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Should President Bush Do Anything to Stop Violence in Middle East?

Aired March 29, 2002 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Israel storms Yasser Arafat's compound. Is President Bush doing anything to stop the violence? Should he?

And, the president never promised him a rose garden. But without one, is John McCain once again going to be a thorn in Bush's side?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On right, Tucker Carlson. In the crossfire, Democratic strategist Bob Shrum and Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

PRESS: It's CROSSFIRE. Thanks for joining us.

And it's Good Friday. Everywhere that is, but in the Middle East, where despite U.S. calls for restraint, the violence just keeps getting worse and worse. Retaliating for the Passover hotel bombing that killed 20 Israelis, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon today sent tanks and soldiers right into Yasser Arafat's compound, a clear show of massive military superiority. And tit-for-tat, later today, another Palestinian suicide bomber struck in a Jerusalem supermarket, killing two people.

With no end to violence in sight, a worried world wonders tonight is there any hope left for peace and what should President Bush be doing? Did he sit on the sidelines so long, he's now powerless to do anything?

Tucker's here tonight. I'm going to start with Cliff May.

Cliff, I would not be so low as to blame President Bush for anything that's going on in the Middle East today.


PRESS: But I do believe that what he announced during the campaign, that he was just going to stay out of it until they got things settled over there and then step in is a serious, serious mistake. And I'm not the only one. I'd like you to listen to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for President Reagan, Mr. Lawrence Korb. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LAWRENCE KORB, COUN. ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: What the administration is sowing now is the fact -- reaping is the fact that they did not get involved in this. They waited too long to get involved. And the situation, you know, may be out of control. And it's going to be very difficult for General Zinni to put it back together. After all, General Zinni is not part of this administration. He's a retired military officer. This is something that's going to require the high level attention of Secretary of State.


PRESS: You've got to admit it was a big mistake to sit on the sidelines for a whole year, while things over there just got worse.

MAY: With all due respect, this is such a misanalysis of what's going on here. I want to give due to President Clinton. He tried the route of getting involved. He had Arafat at the White House more than anybody else. He pushed at Camp David and he got former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to give Arafat the best offer he could get, better than anything anyone could have imagined.

And for all that risk, what happened? Arafat in the end presented with a possibility of a new Palestinian state, capital in Jerusalem, dismantlement of the settlements. He said no. And he launched the intifada, which really means a terrorist campaign.

Now when Bush stayed at little bit out of it, things simmered a bit. They didn't get better; they didn't get worse. They had a chance. But every time Zinni has been sent to the Middle East, what has happened is the same thing. Arafat has launched more terrorist attacks. In the current visit, there have been 12 suicide attacks, six of them successful.

The past one, Zinni visit, you have a carrying A with 50 tons of weapons. What do you want him to do? If -- look, all -- but what can Bush do about Arafat? He is a terrorist. He was a terrorist. He will be a terrorist for the rest of his life. Is that not true, Bill?

PRESS: Look, but he's the head of the Palestinian Authority. And you can't ignore him.

MAY: We do not deal with terrorists. We don't negotiate with terrorists. Neither should the Israelis. Why do Israelis do that?

PRESS: Get out of here. We negotiate with terrorists all the time.

MAY: You think we should?

PRESS: You blame Clinton, I know want to blame Clinton...

MAY: I says Clinton tried an experiment and it failed.

PRESS: Let me make my point. At least Bill Clinton kept the parties talking. Isn't that better than having them killing each other?

MAY: The parties stopped talking when Arafat walked out. At this point, we are fighting a war against terrorism. So are the Israelis. Post 9/11, Arafat should have taken the message, should have understood the Bush doctrine. We don't tolerate terrorists or those who harbor them. Arafat is both.

There is no simple diplomatic solution to this problem at the point, Bill. And we can make it worse. As we have every time that Zinni's gone, there have been worse attacks against innocent Israelis, most recently the Passover massacre.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: OK, now Bob Shrum, you just heard from Bill Press a sort of a nice summation of what a lot of Democrats are saying. They're saying look, we're not blaming President Bush for the deaths in the Middle East. But if he had followed a different path, maybe there'd be fewer deaths. And at least we'd repudiate what Bill Press just said. Bring us back to...


CARLSON: Well, the first thing, though that he could not -- this president, President Bush, has not caused a single suicide bombing, that his actions are not responsible for the deaths taking place in this place. Will you please...

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, first I'll repudiate what Cliff just said, because he's the only one here who's blamed President Bush. He says every time he sends Anthony Zinni to the Middle East, there are more bombings and more people get killed.

Now look, I was there because I was involved in Ehud Barak's campaigns, both in 1999 and 2001. And the fundamental problem, I think, at the beginning with Bush was the dislike of Clinton was so great and the desire on his part to walk away from everything Clinton did, was so high that they basically announced that they were going to take this hands-off approach.

Arafat believed, because of the president's father's record, that he might get a better deal from Bush. He was sadly mistaken that Bush might be, somehow or other, more pro Arab. And there was no signal sent during the transition period or in the months that followed that they wanted -- that the Bush administration wanted to return to this process.

And let me say one last thing.

CARLSON: But that is psychoanalysis, though. That is not...

SHRUM: Wait a minute. You can't label it and not discuss the merits of it.

CARLSON: But you're saying because he's mad...

SHRUM: No, I'm not saying -- I'm reporting -- well, you can come up with some other reason that may be more rational, but the truth is he's reversed the policy totally. He's now involved. He isn't taking Cliff's advice.

MAY: Look, there is nothing that Clinton didn't do that Bush can now do to bring these two sides together. Just twisting the arms of Sharon again are not going to help. There's nothing that Arafat responds to.

Let me read you a headline. "Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said today that he was ready for an immediate and unconditional cease- fire. Speaking at his headquarters in Ramallah, he condemned the attack." You know when that headline's from?


MAY: 2001 in June.

SHRUM: Wait a minute.

MAY: He's said this 100 times.

SHRUM: Wait a minute, I'm not defending Arafat. I think what Arafat did at the end of the Camp David Tava (ph) process was outrageous. He walked away from the deal that I think ultimately some year will become the deal.

MAY: But not with Arafat.

SHRUM: Which he should've taken. But it was a critical mistake in my view for President Bush to stand aside. Look, by your analysis, Tony Blair and Berty Ahern and Bill Clinton would have walked away from the peace process in Northern Ireland because it collapsed...

CARLSON: Well, that's apples and oranges.

SHRUM: No, it's not.

CARLSON: Of course it is.

SHRUM: OK, now that's your second wavelength. Why don't you tell me on substance what the difference was?

CARLSON: The difference between the Irish peace process and the current situation in the Middle East?

SHRUM: Yes, what was the difference?

CARLSON: Well, let me count the ways. If we had a three-hour long show, I could begin.

SHRUM: Well, I'll give you one. How about the Omar bombing? 25 people killed. Peace process breaks down. Blair, Clinton, they all go back. Bertie Ahern, they make it work.

PRESS: Let's me move to another part of the Middle East, because we're just about out of time here. Vice President Cheney goes over there, flies around, talks to everybody to try to build up support for an invasion of Iraq. The Arab Summit ends. And the last resolution they adopt is and resolution saying that any attack on Iraq will be considered an attack on all Arab states. Isn't that one more huge foreign policy failure for George Bush and Dick Cheney?

MAY: How could you -- look, you just told me that they're not...

PRESS: They're repudiated.

MAY: What he did was he got involved. He went and he consulted. He made an attempt. That doesn't mean he tried every way he could to get the Arabs on board with regard to Saddam Hussein.

PRESS: It means...

MAY: It was important that he tried, but now...

PRESS: What it means is, his big talk about invading Iraq just died big time.

MAY: By no mean. We do not need the help of the Saudi Arabians. We do not need the help of the Iranians or the Kuwaitis in order to take them...

PRESS: So we make war of all our countries at once?

MAY: This is about the mission, not the coalition. Look, we are not going to let these countries -- we must not let these countries, all of which are dictatorships, none of which is a democracy, decide for us whether or not we let Saddam Hussein get weapons of mass destruction and give them to terrorists.

CARLSON: Nicely put, Cliff May.

SHRUM: Well listen, George Bush may be about to invade two countries or three countries he never heard of two years ago. But the fact of the matter is that if we don't get the Middle East under control, where Ehud Barak bravely sacrificed his entire political career to try to get this done, where Bill Clinton put in a major effort and where George Bush walked away, we're going to have a very difficult position as we go into Iraq.


CARLSON: We're going to have to...

SHRUM: I'll tell you what I'd do. Answer my question. I would appoint Bill Clinton special envoy to the Middle East, because it would send the most powerful signal that we care and we're trying to get something done.

CARLSON: In fact, on that grotesque note, we're going to have to take a quick break. But it's true. When we return, the week that was in politics. Is John McCain moping as John Edwards resorted to bribery? Our guests think they know. We'll correct them. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for our Pol Pot segment. We promise not a word about Cambodia. Instead, we have the week's political potpourri.

John McCain wins his battle over campaign finance reform, yet still seems sullen. What happened? John Edwards' friends spread the wealth in Iowa and New Hampshire. Clever tactics or bribery? Republicans on the Hill get mad at the president and tell "The New York Times" about it. And of course, Al Gore shaves.

Joining us to defend some of this behavior, two of our two-time all-time favorites CROSSFIRE guests, Cliff May, Republican; Bob Shrum, Democrat.

Bill Press?

PRESS: All right, Cliff may defend this. Now you know, 15 months I thought we were getting to know George Bush pretty well, but I didn't realize he was so petty. I mean, campaign finance reform finally passes. It's John McCain's one big victory. He's fought harder for it than anybody else. Bush signs it the middle in the middle of the night, in secret, no ceremony, no cameras. And then he has some aide that none of us ever heard about gives John McCain a call in Arizona to tell him, oh, by the way, the president signed your bill this morning. I mean, isn't that just childish on Bush's part?

MAY: I think he saw no great cause for celebration in a bill that the Supreme Court is probably strike down in many of its key elements. I think this bill will enrich people like my friend, Bob Shrum, here. And we'll live with it. And we'll see what happens, but this is no great victory.

PRESS: Was he ashamed of signing it?

MAY: Well, I think there are problems with the bill.

PRESS: Why did he sign it?

MAY: I think it's an offense against the First Amendment.

SHRUM: Why did he sign it?

MAY: Personally, I wish he wouldn't, but there was a great new...

SHRUM: That's the second time tonight you've attacked bush. You attacked him for sending General Zinni and now you've attacked him for signing the bill.


CARLSON: Speaking of creepy finances here, now your friend, John Edwards, senator from North Carolina, as you may have heard, may be running for president, wants to get in with the Democratic parties in Iowa and New Hampshire. And so to that end, he sent 123 computers to the Democratic party of Iowa, 53 to the Democratic party of New Hampshire.

My question to you, Bob Shrum, as a long-time political consultant, why not just make it totally straightforward, just hand out walking around money?

SHRUM: Well first of all, the question's outrageous and you know it.

CARLSON: This question is outrageous? It's a statement of fact.

SHRUM: It is perfectly legal. Let me explain my label. You don't, I will. It is perfectly legal and appropriate to help state parties. It is done all the time. It was done extensively by George W. Bush, your friend, financed by Kenny boy from Enron when he was running for president.

CARLSON: Was that legitimate and right?

SHRUM: It was a perfectly legal thing. And there's no suggestion any of the money -- that any of the money that was contributed here was wrong.

CARLSON: It's all shameless.

SHRUM: What I'm hoping is that Al Gore will now send them Palm Pilots. And what I'm hoping is that your president will decide to stop siding with the HMOs and insurance companies and sign John Edwards and Edward Kennedy and John McCain's patients bill of rights.

CARLSON: What in the world are you talking about, Bob Shrum? This guy's bribing political parties and your...

SHRUM: No, no, wait a minute. There is a constant tradition in this country as you know of major people in parties helping...

CARLSON: Of corruption, yes.

SHRUM: No, it's not corrupt. It's outrageous and libelist to say it.

CARLSON: I repeat, it's corrupt.

PRESS: Tucker, you may be able to bribe Republicans that cheap, but Democrats don't come that cheap.

CARLSON: Oh, they need cash.

PRESS: Speaking of money, I mean, this is the ultimate. So first of all, he signs this bill he doesn't believe in, proving that Bush doesn't stand...

MAY: He wasn't excited about it, didn't see it as a cause for celebration.

PRESS: ...anything. Let me finish. And then -- and this bill, by the way, which outlaws self-money. Then he gets on Air Force One and goes flying around the country raising all the soft money he can? I mean, wouldn't you at least...

MAY: As a Democrat, you cannot make this point. The Democrats have taken in more soft money in the days before this bill was signed than at any time in the history of the party. Am I not correct? Am I not correct?

SHRUM: How are the Republicans doing on soft money? Are they taking any?

MAY: Look, tell people what soft money is. It's party-building money. You guys have...

SHRUM: No, no, but he just denounced party building as bribery.

CARLSON: No, I didn't.


PRESS: Here's what I want you to admit. It is not enough the president's not doing anything illegal. I'm not suggesting that.

MAY: No.

PRESS: I just want you to admit that just as you called Bill Clinton the fundraiser in chief, it is fair for us to call George Bush, the fundraiser in chief, because that's all he's doing.

MAY: A president has to do some fundraising. If you want to look at days and hours that were spent fundraising by this president,compared to the last, we can probably have a good comparison. But look, I'm not against politicians raising money from people who give it freely. I'd rather that than take it out of the taxpayers' pockets, which is too often what you want to do.

CARLSON: Amen. Now Bob, I wasn't going to bring this up, because I'm not a cruel guy, but you used the phrase. So I'll repeat it, Al Gore. And I'm wondering when this kind of sad charade's going to end? I mean, the facial hair, the shaving it off, the pretending he's going to run for president. Democrats don't want him to run for president. I'm sure you don't want him...

SHRUM: First of all, Democrats have no interest in your advice on whether or not he should run for president.

CARLSON: Well, I'm giving it anyways. I want yours, though. Do you think he should run?

SHRUM: You know, attacking him is probably about the best endorsement.

CARLSON: Do you think he should run?

SHRUM: I think Al Gore's going to make a decision at the end of this year as to whether or not he's going to run, or sometime before the end of this year. And he's going to be very, very effective in the campaigns this year. And I'm going to let him make his own decision.

CARLSON: But what do you...

SHRUM: But let me tell you, I want to say one other thing, he has conducted himself, in my view, in an extraordinarily good way for this country, given that he won the election and it was taken away from him.

CARLSON: I agree with part of that. I think he actually has been a model of restraint, and that's impressive. But please answer my question. Do you think he should run for president?

SHRUM: I think I'm going to let him make the decision.

CARLSON: I don't know a single Democrat...

SHRUM: No, that's incorrect. There are a lot of Democrats.

CARLSON: I don't know any.

SHRUM: There are a lot of Democrats. The people -- listen he goes out to California, come out of the advantage and all say they want to run for president.

PRESS: I think Al Gore should run for president.

CARLSON: That's insane, Bill.

PRESS: He won in 2000. He can win again in 2004.

CARLSON: Keep going.

PRESS: All right. Now...

MAY: Can I can respond to that? I happen to think you are right. This was a close...

SHRUM: That we won?

MAY: No.

PRESS: Thank you.

MAY: No, that this was a close election. One person won the electoral vote. In this country, that's how you win the election, but he has a right to run again. And he's the only Democrat that even has any name recognition.

PRESS: Quick comment from both of you on an outstanding article in the Front page of "The New York Times" this morning, where Republicans in Congress unhappy with the White House. Now sometimes you hear rumbles about this.

Wait a minute. This is Denny Hastert and Trent Lott quoted by name. They spoke on the record saying that they don't think Bush is working hard enough for them. They don't think he's getting behind them on the issues. They don't think he's communicating well enough. They praise the Clinton White House. Bush has got a big problem.

MAY: So let's see. You think he's spending too much time on politics. They think he's spending not enough time on politics. Who's right? Look, it is natural to have some tension between the House and Senate in an election year and the president, who's got bigger fish to fry.

CARLSON: Five seconds.

SHRUM: It's totally unprecedented article. I've never seen anything like it. And by the way, the reason it happened is because of the kind of petty things the president did in dissing John McCain when he signed the campaign finance reform bill.

CARLSON: I'm sorry we're going to have to stop there.



SHRUM: No, we should send Bill Clinton to the Middle East because it's one of the best ways to get the peace.

CARLSON: This is insane, but we're on to bigger and better things. When we come back, Bill Press, Bill Press, and still more Bill Press. Six years worth on tape. You think you know him? So did we. We're both wrong. The evidence when we return.


CARLSON: Welcome back. Some of you know Bill Press is entering the next phase of his plan for total world media domination. After tonight, he'll be moving on from CROSSFIRE. Before he, does we've had our crack research team scour the CNN archives for a few of the high and low-lights of his long career on this show. Here are some.


ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press.

PRESS: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Another day, another controversy, another CROSSFIRE.

For only the second time in history, the House of Representatives met today for the solemn task of debating articles of impeachment against an American president. As expected, voices were raised for and against President Clinton, mainly along strict party lines.

Let me ask you, Senator, based on your nose count, are there 67 votes today in the United States Senate to convict Bill Clinton and remove him from office?

I've watched CROSSFIRE in Belgrade. It's possible that President Slobodan Milosevic is watching tonight. When he looks at that vote, should he -- what do you tell him? Should he come to the conclusion that the American Congress is not standing behind President Clinton in this action?

Not unlike these kids that had a tech nine, not just a sawed off shotgun, a tech nine that can fire off 32 rounds in seconds, why should anybody be able to possess one of those kind of highly dangerous semi-automatic or automatic weapons?

I was a teacher's pet, but I got to tell you, as smart as I was, I had no idea what asylum was. Why she we believe that six-year-old Elian Gonzalez understands what asylum is?

I can't bear it anymore.

REP. JAMES TRAFICANT (D), OHIO: You wear boxer shorts, Press.

PRESS: That's a personal issue.

TRAFICANT: Well, then don't be bringing that stuff up to me.

DR. RUTH, SEX THERAPIST: I find Bill and you rather sexy, because you're intelligent. Never mind the other people. When I watch the two of you, I can visualize, that's what a good sex therapist does, but what you do in your bedrooms.

MARY MAITLIN: Here's to your potency, Bill.

PRESS: Wait a minute. I don't need it. Tuna is a natural Viagra for me, but I'll drink to that.

MAITLIN: Every time I tell you how potent you are, it's a good day on CROSSFIRE.

PRESS: I'm happy.

And I want you to have one, too.


PRESS: People eat these?

MAITLIN: Well, look, you're not going to die from a heart problem. You're going to choke?

PRESS: No, I'm not.

But from the left, happy vacation. More of the same. I'm Bill Press. Good night from CROSSFIRE.


CARLSON: A future of Bill Press in Hawaiian shirts. I get asked a lot about Bill Press in airports, in restaurants, in grocery stores. The questions are always the same. What is Bill Press like, which is always followed by, does he really mean it?

My answers are always the same. Bill Press is a wonderful guy. And yes, he really does mean it, which sums up Bill Press, who is flamboyant without being phony, who is amusing as hell without being frivolous. He's a terrific friend. He's the perfect dinner companion. He's one of the first people you would call if you were in trouble. He is loved most by those who know him best. For six years, he has graced the set and he will be very, very missed by those who work here.

PRESS: Tucker, that's very nice of you. Thank you. But you forgot to mention sexy.

CARLSON: I was not going to mention sexy.

PRESS: I do want to say, Tucker, it's great working with you.

CARLSON: Thank you.

PRESS: You are fun. You're fast. You're smart. You're not nearly as high bound as most conservatives I know.

CARLSON: But nasty.

PRESS: I think, Tucker, that hidden deep inside is a liberal just dying to get out.

CARLSON: You are wrong, Bill.

PRESS: I'm waiting for that. But you know, it's tough to leave, but before I go, there are a couple of people I do want to thank in addition to you and Bob. First, our CNN bosses over the years who have given six wonderful years at CROSSFIRE, even though I was hoping for a few more. Also like to thank our great, great fabulous team, all of them from top to bottom. You know, our producer, Sam and Christy and Kate and Amy and Terry, our camera crews, the director, the sound engineers, all these people that work so hard behind the scenes to make us look us look good every night.

But most of all, I want to thank you. I want thank you for putting up with me for six years. If you agreed with me, I'm glad I was there to fight for you. If you disagreed with me, I'm glad I was there to make your life miserable. But just thanks so much for watching. I'm going to miss you. I hope you miss me, but I'm not going away. I'm going to turn up somewhere. Stay tuned.

So let me say it, Tucker, one more time proudly. From the left, good-night and good-bye for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Good night.


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