April 1, 2004 | Broadcast

American Morning

From D.C., Democratic consultant Victor Kamber of the Kamber Group back with us.

Vic, good morning to you.

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Good morning, Bill. How are you?

HEMMER: I’m doing just fine, thank you.

From Denver, former RNC communications director, Cliff May, now with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Cliff, good morning to you also.

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

Good morning, Vic.

HEMMER: I want to start with you in the warm weather out there in Denver, “Washington Post” has a piece today, front page, left side, above the fold. It’s saying on 9/11, Condoleezza Rice had a speech planned for that day that mentioned nothing about al Qaeda. It was largely about missile defense. Is this the kind of thing the White House has concern with before she testifies?

MAY: Well, it’s possible that they do, but they shouldn’t. I think we all understand the truth, and that is in the eight months that the Bush administration was in office, leading up to 9/11, they weren’t focused with laser-like intensity on the threat that came from al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. And in the eight years that President Clinton was in office, leading up to 9/11, they were not focused with laser-like intensity on al Qaeda and on the terrorist threat. In fact, most of the people who were focused on that were considered somewhat eccentric. But I think now in retrospect, we do know that we should have been looking at this threat, at least going back to 1983, when Hezbollah suicide terrorists killed more than 250 U.S. Marines and diplomats in Beirut. We have simply not wanted to take terrorism as seriously as we need to, and I hope we’re going to do it now going forward.

HEMMER: Let me go back to the point with Victor then about “The Washington Post” article. Is this the kind of thing the Democrats seize upon when Condoleezza Rice sits down?

KAMBER: Well, I think it’s the kind of thing that opinion leaders, the American public seizes upon, Democrats certainly, even Republicans. The Bush administration has said we were focused. Dick Clarke has said they weren’t focused. We are going to find out how focused they were. Clearly, one speech by itself — and I’ll defend her on this — does not make a whole administration. She was giving a speech on the day it happened to be when the crisis happened in this country, and that speech, according to “The Washington Post” was focused on missiles. I mean, she could have given a speech a week later or a week earlier on another subject.

But the bottom line is I think this administration is finally opening up and allowing the American public and its commission to understand what was the thinking of this administration regarding terrorism, al Qaeda, et cetera. They’ve been stonewalling for at least two weeks if not longer, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it right now. And hopefully, there is nothing to get to the bottom of, except how we move forward. We may find things that will allow for politics to play a role in the election, however.

HEMMER: Cliff, I know you’ve got a thought — make it quick and I’m moving to the next topic.

MAY: Just very quick, let’s make the main thing the main thing. This commission’s job is not to find somebody we can all blame. This commission’s job is to find ways that we can better fight terrorism in the future by looking at the mistakes in the past, and I think we sometimes get away from that goal.

KAMBER: That’s how the commission was picked, we all agree.

HEMMER: Victor, listen, let’s go to Fallujah. What’s the American reaction based on the stories we’re seeing as the fallout from yesterday?

KAMBER: Well, it’s horrific I think, and it’s a reminder. I think it’s twofold. It’s reminds many Americans why George Bush went to Iraq, because we’re dealing with animals, we’re dealing with people there that have no regard for human life, no regard for any forms of freedoms.

But on the other hand it reminds Americans, that should we be there? That where in one breath he says everything is under control, we are going to move ahead, we’re going to turn over the government in June, we’re going to come out of there, and what we’re seeing is chaos and death and destruction. We lost four troops, or five troops yesterday, four civilians. It continues, and as every day that death continues, there’s a question of whether we made the right decision to go to begin with.

MAY: Keep in mind, if you will, that the people who did this are the people who were in control of Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power. We could ignore it then, but that’s who was in control.

KAMBER: Not 10-year-old kids.

MAY: Those 10-year-old kids were raised under Saddam Hussein’s brutality. Think of the life they have lead and think of the morality they were taught.

One thing I think Vic and I agree on, I certainly hope so, is that you don’t retreat and leave that country to these people. We tried that after what happened in Somalia in 1993, the Black Hawk down incident, and in Beirut, we pulled out after they hit us. What we have to understand is, when we retreat because of this kind of brutality, they do come after us. That is one of the lessons of 9/11, we can’t get away just by retreating.

KAMBER: And I think on this, Cliff and I do agree. The problem is leaving right now. I think we still have to answer questions why we’re there, what brought us there, were we lied to by this administration as to the reasons for being there? But all said and done, we’re there, now the question is how do we extricate ourselves and protect lives while we do it?

HEMMER: Let’s end it there. Thank you, gentlemen. Victor Kamber, Cliff May, appreciate it, from D.C. and Denver today. Thank you, gentlemen.