This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Sept. 8, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Two reactions about the focus on President Bush's Guard service, we'll hear from the White House in a moment. But first, joining us from Washington, Larry Korb, former secretary of defense under President Reagan (search) and currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (search).
Mr. Korb, do you disagree with me that 35 years ago... Why are we bothering with this?
LARRY KORB, SENIOR FELLOW AT THE CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: The president brought it up in that interview with Matt Lauer (search). He said he was proud of his service in the Texas National Guard and he would have been happy to go to Vietnam if his unit was called up.
We now know that he really didn't fulfill the terms of that service that he had agreed to and he would have been in no position to have been called up, because he got out of his flying status and he didn't show up for his flight physical.
O'REILLY: And he got an honorable discharge and he said he was proud of his service. Why bother with this?
KORB: Well, I think...
O'REILLY: Look, just like with Kerry you're making the same argument. Kerry brought the guys out and started — but I'm just getting dizzy here. I don't think it's relevant to today. Maybe you can change my mind.
KORB: Again, we're talking about two issues here. One is credibility. The White House keeps changing its story on this. For example, Dan Bartlett had said that, when Bush went to Harvard Business School, he had actually gone to drills or Guard meetings at a unit in Boston. It turns out he never did that. So, they were trying to say, "Gee, he was doing what other people did," when, in fact, that was not true.
O'REILLY: OK, why does that matter now?
KORB: Well, I think the one reason that it would matter. Had Bush gone to Vietnam, I think he would have understood that in Iraq we would not have been greeted as liberators. That I think is really the key.
O'REILLY: All right, that's a hypothesis and your opinion and I have to take that seriously. There were commanders surrounding President Bush who did serve in Vietnam. In fact, most of the commanders did. Now, they have the same opinion that he had, that you go in, you remove Saddam, pacify the country, it's better for the U.S.A. So, why would Bush's experience override commanders, military people who have been their whole life, in there. If the commanders felt they could do it in Iraq why would Bush feel any different?
KORB: You've got to remember that he didn't listen to the two people who knew best. The General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who told him that you would need several hundred thousand people after Saddam fell in order to provide security in that country. Remember, General Shinseki had been in Vietnam, lost his foot there and ran peacekeeping in Bosnia.
The other one who told him what would happen after Saddam fell, that he ignored, was Gen. — now Secretary of State — Colin Powell who said "Mr. President, do you realize if you break this you own it and all the things you're going to have to do."
And as far as we know he did not plan for doing that. I think that's the key thing. Not regardless of going into Iraq, that's not the issue. The issue is, having gotten rid of Saddam, for whatever reason, did you plan to deal with the aftermath and...
O'REILLY: Do you believe if Bush had been in Vietnam he would have known how to deal with the aftermath in Iraq? That's your thesis?
KORB: I think he would have been a lot more skeptical of people telling him we'd be treated as liberators. I remember, as a young man, I was completely disillusioned when I got over there, because I was very excited about going, I thought I was playing a role and fighting worldwide communism, and after a while it dawned on me, these people didn't want us there. And they looked at us as the second coming of French, just as in Iraq, people look at us as the second coming of the British....
O'REILLY: All right, well Tommy Franks and these guys were in Vietnam just as you were. A bunch of our FOX News military analysts were there as well: Colonel Hunt, McInerney, all of these guys and they saw it differently. So, isn't it true that you can draw conclusions about any campaign and you'll have a difference of opinion?
I think your point is valid. I'm not so sure that Bush would have had a different point of view. I mean, he basically has a global strategy to fight terror. You believe it's a flawed strategy in Iraq. I think history may prove you wrong. I don't know. We have to let history unfold. And to make a decision based upon what you saw in a war 35 years ago, based on the terror war now, I don't know if that's good strategy.
KORB: Now wait a second, the one person who knew what they were talking about, who he should have listened is the man appointed as army chief of staff, not retired military people. We're talking about a person who...
O'REILLY: What about Tommy Franks who ran the operation?
KORB: Franks did not advise him on how to deal with the post-war phase.
O'REILLY: No, but he was in for go in, we can do the job, we can remove him.
KORB: That's right, but that was not he issue, the issue was having gotten rid of Saddam, would you be greeted as liberators and what would be required to provide security? The president himself has admitted he miscalculated...
O'REILLY: Oh, absolutely, everybody miscalculated, but I'm not sure if Bush had been in Vietnam that would have occurred, but maybe I'm wrong Mr. Korb...
KORB: Well, I...
O'REILLY: I said you had to take your thesis seriously. It's a legitimate point and I appreciate you making it.
KORB: OK, I nice to be with you, Bill.
O'REILLY: All right. I'm going to let you reply to Mr. Korb. He mentioned your name, not in vain, but you know, so you say what you want and I'll debrief you.
DAN BARTLETT, BUSH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: No, I understand Mr. Korb is spending a lot of time trying to resurface and recycle old Democratic charges. I know his bio says he worked for Ronald Reagan 25 years ago, but he's working today for a Democrat organization run by Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, John Podesta, who's supporting John Kerry. So, I don't think it should surprise anybody that now that President Bush is up in the polls, coming out of the convention, we now hear the Democrats and everybody come forward with the same old recycled charges from years ago.
The only thing consistent in this is that when President Bush's name is on the ballot and we get close to Election Day, all the Democrats come out of the works and start trying to resurface all of these old allegations.
O'REILLY: Well, they do...
BARTLETT: The facts are clear — the facts are clear, Bill. As you noted in your conversation with him, President Bush received an honorable discharge. He flew fighter jets for four years. He received permission to do equivalent duty in Alabama, he met his drills, he met his requirement, and that's how you get an honorable discharge. They don't just hand those things out. You get it because you've earned your requirements and you've met your requirements.
And we obviously don't agree with the Boston Globe and these other assessments that are out there, but we know it's part and parcel of a campaign and of Democrats that are pushing the panic button and going for gutter politics.
O'REILLY: All right. Do you want to deal with the Harvard Business School allegation?
O'REILLY: Go ahead.
BARTLETT: Well, in this case, he is right: I did misspoke (sic) several years ago about this issue. The fact of the matter is, what the documents themselves show, is that President Bush was put on an inactive reserve assignment in Denver, Colo., this is a non-participating status.
What they needed to know is where he was in case they wanted to call him up. He'd already served his duty at the Texas National Guard. They knew he was at Harvard going to school. In fact, they're the ones who gave him permission to go there in the first place. So, they had the documents, the documents show that he was in good standing. They wouldn't have released him from the Guard.
BARTLETT: And the very things they look at show. They wouldn't have released him. Uncle Sam can find you if they want you. They didn't want him because he was meeting his requirements.
O'REILLY: Wouldn't it have been smarter for President Bush — he's really played it pretty smart, I have to say, about his past — to say, "Look, I made mistakes, I regret what I did — DUI, all of that, but I'm not going to just go over this and over it and over it."
Now, I'd advise John Kerry to do what President Bush did, as in "Talking Points" memo. Wouldn't it have been smarter, here, to repudiate the Swift Boat stuff right up top, because you knew this was coming down the pike.
I predicted it and I'm no genius, but everybody knew it was coming. You had to know that "60 Minutes" was rooting around and the Boston Globe and The L.A. Times, and they're going to continue to do it. You know, a tit for tat situation.
BARTLETT: Well, you know that was going to happen regardless. Swift Boats ads weren't here in 2000. I was there. They weren't here in '98 when President Bush ran for reelection.
O'REILLY: But it went away in 2000. It went away.
BARTLETT: It was there. Look, I was there. I was the one handling the dang story on a nightly basis — a lot of attention then. There was a lot of attention then. There was a lot of attention in 1998. There was a lot of attention in 1994 when he ran. Every time his name is on the ballot the Democrats bring it up.
In the case of the Swift Boat ads, and you've pointed this out, it's like all of a sudden it's "woe is me" as soon as John Kerry's being attacked by the Swift Boat ads. But, what about all the organizations that support John Kerry that spend $63 million attacking President Bush?
BARTLETT: Like naming him "Hitler" and lying and...
O'REILLY: We made that point.
BARTLETT: He says do away with all of it.
O'REILLY: But he's talking strategy, now.
BARTLETT: Well, the strategy is to do...
O'REILLY: If President Bush had said, "Look, I don't like the Swift Boast stuff. McCain's right. We shouldn't be doing this."
BARTLETT: He said it.
O'REILLY: Well, no, no, he didn't. He said, "I don't like any of these ads."
BARTLETT: Including that one. Including that one.
O'REILLY: Well, what he did say was that he thought — and I thought this was generous — Senator Kerry's service was more important than his, because Kerry went over.
BARTLETT: It was.
O'REILLY: And I thought that was smart. But all right, I'll cede the point that this is just purely political. But, even if it isn't, I don't think it matters and I don't think it matters with Kerry either and we should get along with this, right?
BARTLETT: Well, I think that you make the big — the best point, tonight. And the bottom line is, John Kerry made a strategic error when he says, I'm going to focus my candidacy on the past, on the 35 years ago, and not on the war today. And the war we're fighting today, Mr. Korb doesn't want to recognize the fact there was Tommy Franks and other people like that who were advising President Bush.
O'REILLY: I think Korb is an honest guy, I think Korb honestly feels that if President Bush had combat experience in Vietnam, he wouldn't have been so quick to jump into Iraq. That's his opinion. Could be right; could be wrong.
BARTLETT: History has proven that some of the greatest presidents, wartime presidents, never served in the military. You know that, you know that there are different qualities.
O'REILLY: Yes, I know. True.
BARTLETT: And look, the president understands the military. He also understands to listen to the military and listen to his military advisers; he did that. He's done it in Afghanistan, he's done that in Iraq. It's tough business. Everybody recognizes that, you're right. You know, every plan is perfect until it meets the enemy, we realize that. But, we've made the tactical shifts and changes to make sure that we win this.
O'REILLY: OK, one more question.
BARTLETT: And the fact of the matter is the president understands the stakes. And we think that's one of the fundamental differences with John Kerry.
O'REILLY: One more question, off topic, here. We're hearing the president only wants two debates instead of three. Is that true?
BARTLETT: You know, this is the filling season of debates about the debates. There is going to be debates. We've announced that Jim Baker's going to be in charge of it for us. He's going to meet with their team. They'll figure out how many there're going to be — two or three, whatever they may be.
BARTLETT: I think the public's going to get their fill of the two men debating and that'll take care of itself.
O'REILLY: All right, hope we can move on from the Swift Boats. Let's update the debate to 2004. That would be great.
BARTLETT: Of course.
O'REILLY: Mr. Bartlett, thanks for coming on, even thought you're very busy. We appreciate it.
BARTLETT: Thanks for having me.
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