Is Bush Getting Read to Attack Iraq?; What Are the British Cooking Up at the U.N.?
Aired March 6, 2003 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE, he's getting ready to take reporters' questions. Is he also getting read to attack Iraq?
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The moment we find ourselves in now is a critical moment.
ANNOUNCER: Critical, and attracting plenty of critics.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I think it's a significant risk, a major problem for the United States if we do it alone or almost alone.
ANNOUNCER: Plus, what are the British cooking up at the U.N.?
JACK STRAW, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Of course, we are ready to discuss the wording of that second resolution.
Tonight on CROSSFIRE.
ANNOUNCER: Live, from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
Our president is going primetime tonight. No, not coming on CROSSFIRE to answer really tough questions. Instead, he'll be in the East Room of the White House catching softballs from the White House Press Corps. A couple of members of Congress will help us set the stage for tonight's presidential news conference coming up shortly.
Also, it was 167 years ago today that the Alamo fell. After 189 brave Texans, led by William Travis, including Davey Crocket and Jim Bowie, held off the mighty Mexican army for 13 days. Perhaps today, then, is not the most propitious day for the former governor of Texas to be looking for a vote at the U.N. from the president of Mexico. We will ask two British journalist if our president has, in fact, backed himself into a diplomatic corner and if British Prime Minister Tony Blair will ride to the rescue.
But first, the best little political briefing in television, the "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."
In less than an hour, President Bush will begin the eighth press conference of his long presidency. Let's watch and see which White House reporters serve as real watchdogs for the public's right to know and ask tough questions and which, instead, are Bush lapdogs.
Meanwhile, the best leader in the world -- of the free world, that is, Tony Blair of Great Britain, is said to be working behind the scenes on a comprised U.N. resolution that would set a deadline for Iraqi compliance.
Now, I think the division of labor is kind of telling. Prime minister Blair does the hard work of diplomacy. President Bush spends his day preparing for a news conference where he will, no doubt, announce, in surprise, that he's just learned Cameroon is not a cookie, Chile is not a pepper and Guinea is not a pig.
He's going through his countries now. He's studying up.
TUCKER CARLSON, CNN CO-HOST: I must say, Paul, that "News Alert"...
BEGALA: That was silly.
CARLSON: No, no, no. Not the last part. I agree Guinea is not a pig.
But it does show partisan, and if you'll excuse my saying so, sort of shallow your critique of the Iraq crisis is. I'm serious. Tony Blair, if any thing, has taken a more hawkish view, or at least as hawkish as President Bush. He's taken a lot of political heat in his home country. But because he's not a Republican and an America, you feel free to say, Well, he's greatest leader in the free world, whereas Bush is a moron. There's no difference between them.
BEGALA: There's an enormous difference, actually.
Prime Minister Blair really has thought this through. He's been much more concerned about building an international collation, much more concerned about the expressions of critique and criticism from our friends and allies. He's done a much better job in a very unpopular position...
CARLSON: There was a Congressional resolution. How do you do you know what Tony Blair is thinking?
BEGALA: Come on.
CARLSON: Are you in his heart? Are you on the phone with him? Com on. (CROSSTALK)
BEGALA: I know what he's doing and what he is doing is what our president ought to be doing, which is rallying the world.
CARLSON: All right.
BEGALA: Bush is not doing that.
CARLSON: Former President -- speaking of presidents -- Bill Clinton has weighed in on the Iraq debate. Clinton suggests that the U.N. should set a deadline for Saddam Hussein to get rid of his missiles and then another deadline to get rid of his chemical weapons, and then yet one more for his biological weapons and so on and on, deadline following deadline, probably forever. This, says Clinton, might win French support.
Needless to say, this is not a serious idea. In fact, it's a joke. But, if you watch CBS on Sunday nights, you're bound to hear more like it. Bill Clinton is now officially an entertainer. For a reported $100,000 a show, Clinton is teaming up with his 1996 opponent, Senator Bob Dole, to revive the old point-counterpoint segment of CBS' "60 Minutes." The show's producer, Don Hewitt, promises serious debate in 45-second sound bites.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON HEWITT, EXEC. PROD., "60 MINUTES": I think they're not of a mind to indulge in all of the raucous, shouting back and forth that now is so typical of what you see on television, including your own CNN, where they put on CROSSFIRE like a boxing match. I have no interest in anything like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: Now, I actually watched Don Hewitt get on his knees and beg Bill Clinton during that interview "60 Minutes" did on Gennifer Flowers. And so I have a hard time taking a lecture on dignity from Don Hewitt.
CARLSON: I can't answer that, Paul, so I'm not going to do.
President Bush promised that his Medicare proposal would modernize Medicare, protect seniors and save money. Turns out he was telling a whopper. Mr. Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services that, in fact, the Bush plan for Medicare will not save money, nor will it provide a full prescription drug benefit for every senior.
In fact, Secretary Tommy Thompson said passage of the Bush plan would probably accelerate the date the Medicare trust fund becomes insolvent. President Bush inherited a surplus in the Medicare trust fund, a surplus, in the Social Security trust fund, a surplus in the federal budget, all of which he squandered.
Apparently the only area of expertise that he brought to the presidency is squandering an inheritance.
CARLSON: Yes, I'm not going to get into...
BEGALA: Just level with us.
CARLSON: ...Bush's family or how much money he inherited or didn't inherit from his family. I do think, though, that if you're concerned about the deficit, and I know you are, that maybe it's time to rethink the prescription drug benefit.
BEGALA: No, I'd repeal the Bush tax cut. We have plenty of money to balance the budget and to buy prescription drugs.
CARLSON: Yes, take the money and give to the government because ordinary people aren't supposed to decide.
BEGALA: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is not Irish, not even a little bit Irish. "The Boston Globe" reported this scoop last month and it has been causing problems for Kerry's presidential campaign ever since.
You see, in Massachusetts many people are Irish, and until last month they thought that John Kerry was too. Why did they think that? Because John Kerry told them so.
Page one follow up story in this morning's "Globe" cites Kerry's 1986's St. Patrick's Day greeting, which was read into the Congressional record. It reads -- and this is a quote: "Those of us who are fortunate to share an Irish ancestry, we take great pride in the contributions that Irish Americans, from the time of the Revolutionary War to the present, have made to building a strong and vibrant nation" -- endquote.
Confronted with the evidence, Kerry now claims that his staff wrote the statement, passed it off as his and that he never even saw it. How in the world could this happen? It must have been the luck of the Irish.
BEGALA: Now, you know, Tucker, that is as grossly unfair. "The Boston Globe" is on this perverse vendetta. "The Globe," not Kerry, "The Globe" has been telling people for years Kerry is Irish. Every time Kerry has been asked....
CARLSON: That was his statement.
BEGALA: That was a statement written by a staffer to put in the Congressional record.
CARLSON: So he doesn't even read his own statements?
BEGALA: Every member of Congress has young staffers that put ceremonial nonsense into the Congressional record. John Kerry -- 10 years ago was asked three or four different times in an interview -- Are you Irish? No. Was your father Irish? No. But I thought you were Irish? No. My family's from Austria.
CARLSON: Actually, I read that interview
CARLSON: ..."One-On-One" in 1993.
CARLSON: If you read it, you will know that it's, in fact, not clear. He said, Well, I'm a mix.
But the point is, I don't think....
BEGALA: No, I'm sorry. This is b.s. This is "The Boston Globe" on this terror campaign against John Kerry. If you don't like Kerry, don't vote for it. But he has never tried to mislead people about his ethnicity. That's a load of crap.
CARLSON: I actually do like John Kerry and I don't think "The Boston Globe" should be getting into any body's racial or ethnic background. I think it's creepy, the sort of thing liberals do.
BEGALA: Liberals? Hello?
CARLSON: But I do think he ought to be straightforward.
The White House says President Bush won't be declaring war in Iraq during tonight's news conference. In a moment, we'll ask two members of Congress how much longer Saddam Hussein has to wait.
Also, are the Brits starting to waiver?
And stay tuned for CNN's live coverage of President Bush's news conference, to follow this program.
We'll be right back.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. President Bush is getting ready to hold his first prime time news conference in more than a year. He's expected to say the final decision on war in Iraq is very near. Two member of Congress tonight in the crossfire to discuss it. Please welcome Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security and Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, the House majority whip.
CARLSON: Mr. Frank, as you know, five years ago President Clinton gave a press conference at which he said Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and if he's not disarmed by the international community he will use them. He must be disarmed.
President Bush is essentially making that exact same case and has been from day one. Still hasn't convinced Democrats. Tell me, is there anything would say tonight that would change your mind? Anything?
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No, because it's not words that change my mind but facts and reality. I think Saddam Hussein has been very effectively contained. I was struck, for example...
CARLSON: But so there's no fact he could offer tonight to change mind?
FRANK: No, he could do facts. You said is there anything he could say.
FRANK: What I was saying before the first interruption of the night was...
CARLSON: ... get you to give a clear answer. That's all I'm doing.
FRANK: No, I think you were trying to stop me from giving a clear answer.
BEGALA: Please do.
FRANK: What I'm saying is this: I was struck that the U.S. military in projecting for this war noted than Saddam Hussein's military is today one-third as strong as it was 11 years ago.
In other words, by this combination of sanctions and restrictions on where he could put his own people in his own country and by overflights, all which I've supported, we have substantially weakened him.
So I think, frankly, the major difference between Saddam Hussein and a number of other very bad people is that he is currently today, because of international action, much more constrained and much more contained than many others.
BEGALA: Congressman Blunt, first thanks for coming. It's always good to see you. I think this is a great idea for the president to have a press conference. It's always good. It will allow him to get back on the offense if we do have wavering support around the world. I think it's good.
But if I were back in my old job advising the president before a press conference, I'd tell him to be careful about the things he says. One reason we've lost support around the world is that he has repeatedly said things that are simply not true. We all remember he stood with the prime minister of Great Britain and said that the International Atomic Energy Agency had a report that said Saddam Hussein would have a bomb in six months. The IEAE said that's not true.
He had this whole myth of aluminum tubes that they were using. Turned out not to be true. He relied on an Iraqi defector's statements and then didn't tell us that the defector actually said they destroyed all the weapons. Doesn't he have to be careful tonight about his credibility?
REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP: Well I think we don't know about all of those facts yet, whether just how much we will find, whenever we conclude whatever has to happen in Iraq.
I think the president will once again make the case as he made it effectively at the State of the Union message and other times. And of course his is a press conference where he has a chance to respond to questions and have follow-up on those questions.
I agree with you. It's a good thing. I don't agree with you that we've lost support around the world. I think we continue to see the alliance that will join us if we have to take action in Iraq grow.
And obviously, during this long waiting period as we've moved up to try and get Saddam Hussein to obey not just one U.N. resolution, but 17, I guess we're about ready to pass 18 now and see if he'll agree with the 18th one. That obviously public sentiment has a chance to get frustrated with the fact that no action happens. But we're going to have a significant coalition of nations including nations in the Middle East and the neighbors of Iraq once we've decided that action begins.
CARLSON: Now, Mr. Frank, one of the things the president is certain to say tonight is that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was apprehended over the weekend in Pakistan and that it is a big deal. The No. 3 member of al Qaeda, planner of 9/11.
Tom Daschle gave an interview to the Washington -- "The New York Times" the other day. Says not that big a deal. Last night we had Congressman Charlie Rangel from New York on, asked him what he thought. Here's what he said about the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Quote, "I haven't the slightest clue who this guy was." Hadn't read the papers, apparently.
Do you think it's a big deal? Isn't this evidence...
FRANK: I'm delighted that they captured this man. I was very supportive of the very legitimate action we took in Afghanistan. I'm delighted that they caught him and I hope that they can continue and go after some of the others. I think it was a very good idea. I'm glad he was caught and I congratulate the people who did it.
BEGALA: Amen. One of the tough questions this president's certain to get tonight as well, Congressman Blunt, is how do we get out of this? Let me refresh your memory. Governor Bush as a presidential candidate for president, in the presidential debates very directly told us when he when he would use military force. This is Governor Bush in the campaign. Here's what he promised.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP -- OCTOBER 11, 2000)
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), TEXAS: I'm going to be judicious as to how to use the military. It needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear and the exit strategy obvious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: He said it will be judicious, that it needs to be in the vital interest, the mission needs to be clear and the exit strategy obvious. What is our obvious exit strategy here?
BLUNT: I think the obvious exit strategy here is first of all on a military basis, the object is clear. It's to remove Saddam Hussein. It's to eliminate this threat to the United States.
BEGALA: And now to build democracy, too. The president's given us three warings...
BEGALA: ... disarm and change regime and build...
BLUNT: ... a substantial community of nations join in that effort. I think we'll be the -- carry much the burden if we have to go into conflict as we did in Afghanistan. I think in the post- conflict period we will have less of that burden as we've had in Afghanistan. I think we'll have lots of help...
BEGALA: ... most people would agree we've walked away from Afghanistan. The president, in fact, forgot to put any money in the budget...
BLUNT: I don't think people believe we've walked away from Afghanistan. I do think that there's an understanding that we were -- we played the leadership role in the military confrontation and others are playing that role. But we still have troops there. We still have a significant presence there...
BEGALA: We actually sent more troops to the Winter Olympics, though, than we did...
CARLSON: Mr. Frank, very quickly, you said a second ago that I think it's unfair to the soldiers, and we all agree. You said a second ago that the Iraqi army is a third of its size ten yeas ago. It's an interesting point...
FRANK: No, I said the American military said that. I'm not...
CARLSON: Isn't the fear from Iraq not its conventional forces, not its tanks, but its chemical and biological weapons?
FRANK: No, not realistically for this reason. The American military also said, and I'm a great believer in their expertise, that during 1991 when we in fact were kicking him out of Kuwait, he refrained from using the chemical and biological weapons he then had in greater numbers than he probably has now because he was deterred by the fear that we would widen the war.
And even as we were defeating his army and driving him out of Kuwait, he did not have his army use chemical and biological weapons because he was afraid that he would then be attacked himself. And in fact, since that time, he has not used those chemical and biological weapons.
So, yes, I believe he would like to do bad things. I also believe that people who say, well, are we just going to sit by are ignoring the fact that there has not, I think, been since the attack in Korea, a case of the international community mobilizing as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) against Iraq.
Let me put it this way. If George Bush could announce at 8:00 tonight that he has gotten North Korea to agree to the set of arrangements that we've imposed on Iraq, I'd be delirious. I'd say what a great thing. We've got these guys tied up.
CARLSON: ... quick commercial break. We'll be back in just a moment.
When we do come back, we'll ask the congressmen whether democrats can convince voters that they are tough enough on terrorism.
Later, just how far are the British willing to goes to placate the Russians and the Germans, not to mention the French.
And stay tuned for CNN live coverage of President Bush's news conference which follows CROSSFIRE. We'll be right back.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
Waiting for President Bush's prime time news conference. Aids say a major presidential address to the nation is under consideration for next week, that might explain the risks and the rewards for using military force against Iraq. It might warn journalists and humanitarian workers to get out of Iraq. And perhaps issue a final ultimatum Saddam Hussein. We are talking with Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank who's a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security and Missouri Republican Congressman, Roy Blunt, the House Majority Whip.
Congressman Blunt, right before the break, Congressman Frank said if the president tonight announced that the North Korea agreed to the same restrictions that we know have in Iraq, he would be happy. I want to ask you to respond -- but also to respond to a very similar point made by General Brent Scowcroft who served the first President Bush.
Here is what General Scowcroft says, "If North Korea continues to view unconventional weapon exports as it's chief cash crop, it will find numerous customers with adequate means and motive. Access to plutonium could shave years off the efforts of al Qaeda and other terrorist to obtain the weapon of ultimate destruction. We cannot afford to defer this issue."
Why is our president deferring this issue?
BLUNT: Well, what countries agree to what and what they do are totally different things in the case of Iraq. That's why it's so important to enforce the will of the community of civilized nations here. And now Barney rightly pointed out that the Iraqis didn't use chemical or biological weapons in 1991 against the army that was pushing them out of Kuwait, but they have used these weapons. What set Saddam Hussein apart from any other tyrant in the world and any other government in the world today is he has shown a willingness to use the weapons at his disposal no matter how terrible they are, he's used them on his own people. He's used them on a neighboring country. He didn't use them in 1991. Hopefully he'll leave the scene before he has a chance to use them in 2003 if in fact we have conflict there again.
FRANK: Although they came before we began this multinational intervention that's been so effective against him.
CARLSON: Mr. Frank, if you ask Americans which party is tougher on terrorism, Republicans will win by 40 points. Let me subject why. Last year, three members of the Democratic caucus went to Baghdad. One (UNINTELLIGIBLE) denounced his own countries government from Baghdad. This weekend Marcy Kaptur of Ohio said this, quote, "One could say that Osama bin Laden and these non-nation-state fighters with religious purpose are very similar to those kind of atypical revolutionaries that helped cast off the British crown." In other words Osama bin Laden, George Washington, no big difference.
Isn't this part of the problem?
FRANK: No. It's not part of the problem of the it's part of the political problem may individuals have. But, it's not serious public policy. A lot of people say things I don't understand agree with. Occasionally I say something I don't agree with. But I sorry you that you don't want to talk about the substance.
CARLSON: I do want to talk about substance. FRANK: Let's talk about it. You know, one of the arguments we got -- I do have to say this, because we were told, well, we'll where going to go into Iraq to bring in democracy. We did go into Kuwait and expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and I must have missed something. I missed the number of votes that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Kuwait got in the last Kuwaiti election.
CARLSON: We would not have been better if Saddam Hussein in Kuwait.
FRANK: I am saying what I'm saying not what you're trying to put in my mouth. I'm saying that we did not create democracy in Kuwait and we're claiming we're doing this to create democracy is a lot of hooie.
BEGALA: I am (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but we're going to have to have you back. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) cut short. Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri, Republican House Majority Whip, Barney Frank of Massachusetts, we'll have you both back. Thank you very much.
CNN's live coverage of our president's news conference will begin shortly, but next the vote that may tear apart the United Nations. We will ask that the British can find enough comprises to keep the U.N Security Council together. Stay with us.
CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, coming to you live from the George Washington University here in Downtown Washington. A U.S. official tells CNN that the Bush administration is involved in serious discussions in amending the proposed U.N. Security Council resolution to create a final deadline for Iraq to disarm. This afternoon British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, said his government is open to a change in the resolution's language.
Are the British losing their nerve. That's the question, and we put to UPI chief international correspondent Martin Walker who is also a Senior Fellow with the World Policy Institute. With him is Christopher Hitchens a visiting professor at University of California at Berkeley, among many other things.
BEGALA: Good to see you, thank you for joining us.
Pull up a chair here.
Professor Hitchens. Dr. Hitchens. Now it's the hinting.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA: Half professor/doctor. It's European.
BEGALA: Well, a moment ago I played a piece of videotape of our president as a candidate talking about when he would committee military force.
HITCHENS: When he was playing humble.
BEGALA: Well, I want to play that -- actually that promise. He made another promise that was striking today that he would be humble in his conduct in foreign policy. Here's our president as a candidate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: If we were arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation and strong, they welcome us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: Has he kept that promise.
HITCHENS: That's what the drum beat of war was them. The foolishness of that remark was demonstrated by that. George Bush was against nation building. He was willing to considering lifting the sanctions on Iraq and also Libya. He was willing to consider lifting the no fly zones of Iraq when he came into power. This isn't a drum beat. This isn't a president who wanted to go to war.
Those who say that it's all designed to distract attention from the economy or from al Qaeda or any of this are simply deceiving themselves and trying to deceive us. Saddam Hussein has forced this confrontation. He's been forcing it for 12 years now. Up until now he's been allowed to decide the timing of his confrontations and his aggressions. I think the president is quite right when this time we'll decide.
BEGALA: That's an interesting point, but it's utterly off the mark. Has our president...
HITCHENS: What's off the mark about this.
BEGALA: The question was this, let me try again. He said If we're but strong countries will respect us in, implied they will follow us. Is perhaps the reason we have so few allies is our president has been anything but humble in his foreign policy.
BEGALA: ... foreign policy.
HITCHENS: So you think Mr. Chirac is a modest man?
BEGALA: I know he's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) man.
HITCHENS: And Mr. Putin is a man of self-effacement.
BEGALA: Well we're talking about President Bush.
HITCHENS: This is absurd.
BEGALA: They didn't promise to be humble... HITCHENS: This is what the shrinks call transference. The French have an arrogant, unilateralist oil-driven policy based on their own thirst for weapons of mass destruction.
HITCHENS: Of course...
BEGALA: You just can't defend, Bush so he's got to attack the French.
HITCHENS: And if you were in their position, you'd have to say, as they do, let's see how many times we can get "cowboy" as a word into the same sentence. To distract attention from their own (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and irresponsibility.
WALKER: So what's the German motive?
HITCHENS: The German is neutralist, which is an honorable position. I don't quarrel with the German neutralism at all. I'm rather impressed by it. I'm impressed by the maturity of German policy. They only once broke their practice...
CARLSON: But Mr. Hitchens is making the exact point that -- Dr. Hitchens is making the point that both France and Germany have their own motives, their own visions of the way the Middle East should be. And for that reason, any attempts to delay the next resolution or to really even to have one are going to be fruitless.
Tony Blair is under all this pressure to wait until the end of March so we can bring France and Germany aboard. They will never come aboard. They will never enforce the resolution they sign, will they?
WALKER: Well, I think if that's right, and you may be right, it's not because of Iraq. I think this has now gotten much bigger than Iraq. I think the real issue now for the Germans, for the French, and perhaps for the Russians and Chinese as well, it's not Saddam Hussein at all, it's just whether it's about their resentments of living in a world that they believe to be dominated over much by one irresponsible power, the United States.
And there's a number of reasons why they believe that. It's not just to do with Iraq. It has to do with things like the Kyoto protocol, like the international communal court, like the whole pattern of U.S. behavior, which I think for us in the states looks reasonable, particularly after 9/11. But for countries out there it looks pretty menacing, and that's a real cycle of the problem.
CARLSON: I think you're absolutely right. I think you're right, but what you've described is a fundamentally irrational response. I had a bad day at work. I kick my dog. That makes me an irrational person. Why should the United States wait around for France and Germany to work through their psychological issues, the ones you just described, to disarm someone who must be disarmed?
WALKER: I think because the real stakes here have become now very much larger than just Saddam Hussein. I think it might be worth going along with this new British compromise proposal of getting a few more days, perhaps another couple of weeks in the hope that you can get the international community behind you for two reasons. The first reason I think is that it's going to be very important to have allies and to have supporters in the post-war situation in Iraq. If only to help pay for the entire rebuilding process.
The second reason, I think, is that we are in real danger right now of collapsing a whole mass of things. Collapsing the NATO alliance. I don't see how it survives in the future after this clash with Germany. Of a real crisis of the European Union, of a whole series of nasty trade wars that can plunge already weakened economies into recession, and indeed into a whole -- into a whole collapse of the U.N.
BEGALA: I'm sorry. You're going to have to respond to that when we come back. So keep your seats just a second. We're going to have to go quick to a break and a quick reminder, CNN's coverage of our president's news conference will begin at 7:45 Eastern Time. If you stay with us, we will have a few more questions for our guests about what the French really are doing and why.
You're watching CROSSFIRE on CNN, the most trusted name in news.
BEGALA: Welcome back. CNN's live coverage of President Bush's news conference will begin in just a few minutes. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, has taken a real hit at the polls for his unswerving loyalty to a hard-line policy on Iraq. According to one poll, Mr. Blair's job approval is as low as 31 percent.
We're talking with a couple of experts both from Britain. University of California visiting professor, Christopher Hitchens; and UPI chief international correspondent, Martin Walker.
CARLSON: Now Martin Walker, you often hear people -- you often hear on this show people criticize President Bush really on aesthetic grounds. You know he acts like a cowboy, he should have been a better diplomat. I'd like to know -- France has just opposed the exercise of American power. What could this president have done differently to win over France?
WALKER: Well I think he could have run the kind of diplomatic campaign his father did 12 years ago. You know there's a real contrast between the way in which Jam Baker, then secretary of state, went three times to Turkey, really trying to engage the Turks in U.S. policy before the Gulf War broke out. Colin Powell hasn't been there at all. And the tragic reason for that...
(CROSSTALK) HITCHENS: Who wants the Turks?
WALKER: The reason for that...
HITCHENS: Who needs the Turks?
BEGALA: Well Bush is offering them $32 billion, so I guess he wants them.
HITCHENS: I'm deadly serious. The Turks are proposing an aggression against Iraq, which NATO and the United States government and the European Union should in advance repudiate. They're after a land grab and they're after an ethno (ph) side against the Kurds. It should be repudiated, and it's a sign of the secular (ph) policy that it is so disliked (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
CARLSON: But wait, Mr. Hitchens, Dr. Hitchens, Commander Hitchens. Are you suggesting, Martin Walker, that if somehow Colin Powell had gone to Paris three times that that would have won over the France? That doesn't seem a sophisticated analysis.
WALKER: Well, I think if one had engaged in diplomacy in the way that the Bush father, the Bush the elder...
CARLSON: By traveling, or what does that mean?
WALKER: By traveling, certainly by engaging, certainly by listening. One of the problems...
HITCHENS: The French were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the moment that the invasion of Kuwait began.
WALKER: ... of this entire administration, I think, is that it hasn't been prepared to take seriously the kind of arguments people have put forward. All of the motives of the Germans, the French have been smeared at, dismissed. They've been called wimps and so on. It's simply not the case.
I mean don't forget that during the Afghan war, just one year ago, the foreign country that flew the most number of combat air support missions for American troops was the French. And the Germans aren't wimps. They've got more troops in Afghanistan than the U.S. does.
HITCHENS: Actually, Martin, French policy isn't wimpy. Jacques Chirac built Saddam Hussein a nuclear reactor knowing what he wanted it for. That's not wimpishness.
WALKER: About the same time the U.S. had the anthrax...
HITCHENS: That wasn't Bush.
HITCHENS: The reason why I'm not a great admirer of the aesthetics of President Bush, f you insist on putting it like that, is that his policy is different from his predecessor. It's better. It's for regime change.
It takes the side of the martyred people of Kurdistan, who have already proved in one-sixth of the country that there can be regime change. Already freed that much of the country...
BEGALA: All right. You said a moment ago that the French were after this because of commercial reasons. That they have an oil-based policy. In point of fact, as "The Washington Post" tells us today, France's trade with Iraq constitutes three-tenths of one percent of its imports, two-tenths of one percent of its exports. France buys, it turns out, eight percent of Iraq's oil. The United States buys 56 percent.
Now I don't believe this is a war for oil. I don't support it, but I don't believe the argument that this is about oil for the Americans. But it damn sure ain't about oil for the French either, is it, Chris? They buy eight percent. Dick Cheney had more deals with the Iraqis than the French.
HITCHENS: Are you asking me or telling me? Now how right you are. But I point out, again, very self-evidently, that policy by Mr. Cheney isn't determined by the oil element, whereas the French one is. Mr. Chirac...
BEGALA: Dick Cheney was selling oilfield equipment to them. What was that driven by if not oil?
HITCHENS: Are you saying that the United States is now constituted by Saddam Hussein's oil trade? That his policy is? Well then why are you hinting that it is?
BEGALA: I said explicitly it's not about oil, but I am saying Dick Cheney is a hypocrite today to say that Saddam Hussein was evil, when yesterday he was a valued customer.
CARLSON: And Martin Walker, isn't that...
HITCHENS: I prefer -- then I'll just bluntly say to you again, I like the new policy of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I didn't like the old one. Would you like me to say that again and make it slower or will that do? CARLSON: I do want you to come on more often to say that. You can help Paul. But Martin Walker, isn't that the problem, though, with the liberal critique such as it is of this war? It's all about the fringe, the ancillary arguments. Oh, Dick Cheney sold oil equipment. It's, we haven't convinced France.
Liberals don't address the key question, which is, do we need to disarm Saddam Hussein by force? That's ignored.
WALKER: I firmly believe we probably will have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. I also believe that it's important to try and keep it (UNINTELLIGIBLE) together. If it takes another week, another two weeks, like the British proposal suggests, that's not going to ruin anything, because we're going to need that time, if only to get through the blockage on the Suez Canal and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
BEGALA: Thanks you very much, Christopher Hitchens, now of the University of California. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) very much.
Stay tuned for coverage of our president's press conference. That's it for CROSSFIRE. From the left, I'm Paul Begala.
CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. And join us again next time for yet more CROSSFIRE. Stay tuned, as Aaron Brown and Wolf Blitzer anchor CNN's special coverage of President Bush's news conference which follows right after this.
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