THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES; CHRYSTIA FREELAND, FINANCIAL TIMES
TAPED: FRIDAY, JULY 14, 2006 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JULY 15-16, 2006
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Mideast Mauling.
Military confrontation on two fronts -- that's what Israel is fighting, in Lebanon to the north and Gaza to the south. The northern front opened after the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas on Wednesday. Eight Israeli soldiers were killed.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denounced the Hezbollah raid and blamed the Lebanese government. "I want to make clear that the event this morning is not a terror act but an act of a sovereign state that attacked Israel without reason. The government of Lebanon, of which Hezbollah is a part, is trying to shake the stability of the region." Israel's response was swift -- an assault by land, by air, by sea, the first time Israel has crossed into Lebanon since withdrawing six years ago. Beirut's airport was bombed, plus Lebanese bridges, roads, military air bases and Hezbollah targets, with over 50 civilians killed.
Hezbollah responded with a rain of rocket attacks on northern Israel, at least one reaching Haifa. Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah is proposing a prisoner exchange for the safe return of the two Israeli soldiers.
On Israel's second front, its southern offensive in Gaza, Israel is broadening its battle zone in pursuit of Palestinian militants who are holding one Israeli soldier captured over two weeks ago.
Some 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says, quote-unquote, "Regional war is mounting."
Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, has the same fear.
TZIPI LIVNI (Israeli foreign minister): (From videotape.) There's an axis of terror and hate created by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas that wants to end any hope for peace.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Has Israel overreacted in both Gaza and in Lebanon? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, it has, John. They've got every right to go in and get their soldiers back. They've got a right to clear these areas of rockets and missiles. They've got a right to retaliate against the people that took their men and killed their men.
But Israel is making a terrible mistake. Lebanon -- the government and people of Lebanon did not do this. And Israel is smashing power stations, airfields, blockading people, killing civilians in Lebanon. They knocked out a power station we paid for in Gaza, put half of that community down there in horrible conditions.
This was stupid and excessive on Israel's part, because I think Israel -- fundamentally everybody was behind what they did against Hamas and Hezbollah. And I regret to say the president of the United States, instead of taking a strong pro-Israeli line as far as doing justice to the people attacking them, remained silent about what they're doing to a friendly country and a friendly people in Lebanon, those who are not part of Hezbollah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here's how The New York Times agrees with Pat Buchanan. "Israel needs to make careful distinctions between Hezbollah guerrillas and Lebanese civilians. Calling the rockets an act of war by Lebanon's government was not a good idea." And then it goes on. "In Gaza, where Israeli operations have been going on for two weeks and seem to be expanding day by day, it is not too soon to question Israeli military strategy, as many Israelis themselves are now doing. Israel should not back off its efforts to secure the release of its kidnapped soldier, but it needs to refocus its Gaza operations on that very specific goal."
Eleanor, do you agree with the Times, do you agree with Pat, or where are you on this issue?
MS. CLIFT: Well, this is the first totally civilian government that Israel has had, and they don't really have anybody in power with real security experience. And what they have done is overreact; I agree with that. And in terms of Lebanon, it would have been fine to take out the Hezbollah headquarters. But to bomb the airport and to go after the infrastructure is totally misplaced.
The Lebanese government does not have power over Hezbollah. Hezbollah is like a state within a state. They have their own military wing. They have a separate media operation. And so what they have done is weaken a friendly government, and it's counterproductive.
And it's counterproductive in Gaza as well. They take out the transformers. Gaza gets 70 percent of its electricity from Israel. The world condemns them for bombing 30 percent of the electrical facilities, and so they have to boost the amount they're sending. They're not getting anything out of it except condemnation.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, before you move Israel completely into the outer darkness, the reason why it bombed the airport is because these huge planes come in from, they say, Iran with loads of munitions and gear that are needed for their military exploitation by the Hezbollah. So that's why they bombed the airport as heavily as they did. But I want to hear from Tony on this.
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, no; the short answer is no. This is not merely a tit-for-tat situation. The Hezbollah was given, everybody presumes, authority to move in this way by Iran. Israel was not unprepared for this event. This kind of military operation is not turned on overnight.
In fact, what we're seeing is the combining of forces to resolve a bigger dispute that exists here. I think Israel is intending not to get even but to try to obliterate the infrastructure of Hezbollah for many years, just as Hezbollah, acting on behalf of Iran, is using this opportunity to trigger an event because Iran thinks they're in a powerful place. Indirectly this is coming at the United States. It affects our Iraq war, too.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Chrystia Freeland, welcome. Congratulations on the honor that has befallen you in succeeding Lionel Barber as head of Financial Times in the United States. Are you enjoying it? MS. FREELAND: Loving it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of this issue and where we are in this conversation? For example, what is Israel trying to accomplish in Lebanon?
MS. FREELAND: Well, I think that Eleanor is absolutely right, actually, and that a really important factor is that this is an Israeli government which is trying to prove its chops. These are guys who really want to show that they are as tough as the warrior class that has traditionally ruled Israel.
And I do think that there's a real risk, given that domestic political background, that they're going to overreact -- not that they are morally unjustified, not that their goals of neutralizing Hezbollah are wrong.
But the big question is, is this going to be effective?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --
MS. FREELAND: And I think there's a real chance that it's not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Hezbollah is at its most vulnerable state and Israel knows it, and Israel wants to take advantage of that, and it's at its most vulnerable state because it has the protection of the Syrian military? Do you follow me? So Israel now wants to advantage Israel of that and wipe out Hezbollah. And that's why it's proceeding as far as it has.
MS. CLIFT: I would --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And does that diminish any reprimand that is owing to Israel?
But what about this? A couple of weeks ago, Israel suddenly became the object of the shift of the preference on the part of the European Union, away from its Arab tilt to an Israeli tilt, to a tilt towards Israel of the European states? Was that your feeling? And has it moved now back to where it was, against Israel, thinking that Israel is going too far? Do you sense any of that?
MS. FREELAND: Absolutely. And I think that's one of the dangers that we're seeing right now. I think it will all be playing out this weekend at the G-8. But what we've already seen is a slight rift between the U.S., on the one hand, in its reaction to Israeli actions, and some of the Europeans, particularly the French, the Russians, have been coming out and saying Israel is going too far. And that's not great for Israel.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, the president --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, Bush is coming out too strongly when he says Israel is entitled to defend itself?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, Bush --
MS. FREELAND: No, I'm not saying that. But I'm saying there's a gap. And there was a real chance we were moving towards a more united western policy on the issues. MR. BUCHANAN: You know, John, Bush has dealt himself out of this. And our policy, frankly, we basically have given a blank check to Sharon to do what he wants. Bush -- we don't talk to Iran, we don't talk to Syria, we don't talk to Hamas, we don't talk to Hezbollah, because the Israelis don't want us to. And now we can't play the great-power role above this, which supports Israel in most of what it's doing but tells them to pull back here and has got some leverage with these other parties.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --
MS. CLIFT: The president --
MR. BUCHANAN: They've got no leverage with the other side.
MS. CLIFT: The president's comment was nonsensical. He said, "Israel has a right to defend itself, but I hope -- but they shouldn't weaken the Lebanese government." That's like saying, "Okay, pour fire -- pour gasoline" --
MR. BLANKLEY: Well --
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me -- "pour gasoline on the house but don't let the fire hurt anybody." And Hezbollah is not weakened. Hezbollah is strong because Iran is strong, and Iran is acting through its proxies. And we have invited -- with our policies, we have emboldened Iran.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly, Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, Hezbollah -- the Israelis don't believe that the Lebanese government is completely impotent to stop Hezbollah. And we could -- the United States could help the Lebanese move their forces to southern Lebanon.
The fact is that this is not a moment where we're dealing with reprisals. We are seeing a realignment of forces in --
MR. BUCHANAN: But Tony --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on --
MS. CLIFT: From U.S. strength to weakness is the realignment.
MR. BUCHANAN: The Israeli army, the mighty Israeli army, in 18 years could not defeat and disarm Hezbollah. How in heaven's name can they expect the Lebanese to do it?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's not the big problem.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, please. Can I get back in here? That's not the big problem. The big problem is that Syria might come to the defense of the Hezbollah. Is that likely?
MS. FREELAND: I think the bigger problem is Iran. Hezbollah has two important patrons, Syria and Iran. And as Eleanor said, the Iranian issue is huge right now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Iran through Hamas or Iran through -- well, I understand that this soldier --
MR. BUCHANAN: What is Iran going to do? What is Iran going to do, John? First, the Syrians aren't behind this. They don't want war with Israel. But what is Iran going to do right now? Nothing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If there were an involvement of Syria, where would that leave the United States?
MS. CLIFT: Well, wait a second --
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, the United --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me hear this.
MR. BUCHANAN: Look, the only way Syria is going to be involved, in my judgment, is if Israel attacks Syria, which I think would be stupid and counterproductive because it would inflame the entire Arab world, because Syria is not guilty.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't it true that the Syrian elite would love to be back into the dominant position in Lebanon? And this is a perfect opportunity for them to do it.
MR. BUCHANAN: They're not going to do it.
MS. CLIFT: American --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?
MR. BUCHANAN: They're not going back into Lebanon.
MS. CLIFT: American policy pressured Syria out of Lebanon, and we have lost them now as a pressure point to try to restrain Hezbollah. (Cross talk.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible). Wait a minute. Let me finish!
MR. BLANKLEY: We never lost anything about getting Syria out. By the way, the French were our allies in getting the Syrians out of Lebanon.
MS. CLIFT: Well, unintended consequences. MR. BLANKLEY: The idea that you see Syria as some kind of a benevolent force in the Middle East suggests --
MS. CLIFT: I don't see them as benevolent.
MR. BLANKLEY: That's what you just said.
MS. CLIFT: But they were an intermediary during the Clinton years.
MR. BLANKLEY: They were not an intermediary. They were an enemy.
MS. CLIFT: They were an intermediary during the Clinton years in reining in Hezbollah. And we now are asking them to restrain them, and they are saying --
MR. BLANKLEY: No, we're not asking --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can I get back in, please?
MR. BUCHANAN: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's be a little bit more speculative.
If Syria got into the act in defending the Hezbollah, that would necessarily involve us on the side of Israel, would it not?
MR. BUCHANAN: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No? Well, let me finish.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, why would --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me finish. Would that give us a reason, then, for regime change, instigated by us and Syria, which is what we want?
MS. CLIFT: Another disaster --
MR. BLANKLEY: No --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't that where --
MR. BUCHANAN: How is Syria going to help --
MR. BLANKLEY: No. No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him speak. What?
MR. BUCHANAN: John, Syria --
MS. FREELAND: What about Lebanon? What about the democracy in Lebanon?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?
MS. FREELAND: What about Lebanon? I mean, if we're talking about regime change in Syria, let's talk about the one country that has the best prospects for democracy in this region, the poor old Lebanese, whose fragile and divided democracy is really being pummeled.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me go back to Syria for a second, because I don't think America or Israel has an interest in the Syrian regime falling, because what will replace it might well be fundamentalist. MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, did you tell that to the Bush administration?
MR. BUCHANAN: What exactly -- why doesn't Bush talk to them?
MR. BLANKLEY: They don't need me to tell them. On the other hand, they may well do some bombing in Syria because Syria is hosting the head of Hamas.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Abu Mazen is secretly licking his lips?
MR. BUCHANAN: No. I mean, the Palestinians are suffering terribly.
MS. CLIFT: No. He's been emasculated.
MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor's right. The guy has been completely emasculated.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't they want to see Hamas take the beating it's taking now, or will take?
MR. BUCHANAN: In taking the beating, Hamas also establishes its bona fides as they stand up to Israel.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Doesn't that permit a great deal of scheudenfreude on the part of Abu Mazen --
MR. BUCHANAN: Abu Mazen --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but at the same time he loves it?
MR. BUCHANAN: I mean, Eleanor is exactly right. He's irrelevant.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. What's the risk that these incursions will spiral into control -- beyond control into a wider Middle East conflict involving Syria and/or Iran? Give me percentages. Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's almost zero unless the Israelis strike Syria. It's almost zero. Syria doesn't want a war with Israel.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: And Iran is just teasing us and taunting us, and they don't want it to go beyond this either. So I think -- I don't think it goes beyond Syria. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it could rise to the bait that we trail in front of it if we work for regime change --
MS. CLIFT: Nothing is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- if Syria got involved, if all elements --
MS. CLIFT: Nothing is predictable in the Middle East. Ten days ago I was standing at that very border crossing at Lebanon and it looked so tranquil. And we were looking through binoculars at the Hezbollah outpost and the U.N. headquarters and it all seemed like it was calm.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you read the book "The March of" --
MS. CLIFT: And look what's happened.
MR. BLANKLEY: "The March of Folly" by --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you read that?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By whom?
MR. BLANKLEY: By Tuchman.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Barbara Tuchman? Did you know that she makes the point that leaders can make terrible mistakes?
MR. BLANKLEY: I was just going to say that this has all the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Earmarks?
MR. BLANKLEY: -- earmarks of June and July of 1914, where unintended events can take on. The kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers, like the assassination of the hated archduke, nobody really intended, other than the Germans, for it to move forward. I think I'd give it about a 35 percent chance --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think there'll be a deal --
MR. BLANKLEY: -- of it spiraling out of control.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thirty-five?
MR. BLANKLEY: Thirty-five.
MS. FREELAND: Of World War III?
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, of a regional war in the Middle East in which -- MS. FREELAND: Involving?
MR. BLANKLEY: Involving Syria, maybe the United States to some extent, and perhaps Iran, not directly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Chrystia, don't you think it's far more probable there will be a deal, an exchange of prisoners? Isn't that what happened in 2004 when the Hezbollah was dealt with by Israel and Israel surrendered something like 200 or 300 prisoners for three bodies of Israeli soldiers and one living Israeli solder? Didn't that take place? Didn't you cover that over there?
MS. FREELAND: They have had prisoner exchanges. And I think Tony also thinks it's more probable, because he only ascribes 35 percent to the war scenario.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How is Israel going to save face if it starts dealing with terrorists? That's what --
MR. BLANKLEY: Prisoner exchanges can't happen in real time. There's got to be a delay of --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hasn't Olmert been praising himself and his country for not dealing with terrorists?
MS. FREELAND: I think politicians love to talk about not dealing with terrorists, but they often find a way of doing it behind closed doors.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know that Tzipi Livni, that impressive foreign secretary, is very hawkish on this particular issue.
MR. BUCHANAN: The Israelis have dealt with Hezbollah before.
How do you think they got out of there and negotiated their pullback?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think there --
MS. CLIFT: Nobody believes them when they say there's not going to be a prisoner exchange. If I had to put money on it, there'll be a prisoner exchange.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If I had to put money on it, there'd be a prisoner exchange. And you say the same thing and you say the same thing and you say the same.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, I --
MR. BUCHANAN: I hope so.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, I say --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we all hope so. Let's hope we hope so.
When we come back the summit of the G-8. Is it a pseudo summit?
Issue Two: Not So Great G-8.
The Group of Eight summit is in progress this weekend in St. Petersburg, Russia. Vladimir Putin is hosting; France, Jacques Chirac; Great Britain, Tony Blair; Japan, Junichiro Koizumi; Germany, Angela Merkel; Italy, Romano Prodi; Canada, Stephen Harper; United States, George W. Bush.
Question: Which of these world leaders is the most impressive, impressive defined by most in command of his or her agenda? Chrystia Freeland.
MS. FREELAND: Well, Putin is the most in command of his agenda, because he is building an authoritarian state. That's pretty commanding. It's not necessarily good.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has Bush got control of his political destiny? After all, he's struggling to stay at 40 percent in the polls, right? Is he bogged down in Iraq? (Laughter.) Chrystia, don't you cover this in your paper? Is he bogged down in Iraq?
MS. FREELAND: What I would say is that these are not necessarily the measures through which --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the U.S. at an all-time low in world opinion? Your newspaper --
MS. FREELAND: Where would you rather live, the U.S. or Russia?
MR. BUCHANAN: Hey, John, the point is --
MS. CLIFT: John, you're leading the witness. You're leading the witness.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Osama bin Laden still on the loose?
MR. BUCHANAN: John, look --
MS. FREELAND: But seriously, I mean, if we're going to assess Putin's record, of course there have been some achievements.
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MS. FREELAND: But if you want to talk about -- (inaudible) -- let's look at Chechnya. Is Chechnya a success for Putin? Do you really think a totally crumbling region whose people are absolutely, adamantly now in their hearts at war with Russia --
MR. BUCHANAN: But the point is, in terms of policy --
MS. FREELAND: This is not a place which is at peace.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- cowboy diplomacy, John -- cowboy diplomacy is dead.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You wrote a book on Russia. Hold on. You wrote a book on Russia, right?
MS. FREELAND: I did.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you get into very much of Putin's administration?
MS. FREELAND: Well, I'm actually pleased to say that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you writing a book now?
MS. FREELAND: No. I wrote about Putin at the very end, and I predicted that although some people thought he was going to turn out to be benign, he would actually turn out to be an authoritarian leader, which I think is the case. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think that --
MS. CLIFT: Putin is the only one of those leaders who goes in there with a commanding popularity among his own people, because he is perceived to be an effective dictator. What we have in this country is a dictator who's ineffective.
MS. FREELAND: But he's not a dictator.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's talk -- wait a minute, now. We've got to talk --
MS. FREELAND: I mean, we can't use --
MS. CLIFT: Well, don't use that so loosely.
MS. FREELAND: -- these terms so loosely.
MS. CLIFT: We have an authoritarian president who is ineffective.
MS. FREELAND: No, he's not authoritarian.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, this is --
MR. BLANKLEY: He's not a dictator. He's a democrat with a small "d."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I can't believe --
MS. FREELAND: You guys can elect your president and you have free choice. That's not the case in Russia.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't contribute to the recalcitrance of these panelists. Now, I want you to just cool off, all right? I want to talk about the G-E -- excuse me -- the G-8. Put the check in the mail, Jeffrey, if you would.
Okay, the G-8. Is the G-8 an anachronism? The G-8 presents itself as a steering group for economic policy for the world, but it isn't. It is supposed to be a gathering of the world's leading economic powers representing the world, but it isn't. The world isn't represented. India, the world's largest democracy, with a rapidly expanding economy, is not on the list, nor South Korea, nor Brazil, nor Mexico, nor Spain, all with bigger economies than Russia's itself, even though Russia is a member.
Therefore, according to a couple of stalwarts over at the Brookings Institution, as many as 19 or 20 countries ought to be in there if this pretense that's now going on is going to pose itself as a leader of world economic policy. What does the Financial Times have to say about that? MS. FREELAND: Well, I think that the G-8 as an institution, as most of these big multilateral institutions, are institutions that were built in the post-war period. And the G-8 has been changed a little bit to accommodate a post-communist Russia. But they certainly haven't been changed to take account of the rise of India and China. And that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that it is a masquerade that is not helpful to a true global economy? Do you follow me?
MS. FREELAND: Absolutely. I don't think very many global economic issues are going to be decided this weekend. But they might decide something on the Middle East, or at least they'll talk about the Middle East.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't we have a freewheeling discussion place like where they can talk to each other at ease, leader to leader, and do it more or less expansively, with a larger group? Wouldn't that be constructive for a longer period of time?
MS. CLIFT: To borrow a phrase --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She's the head of a newspaper called The Financial Times Worldwide. Give her a chance. Go ahead.
MS. FREELAND: Do you think that if you had 20 heads of state around a table you'd have a freewheeling, frank and creative exchange of views?
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just make a quick point. The G-8, when it was the G-7, made more sense in the '90s when it actually had something (to do ?). Right now you cannot, by European financial manipulation, impact the world because of globalization, because of China and India. And so it's become a more ritualized venue for the last several years. And this season it's going to be not ritualized, but it's going to be off-topic and deal with the other issues.
MS. CLIFT: To borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, you deal with the G-8; you have not the one you wish you had. And right now we really need Mr. Putin. We need him to send a message to Iran. He's our only vehicle for any kind of leverage. And so I'm glad he's at the table. He may be an unsavory character in some ways, but he knows what he's doing and we need him.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, Putin was dealt the worst hand you can imagine. He's a nationalist. He's a patriot. He's played it better than any of these guys. Bush's cowboy diplomacy is out the window. And Putin's people want him for a third term.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Putin the dominant leader --
MS. FREELAND: Why do you think he's a patriot? I mean, why --
MR. BUCHANAN: He's a Russian. He's a Russian.
MS. FREELAND: Why is tearing up the Russian (economy ?) patriotic?
MR. BUCHANAN: He wants NATO out of his backyard, the way any Russian would.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Putin is the dominant leader on the world stage today? MR. BUCHANAN: No, Bush remains it, although Bush has got problems. The United States is the number one power. That's it. The president is the number one guy.
MS. CLIFT: You know, the end --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Putin is the number one power in the world stage today? I'm not so much talking about --
MS. CLIFT: I think Bush is powerless. He has exhausted what he can do unilaterally. If you look around to a variety of countries, his policies are either --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm going to change the question. I'm going to go back to Buchanan. Who's the most interesting world leader on the world stage?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think Putin is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Putin is?
MS. CLIFT: Interesting? I'm going to go for Angela Merkel. (Laughs.)
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look, Putin is playing his hand better than any other character.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's the most interesting?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I don't know what you mean by interesting. Putin is playing --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is interesting?
MR. BLANKLEY: It depends.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)
MR. BLANKLEY: But Pat is right that you can't separate the leader from the country. America is the dominant player in the world because we're the most powerful.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you think --
MR. BLANKLEY: Putin is playing the hand he's got better.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's the most interesting leader -- leader?
MS. FREELAND: I just think the thing that we can't overlook is, is Putin laying the long-term foundations for the prosperity and the freedom of Russia? And I don't think he is. I think that he is creating great internal problems for Russia. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I disagree with you. I think he's at odds with any ambition or goals for the E.U. or the West. I think he's totally involved with the revitalization of Russia. And I would have to say, as leaders go, he is, in my view, the most interesting of the leaders.
Issue Three: Butt Seen Around the World.
(Videotaped clip is shown of head-butting by Zinedine Zidane during World Cup game.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Zinedine Zidane, the French soccer team captain, was immediately dismissed from the World Cup match after he head- butted an Italian player. Zidane said he was provoked by slimy insults against his family. The soccer superstar is of Algerian extraction.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE (French soccer player): (From videotape, through interpreter.) It was very offensive, very personal. It involved my mother and my sister. These were very hard words.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Zidane apologized, especially to children, but offered no regrets. If he were to offer regrets, he said, this would only justify the vile insults to his mother and sister. The butted Italian player denied having made any such remarks.
Question: Zidane says he was provoked by comments about his mother and his sister. Do you believe him, A? And B, do you like him? Quickly.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, I don't believe him, and it was stupid, and he's killed himself in (Olympus ?).
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you believe him?
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, schoolyard taunts -- that's all it is. And he has enough talent --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't like him?
MS. CLIFT: He blew it.
MR. BLANKLEY: If it was true, I admire him -- a nice manly gesture.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, here we go, out of time. Bye-bye.