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CNN CROSSFIRE

Is War the Only Option in Iraq?

Aired February 17, 2003 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Tucker Carlson. And sitting in on the left, Julian Epstein.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE, the one show on television that neither snow nor sleet nor gloom of night, nor even federal holidays can keep from its appointed rounds.

The same, alas, cannot be said for our regular hosts on the left, both of whom are snowed in at Barbra Streisand's compound in Malibu.

So sitting in tonight is Democratic attorney Julian Epstein, the former minority chief counsel and staff director for the House Judiciary Committee.

We'll debate whether Europe and NATO, the U.S. or Saddam Hussein will get their acts together in time to prevent war.

Speaking of Europe, we'll take this opportunity to mock America's silliest former ally. That, of course, would be France.

But before we get to the main course, the hors d'oeuvres, our CROSSFIRE political alert.

Across the eastern seaboard this weekend, global warming seminars and teach-ins were canceled due to sub-freezing weather and near record snows.

Here in Washington, the city looked like a picture postcard. And of course, barely functioned at all. Schools and federal offices will be closed again tomorrow.

Mayor Anthony Williams, who was vacationing in Puerto Rico when the snow began to fall, says it will take several days to clear all the roads. Which means that for now, the only sure way to get around the nation's capital is in, you guessed it, the dreaded sport utility vehicle.

Suddenly liberals have stopped comparing SUV drivers to terrorists, at least here in Washington. In fact, most SUV owners are finding that they have never had so many friends, all of whom by coincidence, of course, desperately need a ride.

JULIAN EPSTEIN, CO-HOST: I don't know, Tucker. Environmental degradation making us more dependent on oil producing Arab dictators, I don't know. That on the one hand, versus an SUV that can help us out one day out of six years when we have a little bit of snow. CARLSON: I would be interested to know, Julian, how many lifestyle liberals who assault SUVs live in houses with more than nine bathrooms. I would say about 80 percent. So they can do their part to help the environment.

EPSTEIN: Well, speaking of snow, Washington has endured quite a snowstorm. Meteorologists are saying it is one of the biggest snow jobs to hit D.C. in recent years.

Actually, they're wrong. The biggest was when the new U.S. Treasury secretary claimed that the economy is headed in the right direction after continuing its abysmal performance for the second year in a row. Tell that to the 2.4 million people who lost their jobs in the Bush economy.

Oh, and appropriately the treasury secretary's name was, you guessed it, Mr. Snow.

CARLSON: So the headline here is the treasury secretary has a funny name. That's quite an argument. That's sort of like the argument that before liberals were telling us that Harvey Pitt was fat and therefore he was not a good steward of the SEC.

I hope you run on this.

EPSTEIN: The headline here is that there is poetic justice between the name of the treasury secretary and the terrible job that this economy is seeing under this Bush Administration.

Twenty-two million new jobs under the Clinton Administration, 2.4 million lost under the Bush Administration, face the facts.

CARLSON: There's a bumper sticker for you. I'm going to put that on my SUV.

What if you had a presidential campaign and no one came? For former Illinois senator Carol Mosely-Brown, this is more than an academic question.

Mosely-Brown, who was bounced out of the Senate five years ago after a long string of scandals, is currently running for president on the stop Al Sharpton ticket.

Now that she has joined the race, Democrats can pretend that Sharpton is the not the true voice of liberalism. Of course he is. It's pretty tricky.

So far, there's one thing missing from the plan. Voters.

This weekend Mosely-Brown traveled to Iowa to kick off her campaign. She gave a 30 minute speech in one of the state's largest ballrooms. In the audience, a single person, one. And it turned out he was an old friend from law school.

"Well, if the American people respond to my message and respond to my candidacy," Mosely-Brown declared, quote, "it will be a viable one."

Then, despite the evidence to the contrary, she left to campaign in New Hampshire anyway.

EPSTEIN: Tucker...

CARLSON: Good luck, Carol Mosely-Brown.

EPSTEIN: Tucker, you know, I spoke to Carol Mosely-Brown before the show.

She said with the economy in the dumps, with the alliance in shatters, with the president's poll numbers dropping like a lead balloon, she needed to give Tucker Carlson's CROSSFIRE some hot fire alert, some hot line alert.

CARLSON: I hope she keeps going. Because she'll provide many more. At least one person agrees with her, her old law school chum. Amen, go to New Hampshire.

EPSTEIN: I'm not looking forward to seeing her run either.

A member of President Bush's coalition of the willing was willing to brave Washington's weather today.

While Latvia's president chatted with George W. Bush at the White House, diplomats were drawing up a new U.N. resolution threatening Iraq with serious consequences if it does not disarm. The resolution is expected to be presented to the Security Council later this week, although the French have all but said they'll veto any use of force resolution.

This past weekend millions of people demonstrated against a possible war with Iraq. A million protesters turned out in Rome. Three-quarters of a million in London. A half a million in London Germany and 300,000 in France.

Of course, one place where people are not allowed to protest against their government's policy is, you guessed it, Iraq.

CARLSON: Well, amen. Good for you for saying that. I mean, I'm not against war protesters. I'm not for war. Nobody is.

But it is sort of adolescent. I mean, these protesters are against conflict. That's great as far as it goes, but they have nothing to say about Saddam Hussein or the millions of people who live under his...

EPSTEIN: I found the rhetoric lacking a compelling nature.

Look, I think if you asked most of the protesters if they were in Iraq, what would they want? I think they would be the first to say they want the allies to come and rescue them from the tyranny and the destitution that Iraq lives under.

CARLSON: Right. But since and happy and live in countries that were protected by the United States for 50 years, they can afford to be anti-American, and they are.

EPSTEIN: That's one issue I won't disagree with you on tonight.

CARLSON: Virtually every successful talk radio show host in America is a political conservative. Liberals know this, and it drives them bananas.

For years, their excuse has been, it's the public's fault. Our views, the liberals say, are too nuanced, too intelligent and subtle for the morons who listen to talk radio. We won't lower ourselves to demagoguery, therefore, we can't compete.

That's the argument. And it's pretty lame, as anyone who've ever watched Jesse Jackson can tell you.

Now liberals have a new explanation for their failures in radio: we haven't had enough money.

Well, to fix that, a group of rich liberals has decided to finance a radio network for Democrats. According to this morning's "New York Times," they're trying to hire Al Franken to be the liberal version of Rush Limbaugh.

So they have financial backing and a talented host, and the new network will have almost everything except arguments that make sense. Get those and it will surely succeed.

EPSTEIN: You know, Tucker, I'm going say a serious comment about this. Because I think Democrats, you know, are the majority party in this country, whether you like it or not. But the GOP...

CARLSON: No one's told voters that, but yes.

EPSTEIN: The Republicans win, I think, because they play a tougher game of politics and because, frankly, they use the media better than do liberals and Democrats.

So I say to Democrats, it's about time you got the e-mail on this.

CARLSON: I love this, though. Both sides -- I hear people on the right make the same argument all the time. They're meaner than we are, they have control of the media.

It's still, in the end, a process argument. We need to change the way we get our message out. Maybe the message itself stinks. Maybe the people don't like it. Maybe they don't agree with it. Maybe you need to think of something you believe in.

EPSTEIN: Well, say as much as you want; Democrats continue to be the majority party in this country and say anything you want.

CARLSON: No, because they don't hold any part of government, so how are they the majority party?

EPSTEIN: Because, I think that Democrats have not done an effective job in the last election. And say what you want; while Bush has done a good job on the terrorism campaign, most of the country thinks we're going in the wrong direction in terms of economic policy now.

CARLSON: To get back to your point really quick. In what sense is the Democratic Party the majority party, since it doesn't hold Congress or the executive branch?

EPSTEIN: More registered voters. More registered voters.

CARLSON: Who vote for Republicans in the end.

EPSTEIN: When Democrats don't put forward a good program, as they did in the last election, and Democrats should be the first ones to say so, yes.

But, remember in the last election, more people voted for Al Gore than did George Bush. I know you hate to hear that.

CARLSON: No, I don't. That's true. And to which I say good luck in radio.

EPSTEIN: Speaking about the Bush Administration, last week the Bush Administration whipped everyone into a frenzy, elevating the national terrorism alert to code orange.

Then Mother Nature came along with a little snow dusting and all of a sudden Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is talking about downgrading the alert back to code yellow.

When asked for comment, the White House said, "well, we had everything at orange and we got all this white stuff and the whole thing just got too confusing for us."

EPSTEIN: Julian, everybody knows terrorists do not strike when it snows. Sort of like voters in certain states.

CARLSON: Yes. Is this the Bush Administration Homeland Security bumper sticker?

CARLSON: No, it's just...

EPSTEIN: Because that's about the -- that's better than what the public understands now with this code orange and code yellow.

CARLSON: I agree with that. And that's one of the reasons why we're having Kelly McCann on at end of the show to explain what they should be doing. It's going to be worth listening to.

Next, which is more important, disarming Iraq or convincing our so-called allies that Iraq is worth disarming?

Later, they speak funny, they eat horses and Jerry Lewis is their favorite American. Why should we care what the French think? We'll have someone on to remind us. And then, global warming never looked so good. We'll get the latest on the nation's crazy weather. Is more snow on the way? We will find out. We're a weather show now. Stay tuned for CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

European leaders issued a strongly worded declaration this evening, affirming solidarity with the United States and warning Saddam Hussein that Iraq has, quote, "one last chance to disarm peacefully."

How is this chance different from the many ones that have preceded it? Here to debate it are Joe Cirincione, a senior associate of director of the Nonproliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace -- International Peace, also world peace.

With him is former "New York Times" foreign correspondent, Cliff May, who's president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

EPSTEIN: Cliff, let's start off, I want to read to you a quote by Andy Card, who appeared on "Meet the Press" November 10 and said this about Hans Blix.

"I that Hans Blix will do his job objectively... I'm confident that Hans Blix will do his job."

Now I want to tell you what Hans Blix had to say last week as he was before the United Nations: "We note that access to the sites has so far been without problems, including those that have never been declared or inspected, as well as to presidential sites and private residences."

Now, is the White House going south on Hans Blix?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: No, what you have to understand is -- and I listened to Hans Blix at the U.N. -- He spoke as candidly as a U.N. bureaucrat knows now. And said Saddam Hussein very clearly what we all know and, and we're not going to disagree at this table, I'm sure.

Saddam Hussein is not disarming. He hasn't begun the process of disarming. He is not disarming.

And Hans Blix's job is to verify whether or not Saddam Hussein is willing to take this final opportunity presented to him to give up his weapons of mass destruction. He hasn't done so. Hans Blix has done his job. Now it's time for everybody else to do their job.

EPSTEIN: Hans Blix seems to be saying, as I listened to him, that the inspections have the ability to work if we give it more time.

Now, he is not the only person that subscribes to that. Let me tell you...

MAY: What is the meaning of the word "work"?

EPSTEIN: OK. Let me finish the question and I've give you an opportunity to respond to it.

Hans Blix isn't the only person who agrees with that. A majority of the American public agrees with that.

Let me put on the screen what a recent "New York Times" poll said. When asked whether we should take action soon, 37 percent of the American public said it agrees.

When asked whether we should give the inspectors more time, 59 percent.

So clearly if President Bush's position is to go in now in the next week, the next month, he hasn't convinced the American people. Doesn't every great American president in a time of war have to, at a minimum, bring the American people along with him?

MAY: And that will happen. Right now, those who believe this military action against Saddam Hussein to disarm him, those who favor that and believe it's justified, it's higher than it was in 1991 when we first went up against Saddam Hussein and pushed him out of Kuwait.

It's very important and on shows like this that we make clear that the job of the inspectors is to verify whether or not Saddam Hussein is doing what he promised to do in 1991, which is give up his weapons of mass destruction.

The only reason we left him in power, to kill, murder and rape his own people, is because he said, "I'll give up my weapons of mass destruction." He hasn't done it.

CARLSON: He hasn't, Joe. He's violated that. And the United States and the world have said, with one voice, really, you do that or you'll face serious consequences.

Now some in this country and others in Europe are saying let's take the military option off the table, essentially. Once we do that, once there's no credible threat of force behind what we say, we can't force Saddam to do anything, much less disarm, can we?

JOE CIRINCIONE, CARNEGIE PEACE ENDOWMENT: If what you said were true, I would agree with you but it is not.

We haven't taken the military option off the table. We have tens of thousands of troops around Saddam's borders and we have hundreds of inspectors now, swarming over the country, able to go anywhere, inspect anything.

That is the military option. That's exactly what President Bush rallied the international community around just three short months ago.

And what the French, the Germans, the majority of the Security Council are saying, and millions of people in the streets just this weekend are saying, give the inspections time to work. Don't pull the rug out from under the inspectors.

CARLSON: See, you're saying that the military option is having 100 odd inspectors in the country. Isn't -- the reason we have inspectors in Iraq in the first place is we said to Saddam very clearly, let them in or we will kill you?

CIRINCIONE: Absolutely.

CARLSON: Right.

CIRINCIONE: That's the only reason Saddam is cooperating, because he knows the alternative is war. So no one -- No one in the Security Council is in favor of taking the troops away. No one is in favor of taking that off.

This is the false choice. The choice is not go to war now or let Saddam off. No. The choice is to let the inspections work, give them a year to do their job.

Why is that the choice? Because people are afraid of what would happen if 200,000 American troops invade and occupy a country of 24 million people and stay for decades. That's a disastrous scenario.

EPSTEIN: Respond to what Joe just said, but in your response, I want you to include an answer to the fact, why can't we, with the brilliant technology that we have available today, the aerial reconnaissance, the satellite technology that has enormous capacity, why can't we use that to verify whether or not Iraq is doing things it ought not to be doing like playing with al Qaeda?

MAY: It's a very important question. And the answer is -- the answer is very simple.

Since the inspectors were kicked out in 1998, Saddam Hussein has been able to dig very deep bunkers to put weapons in. He also has trains that run on tracks that have weapons laboratories. He has trucks that run around the country.

Understand -- and this is very important; Condoleezza Rice talked about it -- the inspectors were never meant to be playing Sherlock Holmes, going around with magnifying glasses. They're auditors.

They look at the books in 1998 and say what weapons were on it? And they say, can we now account for these weapons? And if you can't, it doesn't matter how many doors you open for the inspectors, what Saddam Hussein has to do is not cooperate but comply. Give up his weapons of mass destruction.

And you know, and you know, that he hasn't given up one weapon on all this time. Not one. In fact, he's still building weapons of mass destruction.

CARLSON: But Joe, you said just a second ago, you said millions of people have taken to the streets around the world against the United States. First of all... CIRINCIONE: Against the Bush policy, not against the United States.

CARLSON: Well, we can debate their motives. But against the Bush Administration.

First of all, crowds don't run international diplomacy, thank heaven. But second, even you will admit, I think, that these crowds are not serious about disarming Saddam Hussein. They're against conflict, and that's legitimate, but they have no alternative explanation for how we would disarm Saddam Hussein.

Why should we take them seriously?

CIRINCIONE: That's not true at all. We are implementing the alternative. We are implementing an inspection regime that, given enough time and backed up with a credible use of force, can work.

And this is what the Security Council is about to start debating, an alternative between the current inspection regime and something short of war. Can we marry up the surveillance equipment...

EPSTEIN: Respond to what Cliff said about the inability of technology to monitor whether Iraq is really breaking the rules here.

CIRINCIONE: Look, we'd much rather that Saddam comply and he is not complying. And that's what the inspectors said, we need more proactive compliance.

But did anybody really think that he was going to do this? We can enforce this.

MAY: We've had international inspectors in Korea over the last ten years. What happened?

North Korea has, nonetheless, been able to develop nuclear weapons with inspectors there. Then they kicked them out when it was useful.

Also, you didn't really respond to what Tucker said. The people out marching did one of them -- did one person hold up a placard that said Saddam Hussein, give up your weapons of mass destruction so there will be no war? Not one person held up a sign.

Tell me why it is that Saddam Hussein needs anthrax, needs to have sarin gas, needs VX. Tell me why he needs smallpox. Why does he need to have that? If he would give it up, there would be no war.

CIRINCIONE: You know, 16 months ago, the streets of Europe were filled with millions of demonstrators demonstrating in support of the United States in sympathy and support for what happened September 11th.

MAY: Two different topics. I can't understand that. We have sympathy, not support. These are the same people who were against Cruise missiles, same people for a nuclear freeze, same people who were against our intervention in Afghanistan, same people who were against our intervention in 1991.

CIRINCIONE: That's the problem. You start dissing the people who disagree with you...

MAY: I'm dissing people? Not one of them...

CIRINCIONE: This administration...

MAY: Not one of these people ever protested for the Kurds, 182,000 of whom were slaughtered, or the Sunis, or the Shiites. They were never out there for those -- for the people of Iraq.

CIRINCIONE: That's not true. They were there for us.

MAY: When? When?

CIRINCIONE: They were there for us 16 months ago. You had a million of people on the streets of Tehran.

MAY: And they'll cry for us the next time they slaughter our people, you can bet on it. But they won't give us their support. I don't want sympathy, I want support.

CIRINCIONE: It's amazing how quickly this administration squandered that international support. They have taken the foreign policy and they're driving it off the plate.

CARLSON: We're going to take a quick commercial break.

EPSTEIN: We'll hurry back.

CARLSON: I hate to interrupt, but we will hurry back. In a moment, our guests will tell us whether they think Iraq is harboring terrorists.

And then, we'll take on a key member on the axis of weasel. More French bashing coming up.

Finally, we'll get an update on how long it will take to reopen New York City and the rest of the northeast. The weather show will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

EPSTEIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Iraq reports an American U-2 spy plane made its first flight over Iraqi air space today. Meanwhile, U.N. weapons inspectors questioned a senior Iraqi engineer about his country's nuclear weapons program.

Should the weapons inspectors get more time? In the crossfire are Cliff May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. And Joe Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

CARLSON: All right, Joe. Right before we went to commercial, Cliff made what I thought was a thoughtful point. I think you'll even agree.

And that is that while the Clinton Administration believed it was containing North Korea, with inspectors partly, North Korea built a nuclear weapon.

Let me give you another example of why containment doesn't work. Iraq, this administration says, during the time their inspections -- during the '90s, there were inspectors there -- formed a formal alliance with al Qaeda, trained members of al Qaeda in the use of chemical weapons. And then, just recently, while inspectors were in the country allowed terrorists within its borders to go out and kill an American diplomat in Jordan.

So in what sense does containment or inspections work?

CIRINCIONE: Two excellent points you bring up. And it's an example of how just a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

It turns out that the North Koreans didn't build a nuclear weapon in the last few years. They built it, basically, during the Reagan and Bush Administration.

CARLSON: Oh, they did?

CIRINCIONE: That's when they were running the reactor that was producing the plutonium and the Reagan and Bush Administration didn't do anything about it. The Clinton Administration inherited the problem and they negotiated a deal to freeze those reactors.

So they haven't produced any plutonium,

CARLSON: But the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) say they don't...

CIRINCIONE: And then it turns out they've been cheating and doing a little side program on the side. Right, right. Big problem. We've got to deal with it, and I wish the administration would do something about North Korea before it get back into the plutonium production business.

Second, it turns out that when Powell presented this information about a terrorist camp in Iraq, he left out a convenient piece of information. It's in the Kurdish controlled section of Iraq. Saddam doesn't control that area.

Now why we haven't gone to our Kurdish allies and said, let's do something about that camp, is beyond me.

MAY: You've got it. EPSTEIN: Let me ask you this question. I think that a lot of people have the view that the military campaign against Saddam Hussein is the easy part. The hard part is going to be reconstructing Iraq, as it was Afghanistan.

Let me show you what the economists reported when it came to the Bush Administration's budget for the rebuilding of Afghanistan, after we bombed a short 16 months ago.

"In one astonishing oversight, the Bush Administration failed to request funds for humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan in the latest budget."

Now, why should the American people and, for that matter, the international alliance, go along with this foray into Iraq if we see from past experience that the Bush Administration may not be committed to the hard part the day after?

MAY: Well, let's commit to the hard part. Let's understand a couple of things.

One, in Afghanistan, it's better now than it was under the Taliban when they used the stadiums to amputate blasphemers.

EPSTEIN: Agreed. We agree with that.

MAY: I do, and we do need to work on Afghanistan.

Now, as far as Iraq, it's going to be difficult but probably easier. It's not a poor country. It's a rich country.

And right now in the Kurdish areas that you mentioned there is more prosperity, more democracy and more freedom than anywhere else in the region, just about, with the exception of Turkey and Israel. And what's more, it's a model for the rest of Iraq.

But you're right. We have to commit ourselves to creating the first democracy in the Arab world post-Saddam Hussein.

EPSTEIN: See, I think -- the Bush Administration we're talking about -- I think the most...

MAY: We should talk more about it. We've got to get through this next stage.

EPSTEIN: The most convincing reason for going in is for democratic reform and...

MAY: ... liberate the people in Iraq.

EPSTEIN: Liberate the people in Iraq, democratic reform in an area of the world that has seen the rising tide of fascism with Islamic fundamentalist. But I wonder what Joe's response is to that.

CARLSON: You're shaking your head here. Where is the left? Why is it so cynical? Why does every liberal I talk to say it's going to be a nightmare? Why isn't anybody saying democracy is good, human rights are good?

MAY: If you rebuild it, it might work.

CIRINCIONE: You have to understand something. We're talking about sending 200,000 American men and women to invade and occupy a complex, large country of 24 million people.

MAY: Right.

CIRINCIONE: The last time a western country did that was before World War II. The last time anybody did that is when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

This is why Wesley Clark was on "Meet the Press" yesterday and talking about this new form of colonialism. I'm all for democracy and liberation and helping the people in every way we can, but we don't have to invade them and kill them to liberate them. (applause)

MAY: And we won't have to. I am in contact on a regular basis with Iraqi exiles and Iraqi refugees in exile and they -- and what they say, first of all, they say nobody fights for Saddam Hussein unless it's a relative or there's a revolver pointing at their neck.

So once the Americans come in, expect the Iraqi army to collapse very quickly.

The other thing they say is that there will be cheers and American flags waving in Baghdad after this liberation.

CIRINCIONE: Do you think this is going to be Paris? You think we're going to liberate...

MAY: No, I don't think so, but it's not an occupation. I said to an Iraqi in exile, do you want us to occupy? He said no, not an occupation, I want a presence for you to help us make the transformation to democracy.

CARLSON: Joe, give us the last word.

CIRINCIONE: The last word is, we have no idea how we're going get out of Iraq once we get in. And this is the unspoken problem of this administration. No exit strategy.

Remember Colin Powell and the Powell Doctrine. It wasn't just overwhelming force, it was clear political objectives, support of the American people, which you don't have, and an exit strategy.

There's no exit strategy, because some people, like you, don't want to leave.

MAY: We had an exit strategy in 1991 and that exit -- The exit strategy in 1991 was to leave Saddam Hussein in power. It was a mistake that we left him in power, and now we've got to fix that mistake.

CARLSON: And on that happy note, we're going to have to end right there. Cliff May, Joe Cirincione, thank you both very much.

EPSTEIN: Good job.

MAY: Thanks.

CIRINCIONE: Thank you.

EPSTEIN: Thank you.

CARLSON: Just ahead, instead of a news alert, we'll get a live snow alert. Stay tuned and see when the Presidents' Day snow storm will finally blow away.

Later, isn't it finally time we blew off the French? Or is the thought occurring several centuries too late? Probably, nonetheless.

And then, the orange alert on terrorism. We'll ask a security expert if it's too soon to let down our guard. We'll be right back.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com





(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER)

CARLSON: Next, they are loud, pompous, and we can't say this enough, they eat horses. In a minute, we'll try to find something good to say about the French. Probably a lost cause. We'll try anyway.

Later, we'll ask how much longer can people stay on a high alert for terrorism before they become complacent. You're watching CROSSFIRE on CNN, the most trusted name in news. We'll be right back. EPSTEIN: French President Jacques Chirac to my amazement and a lot of other people's amazement today belittled the Eastern European nations seeking admission into the European Union. President Chirac accused Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, among others, of being "infantile" and acting recklessly and dangerously by supporting the U.S. position on Iraq. And quoting the French president, "They missed a great opportunity to shut up." Perhaps the same should be said of the French.

(APPLAUSE)

EPSTEIN: Here to defend his homeland is Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution. Justin, thank you for coming.

CARLSON: Thank you for joining us. Now I don't know how long you've been in the land of the free, the home of the brave, probably long enough to know what people are saying about your homeland. This is the "New York Post," "Axis of Weasel" would be the French. And then my favorite of all "U.N. Meets Weasels to Hear New Iraq Evidence." And there is the French representative with a weasel face.

Why are people saying this? Let me give you one, among many, examples. You heard Julian say it. Jacques Chirac threatening essentially to crush the economies of Eastern Europe: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, not letting them into the EU. That is the same as crushing their economies, keeping them poor forever because they don't agree with France. That's outrageous, isn't it?

JUSTIN VAISSE, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Yes. I think that when you begin to replace serious arguments with insults like the "New York Post" has done in recent days, then the debate gets really sloppy. And I think that's where democracy has to lose.

So I really think that this wave of French bashing is just a way for the Bush administration and supporters of the war to make their point. And I think it is very bad, because you know the serious debate we had in the previous segment was great, and that's exactly the debate that President Chirac is having with President Bush. Except that when it is France, when it is said with a French accent, then we say they are weasels, we say -- what did you say, they're like Jerry Lewis?

All these cliches. And you replace arguments by cliches. And so I think that's very dangerous.

(APPLAUSE)

EPSTEIN: Justin, let me say, at the risk of agreeing too much with my friend Tucker, I am one that very much believes in the need to approach this using the United Nations and our international alliance. But I too am very chagrinned by what the French have done, because I think it is undermining a solid United States and United Nations position.

The most important thing I think right now is for the United Nations and for the international community to speak with one voice that war will come if Saddam Hussein doesn't do what he's supposed to do by abiding by the U.N. resolution. And when France gets out there and undermines the position of the United Nations, I think it makes it more likely that Saddam Hussein is just going to hunker down. And I think that's been very problematic.

I don't want to necessarily quote the "New York Post," but I do want to quote somebody else that is more serious, Tom Friedman. France is so caught up with its need to differentiate itself from America to feel important it's become silly. Now he's a very serious commentator.

VAISSE: Yes. Sure, he is a very serious commentator, but he has written a couple of columns in the recent week that really surprised me because they are so (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that they seem to be, you know, just the exact opposite of anti-American columns in France.

So let's get to your point. I think you have a very good point. And you know I don't agree with all of what Chirac says or does, I guess as you don't agree with all of what the Bush administration has to say and what it does.

EPSTEIN: Sure.

VAISSE: I think the United Nations is a forum where things are debated. And I think that the U.S. should be happy to have a friend that is ready to say things that all the nations to which the Bush administration is twisting arms to say what it really thinks about this war. And making the very arguments that were in the previous section.

And so I think it is not undermining alliances. Alliances are, you know, made to discuss things and to make the serious arguments.

CARLSON: Wait a second, Justin. Your thesis here that France is confronting the U.S. with difficult arguments that need to be heard, they're unpopular, but it is really doing the world a service, as being the conscience of the world essentially, not true. France has no serious -- and if I'm wrong, I hope you can present it -- plan for disarming Saddam Hussein. And beyond that, I would say there is a deep strain of unreasonableness in the French culture.

In the wake of 9/11, one of the single best sellers in France is a book, as you know, called "The Big Lie," that claimed that the attacks on the World Trade Center were all part of a conspiracy by the Bush administration. I mean why should the United States listen to a nation that would buy a book like that?

VAISSE: Of course. But then why should France listen to a nation that has newspapers like this? I mean that's outrageous.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Because this is true and that's not.

VAISSE: No, I think that -- I really think that's not a good argument to make. And you know you mentioned that Tom Friedman's column saying that France was isolating itself just, you know, to make -- to posture to seem important and all that. But, you know, let me remind you that President Chirac -- in France, people are opposed to the war without the second resolution by 74 percent. But in the rest of the world, it is more like in the 90s -- 90 percent.

And so of course Chirac is isolated. He's somewhat isolated. But you know he's isolated with billions of people. And so I think -- you know, I think it is right that somebody is making the point.

(APPLAUSE)

EPSTEIN: Well, you know, I think that it -- again, it's regretful that France has been so public in its I think undermining of the Bush administration. I think that Bush, by the same token -- you know Teddy Roosevelt had the adage walk -- talk softly, carry a big stick. I think Bush has replaced that with a competing version, which is a diplomatic bull in a china shop.

I think that this notion of being so publicly at war with our friends in this rhetorical war (ph) is unnecessary. I think if France isn't going to be with this game then we just ought to ignore France. But the idea here that we get into this public spat seems to me to have no percentage in it for the United States.

CARLSON: But just, honestly, just correct the misperception here. This is not simply an effort by the administration to beat up on France. This is coming -- there's a deep wellspring of anti-French feeling in this country, and it's going to have consequences. This is a bottle of French wine. This is a bottom of American wine.

VAISSE: It is bigger.

CARLSON: And it's bigger. That's exactly right. More forceful. There will be Americans who boycott French products. This in the end is really going to hurt France, isn't it?

VAISSE: No, I think it is going hurt wine lovers.

(LAUGHTER)


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