HH: Now we turn to Capitol Hill, and we’re pleased to welcome back the Republican leader in the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell. Senator McConnell, always a pleasure, thanks for joining us.
MM: Glad to be with you.
HH: The attack by MoveOn.org yesterday on General Petraeus represents sort of a new low in American politics, in my view. Are your Democratic colleagues ashamed by this?
MM: Well, they should be. I’ve been asking them all day, beginning this morning on the floor of the Senate, will anybody step forward and protect the reputation of the Democratic Party by denouncing this organization which claims to have so much sway with the Democrats. You know, they…one of their organizers a couple of years ago said, and this is a quote, “Now it’s our party, we bought it, we own it, and we’re going to take it back.” And in a New York Times profile on MoveOn and the vast left wing conspiracy which you may well have been discussing today with your listeners, just two days ago in the Sunday New York Times magazine section, this guy Matzzie, who is the head of MoveOn, says that he meets with Reid and Pelosi once a month and talks to their staff on virtually a daily basis. You may recall, Hugh, that the last time we had our Iraq votes back in July, MoveOn.org was out here on the Capitol grounds, basically a rally. Look, the Democratic leadership is in cahoots with this group, and so far, at least, I’d have to say, I guess they condone, because nobody’s been willing to denounce it so far, this outrageous ad basically accusing General Petraeus of being, I guess, a traitor, because it says General betray us, an outrageous attack on an outstanding general. It’s astonishing the depths to which the Congressional Democrats seem to have fallen.
HH: This presents a unique problem for those members of the Senate who would be the commander-in-chief, because it’s an attack on the American military in the form of the commander on the ground in Iraq. Has Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, both declared candidates for the presidency, who want to command General Petraeus, stepped up to say anything about this on the floor of the Senate, or in any hearing?
MM: If they’ve said anything today, I’m unaware of it. We’re going to continue to call on them to denounce this ad. We will offer amendments on the floor seeking to try to get votes on a resolution condemning this ad. Look, you can have a civil discussions about policy differences on the Iraq war without condoning this kind of outrageous left wing attack on our leading general’s patriotism, which is, I mean, it’s absurd on its face, but it’s really outrageous to think that even these crazy left wingers think that General Petraeus is not a patriot.
HH: It occurs to me as well that you’ve got…Senator Biden is the chairman of the committee, also wants to be president, and Senator Dodd. Have either of those two stepped up today to say anything?
MM: If they’ve said anything, I’ve not heard it.
HH: Now a number of Democrats are running for reelection, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Tim Johnson, South Dakota, glad to see that he’s back and starting to carry out his duties in the Senate again, and wish him continued recovery. Have any of them up for reelection, who may be accepting money from MoveOn.org, said anything? Has anyone said anything today?
MM: Well, if they have, I haven’t heard it, but it’s not going to be a one day story, Hugh. I assure you, we’re going to continue to press Democrats both collectively and individually to denounce this ad. I think this organization is ruining the reputation of the Democratic Party. They ought to want to protect their reputation rather than have an organization which claims it controls them, which claims its meeting with their leaders periodically, which claims its talking to their leadership staff every day, the assumption you get from all that is that this is quite coordinated. Do they or don’t they?
HH: My co-blogger, Dean Barnett, said today that a Democratic Senator not named had hoped that attacks on Petraeus would come from the groups. Had you heard that report as well?
MM: Yeah, there was an article in the Politico, one of the Capitol Hill newspapers, quoting some nameless Democratic Senator saying no one wants to call Petraeus a liar on national TV. The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us. Well, they just did yesterday.
HH: Well, let’s turn then to the actual Petraeus testimony, and the testimony of Ambassador Crocker as well. Some in the media are speculating that some Republicans were ready to defect. What’s your sense of your caucus that you lead as to whether or not there is still forty firm votes for defending the President’s and the General’s policy here?
MM: I’m optimistic. I think our members feel that the General has basically laid out a way forward here. They’re pleased that the mission has been so successful that there can be some drawdown of troops, even this calendar year. Most of our members, I think, also are beginning to think beyond the current surge in Iraq to what our end game ought to be, and I can give you my view. I don’t know whether it’s the majority view yet, but my view is that we need a long term deployment in the Middle East at some level. If you’re looking for an analogy, maybe similar to South Korea where you had a long term deployment in the area, and not necessarily involved in combat routinely, but in the neighborhood, and we need to be in the neighborhood for two reasons. Al Qaeda and Iran. And I think we need to be thinking beyond the surge to our long term interests in the Middle East. I think having an American presence in the area would be comforting to our Sunni Arab allies like the Egyptians, the Saudis and the Jordanians. We know it would be soothing to the Israelis. And also, it gives us the operational capability to go after Iraq, to go after al Qaeda where they are. And I think on the anniversary of 9/11, it’s important to remember we haven’t been attacked again here in six years. That’s been the result of getting on offense. And I hope Americans remember that they were very much at war with us before we went to war with them. They tried to blow up the World Trade Centers in ’93, tried to, they did blow up our Embassies in East Africa in the mid-90’s, and blew a big hole out of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 and killed 17 sailors, and then of course killed 3,000 Americans six years ago today. Since we’ve been at war with them, not a single successful attack on the homeland. I’d call that a big success.
HH: Senator McConnell, George W. Bush has now been President at war, a hot war, a shooting war with American lives being lost, and soldiers, sailors airmen and Marines being wounded, longer than any president in American history. Do you sense, when you meet with him, any lessening of his resolve to continue the policies he has set about the Bush doctrine from the beginning of this war on 9/11?
MM: No, I don’t think so. I do think that the strategy in Iraq will evolve, as General Petraeus has laid out. But as the President said shortly after 9/11, we’re not likely to have one single day where we can have a ticker tape parade down Broadway and say that the war on terror is over. This is a long term struggle, it’s going to test our metal as a country, and I hope that people who believe that we’ll be safer here at home by giving up and coming home are never in the position to implement that kind of policy, because I guarantee you, America will be substantially less safe here at home if we simply give up and come home, and discontinue the policy of taking it to the enemy.
HH: In the six years since 9/11, Senator McConnell, I watched yesterday these Congressmen ask really inane questions, and some of your colleagues did it again today of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Do they read, do the people that you work with on both sides of the aisle, inform themselves about the nature of the enemy and the war? Do they work at this the way I thought they would?
MM: It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I mean, when you’ve got Osama bin Laden sending out tapes indicating that Iraq is important to him, how can they continue with a straight face to make the argument that terrorists are only in Afghanistan, or terrorists are only in Pakistan. That’s nonsense. It’s demonstrably false that terrorists are confined to one particular area. Remember, they used to be in East Africa. Maybe some are still in East Africa, before they moved to Afghanistan. And now, they’re in Iraq. This is a mobile, international gang, loosely affiliated, that needs to be confronted, because there’s nobody to negotiate with. I mean, there’s no way to have a peace agreement with these people. They want to kill us.
HH: Your colleague, Senator Schumer, actually admitted that al Qaeda was in Iraq last week when he was slagging on the American military. But I mean in terms of do they convene experts? Do they sit down and try and figure out how to turn the tide in the world of Islam against the Salafist extreme?
MM: No, I think this is all about the next election, Hugh. I think they correctly concluded that the Iraq war was the principal reason they got elected to the majority last November. I think that is the case. And they want to have another election about the war. I think that trumps everything else with them. What we’ve seen this year is all politics, all the time. The election never stopped. It was last November, but it just continued. I think frankly, that’s one of the principal reasons they’re sitting on an 18% approval rating, the lowest Congressional approval rating since the House banking scandal twenty years ago, because they just never turned off the campaign. I mean, everything is about scoring points, minimal interest in having any kind of bipartisan solutions to the big problems that confront the country domestically, like Social Security. It’s just all politics, all the time. I don’t think it’s going to work for them. I think they have foolishly thrown away whatever limited mandate they may have had in the wake of last November’s election, and manage to really get themselves in the Guinness Book of Records for dropping farther faster than any new majority in American history.
HH: Hope you’re right. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, thanks for joining us on 9/11.
End of interview.