When Sen. Hilary Clinton appeared Monday on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, she faced a series of highly specific questions about her recent statements and campaign strategies.
In particular, Olbermann asked Clinton to clarify her recent suggestion that the United States should “create an umbrella of deterrence” over the entire Middle East and threaten “massive retaliation” against Iran for an attack on any country in the region.
“I think deterrence has not been effectively used in recent times,” Clinton explained, implying she believes that Iran should be perceived as a threat comparable to the former Soviet Union. “We used it very well during the Cold War.”
“If Iran were to become a nuclear power, it could set off an arms race,” Clinton continued. “The countries in the region are not going to want Iran to be the only nuclear power.”
Clinton’s suggestion that Iran might trigger an arms race appeared not to take account of the fact that Iran’s immediate neighbor, Pakistan already possesses nuclear weapons, as does India. Israel, which has refused to either confirm or deny whether it has a nuclear weapons program, is widely believed to have an arsenal of over a hundred warheads. Other nations in the region, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have also been reported as interested in obtaining nuclear capability.
“We would try to help the other countries that might be intimidated and bullied into submission by Iran,” Clinton concluded.
Olbermann next asked about Clinton’s use of an image of Osama bin Laden in a new ad. “That tactic has been kind of a bloody shirt for many Democrats,” he noted, pointing to its use in the defeat of Sen. Max Cleland in 2002 and calling it a “scare tactic.”
Clinton insisted that the ad was actually about “leadership,” arguing that “the next president will be sworn in at a time of very, very difficult world conditions” and “I want people to understand what a serious decision it is.”
“We’re going to have to go toe to toe with John McCain on national security,” she stated.
Olbermann finally asked about Senator Clinton’s recent meeting with and acceptance of an endorsement from Richard Mellon Scaife, who was considered in the 1990’s to be a central figure of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that she herself described as targeting President Clinton.
As Clinton laughed at length, Olbermann reinforced his question, saying, “Seriously, to some degree, Senator, I quit this job the first time around because of Richard Mellon Scaife and people like him.”
Clinton finally stopped laughing to respond, “Well, Keith, nobody was more surprised than I. … I was dumbfounded, both to have been invited and then to have been endorsed. But I do believe in redemption, Keith. I believe in deathbed conversions, and I think it’s possible for anyone to see the error of their ways.”
This video is from MSNBC’s Countdown, broadcast April 21, 2008.
Download videoTranscript via closed captions:: senator, how are you from harrisburg, pennsylvania?:: i’m great.:: something that got remarkably shirt thrift in last week’s debate is the election in the fall going to be decided on the price of the gallon of gas and is it not true a president can’t do anything about the price of a gallon of gas?:: well, i think it’s going to be very much influenced by the economy. i don’t know what else might happen between now and then. it appears to me the economy is not going to recover. and in fact the price of gas will be a big issue. i think oil hit $117 a barrel today, which is just unbelievable. when george bush became president it was $20 a barrel. i do think there are things we can do in the short run. i would launch an investigation to make sure there’s not market min ip lags going on. i’m still haunted by what we learned during the enron scandal about the electricity traders manipulating the market and causing the people in california, oregon and washington to pay such high prices that were not at all related to supply and demand. i would also release the oil from the strategic petroleum reserve. that has in the past had a good effect on lowering the cost at least in the short term. and i would do what i could to try to alleviate the cost right now if we could come up with a way to makeup the lost revenue with a gas tax holiday like, for example, a wind fall profits tax on the oil companies on a basis to try to fill the highway trust fund while we left people off from paying the gas taxes. i would consider that. you’re right, ultimately we’re going to have to have an energy policy that moves us from our dependance on foreign oil and being literally over the oil barrel with the oil producing countries and companies. i think if the president were to make a speech tomorrow, keith and that’s the kind of speech i would give right now, that we are finally serious, we’ve had enough of the problems that come from being so dependent and not looking to ourselves to produce home grown energy to fuel our vehicles, try to help our auto companies and auto workers move to gas mileage cars and biofuels and all of other solutions out there, you would see the price drop. why? because i think that the companies and the countries that supply our oil would be worried that we actually meant it this time. and they would once again try to lull us into a false sense of security of the i would do all of that and i think it would have an impact and of course, we have to follow through to make sure we do everything we can to take back control over our own energy destiny.:: you mentioned the oil suppliers and that leads us into something else that flew by during the debate but seemed awfully important. in the debate you were asked about the hypothetical iranian attack on is ral and your hypothetical response as commander in chief, you said, i think we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes further than israel. of course i would make it clear to the iranians it would incur massive retaliation and do the same with other countries in the region. can you clarify since there was no follow-up to that, which hypothetical would incur massive retaliation by this country and what constitutes massive retaliation?:: what we were talking about was the potential for a nuclear attack by iran if iran does achieve what appears to be its continuing goal of obtaining nuclear weapons. and i think deterrence has not been effectively used in recent times. we used it very well during the cold war when we had a bipolar world and what i think the president should do and what the policy should be is to make it very clear to the iranians that they would be risking massive retaliation were they to launch nuclear attack on israel. in addition, if iran were to become a nuclear power, it could set off an arms race that would be incredibly dangerous and destabilizing because the countries in the region are not going to want iran to be the only nuclear power. i can imagine that they would be rushing to obtain nuclear weapons themselves. in order to forestall that, creating some kind of security agreement where we said, no, you do not need to acquire nuclear weapons. if you were the subject of an unprovoked nuclear attack by iran, united states and hopefully our nato allies would pond to that as well. it is a theory that some people have been looking at because there is a fear that if iran, which i hope we can prevent, becoming a nuclear power. if they were to become one, some people worry that they are not deterrable. that they somehow have a different mind set and a world view that might very well lead the leadership to be willing to become marters. i don’t buy that. i think we have to test it. one of the ways of testing it is to make it clear that we are not going to permit them, if we can prevent it from becoming a nuclear power. were they to become so, their use of nuclear weapons against israel would provoke a nuclear response from the united states, which personally i believe would prevent it from happening. and that we would try to help the other country that’s might be intimidated and bullied into submission by iran because they were nuclear power, avoid that fate by creating this new security umbrella.:: not to equate possible nuclear conflict to the pennsylvania primary, but that is the other headline of the day. let me ask about the campaign and something you said in pittsburgh. and let me read the quote. it’s the toughest job in the world and you have to be ready tore anything, two wars, skyrocketing oil prices, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kifen. that is almost word for word the naration your ad put out and flashes a brief image of osama bin laden. for nearly six years since senator cle land was shut down by a image of osama bin laden. is it not as much as of a scare tactic for a democrat to use it against another democrat. as it is for a republican to use it in the race against a democrat.
:: that ad is about leadership and i do believe i have the leadership experience and qualities to become the president and the commander in chief. and as you said in the beginning, lots of times important issues get short shift in the campaign. the fact is the next president will be sworn in at the time of very very difficult world conditions and here at home a lot of challenges. this is one of the most serious elections we’ve ever had. as people zero in on the choice they have to make in pennsylvania and around the country and remaining contests and then certainly in the fall, i want people to really understand what a serious decision it is. there’s nothing at all that is in any way inappropriate in saying, look, presidents face the unexpected all of the time. katrina was also part of that ad. we don’t know what the next president will face. and i like to ask audiences to consider this as a hiring decision. if you were to hire the person you thought was ready on day one to do the toughest job in the world, what would you look for? what kind of resume would you be trying to seek out? i obviously believe that i have a unique set of qualifications and experiences that prepared me for this moment in time. i would not be in this race, keith, i would not be campaigning hard across pennsylvania as i have been for the past week if i didn’t believe i would be the best president of the three of us in the contest and i would be the stronger candidate against john mccain and republicans in the fall. i know that national security will be a prime issue when we get to the fall. i don’t think anybody will be surprised by that and no democrat who wants to win in the fall should be surprised. we’re going to have to go toe to toe with john mccain on national security. in fact, we’re going to have to stand up to whatever the republicans throw our way. i do thing we ought to get real about some of the big issues that we’re going to face in the white house starting next january. and certainly during the campaign leading up to the election of the next president.
:: the resumes of all three of you in the semifinal round of the hiring decision came up over the weekend. senator obama said all three of the candidates, himself and yourself and senator mccain would be better presidents than mr. bush. you were critical of him for saying that by saying we’ll need a nominee that will take on john mccain not cheer on john mccain and i’ll be that nominee. earlier you said it was imperative we can cross the demander in chief threshold and senator nor mccain has done that and you’ll have to ask senator obama.
:: reporter: to his candidacy. hadn’t you already cheered on senator mccain at obama’s expense?
:: not at all. i think obviously senator mccain has military experience. he has a long on the senate arms services committee where i served with him and most people in this country would look at his experience in the military and in the senate. and on national security, say he does cross that threshold. the problem is he has the wrong ideas. he would continue the bush policies on iraq, which i thing it wrong for the country. and in fact, his statement about his being willing to leave troops in iraq for up to 100 years is something i absolutely reject. that would be worse than president bush. and when it comes to the economy, his policy seems to be more of the same. more of the same failed policies that have brought us to the brink of a recession that have brought us huge deficits an exploding debt. i think that’s wrong as well. so you can have a license to practice law, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody should hire you to perform certain services and take on certain cases. and i don’t think that senator mccain is the president or the commander in chief that we will need. and i don’t want to in any way say he would be better. it would be hard to be worse than george bush. i said several years ago he is the worse president we’ve had and you’ve echoed that sent. on many occasions on your show. i don’t think he would be better than george bush. i think he’s more of the same of president bush. and i don’t think the country can afford us.
:: one thing about the — this has been touched on once an hour during the campaign, this historic nature of both your candidacy and senator abam mas and it has many important and positive things for this country. there’s necessarily an unfortunate flip side to this. and i’ve seen it in person with protesters in the plaza next to the studio. do you believe as some of them seem to that criticism of your campaign is necessarily sexism or largely sexism or sometimes sexism?
:: well, i think the historic nature of the campaign is causing a lot of cognitive disnens with many people and few are in the media i believe. because no matter what happens in this election, the fact that senator obama and i are in the close race for the democratic nomination means that forever forward, every little girl and every african-american child will be told that, yes, you too can grow up to be president. that is not just historic but it is wonderful. there have been and you’ve reported on some of them, moments when people have said things or expressed opinions that are certainly not mine and not senator obama’s. speaking for myself, i know that i’m trying to break the highest and hardest glass ceiling that exists in our country. i take on that challenge womeningly and gladly because i think it’s the right thing to do. i also believe that people have to take a look at each of us individually. i hope that’s what they are doing. they are asking themselves, who will do the best job under difficult circumstances and we’re going to break some real barriers as we already have in this campaign. and i hope that will push our owe site beyond some of the remnants of discrimination on the basis of race or gender that we still see from time to time.
:: one thing about this particular primary in pennsylvania, a lot of us who felt that you and president clinton were sorely mistreated in the late 1990s to say nothing of the constitution being sorely mistreated. the phrase you gave to the fast right wing conspiracy was pretty apt if not perfect. we thought, maybe i’m speaking for myself, one of the individuals, richard millen — editor of the tribune review. i quit this job first time around because of people like him. i realize you have a primary to win. why did you meet with richard and not reject his endorsement of you over the weekend?
:: well, keith nobody was more surprised than i when i was invited to the editorial board. and i’m very open to meeting and frankly i was kind of curious. only met the gentleman once in my life in a receiving line, just in a matter of seconds. obviously i was on the receiving end of quite a bit of his activities during the 1990s. much to everyone’s dismay, most certainly mine. but i was curious. and he has a lot of interesting people who write for that paper and work for him. and it was a fascinating decision discussion. a lot of give and take. they don’t agree with me on many of my positions and i was dumbfounded both to have been invited and then to have been endorsed. and i do believe in redemption and death bed conversions and i think it’s possible for anyone to see the error of their ways. i’m bringing people together as we speak. anyone who doubts my ability to bridge the most incredible — can blink to recent events.
:: i’ll leave the remark about the death bed conversion to another conversation when there’s more time. thank you for your time and safe travels.
:: thank you, great to talk with you.