This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Feb. 28, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do elections cause radicalism or empower radicals? My answer is: The status quo empowered radicals. This notion that somehow the Middle East was a safe place for the last 30 years because we didn’t see kind of the turmoil that happens with elections meant we were safe. I just totally disagree with that.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: President Bush Monday at the White House defending his policy of promoting democracy worldwide and, most of all, in the Middle East as an antidote to terrorism. But how is it going? Some observations now from Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, Nina Easton, deputy Washington bureau chief of the Boston Globe, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all — Mort?
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Well, it’s undoubtedly true that the status quo did empower radicals, but, you know, history shows that elections can empower radicals, as well. I mean, that’s what happened in Germany when Hitler was democratically elected for a one-time-only election.
I think Bush is on the side of the angels on this one. And, certainly, in the long run, undoubtedly democracy is, you know, what human nature yearns for. But, you know, the angels don’t always win in the short run. I think he’s taking a great, great risk. I don’t think that there’s anything else that he could have done. I think he’s doing the right thing, but it may not work.
NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, BOSTON GLOBE: I think Bush vision is a valid one. Certainly, tyranny spawned Al Qaeda and the attacks on the — the first attacks on the World Trade Center and the second attack on the World Trade Center.
The problem with the Bush vision, though, is that he didn’t bring the public along with him. The reason that we’re in Iraq in this democracy-building effort is that most of Congress and most of the country thought that there were weapons of mass destruction. They thought that Saddam Hussein was a clear and present danger.
People were not supportive of this war because of the democracy vision. So what happens now? You’ve got a public that’s losing support. The potential of this administration having to make decisions about pulling out that are really politically motivated, as opposed to staying on the ground until democracy takes root.
So I think it’s the — I think the strategy, the tactic he took, in terms of going to Iraq, was faulty in that sense.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The premise that elections lead to radicalism is false; elections are a way to find out what people believe.
In Lebanon, they chose a liberal government. In Afghanistan, they chose a liberal democratic government. In Iraq, they did not choose radicalism or sectarianism; they’ve chosen a government, which is largely ineffective, but it was not an expression of radicalism.
If you had an election today in Iran, it would elect a liberal, pro-American government, a free election in Iran. In Palestine, you’ve got the expression of the Palestinians, which is they want war against Israel, and they want a continuation of terror and they want the eradication of Israel.
So what you get is the truth expressed, which I think, is helpful. And secondly, if you’re going to have a long-run change in that region, you have to allow this area of the world — which for 50 years uniquely did not have a way of political expression, unlike East Asia, Latin America, Europe, North America, everywhere else — it was stifled, and it produced the hatred, the intolerance, extremism, which exploded on us on 9/11. You’ve got to change that.
Now, our attempt to do it at the point of the bayonet, of course, is risky. It always had been, and the outcome is still in doubt. But this could go either way.
You’ve got Lebanon in play, Syria in play, Palestine in play, Iraq in play, Iran in play. It could be a sweep either way. It could end up as a region of tyranny; it could end up as a region of democracy in the next two or three years, and American will is going to be extremely important in determining how it ends up.
KONDRACKE: Yes, I completely agree with that. And I think it hinges largely on Iraq.
If there’s a civil war in Iraq, and everything blows up, and we’re forced to leave, either because of that or because we lose our will, then I think the entire enterprise is going to collapse because our prestige will be at rock-bottom and we will not be able to persuade anybody that we will ever go to the defense of any friend of ours because they’ll see that we were forced to pull out.
So, you know, that’s why I think we’ve just got to hang in there and do the best we can, and I think that we’re trying. What Zal Khalilzad, the ambassador in Iraq, is doing is cajoling the politicians there to try to get them to a settlement, threatening sometimes that it will pull out if sectarians take over control of the military, and the police, and so on.
And you know, but it’s a tight rope. And who knows whether it’s going to work or not?
EASTON: It’s a long, grueling, dangerous, deadly ambition, this democracy-building stuff. And you have to wonder, at this time in American history...
HUME: But what was the alternative to it?
EASTON: I’m not — I think the alternative was simply to — if this was going to be your vision, you need to sell it to the American people.
HUME: No, no, but I mean in other words, you think the vision is all right; it’s the sales pitch that was the problem. Or is it the result so far that is the problem?
EASTON: Well, I think it’s both. I mean, I think it’s the combination. I mean, obviously, things haven’t gone as well on the ground as it could.
But I also — I go back to this question of the American public. This public, since Vietnam, is impatient, doesn’t like casualties, and yet you launch on an enterprise like this, based on weapons of mass destruction — not based on building a model of democracy that can sap tyranny, and could sap terrorism, and so forth. That’s a post-invasion argument, and I think that’s where the administration is running into...
KRAUTHAMMER: But we’ve made that post-invasion argument in Afghanistan. We went into Afghanistan as a way to whack Al Qaeda. And afterwards, we said, "Well, we’re not going to leave it as a mess and a ruin. We’re going to create a democracy." And nobody opposed it because it succeeded.
The problem is, in Iraq, it’s been harder, higher costs, and it’s still in play. But it isn’t as if the American people have decided, yes, democracy is a good idea or not. American people are in favor of success. And where it succeeds, everybody says, "OK."
I haven’t heard anybody argue that our efforts in Afghanistan, which has cost us a lot of lives after the immediate war, to install a democracy is a bad idea. It’s a good idea, but it has to succeed.
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