MR. DAVID GREGORY: Our issues this Sunday: the debate over torture. Was the law violated? Should former Bush officials be held accountable? Tough political questions have the president shifting positions, issuing a statement last week saying, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” and then on Tuesday this:
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: That is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general.
MR. GREGORY: With us to explain the president’s position, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs.
Then, he was the first Arab leader to meet with President Obama in the White House to discuss prospects for peace in the Middle East. After spending the week in Washington, he shares his views with us this morning about peace, Iran, terrorism and how the U.S. treated terror suspects after 9/11. Our guest, His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan.
Plus, insights and analysis on President Obama’s first 100 days in office; successes, failures and what we’ve learned about our new president. With us, two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and editor of Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham.
But first, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. ROBERT GIBBS: David, thank you for having me.
MR. GREGORY: A developing story I want to ask you about first…
MR. GIBBS: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: …is this swine flu outbreak that began in Mexico, has killed up to 68 people there. We have some images. This is what’s happening on the streets of Mexico City, authorities handing out masks to help stop the spread of this virus.
This has hit the United States as well, at least three states where there are infections, thankfully no deaths yet. How serious is this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, serious enough to be a great concern to this White House and to this government. The president is being briefed regularly by Homeland Security officials.
DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, the CDC, our Homeland Security Council in the White House are keeping the president up to date on this. We’re following it very closely. We’re increasing the monitoring and the preparedness that we would need to have in place in order to deal with any sort of emergency.
But it is of concern to this White House and we’re taking…
MR. GREGORY: Are there preparations for vaccinations, mass vaccinations around the country?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the good news, David, is that over the course of the past several years one of the issues that then Senator Obama worked on was the possibility of what happened in this country if we saw an avian flu pandemic.
That resulted in lots of vaccinations being bought, lots of antiviral drugs being purchased and distributed throughout the country in case they were needed.
We’ll do a briefing a little bit later on at the White House to discuss some of the preparations that have been undertaken in order to deal with something like this.
I think it’s important for the public to understand that we are taking proper precautions to address anything that happens. It’s not a time to panic, and I think that’s important to understand.
And it’s also important to understand that the president is being kept aware every few hours of the developments that are going on.
MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to the issue of interrogation of terror suspects after 9/11, what a lot of people are calling the torture debate.
This administration decided to release legal memos authorizing these techniques from the Bush administration. And in light of that release, the president and top officials in the White House have made various statements, and I want to try to take you through these now.
April 16th, the president says, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” in terms of what should happen next. Then several days later, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel in an interview says, “Those who devised policy, [President Obama] believes that they should not be prosecuted, and it’s not the place that we go.” You were asked where this all goes on Monday. The question was, “Why are [Bush administration lawyers] not being held accountable?” You said, “The president is focused on looking forward, that’s why.” And then Tuesday the president again asked what should happen going forward now that these memos are out, and this is what he said.
PRES. OBAMA: With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws.
MR. GREGORY: Why the shifting positions?
MR. GIBBS: Well, David, I don’t think the president has shifted his position. I think what the president said on the Thursday in which the memos were released, all the way through this, he’s been consistent and clear: those that followed the legal advice, the four corners of the legal advice in good faith, those people should not and will not be prosecuted.
But the president, as you know, David, doesn’t determine who knowingly breaks the law or not. That’s set up and devised by the Justice Department and other lawyers and legal entities to decide those questions.
The president does strongly believe that these memos are a time for reflection on where we’ve been and not for retribution, and that we must look forward.
I think the most important thing to understand in all of this debate, David, is the most important step that was taken in the first almost 100 days of this administration relating to this debate was for the president to ban, once and for all, the use of enhanced interrogation techniques by anybody involved in this government.
MR. GREGORY: But this is about accountability at this stage and looking backward. I want to understand, the president is opening the door for criminal prosecution of Bush administration lawyers.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but, David…
MR. GREGORY: Why, why is he doing that?
MR. GIBBS: But, David, let’s understand. The president doesn’t open or close the door on criminal prosecutions of anybody in this country, because the legal determination about who knowingly breaks the law in any instance is not one that’s made by a president of the United States.
MR. GREGORY: I understand.
MR. GIBBS: But hold on a sec, I think it’s very important. This president campaigned very vehemently on the notion that the rule of law and that legal decisions should be made not by political figures, but by justice figures.
Just as scientific decisions about our environment or global warming shouldn’t be made by politicians, they should be made by scientists.
MR. GREGORY: Does the president believe or suspect that Bush administration lawyers conspired to violate the anti-torture law?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I, I think that’s a determination that the lawyers are going to make, and they’re going to have to take a look at them.
MR. GREGORY: There are those who say this is a president who’s playing politics. He is straddling this issue because he wants to appease his liberal activist base who very much wants accountability from the Bush years over this issue.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what’s important for anybody to understand in this is that the, the–we got to this point on these memos for one reason: there was legal case, a legal case that our Justice Department and many lawyers throughout the government felt was completely unwinnable.
Given that, the president does believe strongly in transparency and believed that there was no legal basis for which to withhold these memos. That’s why they were released.
MR. GREGORY: Is the view now that a congressional review, some kind of investigation should take place? Is that the president’s view?
MR. GIBBS: Well, David, right now currently the Senate Intelligence Committee is undertaking a review of interrogation policies and a host of things, given the fact that they have security clearances that allow them to look at different documents.
I think this administration believes strongly that if a review is to take place, the one that’s currently being done by the Intelligence Committee is the appropriate place for that.
MR. GREGORY: Why is that enough, though? Because those who want more accountability would say why a closed hearing in the Intelligence Committee? Shouldn’t there be moral accountability for these practices?
MR. GIBBS: Well, right.
MR. GREGORY: Shouldn’t there be some kind of truth commission?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the president had great fears that the debate that you’ve seen happen in this town on each side of this issue, at the extremes, has–that’s taken place would be what would envelop any commission that looked backward. That’s why his focus, David, the whole time is how we look forward in this country.
MR. GREGORY: So keep it at the Intelligence Committee level, don’t do a bigger truth commission.
MR. GIBBS: That’s the president’s view.
MR. GREGORY: Should Democrats be investigated as to why they didn’t take more actions to stop this when they were briefed about these practices?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I, I would leave the look backs and the reviews to the Intelligence Committee.
MR. GREGORY: But you think it should be bipartisan, both Democrats and Republicans should be scrutinized?
MR. GIBBS: I think, I think that is why the Intelligence Committee is the proper location for this to happen. You’ve got a bipartisan group there with the ability to do this in a way, I think and we hope, raises this above politics. That’s what’s truly important here. What are we doing, and what steps are we taking to keep this country safe and improve our image around the world?
MR. GREGORY: As you know, a big part of this debate is the question, do these techniques work? Was valuable intelligence obtained as a result of what some call enhanced interrogation techniques, others call torture? I want to show you two views, one from somebody who was actively involved and another one of the intelligence team members now working for President Obama. George Tenet wrote in his memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” this: “The most aggressive interrogation techniques conducted by CIA personnel were applied only to a handful of the worst terrorists on the planet, including people who had planned the 9/11 attacks. …
Information from these interrogations helped disrupt plots aimed at locations in the U.S., the U.K., the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia.” And then this from Admiral Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director for President Obama. This was a memo he wrote internally, and The New York Times reported it this way: “High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al-Qaeda organization that was attacking this country.” Do you doubt those conclusions?
MR. GIBBS: Well, David, I, I, you know, I, I don’t think you apparently have the slide where Admiral Blair, the director of national intelligence, says very clearly that, one, you can’t determine whether any information gotten from any suspect, good or bad, couldn’t also be gotten by another method. The, the totality of the use of these methods became a rallying cry and a recruitment tool for the very same people that wanted to do us harm, and that in his opinion and the opinion of both many in the administration to deal with national security as well as many that work outside of our administration, that the use of these techniques, the rallying cry and the recruitment tool that they provided al-Qaeda, the notion that you can’t determine the efficacy of these programs and that you might well have easily gotten any of the information procured this way in a different mean, that it actually makes our country less safe.
MR. GREGORY: I want to stop you on one point.
MR. GIBBS: And that it makes…
MR. GREGORY: You say you can’t determine efficacy of these programs. As you know, Vice President Cheney and others have said this is not a subjective question, the CIA has additional memos indicating what was gained from these practices. And I know there’s a process under way to review whether those additional memos should be released.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
MR. GREGORY: Is it the president’s view that they should be released?
MR. GIBBS: The president is, and the administration have taken the free–the request to declassify these memos that Vice President Cheney made March 31st. They’re in the very same process that if somebody else determined that a memo should be declassified. They’re being looked at by the administration. They’ll be examined by the director of central intelligence, the national security adviser. It’s a process that takes about three weeks. But I…
MR. GREGORY: But what does he want? Because it seems to me you could really put this to rest if you…
MR. GIBBS: Well…
MR. GREGORY: …released what they claim they found.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I, I think the president, as you know, is a big believer in transparency. I think one of the things that will have to be examined, David, is whether there are additional memos that have to be released that give a broader picture of what’s gone on in enhanced interrogation techniques.
There have been many op-eds, an op-ed written by the executive director of the 9/11 Commission in The New York Times on Friday which cast a lot of doubt on whether or not these techniques worked. And this–these were all the decisions that the president had to make in, in weighing whether or not to release these memos.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. GIBBS: But the president and his team and, as I said, many people that work outside of this administration but understand national security and how to keep our country safe, have said quite clearly that the use of these techniques was a rallying cry for the very same people that wanted to kill us, that wanted to do us harm. It made us less safe. It made us more susceptible.
And that the president has undertaken very specific actions, one, to end these enhanced interrogation techniques and improve our image around the world so that we can pursue our national interest.
MR. GREGORY: You’re saying unequivocally that under President Obama none of these techniques would have been pursued.
MR. GIBBS: The, the president, on the first full day of his administration, signed an executive order that banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.
MR. GREGORY: And at the time he would have done something differently, he would not have done the same things?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I, I can’t speak to what, what was going on in 2002. But I think the president believes very clearly, believed in 2002 and believes in 2009…
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. GIBBS: …that our country doesn’t have to choose between keeping our people safe and the values that make us America; that there are things that this country just simply doesn’t do, David. We don’t step over that line. That’s what this president firmly believes, because he understands that we can both protect our values and keep the men and women of our country and the men and women in uniform safe.
Another thing I would mention that I’ve heard General Jones, our national security adviser, and others say in meetings, that it is difficult to keep the men and women in uniform defending our country safe if–because of the use of these enhanced interrogation methods.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about 100 days. This is a marker that the media pays a lot of attention to, and certainly within the administration you look at it as well. At 100 days, how does the president think or want Americans to judge him? Based on what?
MR. GIBBS: I think in all honesty, David, he would want the American people to spend a good eight or 10 seconds reflecting on those 100 days but understand, as I know many of them do, they’re not grading us at what we did on the 23rd or 29th or 35th day, but what are we doing and what is the president of the United States doing each and every day to make the American people safer, to improve our economy, to stabilize our financial system, to make their lives a little bit better, help send their kids to college.
I think the American people understand that this is, as many in our administration have described, a little bit of a Hallmark holiday. But we’re focused not on what might have happened in the first 100 days, but what has to happen to lay that foundation for long-term economic growth and moving our country forward.
MR. GREGORY: And before you go, this is also 100 days for you as press secretary, the president’s spokesman, the face of the White House. I’ve covered a few press secretaries, and you have your own distinct style, particularly when it comes to calling out the president’s critics. And you did that when CNBC’s Rick Santelli was–offered a very high energy critique of the president’s housing plan. Let’s have a look at that.
(Videotape, February 20, 2009)
MR. GIBBS: I would encourage him to read the president’s plan and understand that it will help millions of people, many of whom he knows. I’d be more than happy to have him come here and read it. I’d be happy to buy him a cup of coffee, decaf. Let me do this, too. This is a copy of the president’s home affordability plan. It’s available on the White House Web site. And I would encourage him, download it, hit print and begin to read it.
MR. GREGORY: Your colleagues would say you have a pugnacious style at the podium. How do you approach this job and what do you find challenging about it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, first of all, David, let me say this is the funnest, most rewarding job that I’ve ever had, and it may well be the funnest and most rewarding job that I ever have. It is a lot of work each and every day.
You spend hours reading each morning to get ready to answer questions on any number of topics. David, the easy days are when you know that one topic is going to dominate the entire briefing.
It’s easier to get prepared. It’s the days that there are 10 or 15 subjects that you know people around the room are going to be interested in. It’s important to have access to and talk regularly with the president of the United States.
I’m asked each and every day what he thinks, and I have to have a good line of communication with him and other senior advisers in the White House to understand the decision-making process and what goes about in their daily activities.
It’s the most fun I’ve ever had, it truly is. Sometimes I may have a little bit too much caffeine, but it’s a, it’s a great job. I, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
MR. GREGORY: As they say in the press room, no more questions. Robert Gibbs, thank you very much.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, David.
MR. GREGORY: Coming next, our exclusive interview with His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan on the Middle East peace, Iran, terrorism and the debate over torture. Plus, our roundtable on the Obama administration’s first 100 days with presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and editor of Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham, here only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: King Abdullah of Jordan, plus our roundtable with Jon Meachman and Doris Kearns Goodwin after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We’re back. King Abdullah of Jordan spent the last week here in Washington with a full agenda: meeting with the president, the secretary of state, congressional leaders and a full military arrival ceremony at the Pentagon. Before returning to Jordan on Friday, he stopped here at MEET THE PRESS for an exclusive interview.
Your Majesty, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
KING ABDULLAH II: Thank you very much.
MR. GREGORY: President Obama is now the third U.S. president that you have worked with. You spent time with him this week and even during the campaign. Tell me your impressions here as he comes upon 100 days in office?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, I–from I think day one that I, I, I met him, a very impressive man. A lot of depth. A lot of, I think, instinctive understanding of the challenges that the world faces. And obviously I’m here in Washington to talk about relaunching negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and Israelis and Arabs, and we had a meeting of the minds, very fruitful discussions. And I think he has a clear understanding of, of what the challenges are.
MR. GREGORY: How do you compare him to the president you worked the most with, and that’s President Bush?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, I think, again, President Bush had the instinctive understanding that we have to solve the core issue of the Middle East, which is the Israeli-Palestinian ones. We’re here relaunching an initiative that allows Arabs to reach out to Israel if we can move on the two-state solution, which is critical for stability and peace for our region.
MR. GREGORY: But is it fair to say that at the end of President Bush’s term in office you grew more impatient with him and his team and his approach?
KING ABDULLAH II: I think he was dedicated to moving the process forward. I think I was getting frustrated with the team that didn’t have a sense of urgency. But a lot has changed in the world–the economic crisis for one, recently–that if we don’t sort of get a win somewhere, 2009, 2010 is going to be very difficult.
MR. GREGORY: Speaking about President Bush, last December he spoke about the frustration along the path of his presidency, but also the state of the Middle East as he saw it. This is what he said.
(Videotape, December 5, 2008)
FMR. PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Despite these frustrations and disappointments, the Middle East in 2008 is a freer, more hopeful and more promising place than it was in 2001.
MR. GREGORY: Do you agree with that?
KING ABDULLAH II: Yes, but nowhere near what we need as the endgame. I mean, it’s all relative at the end of the day. Until you solve the problem, you’re going to get an up and down on how free or stable it is. But we still haven’t solved the core issue.
So you can’t say that, that the, the future for the Middle East is any brighter. Unless we solve the core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab challenges, then we will always be an area of instability that costs all of us.
MR. GREGORY: But it’s interesting that you raise that point as that being the core problem. You ask most Americans and certainly the government, the core problem out of the Middle East right now is terrorism, is al-Qaeda. And President Obama spoke about that very issue and seemed to be speaking to voices like yours when he was recently in France. Listen to that.
(Videotape, April 3, 2009)
PRES. OBAMA: Al-Qaeda is still bent on carrying out terrorist activity. It is–you know, don’t fool yourselves. Because some people say, “Well, you know, if, if we changed our policies with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or, or if we were more respectful towards the Muslim world, suddenly these organizations would stop threatening us.” That’s just not the case.
MR. GREGORY: He seems to be contradicting you a bit.
KING ABDULLAH II: Not at all. What, what, what he’s trying to say and, and what I’m trying to say is the challenge that we have in front of American public is connecting the dots. Any crisis that you want to talk about, whether it’s al-Qaeda, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, all comes back to the sore, the emotional issue that is Palestine and Jerusalem. Any conflict that you pick in the Middle East today, all roads lead back to Jerusalem is probably be a better way of, of explaining it. So until you deal with the Palestinian issue it is more difficult to deal with al-Qaeda, whether it’s Pakistan, all these other problems that you’re facing.
MR. GREGORY: But, but isn’t–doesn’t that suggest, and he seems to be suggesting that that’s not the case; that if you just solve this problem that somehow al-Qaeda goes away, isn’t that fantasy?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, well, but what, what is al-Qaeda’s platform is, is, is the, the plight of the Palestinians in Jerusalem under occupation.
MR. GREGORY: That’s what they say. Is that what they really believe?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, I mean, you’re always going to have extremist elements that are going to be there to, to find a, a, a platform for recruiting. But you can’t really take them that seriously when the core issue, the major grievance in the Arab and Muslim world is solved. And so in Arab and Muslim minds, the most emotional aspect is the Palestinian cause and that of Jerusalem. And from there leads all the other problems.
MR. GREGORY: As you know, the president is expected to speak to the world, to the Muslim world, to the Arab world from an Arab capital some time during the first 100 days. It may slip and go beyond the first 100 days. What do you think his message should be?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, his message has been consistent in that he is showing that America has an outreach to the Muslim and Arab world. We in, in Jordan initiated the, the Amman Message, which is an outreach of–well, actually inter-Islam to begin with, but also to Christians, Muslims and other–Jews and other faiths in the world. But I think it’s never done at the level–it never has been done at the level of the president of the United States.
You have the most powerful, most capable country in the world, and the message of outreach from Obama has resonated extremely well in the Arab world. But again, that’s only delaying the, the, the confrontation or the, the conflict unless we solve the core issue.
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
KING ABDULLAH II: And I–every time you come up and show me an example of a, of a problem, I’m going to point you back towards the Palestinians and Jerusalem.
MR. GREGORY: What’s the image of the United States in the Middle East today?
KING ABDULLAH II: Fantastic.
MR. GREGORY: Really?
KING ABDULLAH II: I, I, I, I, I want to say that I have been following, by chance, President Obama around the world. I was in England a, a day or two behind him, I was in the Czech Republic. I just come from Japan on the way here to Washington. Wherever you go, and all the leaders that I’ve spoken to the–in the Middle East, this president provides hope. Now, there was tremendous sympathy internationally for the United States and anger after 9/11, but today there’s a collective hope that there’s a new America. And a new America means new values for, for the world. What everybody believed America to stand for is what I think Obama encompasses. But how long is that goodwill going to last? And that’s some of the challenges that you have.
MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to an issue that has really gripped this country this week, and that is the issue of how the United States government and its interrogators treated September 11th prisoners after those attacks. You were sitting next to President Obama this week when this question came up about the release of those memos about how to treat prisoners, the, the–and the torture issue, and this is what he had to say.
PRES. OBAMA: We rely on some very courageous people not just in our military, but also in the Central Intelligence Agency, to help protect the American people. Having said that, the, the OLC memos that were released reflected, in my view, us losing our moral bearings. That’s why I’ve discontinued those enhanced interrogation programs.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think the United States lost its moral bearings?
KING ABDULLAH II: I, I think that the view of America was negatively affected by, by this issue. This–look, I mean, the questions that have been asked of the president, me as a non-American, it’s, it’s in a way none of my business. But all I will say is that when you want to go down that path that you’re opening sort of Pandora’s box of where, where does it end. We…
MR. GREGORY: Do you think the United States engaged in torture?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, from what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard, that–there are enough accounts to show that that is the case. But there is still a major battle out there, and I think that America–and I think this is what President Obama is trying to do, is make sure that the, the legal system that America is known for is, is, is transparent to make sure that…
MR. GREGORY: Right.
KING ABDULLAH II: …illegal activities aren’t taking place.
MR. GREGORY: That’s an important point. You actually do believe that the United States engaged in torture.
KING ABDULLAH II: From what I see on, on, on, on the press, that shows that there were illegal ways of, of dealing with detainees.
MR. GREGORY: Does torture work?
KING ABDULLAH II: I…
MR. GREGORY: Does it produce valuable intelligence?
KING ABDULLAH II: I’m not an expert to be able to say one way or another if it does. Again, it’s such a gray area when it comes to, to a country at war. I think there, there are smarter ways of being able to deal with getting information.
MR. GREGORY: But yet Jordan is one of the most stalwart U.S. allies in the Middle East. There’s a lot of business that’s done between the two countries and a very tight relationship. Did Jordan engage in torture in concert with the United States?
KING ABDULLAH II: No. And I, I, I have been told by my people that I’ve asked on, on many occasions, as these international issues came up, I think that we have been very smart in, in, in being intelligent of convincing operatives that we have come across to, to end up working for us. And you can’t do that when it comes to torture.
MR. GREGORY: The Human Rights Watch issued a report about Jordan which contradicts that, and it said the following. I’ll put it on the screen and allow you to react to it. “From 2001 until at least 2004, Jordan’s General Intelligence Department served as a proxy jailer for the U.S. CIA, holding prisoners that the CIA apparently wanted kept out of circulation, and later handing some of them back to the CIA. More than just warehousing these men, the GID interrogated them using methods that were even more brutal than those in which the CIA has been implicated to date. … If the Jordanians did indeed promise the U.S. authorities that prisoners rendered there would not be tortured, it was a promise that neither the U.S. nor Jordan believed.”
KING ABDULLAH II: I–when that report came out, or when I was asked that question I think by one of your colleagues several years ago, I went straight back to my director of intelligence at the time and I said, “Is there any foundations to this?” And he said categorically no. And I made it quite clear to him and all the colleagues that have come up the ranks since then that we don’t tolerate that. So I’d like to think that my people were telling me the truth.
MR. GREGORY: Bottom line on this, do you think you can defeat an enemy like al-Qaeda without resorting to what some people would consider torture?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, again, if we look at how Jordanians have been successful in the past in being able to get people to work for us back against terrorist organizations, I think using your intelligence and, and a good, sound argument have, for us, has shown a way of extreme success. And obviously I can’t go into any, any operations in the past or ongoing operations.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
KING ABDULLAH II: But I think that your intelligence would probably tell you that our method works.
MR. GREGORY: Will the release of photographs of detained prisoners who are apparently abused, being released in the United States this week, will that inflame the situation even more? Will it hurt the U.S. in the Middle East and beyond?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, it, it will–obviously any pictures or any cases like that will have a negative attitude internationally. But again, I think President Obama has been very clear in, in his campaign and very clear from, from the start that that is not tolerated. America is providing a new image of what and how things should be done. And I think that the world has a belief in the president, a lot of faith in what he has to say. Obviously the pressure on the president is to deliver.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
KING ABDULLAH II: But the carte blanche that you’ve started with is actually a pretty good one and I hope one that is not, not used properly.
MR. GREGORY: I want to get to a couple of important matters, both Iran and the question of Israeli-Palestinian peace. First with Iran. What are Iran’s intentions in the Middle East?
KING ABDULLAH II: I, I think as in previous decades, it would like to be the policeman of the gulf. It wants to have its presence felt in, in the region. And having said that, I think that President Obama’s gesture of, of, of a dialogue is one that Iran shouldn’t take for granted, and let’s see where dialogue will take us.
MR. GREGORY: The new prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been very clear, and he agrees with the United States in this regard, and that is that Iran is pursuing a nuclear program, they believe. And this is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said to Jeff Goldberg in an interview of The Atlantic magazine. He said: “The Iranian nuclear challenge represents a `hinge of history’ and added that `Western civilization’ will have failed if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons. … `You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult,'” he said, “`controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.'” Do you see it that way?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, again, let me go back to saying I think that the challenge we have here in America of connecting the dots. If you have an issue that the threat that Iran poses to Israel, which is what Netanyahu was saying, the best way of solving that problem is solving the core issue, which is the Palestinian problem and that of Jerusalem. Because that regime goes to their people to say that the reason why we have nuclear weapons, the reason that we need to, to challenge Israel is, is because of the suffering of the Palestinians and the occupation of Jerusalem.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
KING ABDULLAH II: I go back to–if we, if we start solving this Israeli-Palestinian problem, it allows us to get Arabs and Muslims to the, to the negotiating table with the, with the Israelis, then there’s not a problem anymore.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think a nuclear program in Iran is inevitable?
KING ABDULLAH II: There’s more of an incentive for the Iranians to continue down that path when there’s an argument that they want to use in front of their people that Palestinians are under occupation. I would imagine that when it comes to an economy that is suffering, like many economies are suffering around the world, a nuclear military program is extremely expensive. And if you’ve solved the core issue in the Middle East, I think a lot of leaders will be sort of checking their calculators to see whether it’s worth to go down the military nuclear road.
MR. GREGORY: And what do you think is the best way for the United States to pursue or to persuade Iran to back away from a nuclear program?
KING ABDULLAH II: Solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
MR. GREGORY: That’s it.
KING ABDULLAH II: That allows us to then solve the Israeli-Arab-Muslim problem.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
KING ABDULLAH II: There’s 57 nations in the world, a third of the United Nations, that don’t recognize Israeli today. So what we’re doing is saying 57 nations, Iran has signed this document, believe it or not, that is saying, “Look, Israel, if you solve the Palestinian problem, if you allow us to solve the problems of Jerusalem, we all want to have peace with you.”
MR. GREGORY: Do you think Iran fears an attack from Israel, fears an attack from the United States?
KING ABDULLAH II: I think all of us consider that, that–no, I think not from the United States. But the, the rogue question would be what Israel would do. And therefore, I think it is an imperative over the next month or two to start negotiations, because I think any military strike against Iraq–Iran would be extremely counterproductive and I, I don’t see the outcome of that. OK, you hit Iran. What happens then? And it’s the, the not knowing I think creates a lot of fears with all of us around the world.
MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to the very important issue of Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. Your father, King Hussein, was on this program 40 years ago talking about his concern that time was slipping away to solve this issue. This is what he said.
KING HUSSEIN I: The ability of all to move towards peace are being impaired. If conditions remain the way they are I believe there is very, very grave danger of an explosion in the area or at least the loss of this chance, which we feel is the first and maybe the last one, of establishing a just and thus durable peace in the area.
MR. GREGORY: Forty years later you are preparing your own memoir, and the working title at this point is “The Last Best Chance.” A similar message to your father 40 years ago.
KING ABDULLAH II: That’s right.
MR. GREGORY: What do you mean by that?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, what, what I’m trying to do with this book is to explain the dynamics have changed in the Middle East, and really this is our last best chance. What my late father was saying is that then there was a major opportunity slipping past. And I think 40 years later how many wars, how much death and destruction, how many Israelis, Arabs and Muslims have lost their lives. Are we prepared to go another decade? And believe you me, if we do not solve the problem today of the Israelis and Palestinians, it’s only going to be a matter of time of another conflict.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
KING ABDULLAH II: And I had come here to the United States to predict the war in Lebanon several months before, I came to predict that…(unintelligible)…was going to happen, although it took me by surprise by being two months earlier. I thought it was going to happen by the time Obama came into office. And in the next 18 months, if we don’t move the process forward and bring people to the negotiation table, there will be another conflict between Israel and another protagonist. And how many people have to continue to lose their lives? And so the message of the book is basically say this is our last chance, because geographically the future of a Palestinian state is under fire. And we’re now arriving at the crossroads that if we do not have a negotiator separate from Israelis and Palestinians, then there may never be a chance. So Israel has to decide, does it want to make a relationship with 57 nations or does it want to stay Fortress Israel? And how does that hurt all of us?
MR. GREGORY: And was your message to President Obama, “We need a complete paradigm shift here. It is time for the United States to impose a solution, time for the United States to start making some demands”? Is that your view?
KING ABDULLAH II: The only way that we’re going to be able to solve this problem–you–if it, if it’s left to the players, the Israelis and Palestinians by themselves, we’re not going to get anywhere. It can only happen if there is an American umbrella with a determined American president that is going to get the Israelis and Palestinians to sit on the table, because both sides historically have always come an excuse why not to go the last mile. And I believe that Obama understands how much this resonates. For the first time, I think Americans can clearly say that a two-state solution is in the vital national interests of the United States.
MR. GREGORY: I don’t want to have you go without asking you about the fragile situation in Pakistan. The United States, this administration has said Pakistan is not doing enough to stand up to the Taliban in that northwest frontier. How concerned are you?
KING ABDULLAH II: I think Pakistan should be of tremendous concern to, to, to all of us, and these are one of a multitude of, of, of discussions that we had with the president. And again, I think that as you move towards Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation I hope in the next month or two, Arab and Muslim countries will be doing more to assist coalition forces, assist the Pakistanis in being able to deal with that threat. But people are looking for a signal of the United States. And I know that President Obama is waiting until Prime Minister Netanyahu comes here and listens to what he has to say. But if right after that visit there’s not a clear understanding of how America is going to weigh in on these problems, then I think the goodwill of the United States will disappear and I think that people will start cutting their own deals.
MR. GREGORY: And finally, a lot of attention on gift-giving right now as the president travels overseas. He gave DVDs and he also gave an iPod to the queen of England. You came here bearing a gift that was very interesting. You gave the president a royal weaponry set complete with four different types of daggers and an ax. Are you preparing the president for battle here, Your Majesty?
KING ABDULLAH II: I think the president is prepared for battle, and basically he knows that he has somebody standing next to him on his right and helping him through this.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Your Majesty, good luck.
KING ABDULLAH II: Thank you very much, sir.
MR. GREGORY: Thank you very much for being here.
KING ABDULLAH II: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: Coming next, insights and analysis on President Obama’s first 100 days in office. Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meachman after this brief station break.
MR. GREGORY: If you like politics, you’ll love the new MEET THE PRESS politics quiz on Facebook. It’s exclusively at whatsyouricue.com and features hundreds of questions and NBC News videos. Test yourself, challenge your friends. What’s your politics IQ?
MR. GREGORY: We’re back, joined by presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and the editor of Newsweek magazine, Jon Meacham.
Welcome to both of you. So, 100 days. Ruth Marcus in The Washington Post has an interesting a column today in which he says that the first 100 days are like the opening chapter of an unfinished novel. Doris, what have we learned about this president after 100 days?
MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I think we’ve learned a lot about his leadership. We’ve learned that he’s a man who is enjoying the job of being president, which is really important. You know, somebody said to FDR in the middle of all those challenges, “How can you bear all of this?” And he said, “Wouldn’t anybody want to be president?”
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. GOODWIN: It’s the best job in the world. If you frees your psychic energy by loving the job, that’s one thing. We’ve learned that he loves to speak to the American people, that he’s willing to risk the overexposure in order to establish that connection with the American people. We’ve learned that he somehow shapes his own day. I mean, I think it’s great that he gets up in the morning, has breakfast with the kids before going to the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan did the same thing. He said–not with the kids, but he got to the Oval Office later. Somebody said, “There’ll be a national security adviser there at 7:15. You’ve got to be there, Mr. President.” He said, “That guy’s going to be waiting a long time. I’m going when I want to.”
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. GOODWIN: If you can find ways to sustain your spirit and maintain a sense of normalcy, the fact that he goes out and he has dinner in the White House–I mean, in the, in the Washington, D.C., area, that he goes on ESPN, all of that frees up, I think, your energies to replenish yourself and allow you to become a good president.
MR. GREGORY: Jon, it’s interesting. We’re talking about temperament here. It applies to the substance.
MR. JON MEACHAM: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: This is a president who almost instantly looks in the mirror and says, “I am the go-to guy” when it comes to pulling it all together, providing leadership, providing the way forward and communicating all of that. You expect that out of a president, but it comes in varying degrees.
MR. MEACHAM: It’s the politics of calm, in many ways. And I think we’ll study these 100 days and possibly the entire administration, ultimately, as a case study in crisis management in which he is trying to do something quite fascinating. He’s doing a counterculture–running a countercultural presidency. In a news–in a world run by news cycles that move so fast, stories burn so brightly, he’s saying, no, that we will be–he quoted St. Paul in his inaugural address, to use another one, “Be patient in tribulation.”
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MR. MEACHAM: He’s arguing for a kind of patience. It’s a projection of his personal characteristics on the politics of the moment. And that is one of the things that defines a great president, if he becomes one.
MR. GREGORY: And yet critics would say one of the things that he’s done in 100 days already is expand the role of government, the size of government, the level of activism of government to a point that has put this country on a very dangerous heading, particularly financially, for the longer term.
MS. GOODWIN: You know, on the other hand, that’s what he ran for the presidency in the first place for. He thought this was a moment in time when people realized that government had to take a more active role in solving the problems. That was his whole campaign. And I think to a certain extent, by doing a lot of things at once, at least setting the groundwork for them–he knows he’s not going to get everything at the same time. But if he does get health care, then he can move toward alternative energy, then he can move toward education. By having those task forces going, by having Congress starting to work–you know, LBJ was told in ’65, “You just got the Civil Rights Act desegregating the South through in ’64, you had your war on poverty. Go slow, the country has to absorb these things.” He said, “No. The momentum is here, I’ve got to move forward.” He went for voting rights, he went for Medicare, he went for aid to education, he went for immigration reform, and he got those things because the country was ready. He’s making a decision that the country’s ready for this act of his government.
MR. GREGORY: And isn’t it interesting, a new poll from The Washington Post/ABC News out just today measuring people’s sense of whether the country’s headed in the right direction, and for the first time, look at these numbers. In January he takes office, only 19 percent thought the country was headed in the right direction. Now that’s 50 percent, more than think it’s headed in the wrong direction. Jon, even at such an anxious time for the country.
MR. MEACHAM: Yeah. I think he wants to make a lot of big plays, and he knows that presidents are only remembered for two or three things. I think this argument about doing too much too quickly actually underestimates the people.
MS. GOODWIN: I agree.
MR. MEACHAM: I think that the American people are a sophisticated and mature republic and can, I think, think about more than one thing at once. And I think, again, as Doris says, does no one listen during campaigns? This happened with–you know, you covered President Bush. He use to say, when they say, “Well, why are you really cutting taxes?” He said, “Well, you know, this is what I ran on.”
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. GOODWIN: Right.
MR. MEACHAM: He ran on changing the conversation. In, in the same way President Reagan changed it center right, Obama wants to change things to center left. And that’s the issue before us.
MS. GOODWIN: You know, I think that…
MR. GREGORY: And yet he’s got to–yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.
MS. GOODWIN: I was going to say, I think that right track, wrong track thing is huge, because what that shows is this mystery of leadership, that somehow you can change the American people’s feeling about their country because you’re there. You know, when FDR got into office there was this incredible letter sent to him by somebody who said, “Oh, my dog is hurt, my roof is falling in, I’ve lost my job, my, my wife is mad at me, but you are there so everything’s going to be all right.”
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. GOODWIN: That’s the extraordinary transference of a leaders to the mood of a country.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. GOODWIN: And if you can get confidence in the country going, that’s the most important thing he’s done in these 100 days.
MR. GREGORY: But there’s–this is a question of leadership. Again, what critics would say, if you look at how this president handled the bonus question with AIG, he knew that in the scheme of things it was not the biggest deal to this administration. And yet when the politics shifted, he stood up and said, “Yeah, those bonuses are table–terrible, and I’m angry.” Perhaps the leadership moment there was to say to the country, “Calm down, it’s not the most important thing.” Here on this memos now he seems to be shifting positions because he’s got a left wing of his party that says there must be accountability from the Bush administration. The politics of looking backward are tricky.
MR. MEACHAM: They are hugely complicated, and my sense is we have not seen the end of this story. I think that they are keeping some options open. I’m personally in favor of a 9/12 Commission, where we find someone like Jack Danforth and Sam Nunn and do some something like the 9/11 Commission where you review the entire war on terror. Did rendition work, did the unmanned aerial drones, as well as the, the interrogation techniques? And I, I suspect that what they’ve shown themselves to be are quite pragmatic, quiet realistic. That was the AIG example you raised. He didn’t want to jump on it. There was a huge moment of populist rage. But remember, it was just a moment. I mean, it burn, it burned very quickly. And what’s going to happen, for all the stylistic points, all the temperament points, he’s going to be judged on whether this stuff works.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MEACHAM: And whether the, whether the economy comes back and how he confronts still unforeseen national security challenges.
MR. GREGORY: Isn’t this question about torture, Doris, if you put it in an historical context, we have to ask the large question, which is can you defeat an enemy like al-Qaeda without compromising the nation’s character? Can you?
MS. GOODWIN: I…
MR. GREGORY: I mean, is that a debate that should go forward?
MS. GOODWIN: I mean, one has to hope so, that it’s possible to do; as everybody was saying before, that the moral values of our nation are what we are known for abroad. I think the interesting question about why he wanted to look forward instead of back, I think he recognizes, as all leaders do, that you only have a certain number of resources in time, focus and imagination. And if the country goes off on a jag, you’re going to lose–look at even now, we’ve been talking about torture this morning rather than maybe what should have been talked about if he had his way, which was this new speech that he just made about the importance of every time you have a tax increase you’re going to have to use that to go for the tax cut. Every time you have a increased spending, you’re going to have to have some sort of reduction in spending. That’s a big thing he was talking about. You lose, you lose command of the airwaves with these things, and I think that was his initial instinct of hoping that somehow we could put this behind us. But once that elephant is in the room with that CIA memo…
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. GOODWIN: …options are lost. They’re going to have to do something.
MR. MEACHAM: I, I, I disagree a little bit. I think that the, to go to your phrase of politics of looking back, is the mature thing to do. And if we are right about our first point that the people can handle a lot of things, then finding a smart, moderate, intelligent way to look back, find out what this history of these seven years can teach us about how to fight terrorism, as you say, can we do this and preserve our moral values? Well, Abraham Lincoln didn’t. FDR didn’t. Great war presidents have always committed great sins, whether it’s suspending habeas corpus or detaining Japanese…
MS. GOODWIN: Incarcerating, incarceration.
MR. MEACHAM: …Japanese-Americans. And so life is messy. Life is complicated. But we have to understand this history, because if we don’t then we–I think we’re unilaterally disarming, in a way, as we push forward.
MS. GOODWIN: How could I go against looking back at history? I must yield to your greater judgment.
MR. MEACHAM: There you go. There you go. There you go.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. But, Doris, I–you know what’s–talk to people, and they want to know, you know, what’s he like? What are president’s like? How do they make decisions? And somebody close to the president said he’s got a very disciplined mind. What do we know about how he makes decisions?
MS. GOODWIN: Well, it sounds like one thing he does is to bring people into the room and ask them to debate different sides of the issue so that he can get alternative points of view, and that what I’ve heard him say, or other people say, is that he asks people who have been quiet in the room, “Speak up. I want to hear what you said.” That’s a very healthy thing. Again, going back to FDR, there was a certain time when he was in a room and he was explaining a pet project and everybody said, “Oh, it’s great, Mr. President. It’s great.” George Marshall didn’t say a word. He said, “George, what do you think?” and Marshall said, “I don’t agree with you at all, Mr. President.” Instead of being mad at him, he lifted him 34 feet up–not 34 feet up, 34 generals up to become his chief. And I think that’s the way you want to have a president to make decisions, to have as many points of view there, listen to them and then think, think.
MR. GREGORY: All right, we’re going to leave it there. Thanks both of you very much. And congratulations to Jon Meacham…
MS. GOODWIN: Yeah!
MR. GREGORY: …who won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography on Andrew Jackson, “American Lion.” Well deserved. And two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and historians here, thank you very much.
We’re going to continue this discussion on line with Jon and Doris, and ask some questions that our viewers have submitted via e-mail and Twitter. Watch our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web extra. It’s up this afternoon on our Web site. Plus, look for updates from me throughout the week. It’s all at mtp.msnbc.com. And we’ll be right back.
MR. GREGORY: A program note before we go. Tonight as part of Green Week, MSNBC premieres “Future Earth: Journey to the End of the World” reported by Lester Holt. It airs at 10 PM Eastern and Pacific time.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.