NBC's Today Show

September 8, 2003

HEADLINE: Howard Dean discusses the president's speech, Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan and the Middle East


MATT LAUER, co-host:

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is running for the Democratic nomination for president.

Governor Dean, good morning to you.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Democratic Presidential Candidate): Good morning, Matt.

LAUER: You didn't waste any time. Shortly after the president spoke to the nation you held a conference call. You called his speech nothing short of outrageous and said the president was, quote, “beginning to remind me of what was happening with Lyndon Johnson and Dick Nixon during the Vietnam War.” Explain that to me.

Mr. DEAN: I think this pres—the president and I think Condoleezza Rice have deliberately left a false impression that, one, Saddam Hussein was—had something to do with 9/11.

Two, that there were terrorists actively working out of Iraq. There's no evidence for either one of those, other than some peripheral evidence that is circumstantial. The fact is we are now bogged down in a war which the president continually justifies. We are spending as much as we did in Vietnam on an annual basis...

LAUER: So what—are—are you saying, Governor that...

Mr. DEAN: ...and that—between Iraq and Afghanistan.

LAUER: Are you saying that the administration is deliberately misleading the American people to justify an invasion and sending troops to Iraq?

Mr. DEAN: The president is leaving the false impression that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, and the false impression that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were in league attacking the United States. The truth is there are likely to be more al-Qaeda in Iraq now attacking American troops and Iraqis than there were al-Qaeda before Saddam Hussein was removed.

LAUER: So—so you were one of the people that Katie—Katie was just referring with Dr. Rice, one of these people who feels that Iraq was not a threat prior to the war, and that after the war now we see al-Qaeda sympathizers and organizers streaming into that country. So we've created the terrorist threat, as opposed to reacting to it?

Mr. DEAN: We—we have—we have picked the wrong target. North Korea's a much more dangerous problem for Iraq—for the United States. This administration has essentially ignored it, and I think it's time that we focused on the really major threats. Iran, frankly, is a greater threat to the United States than Iraq ever was.

LAUER: You said this...

Mr. DEAN: But Saddam Hussein is a dreadful—Saddam Hussein is a dreadful person, but we are now bogged down, 73 percent as you have just said, of our troops are deployed. And what's—what are we going to do if we really have a threat that's a serious threat to the United States such as in North Korea? What are we going to do about homeland security where a vast majority of our cargo containers come into here—into this country every day uninspected?

LAUER: Let me ask you...

Mr. DEAN: What are we going to do...

LAUER: Go ahead.

Mr. DEAN: ...about buying enriched uranium stocks in the Soviet Union which this president is going nothing about? We're supposed to be buying those stocks under a cooperative threat reduction. If that gets in terrorist hands than we're really in trouble.

LAUER: Let me ask you about...

Mr. DEAN: I think we...

LAUER: ...troop strength here because it's—some of your statements over the past year or so have been difficult to pin down. Right now we have about 138,000 US troops in Iraq.

Mr. DEAN: Mm-hmm.

LAUER: There's a division of international troops there. The president has called—has said he'd like to see another division of international troops. So that would take us up to about 170,000 troops in that area. Is that a sufficient number, in your opinion, to secure the peace in Iraq?

Mr. DEAN: General Shinseki advised before we went into Iraq that we have 200,000 troops. The administration ignored him. What I would like to do is bring a significant portion of our troops home and substitute for them additional foreign troops, Arabic-speaking troops from Muslim countries such as Egypt and Morocco. The United Nations, NATO forces, they have more expertise in...

LAUER: Give me the numbers there, though, Governor. How many troops of ours would you bring home? How many US troops would you leave in Iraq?

Mr. DEAN: Ultimately, over a period of time, assuming you can get the cooperation of the Europeans and others, I would like to reduce by half the number of troops the Americans have in Iraq and increase dramatically so that we get up to a troop strength between 170,000 and 200,000 in Iraq. We also need more troops in Afghanistan and those need to be foreign troops as well. We are overcommitted. I think this president has made a—a reckless blunder here, and we are now targets in Iraq. We have now lost more soldiers since the president declared peace on that aircraft carrier than we did beforehand.

LAUER: The president...

Mr. DEAN: We're in trouble and we need the help of all the people that this president insulted on the way into Iraq.

LAUER: The president's going to go to Congress. He's asking now for $87 billion for his war on terrorism and the rebuilding on Iraq. If you were a member of Congress would you vote to support that request?

Mr. DEAN: I'm not a member of Congress, and I'm not running for Congress. I'm running for president of the United States, so I can tell you what I would do as president of the United States.

LAUER: Do you think that's a fair amount?

Mr. DEAN: I have no idea of estimating that. The president has come up with those. We'll see how he got to those numbers. And—and we haven't seen any paperwork as to how he arrived at those numbers. But I can tell you that both Iraq and Afghanistan are not getting—the troops are not getting the support they deserve from this administration. And this president went into Iraq without having any idea of what was going to happen. That, I thought, as a terrible blunder.

LAUER: Let me read you something from a—a Time magazine article written by Joe Klein that's just come out. It says, quote, “As his campaign gains altitude, he seems to change a position a week. In the debate he changed two, first on American troops in Iraq, then on American labor standards on trade.” How do you respond, Governor, to the—to the feeling among some people that you're feeling your way through certain issues as your campaign builds momentum?

Mr. DEAN: I think that Joe—I respect him as a journalist, but he's wrong in both counts. I think what's going on now is because the other campaigns are getting nervous and they're feeding journalists all this kind of thing. They choose—they pick on every single word and decide I've changed it. I said we ought to withdraw troops from Iraq, they construe that to mean all our troops. I never said any such thing. I think these journalists that have begun to write this and the other campaign spin folks, if they're going to write this, have got to follow me around and see what I say at the different speeches. I probably give 70 speeches a week. There's no inconsistency in—in any of the positions that I took in the debate last week.

LAUER: Really quickly, if you don't mind, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has resigned. That leaves Yasser Arafat front and center again. How should the US respond to that?

Mr. DEAN: This is an area where I support the president. I think Yasser Arafat is not interested in peace. I think he never has been. I think he's an un—unreliable negotiating partner. So I look forward to the new appointment of the new prime minister and I hope we'll be able to deal with him. I thought Abbas was a reasonable partner, Arafat is not.

LAUER: Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

Governor Dean, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

Mr. DEAN: Thank you.

Copyright 2003 National Broadcasting Co. Inc. NBC News Transcripts


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