Ready for Withdrawal?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," June 17, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Congress is putting pressure on President Bush to come up with a timetable for getting out of Iraq. The Bush administration says that's a really bad idea, saying to withdraw would be a victory for terrorists and a big blow to Iraq's fledgling democracy. The White House says next week the president will explain why we need to stay the course in Iraq.

A New York Times/CBS poll sow shows only 37 percent approve of the way the president is handling the war in Iraq. And just 25 percent approve of the way he's handling Social Security — an issue which has been at the forefront of his second term agenda.

Joining us now is Frank Gaffney, former assistant secretary of defense — he is the president of the Center for Security Policy — and P.J. Crowley, former special assistant to President Clinton or national security affairs.

Frank: Bush is getting pressure to get exit strategies in Iraq and Social Security, get out of two burning houses. Is Iraq that bad? Does he need to find a way to get out?

FRANK GAFFNEY, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY: I think the president is absolutely right to talk about staying the course and adhering to principles because what's going to be going on here is not going to get better if we do what, seemingly some — and I don't think there's a whole lot of pressure, at least not yet, John.

But some who are advocating cutting and running would have a stew, whether it's out of Guantanamo Bay (search), or whether it's out of Iraq, or just sort of generally this sort of fanciful notion that if we leave our enemies alone, they'll leave us alone. Have they forgotten 9/11 (search)? That's not what's going to happen.

And I think the president is on the right course. It's hard, slow, painful work. But I think we're making progress. And he does need to stay the course.

GIBSON: Now, P.J., the president you worked for, I think, has actually commented on this. And President Clinton has been somewhat supportive of President Bush. Is it wise to say OK, "X" date down the road we're going to be gone?

P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: No, I don't think a specific timetable is appropriate. But I do think that the current course that we're on is not sustainable.

I go back to Frank's former boss, Cap Weinberger, who in the mid 1980's set out a doctrine that said, among other things, you have to have the support of the American people in order to effectively sustain military operations.

So I think it's not only this polling data where the American people are losing faith in our strategy and whether the Bush administration can execute it. I worry mostly about what's happening at the recruiting stations. You're now down to a 14 percent propensity to serve.

You know, any way you look at it, we need America's best and brightest in uniform. And when parents are now standing up and saying, "I don't want my son or daughter enlisting in the Army or the Marine Corps because I don't believe in this war," at some point, the administration, if they believe this is a fight worth fighting, has to more effectively make their case to the American president.

GIBSON: Frank, can the president afford to dig in his heels and say, "We're going to hang in, no matter what." I mean, P.J. laid out the case pretty well. You know, support for the war dwindling, recruitment down. Can the president really say, "I don't care. I'm hunkered down here"?

GAFFNEY: I don't think he has any choice, to be honest with you. I think if — what the president has not been doing enough of, to my way of thinking, is explaining why we must stay the course.

You know, the alternative here we should be very clear about. The alternative is going to be, I think, to signal to our adversaries weakness. Certainly, a lack of morale, a lack of will to fight. We will certainly embolden them. And I'm convinced we will see them attack us again here.

The challenge we face is if we really do want to cut and run, is run to where? I don't know.

GIBSON: Frank Gaffney, got to run. P.J. Crowley, appreciate it, both you guys. Thank you.

CROWLEY: Thank you, John.

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