May 4, 2005 | Broadcast

American Morning

Joining us from Washington this morning, from the left is Democratic consultant Victor Kamber. On the right is former RNC communications director Clifford May. Nice to see you, gentlemen, as always.


O’BRIEN: Thanks for talking with us. Vic, we’re going to begin with you. But first, let’s set this up. Word, as you well know, that North Korea is preparing for an underground nuclear test. Here’s what Condoleezza Rice had to say about that.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States maintains significant — and I want to underline significant — deterrent capability of all kinds in the Asia Pacific region. So I don’t think there should be any doubt about our ability to deter whatever the North Koreans are up to.


O’BRIEN: Whatever they’re up to. And then she says we’ll be able to deal with it. So Vic, do you think this is a new direction, a threat of military action coming from Condoleezza Rice?

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Well, I think the more telling issue was her last sentence: whatever they’re really up to. We don’t know. And I don’t know how you can talk about deterrence or our ability or our capability when we don’t really know what they’re doing. Our intelligence gathering is still very weak, very poor, and North Korea is obviously — has nuclear capability. And you know, I worry very much that we’re not prepared. One, because we don’t know the facts, and then, two, the question is are we spread too thin militarily? Period. Even if we knew the facts.

O’BRIEN: Well, we’re going to talk about being spread too thin militarily in just a minute, but Cliff, I want to get back to North Korea here. Is there a sense, when you hear what Condoleezza Rice is saying, that she’s moving away from the diplomatic efforts, maybe going a new direction?

MAY: No, I think behind the diplomatic effort, you always want to have a sword. You always want to say, if the diplomatic efforts fail, we have recourse to other things. We’re not going to just talk forever, especially when you’re dealing with somebody like Kim Jong- Il, the dictator of North Korea, who may not be entirely rational or who may have a calculus that is so different from ours that we can’t possibly understand it. It is a very dangerous thing for someone as odd and unpredictable as him to be having nuclear weapons and missiles, as well. He’s been developing this capability for a lot of years, and it’s a very dangerous situation. That’s all you can say.

O’BRIEN: But Cliff, when you get, then, a report from the Joint Chiefs that says the military is being stretched too thin, to some degree, doesn’t that undercut what we’ve just heard from the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? Can we actually follow through on the threats that she seems to be making?

MAY: Well, I think we can, and I think it’s important that we make that clear. What General Myers and others are saying is, look, it’s difficult when we’re fighting a war like we are fighting, in various parts of the world, but we can complete our missions. Believe me, if we want to take down North Korea, we could do so. But here’s the rub. They may have nuclear weapons. They have missiles, thousands of them, pointed at South Korea, and they would be very likely to launch them.

We don’t — I hope the Pentagon has good contingency plans for North Korea. I don’t know that it does. You certainly want the North Koreans to think that we do, but it’s a difficult situation. We have numerous enemies out there. And for a long time, the fact of the matter is, the Pentagon was planning for a war against the Soviet Union, even after the Soviet Union had disappeared, not planning for the kind of enemies we face right now.

O’BRIEN: Cliff, the good news is, if you listen to General Myers, it can be winnable. It’s going to be winnable. He has no doubt about that. But he says — in fact, let’s turn this to Vic — that it’s going to take longer to win, which of course really translates into more lives lost, more American lives lost. It seems that what he’s saying is not exactly raising any red flags. Does it raise red flags to you?

KAMBER: Well, yes. And I didn’t see that last part that you said. I saw “The L.A. Times” piece where he didn’t say we can win it. I assume he believes we can win it, but I think he did say we’re stretched too thin with Iraq and Afghanistan. Our commitments are too great. I think you had earlier on the show today the problem of the recruitment. We’re not recruiting enough people for the military today. There’s really a question, are we prepared? And, yes, I mean, obviously, in a nuclear situation, we could bomb the hell out of somebody. They could bomb the hell out of somebody, which just means more lives lost. It’s a dangerous situation we’re in, and it’s the first time the Pentagon has really ever alluded to the fact we may have some problems. O’BRIEN: Let’s turn to a much lighter note. Laura bush, version 2.0. She’s a laugh riot. I’m sure you guys saw her at the correspondents dinner. You know, my question was, Cliff, why wait so long to launch Laura Bush on the American public? She was hilarious.

MAY: Yes, you’re right. It’s long overdue. She was hysterically funny. She’s also, as you know, one of the most popular people in America today, for good reason. And I don’t know why they’ve kept her under wraps. I think it’s good to have her out there. She’s a benefit to the administration.

O’BRIEN: You guys, we’re out of time. That’s going to be our final word this morning. Victor Kamber and Cliff May, as always, nice to see you, guys. Thanks.