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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Friday, March 18, 2005; 11:00 AM

With the influence neoconservatives have had in Washington, the debate over whether democracy is spreading in the Arab world begs the question of whether the often-maligned neocon vision has been vindicated as well. And if Iraq proves to be a case in which America's military might helps spread democracy, then what's next? Iran? Syria? North Korea?

Read the column:Vulcans' Vindication? (washingtonpost.com, March 14)

Terry Neal (post.com)

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washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal takes your questions and comments on politics, politicians and his latest columns.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Terry Neal: Thank you very much for joining me today for my regular weekly chat. Let's jump right in...



Silver Spring. Md.:
Amid talk of the vulcan's vindication, I think that it is also important to note how utterly wrong the neocons have consistently been in all of their estimates of troop requirements, costs, humanitarian assistance and basic needs requirements, training timetables, timetables for establishing political/government viability, and the list goes on. It would be laughable if it weren't so sad. Can you give any example since WWII where an occupying power has successfully transformed a country to another form of government? I am open to a wide range of definitions of "success". Panama?

Terry Neal: You raise some very good points. My column, of course, was primarily aimed at raising the question of whether the Vulcans had been vindicated, rather than trying to answer that question.
I believe it's still too early to answer that question, and I believe that those who have rushed to vindicate the Vulcans ignore how the very questions you raise might ultimately undermine the big picture goal of spreading Democracy throughout the Middle East.


Norco, Calif.: I read your 'Vulcan' article -- superlative writing style and thoughtfulness as usual!

However, I disagree with your generalization of 'neo- conservative.' No consensus seems available on that term.

Mostly, I've read that 'neo-cons' represent the extreme right wing.

I'm willing to be corrected.

Terry Neal: Thank you and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I do think there is a sort of commonly accepted definition of neoconservative. The term generally applies to people who were former liberals or whose political ideology on foreign policy resembles that of the left from decades ago.
The tenor of politics has changed so much in recent decades, but for much of the first 2/3 or so the 20th century, it was the left that believed America should use its military might to spread Democracy. Remember, it was Bob Dole who some years back referred to the wars of the 20th Century as "Democrat wars." They were firm believers in the hawkish stances of Democratic presidents such as Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and LBJ.
Some of the people who supported the policies of these presidents became disenchanted with what they viewed as the Democratic party's increasingly anti-war position and they accused the party in the 70s and 80s of going soft on communism. And they slowly migrated into the Republican party.
This is the very point that Pat Buchanan and other anti-Iraq war conservatives, who have argued that GOP needs to put more "con" and less "neo" back in the party.
You are right in the sense that people such as Wolfowitz and Bolton and Perle are now considered by some people to represent the "extreme right wing" of the party, at least on foreign policy issues. But you have to understand the whole historical context. And my column sought to put it in context.


washingtonpost.com: Vulcans' Vindication? (washingtonpost.com, March 14)


New York, N.Y.: What do you think of Congress getting involved in the Terry Schiavo case? Seems to me that if they are going to use their subpeona power in this case, what's to stop them from subpeoning an abortion doctor on a day he is scheduled to go to work?

Terry Neal: My thought on it is that everybody hates big government intrusion until they need it for an issue they support...


Philadelphia, Pa.: As a Democrat I've been frustrated that pundits keep saying that my party doesn't have a message when it does. The Democrats' Senate Web site has it listed under the headings of security, opportunity, and responsibility. Does the press have an obligation to point that out or is it the Democrats' responsibility to repeat it over and over? If they did, would they get much media coverage?

Terry Neal: That's an interesting question and a difficult one to answer. I think that there is little doubt that the Democrats are less ideologically cohesive right now than Republicans are.
That doesn't mean that the Democrats have no message of course. Those who say that are guilty of oversimplification.
Also, I think it's very clear, whether you love or hate George W. Bush, what he stands for. I believe many people were not as sure about what John Kerry stood for or what Al Gore stood for before that. That is not a criticism of either Kerry or Gore...Some people prefer their politicians less ideological. But it is what it is.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Terry,

I must say I don't think I've seen any worse sort of political grandstanding than that which has gone on over the Schiavo case. Why is it that the GOP seems so willing to abandon their state's rights, limited government argument to do everything they can to interfere with this woman's life?

Terry Neal: See my earlier answer...That was exactly my point.


Kensington, Md.: Why is it that the washingtonpost.com has no problem telling its readers that Mark McGwire "dodged" questions during the steroids hearing -- yet it will be a cold day in hell before EVER ever come out and say this in regards to Scott McClellan's routine such activity during White House press conferences? How about a little frankness when it comes to our elected public servants?

Terry Neal: Huh? You're saying that the no story/column/op-ed in the Washington Post/washingtonpost.com has ever accused Scott McClellan of ducking and dodging? C'mon. Be serious, now.
In fact, here's an exchange between McClellan and the press core that I wrote about in my April 23, 2004, column about the White House dodging questions about the continued cost of the war in Iraq:


"One of the most entertaining shows in town these days is the "Watch Scott Stay On Message Show." This show, which can be viewed daily on C-SPAN, is shot at the White House before a very live studio audience of reporters. It stars White House spokesman Scott McClellan. It is sometimes known as the White House press briefing.

On Wednesday, both the White House press corps and McClellan were in rare form.

The reporters tried their best to get McClellan to specify when the president would submit his supplemental budget for Iraq, how much it might be and whether his delay had anything to do with politics:

"Question: Chuck Hagel says you need $50 to $70 billion more to pay for Iraq operations this year. Are you going to be requesting this money?

"McClellan: Well...as the president said as recently as last week in his news conference, he is committed to making sure our troops have everything they need to do their job... He will not hesitate when it comes to making sure our troops have everything they need to do their job... However, we will continue to always look closely at circumstances on the ground and look to what the commanders are saying to make sure that they have the resources they need."

"Question: So you're keeping a door open to ask for more money this year?

"McClellan: Well, we've always said that there would be -- at some point, there would be a need for an additional supplemental in Iraq. And again, we will make those determinations based on what our commanders in the field say. But what we have said previously still stands at this point, and I think the Pentagon officials have said that at this time, they have more than adequate funding to meet their needs..."

"Question: The Pentagon has said it's costing $4.7 billion a month, and again, an extra $700 million to keep those 20,000 extra forces, and they don't know how many new troops they're going to need, for how long. You're saying that you would seek an additional supplemental before January 2005, if necessary?

"McClellan: Well, what we have said previously, that we do not expect one this year. However, we always look to the commanders in the theater to make those determinations in terms of what the troops need to complete their work and do their job."

"Question: No, I know, but what we're saying is the circumstances on the ground are, obviously, more expensive than you planned when you sought the supplemental. So we're simply saying is it reasonable to assume that if you continue to spend money at a much faster rate, as you are now --

"McClellan: Well, but, see, what we want to do is look to the commanders in the field; not speculate about it, but make sure that we're constantly in contact with our commanders in the theater, and ask them if they have everything they need. That's what the president does almost all the time when he's in a National Security Council meeting -- do you have everything you need? Are you getting all the resources you need? And that's what he will continue to do.

"Question: So the White House has a pretty passive role in this -- you just wait for them to tell you if they need more, and then you say yes?

"McClellan: Well, I disagree with that characterization...The President's responsibility is to make sure that they have everything they need to carry out their mission and complete their work. And he will always be asking the question, do you have what you need, based on the circumstances on the ground."

"Question: And none of them have said they need more?

"McClellan: At this point, we have been told that they have more than adequate funding and resources to do their job. But it's questions that we constantly ask and we constantly look at those matters."

"Question: Is the president at all concerned, as has been suggested on Capitol Hill, that bringing up the funding issue again with the supplemental will cause a political problem for him?

"McClellan: That's not the way he looks at... The way he looks at it is what our troops need, and when do they need it, and let's make sure that they have it."

Got that?"


Whatever the case, I don't think you're comparing apples to apples.
McGwire's testimony was a one-time, big-event, under-oath event. To compare that to the daily White House press conference, where every press secretary in history has stood in front of the press and dodged questions is kind of absurd.


Manhattan (NYC): Hi Terry,

Last week I asked this same question, but you didn't answer it although it seems very appropriate. Why does the press and broadcast media continue to accept the Bush deficit figures when we already know the size of the "supplemental request" that will pay for our Iraq, Afghan and other expenditures? The true deficit is really the combination of the deficit, "supplemental" AND the borrowings from Social Secuuuurity? It seems to me that the press has totally wimped out by continuing to give the Bush administration a free pass on the deficit they have by not just using the combined total as the true deficit, especially when the Social Security debate rages on that is impacted by the borrowings, Bush tax cuts, etc.

Terry Neal: I disagree with you. I think most stories point out that the deficit figures don't include the prolonged costs of war. The Post stories in January and February pointed out that a supplemental was on the way down the pike.
Now if you're asking me to defend every single story that appeared in the thousands of newspapers, and radio and television news programs, then no, I can't help you with that.


Burke, Va.: I'm tired of all the fake news being produced by the government, where you don't even know the government is producing the "news" and where the "news" has a definite slant. Do news stations get paid to show these "news" items?

Terry Neal: I hear you! I'm sick of it too and I believe it is a real abomination. But I blame the media more than I blame the government. Every government tries to influence the people through propaganda. The Bush administration has perhaps perfected this strategy with the use of prefab video news releases. But the bottom line is, it's the media's job to make sure that government propaganda never gets confused or mixed in with real news. And I was horrified by the Sunday New York Times story documenting all of these cases in which news stations had aired reports that had been produced by the government. This is NEVER acceptable and any news producer who has knowingly allowed a government produced piece of propaganda be presented as an independently produced news story should be fired on the spot.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think Mr. Wolfowitz, if confirmed, would use the World Bank's immense leverage to further the current Bush administration, i.e., the Neocon, agenda by withholding aid to nations that do not faithfully tow the line, or at least giving them a very hard time? After all, he would now be holding the carrot. In the Pentagon Mr. Wolfowitz was holding the Stick.

Terry Neal: That's an interesting question. It's not entirely clear how much of the neocon philosophy Wolfowitz would bring to the world bank. I think it's incredibly interesting, however that Bush has put two of the primary architects of America's unilateralists ideology (John Bolton being the other) on two of the world's most important multinational organizations.
I urge you to read the column I wrote about the neocons on Monday and click on some of the links to some of the papers and reports produced by the neocons during the 1990s. Then I'll let you come to your own conclusion about what you think Wolfowitz will do.


Winnipeg, Canada: It is laughable to even consider that recent events have vindicated the Vulcans. A few questionable elections do not begin to redeem the human cost of American foreign policy disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the Middle East. Just travelling the roads in Iraq and Afghanistan is a life-threatening event. The tens of thousands of dead, the ruined lives of both the local populations and the American military personnel sent to "liberate," and the destruction of both basic infrastructure and cultural treasures that American folly has wrought write large page on the debit side of the ledger. It will take more than a few murky election outcomes to erase that debt.

Terry Neal: Pardon me? It's laughable to even "consider" it? I thought the job of the media was to do just that, giving all sides--including yours--their say.
You have a right to your opinion, but to suggest that journalists shouldn't even broach the topic is something we'll just have to disagree on.


Terry Neal: All righty folks, lots of great questions today. I appreciate them all. But I've gotta run now. Have a great weekend and let's chat again next week, same time, same place,



washingtonpost.com: Vulcans' Vindication? (washingtonpost.com, March 14)


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