What Would Dems Do?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 2, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The White House has received a lot of criticism for its tactics in the War on Terror, including the no-longer-secret wiretapping program. But what would the president's critics do differently to deal with the terror threat? Let's ask P.J. Crowley, former special assistant for National Security Affairs under President Clinton and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

So P.J., one of the complaints about Democrats — I know you don't speak for Democrats — is they don't have a national security plan, a real plan. If they were to come to you and say, "We need something that isn't what Bush is doing but is a good, effective plan," what would you recommend?

P.J. CROWLEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: First of all, we at the Center for American Progress have put out two plans recently, one integrates strategy, and one a QDR that's an alternative to what the Pentagon will put out Monday. Those ideas are out there.

I think there is a combination of things, John. In some cases, we would do things differently. One, for example, I don't think that progressives believe in preventive war. We've seen in Iraq, for example, that we are never going to have sufficient intelligence to make that a viable strategy.

In other cases, we would do what the president wants to do, but you have to also put resources behind that vision. For example, he has a vision of spreading democracy in the Middle East. It's the right answer. But right now we are only spending about a billion dollars trying to do that. And when we don't have sufficient resources you end up with nasty surprises like we saw with Hamas.

GIBSON: P.J., as you know, the president and his supporters are real good at encapsulating an idea in a phrase or two. If the Democrats were seeking a national security policy and were coming to you, I mean here's the president. If Al Qaeda is calling here, we want to listen. What would you tell the Democrats to say?

CROWLEY: I think we agree with that. The issue is how can you balance national security and civil liberties at the same time. I think go back to where we're — right now we are investing $100 billion in Iraq. That's what we are going to spend this year. How would you spend that money differently?

One example, Thursday John Negroponte said 40 terrorist groups are seeking weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. We know where the loose nukes are in the states of the former Soviet Union. We spent only $2 billion over the last five years trying to secure that material when commissioned by Howard Baker and Lloyd Cutler back in 2001 said we need $30 billion to do that job.

So, in many cases it's doing the right thing, but also putting resources behind what needs to be done so we actually are safer.

I think on balance, I would say we need a more balanced strategy. We've had up until now the first five years of the War on Terror, a very military-dominated strategy. As Gen. McInerney just said, we have to really find ways to solve the Iranian situation diplomatically because if we don't, notwithstanding our ability to attack Iran, they are going to destabilize Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, other parts of the country and we're going to have chaos around the world.

GIBSON: OK. But here's, you know, Democrats come and say, "P.J., we need something to say about Al Qaeda. The president's got his wrap on Al Qaeda. The American people know we have to fight Al Qaeda. What do we tell them? How do we do that?"

CROWLEY: Well, I think the Democrats or progressives would put a greater emphasis on homeland security. Look, terrorists like to attack transit systems and rail systems like they did in London, like they did in Madrid. This year we are going to spend $150 million on transit security. You're in New York for a system like the MTA that's maybe a few million dollars. That's not going to keep that system safe.

We need to spend meaningful amounts of money, more than the $30 billion that the president will announce on Monday for homeland security. More that makes sure we are protecting the kinds of infrastructure that we think that self-starting groups like we saw in London are probably capable of doing here in the United States.

GIBSON: P.J. Crowley with the center for American progress. Thanks a lot.

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