This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 5, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush reached out Thursday to past foreign policy leaders for suggestions on the war in Iraq. The group included both Democrats and Republicans. Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger was in Thursday's session and he joins us now.
Now this group included Madeleine Albright, who has been harshly critical of the president. It included Colin Powell, who has kind of gone icy from time to time on the president, as well as you. Did anybody speak up and say, Mr. President, you were wrong on X, Y and Z, or why did you make this mistake, or what are you going to do about that?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: John, it may come as a surprise to you, but I suspect not, that when people are in a room with the president, they tend not to be quite so forceful in their language as they might be when they were outside and away from the president. So my answer to your question is while there was some gentle peregrinations, if you will, by some, by and large it was a relatively, well more than relatively, frankly it was a fairly friendly conversation. And I thought the president was excellent in his presentation of his view. A few people made some remarks but nothing really very tough.
GIBSON: Well, I mean, in a way, was this the president asking for a stamp of approval from ...
GIBSON: ... from people in the same position that his main assistants occupy saying look back, and I'm going to explain what I did, you guys nod your head, thank you very much, I want to know this was OK?
EAGLEBURGER: Well, to a degree, I guess, John. The president laid out — and this was all basically Iraq, nothing much else — but he laid out where he was, where he was going, and made it very clear that as far as he was concerned, troop withdrawals, for example, would be decided by him, not by people around him or not by the pressure of public opinion.
So on a number of these issues, he was fairly clear. He talked about troop withdrawals a bit and so forth, but he laid out his program. And he then asked for comments. And he got some comments.
But as I say, they were not of the excessively courageous type that you would hear from some of the participants when they got outside.
GIBSON: OK. Now, let's take Madeleine Albright. I mean, she was the secretary of state in the Clinton administration. She has been harshly critical of the whole thing. This was her opportunity to confront the president with her objections. Did she?
EAGLEBURGER: I really think I should leave that to Madeleine to discuss. But I will say this much about it, which is she made it clear she didn't always agree, let's put it that way. But if she wants to describe what she said, OK. But I don't think I ought to.
GIBSON: Well, Mr. Secretary, you know what I'm getting at.
GIBSON: For instance, Cindy Sheehan famously met with the president, did not lodge the same complaints she later lodged. Am I to expect that even, you know, people who have occupied these great positions of power sit there in his presence and don't object but later get around to a microphone and say, you know, he did this wrong, he did that wrong, and, you know, I don't know why he doesn't get it?
EAGLEBURGER: The only answer I can give you to that is on the basis of this one experience. While I will say to you there was some gentle criticism, and I don't want to go much beyond gentle, there was nothing along the lines of what you've heard from Pelosi or any number of the Democratic critics.
And I'm not trying to downplay what the Democrats who were there may have said or the Republicans as far as that's concerned. But I am saying to you that I did not find any of this particularly surprising. I didn't sort of cower when they started to talk to the president.
I thought what was said, there was one comment without making it clear as to whom, about, you know, the trouble with everything is that Iraq has focused your administration so much that the rest of your foreign policy isn't quite where it should be.
And I will say that on that one, the president came right down the person's throat and specifically pointed out, you know, our relations with Japan are in good shape. We are in concert with the Chinese on North Korea. So on and so on, rejecting the idea that Iraq has so consumed us that nothing else makes any difference. I'm not going to tell you who said it, but somebody said it.
GIBSON: I will save for another time and question of whether you suggested it's time to get tough on the Syrian border, as you have said here many times.
We'll save that for another day.
EAGLEBURGER: I never got to that, but that's because we were talking about Iraq.
GIBSON: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Lawrence Eagleburger.
EAGLEBURGER: My pleasure, sir.
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