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Posts Tagged ‘Interview Politicians of the Year’

Posted by hoangtran204 trên 30/12/2008

The Interview: Person Of the Year Barack Obama

Barack Obama interview
Callie Shell / Aurora for TIME
On Friday, Dec. 5, the President-elect sat down with TIME managing editor Richard Stengel, editor-at-large David Von Drehle and Time Inc. editor-in-chief John Huey in Obama’s spartan transition offices in Chicago to discuss his plans for the coming months, the improbability of his victory and how he’s fighting to stay in touch with the real world from inside the presidential bubble. Excerpts from their conversation:What kind of mandate do you have?
Well, I think we won a decisive victory. Forty-seven percent of the American people still voted for John McCain. And so I don’t think that Americans want hubris from their next President. I do think we received a strong mandate for change … It means a government that is not ideologically driven. It means a government that is competent. It means a government, most importantly, that is focused day in, day out on the needs and struggles, the hopes and dreams, of ordinary people. And I think there is a strong mandate for Washington as a whole to be responsive to ordinary Americans in a way that it has not been for quite some time.

When voters look at your Administration two years from now, in the off-year election, how will they know whether you’re succeeding?
I think there are a couple of benchmarks we’ve set for ourselves during the course of this campaign. On [domestic] policy, have we helped this economy recover from what is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Have we instituted financial regulations and rules of the road that assure this kind of crisis doesn’t occur again? Have we created jobs that pay well and allow families to support themselves? Have we made significant progress on reducing the cost of health care and expanding coverage? Have we begun what will probably be a decade-long project to shift America to a new energy economy? Have we begun what may be an even longer project of revitalizing our public-school systems so we can compete in the 21st century? That’s on the domestic front.

On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantánamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our Constitution? Have we rebuilt alliances around the world effectively? Have I drawn down U.S. troops out of Iraq, and have we strengthened our approach in Afghanistan — not just militarily but also diplomatically and in terms of development? And have we been able to reinvigorate international institutions to deal with transnational threats, like climate change, that we can’t solve on our own?

And outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, “Government’s not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government’s working for me. I feel like it’s accountable. I feel like it’s transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on facts and on science as opposed to what is politically expedient.” Those are some of the intangibles that I hope people two years from now can claim.

When you look at the economic issues that you ran on in the campaign, does [all the bad financial news] change your priorities about how quickly you’ve got to act on, say, jobs vs. energy?
Fortunately, most of the proposals that we made apply not only to our long-term economic growth but also fit well into what we need to do short term to get the economy back on track. I have talked during the campaign about the need to rebuild our infrastructure, and that obviously gives us an opportunity to create jobs and drive demand at a time when the economy desperately needs jobs and demand. I’ve talked about a tax cut for 95% of working families, and that fits into a stimulus package, and we can get that money out into people’s pockets fairly quickly. I’ve talked about the need for us to contain health-care costs, and it turns out there’s some spending that has to be done on information technology, for example, that we can do fairly swiftly. So there’s no doubt that most of the priorities that I had are ones that will serve our short-term economic needs as well as our long-term economic needs.

The drop in oil prices, I do think, makes the conversation about energy more difficult, not less necessary. More than ever, I think, a wholesale investment in transforming our economy — from retrofitting buildings so that they’re energy-efficient to changing our transportation patterns and thinking about how to rebuild our electricity grid — those are all things that we’re going to need now more than ever. But with people not paying $4 a gallon for gas, it means it drops on their priority list. And that makes the politics of it tougher than it might have been six months ago.

So how long and how deep a recession should the American public be ready for?
I don’t have a crystal ball, and economists are all over the map on this. I think we should anticipate that 2009 is going to be a tough year. And if we make some good choices, I’m confident that we can limit some of the damage in 2009 and that in 2010 we can start seeing an upward trajectory on the economy. But this is a difficult hole that we’ve dug ourselves into. You know, Japan found itself in a somewhat similar situation in the ’90s, made some poor decisions, didn’t squarely face some of the problems in its banking system and, despite significant stimulus, still saw this thing drag on for almost a decade. On the other hand, you’ve got countries like Sweden that went through this and acted forcefully and boldly and in two years were back on track and were growing at a really healthy clip. So the decisions we make are going to have an impact on it. But next year’s going to be tough. You made a very bold choice for Secretary of State. If she were sitting here with you now and you were to say, “Madame Secretary, here are the three stops I want you to make on your itinerary once you get in the job,” what would those three places be?
Well, since we’re literally having that conversation, I think, a day or two after this publication comes out, I’m not going to have her read it in TIME magazine. But I mentioned to you earlier some of our key priorities. There’s no doubt that managing the transition in Iraq is going to be a top priority. Managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan will be a top priority. Recognizing that it is not simply an Afghanistan problem but it’s an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Kashmir-Iran problem is going to be a priority. Sorting through our policy with respect to Iran effectively — that will be a priority. Dealing with our transatlantic alliance in a more constructive way and trying to build a more effective relationship with the newly assertive and, I believe, inappropriately aggressive Russia, when it comes to the invasion of Georgia — that is going to be a priority. And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that’s been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority.

Now, I mention those things, but keep in mind that some of the long-term priorities I identified in the campaign remain just as urgent today. I already mentioned nuclear proliferation. I already mentioned climate change. I think dealing with development and poverty around the world is going to be a critical component of our foreign policy. It’s good for our security and not just charity. And so, part of the goal that Senator [Hillary] Clinton and I both share — as do [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and [National Security Adviser nominee] General [James] Jones — is moving our foreign-assistance agenda to the center of our national-security conversations as opposed to the periphery. Paying more attention to Latin America. You know, we have neglected our neighbors in our own hemisphere, and there is an enormous potential for us to work with other countries — Brazil, for example, which is in some ways ahead of us on energy strategies. That, I think, would be very important. And finally, managing our relationship with China and the entire Pacific Rim, I think, is something that will keep not just me busy but my successor busy.

Was there ever a point in the election when you thought you were going to lose?

When was it?
Well, let me say it this way: There were multiple points throughout the election when I thought I could lose. Including the day I announced. And honestly, you know, we had a bunch of ups and downs in the campaign. I’ll tell you what, though: the way Michelle and I talked about it before we made the decision to get in this race was, if we run the kind of race that I wanted to run, if we were engaging people and exciting people and bringing new people into the process, if I was speaking honestly and truthfully about what I thought my priorities were, then I always thought we had a good chance of winning. And if we lost, that wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. And that’s why I think I stayed pretty steady throughout this race, despite the ups and downs.

There weren’t that many occasions during this campaign — there were a few, but not that many — where I wasn’t proud of what we were doing or felt somehow that I was making compromises of my core principles. Michelle and I pledged that whatever happened, we’d come out of this thing whole. And there wasn’t any point in this campaign where I thought we were in danger of losing who we were.

You went through a long and grueling campaign, and you won. At what point after your victory did you realize, “I can’t do a traditional kind of transition.”
It was about a month before the election. Not that I assumed that I was going to win. We had a healthy fear up until election day. But what I was absolutely convinced of was that, whether it was me or John McCain, the next President-elect was going to have to move swiftly. And so we’ve tried to accelerate all of our timetables: in appointments, not just on the Cabinet but also our White House team; in structuring economic plans so that we can start getting them to Congress and hopefully begin work, even before I’m sworn in, on some of our key priorities around the economy; on laying the groundwork for a national security team can take the baton in a wartime transition. We’ve been busy, and that’s why I have not taken the traditional post-election holiday.

Does that bother your wife?
No, no, I think she wants me to take care of business. We’ll take a little bit of a break over the Christmas holidays, but we want to make sure that I’ve got a team in place and that we’ve got a clear sense of direction.

Now that you’re faced with the enormity of it, is there any one thing that really weighs on you as being perhaps an intractable problem?
I don’t think there are problems that are intractable. But there are a couple of problems that are extraordinarily difficult.

It is not clear that the economy’s bottomed out. So even if we take a whole host of the right steps in terms of the economy, two years from now it may not have fully recovered. I’m confident about our ability to get the economy back on track, but we’ve got a big hole to dig ourselves out of. And I will be inheriting at least a trillion-dollar deficit even before you start talking about a significant stimulus. And you’ve got a structural deficit that is in place that will require some very difficult decisions. So managing jump-starting the economy in the short term and setting up a responsible fiscal policy over the long term, at a time when families are hurting and we’ve got all these unmet needs-that is a huge problem. And I don’t think there’s some magic trick to dealing with it. It’s going to require a careful balancing of priorities and we’ll probably make some mistakes along the way. Because some of those choices will engender political resistance, from not just Republicans but also members of my own party.

I’ll just lay out some of the other things that keep me up at night. I think Afghanistan is going to be a challenge. I’m confident that it’s the right thing to do to draw down our troops in Iraq. I think we can do so in a responsible way and stabilize the situation there. We’re going to have to make a series of not just military but also diplomatic moves that fully enlist Pakistan as an ally in that region, that lessen tensions between India and Pakistan, and then get everybody focused on rooting out militancy in a terrain, a territory, that is very tough — and in an enormous country that is one of the poorest and least developed in the world. So that, I think, is going to be a very tough situation.

And then the third thing that keeps me up at night is the issue of nuclear proliferation. We are going to have to take leadership in stitching back together a nonproliferation regime that has been frayed. We’re going to have to do it at the same time as the Internet has made technology for the creation of weapons of mass destruction more accessible than ever before, and at a time when more countries are going to be pursuing nuclear power. That, I think, is going to be a great challenge.

And then the final thing, just to round out my Happy List, is climate change. All the indicators are that this is happening faster than even the most pessimistic scientists were anticipating a couple of years ago. It is going to require an enormous effort on the part of the global community to deal with it. And it is not going to come without cost. Trying to bring about that transformation — which I think offers huge opportunities for economic growth and job creation over the long term, but will entail some costs in the short term — you know, that’s the hardest thing to do in politics, right? To make big investments in things that have long-term payoffs. I’ll stop there.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve gotten from someone about being President, about how to go about it, about how that feels?
Well, precisely because it’s sui generis, the only people that really know are the collection of ex-Presidents that we have. And I want to protect the confidentiality of those conversations since I expect to go back to them for advice, and I want to feel that they can give me unvarnished advice. I can tell you that all of them have said that it is important to carve out time to think and not spend your entire day reactive. Because there’s always a crisis coming at you, there’s always a meeting you could be doing, there’s always a press conference or a group of supporters that you could be responding to. And so I think maintaining that kind of discipline is important.

Something that I have already experienced, and I have not fully solved, is how to break out of the bubble, which is extraordinarily powerful … As a consequence of the security concerns surrounding this office, it is very hard for me to do what ordinary people do. That is the biggest adjustment, and that is not an adjustment I’ve made yet. And I’m not sure I’ll want to make it entirely. The inability to go to the gas station and pump your own gas. Or go to the store and buy groceries. Or take your kids to the park. Those are experiences that aren’t just intrinsically good, but they also keep me in touch with what Americans are going through. And so I’m trying to negotiate more space and do so in a way that doesn’t put Secret Service members in more jeopardy. I’m trying to negotiate hanging on to some sort of electronic communication with the outside world. And so far, between the lawyers and the Secret Service and the bureaucrats, I’m not sure I’m winning that battle. Given the economic situation, the picture you’ve painted of ’09, are there any taxes that can be raised in this environment?
Well, I have said that I will be providing a net tax cut. Ninety-five percent of working Americans will be getting a tax cut. In part to pay for the tax cut for people who desperately need it, I’ve proposed that people who are making more than a quarter-million dollars a year lose the tax cuts they received from George [W.] Bush and that we go back to the rates they had in the 1990s. And that is a pledge I intend to keep.

But is that by letting them expire in ’10 or by repealing them in ’09?
Well, one way or another, they are going to lose those tax breaks under my Administration. My economic team is reviewing right now what the best option is.

Considering the economic hole we’re in, and particularly the joblessness crisis right now, does that move health care up or down on the agenda in terms of real structural reform of providing health care?
I think it keeps it right where it is, which is one of my top three domestic priorities. How we sequence a movement toward affordable, accessible health care may vary because of the current economic situation.

What is it about your executive style that makes you good at standing up to big organizations to meet unprecedented challenges — whether it’s the way you ran your campaign or now — so quickly?
I don’t think there’s some magic trick here. I think I’ve got a good nose for talent, so I hire really good people. And I’ve got a pretty healthy ego, so I’m not scared of hiring the smartest people, even when they’re smarter than me. And I have a low tolerance of nonsense and turf battles and game-playing, and I send that message very clearly. And so over time, I think, people start trusting each other, and they stay focused on mission, as opposed to personal ambition or grievance. If you’ve got really smart people who are all focused on the same mission, then usually you can get some things done.

Do you ever get angry, and if you do, how would we know it?
If you want to tail me and [spokesman Robert] Gibbs for a few days, I could tell you, we’ve had it out a couple times. You know, my staff knows when I get angry. I’m not a shouter. I find that what was always effective with me as a kid, and Michelle and I find it effective with our kids, is just making people feel really guilty. Like “Boy, I am disappointed in you. I expected so much more.” And I think people generally want to do the right thing, and if you’re clear to them about what that right thing is, and if they see you doing the right thing, then that gives you some leverage. Hollering at people isn’t usually that effective. Now, there are exceptions. There are times where guilt doesn’t work, and then you have to use fear.

Now for a deeply personal question, which you may not feel comfortable answering. Did your grandmother die confident that you were going to be President?
You know, I don’t know. But I know she voted for me. The last week of her life, she was in and out of consciousness. But I’d say three weeks before the election — or was it two weeks? About two weeks before the election, I think at that point, you know, the signs were that I might pull this off. (See pictures of Barack Obama’s family tree.)

She was incredulous, I think, until the very end. I mentioned this in another interview. My grandmother would not have believed that this was possible. Not because of the race issues but because she was just a very Midwestern, steady person who generally was skeptical of these kinds of things and would have preferred I’d never gone into politics and done something sensible like try to become a judge or something after law school. My mother, on the other hand, I think would’ve never had a doubt because she was absolutely convinced that her son and her daughter were perfect. So it’s a reflection more on their personalities.

But you think about my grandmother’s life. I mean, here’s a woman who was born in, let’s see, 1912 or ’22 — I’ve got to do my math — she was 86, so ’22, rather. She really grew up in the Depression, in a small town in Kansas, and never got a college degree. Somehow found herself in Hawaii. Somehow found her daughter marrying an African guy. Raised this mixed kid who got in all kinds of trouble during his teenage years. You know, the likelihood of that little boy ending up President of the United States was pretty low.

So in some ways her life tracks this American — this remarkable American journey, where all of these different forces and cultures can come together and the possibility of upward mobility and opportunity for successive generations is a reality. Maybe not as much as we’d like it to be. Maybe not as fast as we’d like it to be. But it’s there nonetheless.

All right?,8599,1865069-3,00.html

Interview with Clinton: One Day at a Time

Hillary Clinton
On the day after her Ohio and Texas victories, TIME managing editor Rick Stengel caught up with Hillary Clinton to talk about the challenges ahead. Here are some excerpts from the interview:TIME: What would you say was the key to your victories yesterday? Was there some kind of special sauce, something that you started doing different?
No, I think that I kept on the themes that I think are important for the next President. A lot of people counted me out, but I was campaigning in states where many people felt like they had been counted out from time to time and had to keep fighting and coming back. I was endorsed on Saturday in Youngstown — a city that has had a pretty rough ride over the last three or so decades by Kelly “the Ghost” Pavlik, the champion [middleweight boxer], and I think that really symbolized what I was trying to do, which was to tell people I would be a fighter for them, because I know that they deserve to have someone who gets up every day and works hard for them. And questions began to be asked about Obama and his positions concerning NAFTA and the stewardship of the economy and who was ready to be Commander-in-Chief on Day One. So clearly the people of Ohio and Texas wanted a President who they thought would fight for them and be their champion and was ready to manage the economy and be the Commander in Chief who believed that speeches weren’t as important as solutions — and that is what I put forth.

There has been a trait that maybe characterizes both of you — when your back is against the wall and people are predicting your demise — you suddenly burst forth with a new strategy and become successful. Is that something that characterizes your DNA as a politician?
Well I don’t know, Rick. I think it may be more about the voters than about me. I think that voters were not ready for this race to be over. They really wanted to keep hearing from me and they wanted me to be competitive. They were clearly voting with their hopes that this race would go on and I would continue to fight another day, so I really believe that for me in New Hampshire and on Super Tuesday and again yesterday — despite being outspent rather considerably in the media, in the mail and on the ground all the other ways that people judge your viability — I had the people on my side and that became clearer and clearer to me every day that went by.

If you had to do it all over again, would you have started drawing firmer contrasts with Senator Obama earlier during the primary process?
Well I think that every campaign has a rhythm to it. This campaign has had a lot of interesting twists and turns. One of the events that I believe helped me in the elections yesterday was the realization that Senator McCain was going to be the Republican nominee. Democrats and independents suddenly said, “Oh boy, this is going to be interesting. We better vote for someone who can go up against Senator McCain.” No one could have predicted that, but that is how it felt to me. I also think that I had to be in a position where I had the resources to back up any of the comparisons that I was drawing and I was able to do that in Ohio and Texas.

Speaking of Senator McCain, would you say that his attacks on Senator Obama have had the intended or unintended consequence of helping you?
I have no opinion on that. I think Senator McCain is his own man, as we all know. I have dealt with him, worked with him over the years. I don’t think there is any real predicting what he is going to say or do about an opponent until he does it. So I really don’t really know.

The Obama campaign has been saying that there is almost a mathematical impossibility for you to win enough pledged delegates to win the nomination. How do you respond to that?
Well, I find it interesting that a campaign that is supposed to be about hope and inspiration resorts to some kind of mathematical argument. As we move towards the final stage of this nominating process, it would be hard for this race to be any closer. After 25 million voters have voted, we are basically tied in the popular vote. The delegate count is plus or minus two percent separating us. It has been a spirited primary, which I think is all for the good and there are still millions of voters that haven’t voted yet — that want to make sure their voices are heard. I feel very good about where I am in this race, because the comparisons are being drawn, questions are being asked and I think that if people ask themselves who would be the best President to manage the economy and who would be prepared to be Commander-in-Chief on Day One that is to my benefit. I am not asking voters to make a mathematical calculation. I am asking them to make a reasoned decision about who they would hire for this job.

With all of the voters paying attention — caring passionately one way or another — would they somehow feel disappointed if in the end a group of superdelegates who are not elected would make the final decision about who the Democratic Party nominee is?
Oh I think we have a ways to go before we know what is going to happen, obviously. I feel that the campaign has really reached a critical point, which I welcome because I think this is the toughest job in the world [and] whoever is vying for it should be tested and questioned. That is certainly something I have been through and understand the territory that goes with this candidacy. And voters are prepared to have that same opportunity — to be sure they got all the information they need before they make their decision. I think it is a historic race, so obviously it is exciting. We are both bringing so many more people into the campaign. They are energized, really very passionate about this campaign. Voters want this to continue. They don’t want it to be over. I think that surprised a lot of the observers who were taken aback — number one because I did so well yesterday — but also in some of the public polling. More than two-thirds of Democrats say “No, This has got to go on.” And they need it to go on, because they are still trying to make up their minds and that is true of every kind of delegate and every kind of voter.

One group that probably ultimately wouldn’t want it to go on too long is the Democratic Party itself. Can you envision a point at which — if the race stays this close — and with the difficulties that everyone has analyzed in accumulating enough delegates to get any distance ahead where party elders would step in and say “Senators Clinton and Obama, this is now hurting the party and whoever will be the nominee in the fall. We need to figure this out.”
No I really can’t. I think people have short memories. Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn’t wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June, also in California. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual. We will see how it unfolds as we go forward over the next three to four months.

Could you envision it going all the way to the actual convention itself?
I think we should take it one day at a time. I find that usually is a better policy in life and in politics.

The experience argument is one that is very important to the whole campaign. It is not only important on the Democratic side, but also on the Republican side. If you were to go toe-to-toe with Senator McCain, in the category of experience doesn’t that actually in the end favor him?
No, I don’t think so. I think there is a threshold of experience that voters want to see people cross. I have a lifetime of experience. Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience. We both cross that threshold. Then we are in the arena and can engage in the debate over what that experience means. But no voter doubts that we have the experience to do the job, and I think that is a big difference.

In some of the interviews this morning you were quoted talking about whether or not there would be a possibility of a joint ticket — of a Clinton-Obama ticket or an Obama-Clinton ticket. Are there are circumstances in which you would consider being his running mate if he were to offer the ticket?
I think this is all pretty premature. There are a lot of contests left. I think the question was certainly aimed at the historic nature of our candidacies and the possibility that we would have a unified Democratic ticket and that may be something to consider down the road, but right now there are a lot of contests left and I am doing everything I can to be successful in winning them.

The Rezko case has come up a number of times. In your own words, what is the relevance of the Rezko case to his campaign and to the qualifications of Senator Obama?
Well, there seem to be a lot of questions that he needs to answer on this issue. But those are his questions to answer. I believe that this is part of the process.

There are has been talk about you being concerned that voters in Florida and Michigan would be disenfranchised. When the Democratic National Committee was making its policy in those two states, we knew that was going to happen. Why were you not concerned then about them being disenfranchised?
Oh, I was. I said it at the time. I wasn’t on the DNC, I didn’t have a vote on that. I pointed out how important it is for us to carry Michigan — you can’t win without carrying Michigan — and how critical it is to carry Florida. We haven’t won without it and we face a much more difficult electoral map if we don’t have Florida in our column. I feel strongly that the votes of Michigan and Florida should count. What I agreed to was not to campaign in either state and I did not campaign. I didn’t hold press conferences. I didn’t do political events. I complied with the rules as they were put forth for the candidates. But 1.7 million Democratic voters in Florida were privy to that agreement and Florida is in a particularly unfortunate position, because the Democrats have no say in when their primary is going to be held. It was after the first four contests that everyone tries to carve out a special space. And the voters of Florida clearly took it seriously. I think that there is an effort both on the part of the Democratic governor in Michigan and Florida to try to figure out how to sort this through. I feel strongly that we shouldn’t be telling Democratic voters in states we have to carry that their votes don’t count.

Obama criticized the way in 1992-93, the way you handled your quest for more universal health care in America, and has said that he would do it in a more open fashion. Is he being naive in terms of whether it is possible to solve this in a transparent way?
Well, what I learned from that process is that it is not the executive branch that is going to really determine what the outcome of this health care debate is. It is the legislative branch. They have hearings. They have open public hearings on the plans we suggested. They really have control over the process. It is going to be imperative that the President works with the Congress to get this done. I believe the plan that I put forth has a very good chance of garnering congressional support. Obviously Congress will work with Congress on a plan, unless something dramatically changes [with] how the world works between now and 2009. But it is something that I think I have a special insight into having been on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. I understand the potential influence to set the agenda and create the playing field that the President has, but the President has to understand that the Congress will come up with the legislation. I have talked about this many times in ’93. The Congress told the President, “Well, you decide what you want and then come to us.” And that didn’t work out. I have laid out a plan. I have made it universal. I intend to do everything I can to get to universal health care, unlike Senator Obama, who does not have a plan that is universal. I will be working with the members of Congress, particularly the chairs of the relevant committees, from the very beginning.

I think you know that our own Joe Klein has written about your expertise in military affairs and how many of the generals said to him that the one person in the Senate who they say understands the military is Senator Clinton. He has also written that your defense and military strategy is something that you thought all along would be something you’d talk about once the general election came along. I wonder why and whether you would be willing to critique Obama plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Is there an argument you should make that perhaps he is being incautious or unreasonable?
Well, that is a subject for another day, Rick. I am not going to have an opportunity on this phone call to discuss in depth the seriousness of the challenges we face in Iraq. But I do appreciate the support that I am getting from retired generals and admirals who have worked with me at my time during the Clinton Administration or in the Senate. I am going to be talking further about what I would be doing in Iraq and how I would be proceeding. But I will leave that for another day.

In Pakistan, President Musharraf seems to be hanging on despite the fact that the vast majority of Pakistanis don’t want him to be there. He has been an ally of ours. Should the U.S. be nudging him out of power the way we did with President Marcos in the Philippines? Is that something you would do as President?
Well, I think that the problem with the Bush Administration now is that they only have one policy and that is to continue to support Musharraf. You ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We should be reaching out to the leaders of the opposition parities that are elected resoundly. We should do more to help support civil society, particularly the lawyers and the journalists and the business leaders who have led the demonstrations against Musharraf’s rule — who are very middle-of-the-road pro-democracy voices in Pakistan. The failure of the Bush Administration to do both strikes me as indicative of their single-minded, often narrow, view of American interests. It is not America’s place at this time to be maneuvering the Pakistanis to make a decision about Musharraf’s future. That has to be something that the Pakistanis decide. But it does strike me that we should certainly be building better relationships with other elements that would be important to Pakistan’s’ future — that I just don’t see happening. I have had this debate with the Administration going back years now. I have asked them to engage much more directly, to have high-level presidential envoy between Musharraf and Afghanistan and set some real goals in terms of our expectations about Musharraf… And they just steadfastly refuse to do that. I think that is the root of the problem. This is a complex society and it may very well be that President Musharraf has not mapped out his terms, but if he were to leave we are in no position, having done so little to support the potential successors, to really know what it is we would be faced with. I would renew my emphasis on expanding our reach in Pakistan.

You criticized Senator Obama about talking to certain leaders without any preconditions. What about the idea that we need to have some kind of relationship with Iran. How do you reopen diplomacy with Iran? What would be your strategy?
I am glad you asked that because Senator Obama has taken my criticism of his specific answer in an earlier debate and expanded it to somehow imply that I do not favor diplomacy with Iran. And in fact, I believe, I was probably way ahead of him in calling for diplomatic engagement with Iran going back several years now. I recall a major speech I gave at the Woodrow Wilson School. I have been consistent in saying that we needed to open up a diplomatic process with Iran. I remember criticizing the Bush Administration for outsourcing our policy toward Iran to the Europeans. But it has been unfortunate that the Bush Administration has refused under the circumstances to permit any kind of diplomatic engagement. We had something going with our ambassador in Afghanistan early on, a meeting with the ambassador from Iran to Afghanistan, which stopped abruptly after the Axis of Evil speech. We began to have contact between our ambassador to Iraq and their ambassador to Iraq, but those never really expanded to cover the range of issues that I think we should. I have been very clear in saying that I would seek an opportunity for an open diplomatic process, but obviously not including the President as the diplomat or offering a presidential visit with Ahmadinejad without any preconditions. I don’t think that is a very useful way to proceed. I would begin the kind of diplomatic and security discussions on a broad range of matters that I think are in America’s interest.

There are maybe three or four months left in the race. What are you most looking forward to and what are you most dreading?
I am looking forward to all of it, Rick. I really feel privileged to be running this race. As physically exhausting as it is, it is incredibly energizing and gratifying. Everyday somebody says something to me or does something that reinforces my belief in the importance of this race, and it is often with the same encounters. The big stage of presidential politics, which for obvious reasons is covered by the press, is where a lot of it is laid out. But that is not what gets me up in the morning. It is the important intimate encounters with people who thank me for helping their children get health care or people who grab my hand and say, “Please bring my son home from Iraq” or ask me to help with a problem they have. That is what I feel is real and is part of what I love about public service — are people better off when I stopped than when I started. I get a lot of satisfaction, I am constantly being reminded and reinforced about my convictions about this extraordinary country that I feel privileged to live in. I take whatever comes. I don’t have anything other than anticipation looking forward.

Ex-aides say Bush never recovered from Katrina

WASHINGTON – Hurricane Katrina not only pulverized the Gulf Coast in 2005, it knocked the bully pulpit out from under President George W. Bush, according to two former advisers who spoke candidly about the political impact of the government’s poor handling of the natural disaster.

“Katrina to me was the tipping point,” said Matthew Dowd, Bush’s pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign. “The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn’t matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn’t matter. P.R.? It didn’t matter. Travel? It didn’t matter.”

Dan Bartlett, former White House communications director and later counselor to the president, said: “Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin.”

Their comments are a part of an oral history of the Bush White House that Vanity Fair magazine compiled for its February issue, which hits newsstands in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday, and nationally on Jan. 6. Vanity Fair published comments by current and former government officials, foreign ministers, campaign strategists and numerous others on topics that included Iraq, the anthrax attacks, the economy and immigration.

Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that as a new president, Bush was like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee whom critics said lacked knowledge about foreign affairs. When Bush first came into office, he was surrounded by experienced advisers like Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell, who Wilkerson said ended up playing damage control for the president.

“It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like president — because, let’s face it, that’s what he was — was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire,” Wilkerson said, adding that he considered Cheney probably the “most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur” he’d ever met.

“He became vice president well before George Bush picked him,” Wilkerson said of Cheney. “And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush — personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum.”

On other topics, David Kuo, who served as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, disputed the idea that the Bush White House was dominated by religious conservatives and catered to the needs of a religious right voting bloc.

“The reality in the White House is — if you look at the most senior staff — you’re seeing people who aren’t personally religious and have no particular affection for people who are religious-right leaders,” Kuo said.

“In the political affairs shop in particular, you saw a lot of people who just rolled their eyes at … basically every religious-right leader that was out there, because they just found them annoying and insufferable. These guys were pains in the butt who had to be accommodated.”,8599,1719900-3,00.html

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