miles -- twice the size of Texas -- on the border between China and India. Tibet claims it is an independent state. Clinton says Tibet is part of China.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) I urged President Jiang to assume a dialogue with the Dalai Lama in return for the recognition that Tibet is a part of China.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Do we see a shift in U.S. policy towards China in Clinton's public rejection of a free Tibet? Eric Felten?
MR. FELTEN: Yeah, you do. And what's interesting about the change in policy towards Tibet is, even though it's selling out Tibet, it's doing it in a way that makes the Dalai Lama happy, because the radicals who want real freedom in Tibet don't want a sort of Tibet in which the Dalai Lama's allowed to come back but China still rules. But making the Dalai Lama happy is the key for Clinton to make happy his Hollywood community, which the only thing they care about China, really, is the Dalai Lama. So if the Dalai Lama is happy --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's getting it all ways, which is the way he wants to do it.
MR. FELTEN: If the Dalai Lama's happy, then Richard Gere's happy and the Hollywood angle is covered.
MS. CLIFT: The only thing that's being sold out here is the right wing's hopes of creating a big issue out of Clinton's China policy. Look, I don't believe a previous president has even met with the Dalai Lama. Clinton has met with him twice. Tibetan activists are happy with the progress they have made. And he has taken this issue out of the closet, just like the other one, and that's all to the good.
MR. BUCHANAN: You know, basically I think what the Tibetan -- the Dalai Lama wants is autonomy. But, you know, getting back to Taiwan, there are 20 million Taiwanese who don't accept the 2 million Chinese running their show on Taiwan. You're going to get, one of these days, a party that declares for Taiwan's independence as a separate nation and a separate state. And what Clinton has said is, don't count on us if that happens.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.
Did you want to say something before I press forward? (Laughter.)
MR. GERGEN: Yeah, I think -- to your next travelogue. (Laughter.) I think, John, what we see is that Republican presidents were champions of Taiwan, and now what we have with a Democratic president, the first who has ever gone to China, is suddenly we have a champion of Tibet and a de-emphasis on Taiwan. And people in Taiwan are nervous --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You saw that as him championing Tibet?
MR. GERGEN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's the only American president to have said with such clarity that he rejects, in so many words, he rejects a free Tibet. Presidents don't talk about that.
MR. GERGEN: The Dalai Lama is very pleased because he has put this issue on the agenda publicly in China, and that has not happened --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the Dalai Lama is pleased with the president's saying that?
MR. FELTEN: Well, the Dalai Lama is pleased, but there are also -- the Dalai Lama is not the complete expression of the freedom movement in Tibet. There are also other people there who are not happy.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. A new China policy. Columnist Michael Kelly puts the argument that the U.S. policy has, in fact, shifted pronouncedly, perhaps radically, towards China, and he puts this with unusual clarity:
"Our new policy is to regard China and the United States as partners, not adversaries. The United States must accept China as it is. The desired end of the old, the linkage-based policy was to force improvements in the behavior of the Chinese government.
The principal element of this earlier U.S. policy was to link the blessings of trade and international recognition that Beijing coveted, to Beijing's behavior in the areas of human rights, free trade and nuclear weapons proliferation. Under the new policy, the United States will no longer presume to force change.
"The lesson of Tiananmen Square is not that China's dictators must change, it is that Americans must change. We must be more sensitive, we must acknowledge our sins, we must be patient. We must not judge lest we be judged. Linkage is dead."
Here's your question number one: Do you agree fundamentally with Michael Kelly's position that the shift in U.S. policy towards China is as pronounced as he says it is? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, I think he is exactly right, John. The United States's purchases from China are responsible for 8 percent of their entire gross national product. We have said we will not use that leverage to change China. Our policy's based on hope.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have got two exit questions.
MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is the first.
MS. CLIFT: Michael Kelly's position is silly. The notion that you could go over there and force people to do what you want is an outdated notion that died with imperialism a long time ago. Watch what China does over the next months and years and then judge.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with Kelly?
MR. FELTEN: I do. I think what we have here is better friendship with China, but it's a friendship where we have agreed to disagree. So we're no longer going to have any disagreements with them, and that's an easy way to get friendship if you appease.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: China has its vision; we have ours. We respect each other's vision, but it's hands off on both sides.
MR. GERGEN: Absolutely wrong. (Chuckles.) How can one say that after Bill Clinton goes on national television and explains and pushes the American point of view? Every expert -- and the Republicans themselves, after this trip, are praising Bill Clinton because he spoke out for Americans values and spoke out for change in China.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well -- you've got to distinguish between style and policy here.
MR. GERGEN: I agree with that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think Kelly is absolutely on the money.
Exit question number two: How do you grade President Clinton's performance in China, A, B, C, D, F or incomplete? Viewers, by the way, can answer this question at "mclaughlin.com". What's your answer, your grade, Patrick Buchanan?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, in tone and style and theatrics, he did far better than expected, maybe even an A-minus.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, give me an overall --
MR. BUCHANAN: But you (can't ?) --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- give me an overall composite grade.
MR. BUCHANAN: "C."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "C?"
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, because of the Taiwan thing and the lack of progress on trade.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, okay. (Laughter.)
MS. CLIFT: I am going to take my cue from a Republican of a slightly different stripe Jack Kemp -- (laughter) -- who called the trip a "huge success." And he's right; it's an "A."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah well, you know, Kemp has his strengths and his weaknesses.
What do you have to say?
MR. FELTEN: And a "C"; the average an "A" --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A "C?"
MR. FELTEN: -- an "A" for style, "F" for substance. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say?
MR. GERGEN: I say an absolute strong "A" on his charm offensive. I don't think it produced very much in the way substantively. I don't think it produced --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you give me a composite letter -- and can you -- do you want to give me a composite --
MR. FELTEN: I get "C," to average it out.
MR. BUCHANAN: It was "C."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. GERGEN: Oh, overall? A-minus.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is he gets a composite "A."
When we come back "mea culpas" from CNN, the Contrite New Network." (Laughter.) How diagnostic is CNN's nasty lapse in journalism? Does it tell us anything about the profession as a whole?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: CNN -- Contrite News Network.
JEAN MESERVE (anchor, Cable News Network): (From audio tape, reading statement from Tom Johnson, president and CEO, CNN News Group) We acknowledge serious faults in the use of sources who provided "NewsStand" with the original reports and therefore retract the Tailwind story. We apologize to our viewers and to our colleagues at Time for this mistake. The fault lies with the editors, producers, and reporters and executives responsible for the reports, the program, and its contents.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is the biggest embarrassment in the history of CNN, the Cable News Network. CNN Chairman Tom Johnson issued a retraction and apology for a story aired on the CNN/Time magazine program "NewsStand."
It was a sensational story. During a Vietnam mission called Operation Tailwind, the U.S. military used sarin nerve gas -- 26 times more deadly than cyanide gas -- on enemy soldiers and civilians and -- get this -- on U.S. soldiers who had allegedly defected during the Vietnam War.
The story came under immediate attack from the Pentagon, the news media, and even CNN's own military adviser, retired General Perry Smith (sp), who resigned over the report.
The most detailed challenges to the story were presented in the Weekly Standard, in an analytic piece by Eric Felten. Among them:
One, CNN correspondent Peter Arnett and his producer, April Oliver, before the story aired were in possession of evidence that their story was false, but they buried that evidence.
Two, CNN's main source for the story, Robert Van Buskirk, wrote a book called "Tailwind: A True Story" 15 years ago. But in his book, Buskirk never mentioned once nerve gas. Buskirk now denies being CNN's source for the nerve gas story.
Three, at least two other CNN sources claim that their comments were either heavily edited or taken out of context.
We have the investigative reporter on this -- (pronouncing "show" as "shoe," in Ed Sullivan fashion) -- right here on this show, Eric Felten. (Laughs.) It's good of you to come.
How grave is this CNN lapse?
MR. FELTEN: I think this is one of the most serious failings of journalism at a high-profile, high-power journalistic outlet that I can think of. And what's really grave here is that the producers, the reporter, the correspondent on this -- they all had reason to know that the story was false, and then covered up the evidence that the story was false, so that they could put the story out and claim that it was true.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see the report on this that was put together by the distinguished First Amendment attorney from New York?
MS. CLIFT: Floyd Abrams.
MR. BUCHANAN: Floyd Abrams.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Floyd Abrams. Did you see it?
MR. FELTEN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He says -- he bends over backwards, almost, in trying to protect them, but at the same time saying that there was no support for the story. But he seems to argue that it was not falsification -- interpreting "falsification," I think, to be "lying" -- but falsification as a de facto error and confutation of reality.
MR. FELTEN: Yeah, but then --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The question to you is, are you saying that you think that there was deliberate duplicity here, lying?
MR. FELTEN: Well, I don't think that it was accidental that CNN hired a high-profile libel attorney to come in and do its outside report. I think they knew they were in big trouble, and this report has been done in a way that they're trying to avoid the nine-figure defamation suit.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's going to bring a suit?
MR. FELTEN: Oh, you have all of the soldiers, the pilots who dropped the gas, all of these people who were interviewed, and then their comments were turned around to make it appear they said things that they didn't say. All of these people can claim they were defamed and done -- and that it was done purposefully.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. It's a pretty hideous story when you think that the United States military is being characterized like the El Salvadoran death squads.
But I want to ask you another question. Do you know the extent to which they are trying to protect -- it appears they're trying to protect Time magazine, by the assumption of all the culpability by CNN.
MR. FELTEN: Well, it's strange whom they're trying to protect here. One, they're claiming that somehow Time has no responsibility for what went in the magazine. The editors at Time still bear some responsibility for what goes in. And then, also, Peter Arnett, the correspondent, who did the on-air and did a lot of the interviews, has not been fired. He has only been reprimanded. The producers have been fired. But he is their star, and they're loath to let him go. That's not true accountability.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, do you think it should stop with Peter Arnett as a -- as someone who should be terminated?
MR. FELTEN: Well, from what I understand about who put his credibility on the line with this report, it goes all the way to Rick Kaplan.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Pat?
MR. BUCHANAN: Not only is Kohl's conservative coalition going under, the Australian coalition of Prime Minister John Howard is going under before May because of the One Nation, populist, right-wing party of Pauline Hanson, who is the new sensation in Australia.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Very well put. You're talking about Chancellor Kohl at the top of that prediction?
MR. BUCHANAN: It would be Helmut --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's going down?
MR. BUCHANAN: He's going down, and John Howard's going down before next May.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Big news!
MS. CLIFT: So they're going under in Down Under. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly!
MS. CLIFT: Now that Webb Hubbell's indictment has been thrown out in such strong terms, Ken Starr will have to admit there's no there there in Whitewater.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MR. FELTEN: George Bush will win his reelection in November by a massive 2 to 1.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MR. GERGEN: Emboldened by these defeats for Starr, Monica Lewinsky's lawyers are going hold out against any immunity deal for at least a month.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bill Bradley will not seek the Democratic presidential nomination in the year 2000. Bye-bye!