September 23, 2003 | Broadcast

American Morning

Nice to see you, Vic. Good morning.

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: Also, Cliff May, head of the Foundation of for Defense of Democracies, and former RNC communications director.

Cliff, welcome back. Good to see you as well.

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC. COMM. DIR.: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: If you listen to these pundits, I guess you two are included in this batch out there, there’s this debate developing between what the president needs to say and what he should say.

Victor, start us off this morning. Where do you come down on that?

KAMBER: Well, I think it’s time to mend fences with foreign leaders. I understand the desire by many Americans not to give up military control. But I think he need to ask the U.N. for help with political control, humanitarian aid, economic aid, and cede some of that control to the U.N. and to other world leaders. He doesn’t have to apologize. I wish he would, because I think he’s wrong in what he did and how he did it. The world is better off without Saddam Hussein, clearly, but our process is now never ending. We don’t know how to get out. We were misled. The president’s polls deserve to go down, the numbers go down, because of what he’s done to this country.

HEMMER: Cliff, what is the tone today?

MAY: Well, I think the tone will be somewhat conciliatory without being apologetic. If I were advising the president, I would tell him to take a tougher tone. I would say to the U.N., look, the last time I was here I challenged you to do something about Saddam Hussein, a man who had killed hundreds of thousands of people, probably murdered more Muslims than anybody in history, and the U.N. did not step up to the plate. Now we have a chance, I’d say, to make Iraq into the first democracy in the Arab world, to take Iraq absolutely out of the hands of the terrorist, and it’s important that the U.N. play a role here, or what good is the U.N.?

But I think he’ll be more diplomatic than that, and say, look, we want you to participate. Victor is absolutely right that the U.N. should be involved. But the U.N. cannot be the one that creates Democratic institutions there. It has done that nowhere else in the world, not in Africa, not in the West Bank, in Gaza, not in Kosovo, nowhere else. So the U.N. should participate on a humanitarian basis. It should join in with the U.S. It’s very important that Americans and the world understand the extent to which Iraq is part of the global war on terrorism.

HEMMER: To both of you gentlemen now, let’s go back to Victor on this, is it overstated to say this is the speech of his presidency today?

KAMBER: Yes, it is overstated. I think he’s going to have to go back to these people and our people many, many times forward.

There is no plan for the United States, for — I mean, that’s what’s missing here. He went to war, thought he could win the war quickly, and that’s it. There’s no plan to get out. There’s no plan to solve this problem. So today begins that mea culpa, even though — and it will be one of many speeches.

MAY: Vic is right to say this is only one of many speeches, because the president does need to explain to Victor, among other people, what it is we’re doing. It’s like saying to Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor, what’s your plan for getting us out? You’re going to have us in a war with the Japanese, with the Italians? What’s the plan?

HEMMER: It’s not like Pearl Harbor.

MAY: Yes, as John Kerry said, 9/11 was our Pearl Harbor. We are fighting a war against global networks of terrorists, and we have to pursue this war everywhere, and this is the divide in this country right now, and internationally, people who understand we’re fighting a major global war and people who just don’t see that yet. I think it’s up to the president and to people in this administration to make that case. I think he can do it persuasively — maybe not to Victor, but to you and me.

HEMMER: No, but the problem is to try to equate 9/11 and Pearl Harbor…

MAY: As John Kerry did.

KAMBER: As John Kerry did. I have no problem with 9/11 being Pearl Harbor. I have a problem with Iraq being Pearl Harbor or 9/11, and that’s the difference.

The president said at one time, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein. We’ve seen none of that. We know Saddam Hussein’s an evil man. There are 20 evil despots out there. We are not going after all of them.

MAY: You know what, we have to go after all the totalitarians who are out there and who have dedicated themselves to destroying America, destroying the crusaders…

HEMMER: That takes me to exactly the next point. Did you see the interview with Brit Hume last night with the president, this one on one?

MAY: I saw parts of it.

HEMMER: If you listen, it seems like he’s started top develop this theme that we’re going to hear about in the next 12 to 14 months leading up to his re-election, and that theme is this — we took the fight to the terrorists, “We did not wait for them to strike us again,” the words of the president. That may sell for the majority of Americans, if the soldiers stop dying in Iraq. Security is the main issue.

MAY: We have to understand there are going to be low-intensity conflicts and some high-intensity conflicts as we go forward in this war. We hope to bring security to Iraq soon, and we hope to turn over power as quickly as possible. But don’t think we can fight a war and not take any casualties.

KAMBER: And, Bill, we’ve got to also have to have no more terrorism for that to work, and I’m not sure that that’s possible.

MAY: We’re going to have terrorism for many, many years.

KAMBER: That’s the point.

MAY: But what we have to do is continue to fight the terrorists and keep them down. What would it help us if we were able to knock out al Qaeda, but then Hezbollah, which attacked us early as 1983 with the suicide bombing in Beirut, were to stage an attack against us? We have to go after all the terror masters.

HEMMER: Thanks to both. Sorry, wish we could go longer. We’re out of time. Cliff and Victor, we’ll talk again, OK, from D.C., and we’ll certainly be watching that speech.