This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, May 21, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Our troops in Iraq are going at it with guerrillas in the city of Karbala, taking out 18 enemy fighters in a fierce battle. So what is the best way to stabilize the hot spots in Iraq at this point?
Shouldn't we be cracking down even harder or just pack up and leave? Here is what you think we should do, according to our latest Fox News poll. Twenty eight percent say we should get more aggressive, 28% say we can't stabilize Iraq and should get out, 21% think we need a whole new plan, 15% say stay the course. Let's ask a pair of congressmen what they think.
Dana Rohrabacher (search) and Gregory Meeks (search) are both on the House Foreign Relations Committee. Congressman Rohrabacher, we will start with you. The big question, what is at this point the best way to stabilize Iraq?
REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R-CA) HOUSE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think we're doing a heck of a good job. I think this president is doing a good job. I think if we can just get, frankly, our domestic opposition to quit demoralizing our troops and undercutting our position overseas, we're going to do quite well. Eighty percent of that country is already pacified. We've already got our deals cut with the moderate Muslims in that country, but it never is easy. And there is nothing that we can accomplish anywhere in the world that's going to be handed to us and handed to the people there on a platter.
GIBSON: Congressman Meeks, Congressman Rohrabacher has a point. The whole country is not exploding. The trouble American troops are having there are fairly isolated. Why look at it as a — as something that's teetering on the chasm of defeat?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY) HOUSE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Our whole policy in Iraq, you know, we had the idea of going in there with the shock and awe, but the policy afterwards is just madness. You know, you look at the average everyday people, their lives are not better because of the mayhem that's going on.
GIBSON: How do you know that? I understand that's not true.
MEEKS: I know that — I visited Iraq in November, and as I got a chance to walk around and talk to some people, and talked to even some of the people on the governing council who at that time indicated that they were concerned because they were viewed as a puppet government, and who is really in control? You know, it's at the same time Dana and others had said earlier that when we go in there that the Iraqis will just be waving the American flag, and everybody would just welcome us, and that's all you had to do, but clearly that's not the case.
GIBSON: But it's also ...
MEEKS: It's getting worse and worse.
GIBSON: Let's look at this Fox News Opinion Dynamics poll. Here is the second question of the day that we have results. We'll put it on the screen. It is about the response to the continuing violence against US troops. What should we do? More force or pull out? Now, Congressman Meeks, Congressman Rohrabacher, it appears despite the split on the earlier question, Congressman Rohrabacher, that the American people want to see us use more force, more troops. Are we about to hear from the president we're going to put more troops there?
ROHRABACHER: But, of course, that's saying if it's necessary. Let me say, there's — listen, the Democrats have their drum beats of defeat going on about this. They would like nothing more than for this president to fail. But the fact is there's been a lot of progress in Iraq, and there are other countries right now talking to us about coming in, other Muslim countries — coming in to help us there. I remember during the Reagan years. We had won the Cold War, but the Democrats were after Ronald Reagan (search). I remember the Iran contra affair. They were trying to bring Ronald Reagan down, and we had already won the Cold War. I think we've already won the battle in Iraq, and it will become very clear to us in the weeks ahead. And, yes, they were waving flags and throwing flowers at us when we first came in and liberated them from Saddam Hussein (search).
MEEKS: I didn't see that. Number two, I would like to know what Islamic countries are talking about coming in with us. I know that countries are leaving the so-called coalition of the willing, and I talked to them. I don't know of any of that ...
GIBSON: Your candidate, John Kerry (search), is not interested in pulling out.
MEEKS: I'm not interested in pulling out either.
GIBSON: So then more troops, more force?
MEEKS: No, what happens is we have to change course. If you go back to the first poll and if you add up the individuals who said pull out and/or set a different strategy, then you'll see that was far greater than the number that talked about the end. I think what we need is a different strategy, and if we had a different strategy ...
GIBSON: What would that different strategy be?
MEEKS: Well, number one, I think we need more real allies with us and part of making a decision ...
GIBSON: Congressman Meeks, you don't think that the French and the Germans are going to go get shot at in Iraq because they like John Kerry, do you?
MEEKS: I think that if everybody had an opportunity to participate and to really have some say into what's going on, as we did — as George Bush's father did, then we would be — we would be much, much better off.
GIBSON: Congressman Rohrabacher.
ROHRABACHER: We have 25,000 troops from other countries right now with us. And I will tell you, there are other countries in private discussion with our government right now offering to go in to help us out. And the fact is that we would never be able to be successful at all if we have — unless we had leadership that was pugnacious and willing to stay the course. We're lucky we have a president that does that. The Democrats are always flip-flopping, wanted to get in, wanting to get out, not knowing ...
MEEKS: The leadership that we had ...
ROHRABACHER: Or any leadership.
MEEKS: The leadership that we have has proven not to be honest. We went in because of weapons of mass destruction, and there are none.
GIBSON: On the last point of the poll, let me put up this last polling result because I know you both will have something to say about that. Would it be good for the US to change presidents during the war? Good, 28%, bad 49%, no difference at all — in other words, don't change horses in midstream. Congressman Meeks, I know you want to take a whack at this first, but it appears not to be good news for John Kerry, that polling.
MEEKS: Well, number one, the voters will speak on November 3, and that will make that ultimate determination, but we've had changes of presidents in middle of war before, sometimes because of nature. FDR passed away, and we had Truman come in. Sometimes because, just like this, you know, you had LBJ who decided not to run. I think maybe George Bush would be doing the Republicans a great favor if he decided to step aside because he's the creator of this great mess that we are currently in.
GIBSON: He is probably not going to do that. Congressman Rohrabacher, what does that polling mean to you?
ROHRABACHER: Well, it means to me that the Americans understand they have to make a decision and stick with it. But if you get a leader who makes the decision and the first sign of difficulty reverses course, will never accomplish anything.
GIBSON: I got to run. Congressman thanks very much. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in Irvine, thank you very much. Congressman Meeks here sitting beside me in New York, thank very much. Before I let you go, Congressman Meeks, later in the show, we have a story about John Kerry moving the date of accepting the nomination up a month, and you are part of that. Why is he thinking of doing that?
MEEKS: Well, as co-chair of the rules committee, we want to make sure that the playing field is level. $75 million have to be spent if you go you now for three months for the Democrats and $75 million for two months for the Republicans. We should have the $75 million to spend over the same amount of time, so we're just going to level the playing field.
GIBSON: So when the convention occurs, Kerry will be the nominee, but he won't accept it for another month.
MEEKS: That's exactly what we're looking at.
GIBSON: All right, Congressman Gregory Meeks, thanks very much.