Does Pres. Bush Get Any Credit for the Successes in Iraq?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," March 29, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The trend is clear: Freedom is on the march. Freedom is the birthright and deep desire of every human soul. And spreading freedom's blessings is the calling of our time. And when freedom and democracy take root in the Middle East, America and the world will be safer and more peaceful.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush (search) pushing his favorite topic — using Iraq's new freedom as just one success story in the ultimate goal of spreading democracy throughout the world.

So, is the president continuing on the right track? Joining me now, Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway and Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

So Hank, we've been talking about this a lot and things are a little rocky in Iraq, but does the president get credit?

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: They're a lot more than a little rocky, number one. And number two, there's no end in sight. And number three, a lot of Americans, blue-collar people, are watching their sons and daughters come home in body bags. Not that good. Nice PR doesn't tell the story.

GIBSON: Kellyanne?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's amazing to me that we can still be focusing on such negative aspects of Iraq and such spin, when Hank knows that one of the tremendous cohorts lost to the Democratic Party in the 2004 election was the blue collar workers.

I've talked to many Democratic people as smart as Hank who say that that is the one glaring problem in the election for 2004 — that they lost the blue-collar vote. In large degree because blue-collar people believe in security and they believe that that begins with allowing democracy to flourish in the Middle East.

Look, there are some numbers that we should all be focused on here and it's not the fatalities, necessarily, Hank and John. It's that 275 people are now elected representatives in the chamber within Iraq. And 80 of them are women. We don't have anything near like that in the representation in our own United States Congress. And that's very compelling.

SHEINKOPF: That's all great spin.

CONWAY: No, it's not spin, Hank. It's fact.

SHEINKOPF: It is spin.

CONWAY: Hank, are there 275 people elected or not? Were 80 of them women or not?

SHEINKOPF: How many Americans have paid the supreme price for policy that appears to have no end, while our economy is shifting dramatically, providing less food on the table for more people at the bottom of the economic ladder? Those are facts. And that's what people will respond to.

CONWAY: Yes, those are facts; however, they have nothing to do with this segment and it has nothing to do with last year's election results.

People rejected those arguments again and again. John Kerry tried that, John Edwards tried that. Hank Sheinkopf tried that and it failed.

SHEINKOPF: I did it successfully for the president of 1996. Please, I want to correct the record.

CONWAY: Well, moving forward, a decade later where neither Saddam Hussein nor Bill Clinton are in charge, these are the real numbers now. We have a burgeoning democracy in Iraq and once you taste freedom, you don't go back to drinking the hemlock of anarchy.

GIBSON: OK, let me just reset the question.

Hank, do Democrats believe that it is good policy for the United States to be accommodationists to people like the previous Iraq regime, and that we should never intervene, and we shouldn't do anything about Saudi Arabia and Egypt and every place else where there's this same sort of problem?

SHEINKOPF: First of all, we don't have troop commitments in all of those places. Number two, there appears to be no end in sight. Number three, I may remind you that Democrats who helped other Americans pay the supreme price for freedom included people like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and others who were extraordinary by any measure. Whether we liked some of the things they did or not, that's not the issue.

The issue is where does this end and when do we talk about the economy? The economy is really the issue in this country. We are now paying more than $3 for a gallon of gas, with no end in sight, and no relief coming for the summer when people who work for a living need it.

The number of people making real middle-income money is declining on a quarterly basis.

Those are facts.

GIBSON: Kellyanne Conway, can a president do anything about gasoline prices? Is this really Bush's fault?

CONWAY: Of course it's not Bush's fault. But every time the sun rose and set we are supposed to write a thank you postcard to Bill Clinton. But every time something's bad, we're supposed to blame George W. Bush.

John, the one thing the president's trying to do that your show has addressed to a large degree is he's trying to get the Senate and the House to agree to drill in ANWR so that we become more self-dependent on America for our oil reserves than on Saudi Arabian people, who perhaps, don't like democracy and freedom.

GIBSON: Hank, it is a point, environmentalists tend to be Democrats. They're the ones who don't want to build any refineries in this country, which is the reason that we don't have enough gas, which is part of the reason that the price is so high. If Democrats wanted to see the price of gasoline go down, they could have done something about it.

SHEINKOPF: Democrats could have done something about it? They haven't controlled the House or the Senate for most of the last decade. Who's in charge pays the price; the price is to be paid by those who want to.

GIBSON: Kellyanne, I think Hank's just given a promise to help.

CONWAY: It sounds that way because there's a reason that the Republicans have controlled the House and the Senate for the last 10 years, with the exception of two years. And there's a reason that people gave George W. Bush a second four years is because in large part these arguments did not stick six months ago, five months ago during the election. And they're not working now.

I just want to know why when it comes to democracy in the Middle East, which benefits all of us, there has been no sequel to 9/11 after all. I want to know why their partisanship can't be laid down at the water's edge, so to speak and for someone to say, "You know what? Democracy in Iraq is a good idea. Ripping the burkas off women, allowing them to run and be elected to the chamber there is a great idea."


SHEINKOPF: Now listen, no one is saying that democracy's a bad thing. Tell us all — Americans — when this is going to end so that we can get back to repairing the economy that needs to be repaired desperately.

GIBSON: Hank Sheinkopf, Kellyanne Conway, we will continue this on another day. Thanks to both of you. Appreciate you coming on.

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