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CNN CROSSFIRE

How Much of a Threat Is Iran to U.S.?; Should Green Party Go South?

Aired May 27, 2003 - 16:30   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. From the Ayatollah Khomeini to President Khatami to the axis of evil, how much of a threat is Iran to the U.S.?

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will continue to press Iran to end its nuclear weapons program, and we'll continue to press Iran to cease its harboring of terrorists.

ANNOUNCER: And if Ralph Nader won't run should the Green Party go south? Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Tucker Carlson.

(APPLAUSE)

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Now that the Bush administration has made messes out of Afghanistan and Iraq, we're going to debate whether or not it should do something about Iran. But first, we're going to tackle one of the Bush administration's messes here at home in our CROSSFIRE Political Alert.

I've been tell you since inauguration day that the lunatic is in charge of an insane asylum. Well, I'm not alone. Even right wing publications have come to that conclusion. That's how Great Britain's "Financial Times" sums up President Bush's New tax cut for the rich.

You keep hearing it's $320 billion. Forget it. The real cost is more like $800 billion or even a trillion. The "Financial Times" points out the bill is full of gimmicks to hide the real costs.

I'll tell you something else. The New tax bill is a blatant attempt to suck up to the most powerful, and it's going to fail, period.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: James, it would be a lot easier to take that seriously but for two things. A, Democrats themselves in Congress are in favor of tax cuts; just on a different magnitude. And, B, Democrats...

CARVILLE: Wait a minute.

CARLSON: ... in Congress have proposed spending that's larger than the tax cut. So you don't care about deficits.

CARVILLE: You know what, Tucker, it didn't work the first time. It didn't work the second time. This is the most fiscally irresponsible government the United States ever had. It's one of the most fiscally irresponsible governments on the entire planet.

CARLSON: But James, to say that -- and I -- pretend you care about deficits.

CARVILLE: I don't care about short-term deficits. I don't care about them.

CARLSON: OK. Don't (UNINTELLIGIBLE), when you know, as well as I do, that every dollar of this money is going to be spent by Congress no matter what. And yet the administration says, let's give it back to the public before it gets spent. You call that irresponsible?

CARVILLE: But, you know what, the Clinton administration was $5.6 trillion in 10 years that didn't get spent. What are you talking about? We need to return to fiscal sanity in this country, son.

CARLSON: OK. Well, speaking of sanity, there is widespread confusion in the Green Party. Actually, there's always some degree of confusion in the Green Party, which has long espoused hemp as a means to world peace. The question tonight: who to nominate for president in 2004.

Ralph Nader, the party's previous nominee, remains popular with many Greens, as well as with still grateful Republicans. But Nader may have competition this time around. According to "The Washington Post," former Democratic Congressman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia is under consideration as the Green presidential candidate.

McKinney, who once accused President Bush of plotting the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is every bit as left wing as Ralph Nader and even more embarrassing. In fact, much more embarrassing. And that makes her perfect for the Green Party. We'll keep you up to date on her presidential campaign, and we hope it happens, don't we, James?

CARVILLE: If you take by my not attacking this statement that I agree with it, you would be wise.

CARLSON: Actually...

CARVILLE: You know...

CARLSON: Here's my question. If Cynthia McKinney does become the Green Party nominee, and I hope she does, I wonder how many Democratic votes she'll siphon off from the Democratic nominee? I would bet hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

CARVILLE: I think that -- I would guess that -- you know, I tell you what, hopefully Democrats have learned their lesson. But, again, I agree with your news alert. I don't have anything to add that or take away from it. It's troubling that I do, but I do.

More trouble at "The New York Times." Today the paper announced that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and reporter Rick Bragg has resigned after being rebuked for writing a story based largely on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) work of an assistant. Bragg tells CNN he's done nothing wrong and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

I don't know Rick Bragg; I don't know his politics. I do know he's one hell of a writer. You just have to read (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to find that out. I don't know all the details, but Rick, say it ain't so. Stay at "The New York Times." Anyone who loves the south needs your writing.

CARLSON: Well that's awfully nice. It's nice to hear you defending a journalist. You know it sounds to me like...

CARVILLE: I think that was wrong. I don't think "The New York Times" announced it. I think Rick announced it. I just want to set that record straight that he announced that he was leaving. I think the guy is a hell of a writer, and I think that -- I hope he lives in New Orleans, which is one of the great cities in the world.

CARLSON: Well, apparently The "Times" policy has allowed reporters to take the reporting of others, incorporate it into their stories and not give them credit in a byline or any sort of visual credit, and I think that's wrong. And if that is the policy, it's not Rick Bragg's fault.

CARVILLE: They ought to revisit the policy. But Rick, I urge you to revisit your decision, because everyone that loves the south loves your writing about it. You're a humane, sensitive guy, who is one of the best writers in the country, and not just in journalism. And I hope he stays.

CARLSON: And you are a decent writer, even if James Carville calls you a "humane, sensitive guy." Don't take it personally.

The law of unintended consequences went into effect in New York City this week. Two months after Mayor Michael Bloomberg's authoritarian anti-smoking plan became law, quality of life in New York City has declined measurably. Since cigarette smoking became illegal in bars and restaurants, smokers, not surprisingly, have been driven into the streets, thereby increasing pollution, noise and litter.

Police are upset; residents are infuriated. Smokers, as always, are persecuted. Quality of life complaints to the city of New York have increased by 160 percent.

In short, the policy has been a complete disaster. But Mayor Mike Blookberg feels more righteous, and that, of course, was the whole point from the very beginning. And it is nauseating.

The idea that you can't smoke in a restaurant, even if only the restaurant says it's fine, even if the employees say it's fine -- if the city of New York comes in and tells you what to do in your private life -- why has liberalism gotten to this point?

CARVILLE: They ought to have butt bars. In those you can go in and smoke.

CARLSON: But even in butt bars you can't have a butt. And that is the most upsetting thing of all.

CARVILLE: I didn't mean that. I mean just call them that. Maybe (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and you can have a smoking bar and a non- smoking bar. Let people go to the one they want to.

CARLSON: Yes, but that sort of goes against the whole idea of contemporary liberalism, which is to tell you what to do with your life. And some people just can't...

CARVILLE: I'm not the person that tells gay people they're going to hell when they die. I don't want to pass laws against them. I don't want to pass laws against somebody that wants to come up and blow a joint. That's their own business.

I'm not Bill Bennett. I'm not sitting there gambling $8 trillion at the slot machines. I don't -- I say if people want to gamble, let them gamble. If they want to have sex with somebody, let them have sex. If they want to smoke a joint, light up. Just do it at your house.

CARLSON: All right. The gospel according to James Carville.

In his delightfully understated way, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld today said Iran is being "unhelpful with respect to Iraq." The question is, what should the United States do about it? That's our debate in "Rapid Fire." Don't go away. We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: President Bush's spokesman says Iran isn't doing enough to round up al Qaeda terrorists hiding inside its borders. Also, the U.S. wants Iran to stop trying to build nuclear weapons. Any of that sound familiar? In fact, Senator Joe Biden wants the Bush administration to tone down its rhetoric and not "bite off more than we can chew right now."

We're going to chew on some of this with Defense Policy Board member Ken Adelman and Joe Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

CARLSON: Joe, I want to sum up the current view of Iran. This is a leading foreign policy expert quoted on Sunday. Quote: "There is no question that the Iranians represent a threat and they continue to be major supporters of terrorism, developing weapons of mass destruction." The person who said that was Joe Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut. Why do partisan Democrats object when the Bush administration says almost exactly the same thing? JOE CIRINCIONE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Well, I'm not a partisan Democrat, but I think the administration has a very serious problem here. They have been saying the same thing for the past two years, warning that Iran is a threat and threatening to take tough action against it. This has had exactly the opposite effect of what they intended. It looks like the lesson that Iran has drawn from the Iraq war is they better speed up their nuclear weapons program, not get rid of it. Now the administration is in a tough position. They keep talking tough, keep talking tough, but they got really nothing to back it up. There is no good military option.

CARLSON: So are you saying -- I'm confused as to what you're saying. Are you saying that the administration is not being hawkish enough, that it ought to threaten, say, invasion of Iran? What are you saying?

CIRINCIONE: No, it has to change its tactics completely at this point. Instead of trying to focus on threatening Iran and getting them to somehow give in to U.S. demands, it has to address some of Iran's legitimate security concerns and convince them that they don't need to have nuclear weapons.

CARVILLE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the administration was not being candid about the deficit, was not candid about weapons of mass destruction, why would anybody believe -- and maybe they're true, but why anybody believe them when they say this? There's nothing they've said has been believable thus far. Why would we believe the people that are now saying that Iran has weapons of mass destruction when these were the same people that said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction?

KEN ADELMAN, DEFENSE POLICY BOARD: Because we've known for many years that Iran has a very active program. It was true in the Clinton administration. It was true before that.

CARVILLE: So this time they're actually telling the truth?

ADELMAN: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Can you come on and let us know on those rare occasions when they are actually telling the truth, because we have a hard time sort of going through this, because these are the people that said that the tax cuts will pay for itself...

ADELMAN: Whoa, big boy. Whoa, big boy. OK.

CARVILLE: Tell me.

ADELMAN: Number one, it is unmistakable that they have been championing terrorism for the last 25 years.

CARVILLE: Iran?

ADELMAN: It is unmistakable. It is unmistakable that they have gobs of oil and they don't need nuclear plants for anything in charge of their -- anything to do with their energy, OK? Number three, we have known that they have been hosting al Qaeda for a very long time, all right? And number four, we also know that those clerics are totally corrupt and, so, therefore...

CARVILLE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if that's true, then why the hell didn't we invade Iran and not Iraq?

ADELMAN: Because we don't need to is the simple answer.

CARVILLE: Oh, thank goodness.

ADELMAN: Yes. OK.

CARVILLE: OK.

ADELMAN: You don't need to. What you need to do...

CARVILLE: What do we need to do?

ADELMAN: ... is to help those real democrats, those who are really wanting freedom...

CARVILLE: Small d democrats.

ADELMAN: Small d democrats. Help them succeed. And that's just what we're doing.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You implied a minute ago, I think you almost said that Iran has begun or accelerated its nuclear program in response to bellicose statements by the Bush administration. In other words, we've been mean and so they've been mean back. Then how do you explain the fact that Iran was likely behind the 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut, 241 Americans killed, likely behind Khobar Towers in 1996, certainly bank running Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, et cetera, et cetera. All these years, through Democratic and Republican administrations, was that all because the U.S. has been mean to them?

CIRINCIONE: There is no question this is a tough regime we're dealing with and that they back a lot of people that we oppose. I have no idea if those allegations about Khobar Towers are true.

(CROSSTALK)

CIRINCIONE: A new statement that's coming out of the State Department, but this is part clearly of a campaign to build a case against Iran. Here's what we know, that the drive for an Iranian nuclear weapon is not just regime-related. The shah began Iran's nuclear program and he began it with a reactor that we sold them. This is a systemic problem. We have to address it. If you want to aid the democrats in Iran, then the last thing we should be doing is driving them closer to this regime by threatening Iran nationally. The way (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the democrats open up...

(CROSSTALK)

ADELMAN: I would certainly not threaten them. I would subvert the regime. That's what I'm saying. And what you can do with that is very simple. What you can do is help groups with broadcasting, help groups with organization. Take the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that we had in Poland, right the Solidarity was started, update that, brush it off and spend a few million dollars doing that. That's not a military invasion, but it's very effective.

CARVILLE: We got two guys here. You are on the Defense Policy Board. You know a lot of people in the Pentagon. You may be as knowledgeable person on weapons of mass destruction that we have. I want to ask both of you this, because, frankly, nuclear weapons for some reason, I have an aversion to them. They scare the hell out of me, and particularly getting into the wrong hands, and I was sort of shaken by the fact that our State Department went out and told the war that Iraq had them when they couldn't make a dish right, much less a nuclear bomb. But I want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). How close do you think, and I'm asking you the same thing, Iran is to producing an actual nuclear bomb?

ADELMAN: I would say within a few years, wouldn't you, Joe?

CIRINCIONE: Within a few years. The really worrying part is they've started to being able to produce the material that you put inside the bomb. That's the big issue. We just learned that they have a facility that can enrich uranium, that's what you need to put inside of a bomb, that's the facility we've got to stop. So there is not an option here of doing nothing. We have to do something. The question is, do you take a military approach? Do you take a diplomatic approach and try to convince them...

ADELMAN: Well, I certainly would agree with Joe that a diplomatic approach of starting to talk to the government, I think that's certainly useful (ph). I would try to subvert the government and not legitimize them. That's the difference.

CARLSON: But Joe, if you say this program or the effort to create nuclear material started in the '70s under the shah, then where is there any evidence that a diplomatic approach is going to stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons?

ADELMAN: It's useless.

CIRINCIONE: Well, diplomatic approaches have worked in the past. They've worked in a number of countries, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, all countries that ...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... Iraq's nuclear program and blew up its reactor, and it worked.

CIRINCIONE: It did not stop it. It drove it underground. That's exactly the point. There's this military illusion that some kind of strike can take care of the problem. It actually makes the problem worse. Iraq expanded their program.

ADELMAN: Certainly Saddam Hussein would have had nuclear problems in 1985 and '86 had Israel not popped it off.

(CROSSTALK)

ADELMAN: I would subvert the organization...

CARVILLE: Bad idea, you say?

ADELMAN: Bad idea. I would subvert it, I would not legitimize the government.

CIRINCIONE: Bad idea. We don't even know where all the targets are, let alone be able to take them out.

CARLSON: We are going to take a quick break, and when we return, it's the headlines and then "Rapid Fire," the quickest question and answer session on television. In a little bit, we'll ask the members of our audience if they feel threatened by Iran. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: Time for "Rapid Fire," where we ask tough questions and our guests are supposed to give us even shorter answers. We're talking about Iran with Defense Policy Board member Ken Adelman and Joe Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. I know I mispronounced it again. Pronounce it right for me?

CIRINCIONE: Cirincione.

CARVILLE: Cirincione. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ADELMAN: You only missed three syllables, you know that?

CARVILLE: Hey, there were only three in there.

CARLSON: Iran would like to see an Iranian style theocracy in Iraq. Is that acceptable?

CIRINCIONE: No, of course it's not acceptable. We can't go back to having women wearing veils and burning liquor stores and having a theocracy rule Iraq. It's completely unacceptable. The problem is, the administration doesn't have an effective strategy to stop it from happening.

CARVILLE: On a scale of one to 10, how big of a problem is the Shia in the south of Iraq in terms of taking action against Iran...

ADELMAN: Four.

CARVILLE: Four?

CARLSON: Can you think, Joe, of a state that more vigorously supports terrorism than Iran?

CIRINCIONE: It's -- they are certainly up there in the leadership. It's hard to think of another one. You're right.

CARVILLE: Is the rebuilding of Iraq, is it going better than you expected, worse, or about as you expected?

ADELMAN: Oh, it's always rough and a little bit, a notch worse than I expected.

CARVILLE: A notch worse than you expected.

CARLSON: The administration says there are members of al Qaeda being harbored in Iran. Do you buy that?

CIRINCIONE: There are members of al Qaeda in about 60 different countries, including some of our close allies, like Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

CARLSON: But with the knowledge of the government, I mean, in Iran?

CIRINCIONE: It's quite possible. How effective are they from operating from Iran, I don't know.

CARVILLE: If the United States is still in Iraq in a major way four years from now, would you be surprised?

ADELMAN: I wouldn't be bothered very much.

CARVILLE: But if we're still administering the country and everything else?

ADELMAN: Oh, no, we're not going to be administering the country, but if we're still there helping them, if they still want our troops there, I wouldn't be bothered at all.

CARVILLE: Don't see anything crazy about them being there right now?

ADELMAN: You know, there was an interesting episode that happened with FDR. He said in 1945 that our troops wouldn't be in Europe more than two years.

CARVILLE: I got news for you. Iraq is not Europe.

CARLSON: Joe, don't you think any diplomatic efforts with Iran need to be backed up with at least the threat of force, the credible threat of force?

CIRINCIONE: I wouldn't take military force off the table. But you've got to be realistic, we don't have a real good military option there.

CARLSON: OK. Thank you very much, Joe Cirincione. Ken Adelman, thank you. We appreciate it.

And now our audience votes. And the question today is, is Iran a threat to the United States? Press 1 if you believe it is. Press 2 if you believe it's not. We'll return in a moment with the results.

And in "Fireback," yet another oppressed minority group makes a bid for international recognition. We'll tell you who it is. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time for "Fireback." But first, the results of our audience poll. The question was -- do you feel threatened by Iran? And here are the answers. Among Republicans in the audience, 70 percent believe Iran is a threat to the United States, versus only 29 percent of Democrats. On the flip side, only 30 percent of Republicans say, no, it's not a threat, whereas 71 percent of Democrats are not at all afraid of Iran.

CARVILLE: I think I'd agree with the Republicans. I think there is a good chance they are a threat. Unfortunately, we have made it impossible by lying to the world about Iraq and having weapons of mass destruction that we don't have any credibility left. And it may be like...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Well, we have credibility with you, apparently, because you believe it.

CARVILLE: "Shouldn't we find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before we start talking about taking on another country? This might be the definition of biting off more than we can chew." Mike Bricks, New York, New York. Mike, I don't know, but obviously our State Department and our intelligence services and people in the administration told the world something that turned out not to be true, but it would be a shame if as a result of our hardly any credibility left, that it might be something real -- remember, as I said before about the little boy that cried wolf, and maybe Iran is a very dangerous country. I don't know that.

CARLSON: OK. John Dixon of Smirna, Tennessee writes: "I desperately want someone to beat Bush in the next election, but frankly, I don't think any of the Democrats currently running can do it. Is there any possibility that Ralph Nader can run as a Democrat with someone like Hillary Clinton as the VP?" Now, John, after the Sharpton for president ticket, which I personally think is going to be victorious, that's my second favorite possibility, Ralph Nader and Hillary. I hope it happens.

CARVILLE: The short answer to your question is, no.

CARLSON: That's too bad, James.

"James, we may not always understand every word of your deep- southern accent, but in your exuberance you leave no doubt as to the love you have for your country and your party." Betty J. Ledbetter, Marietta, Georgia. Betty, let me leave no doubt of my love for you, Ms. Ledbetter in Marietta. You are a fine woman... CARLSON: She doesn't know what you're saying, but she likes it anyway. OK. And next up is Ken from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Yesterday we reported a curious development that the United Nations has designed Celts, as in Ireland, an oppressed minority group. Ken writes: "If drinking too much gets you international money, like the Celts got from the U.N., send some of that money to Wisconsin! Not only is alcohol oppressing us, as one of the most overweight states, so is the cheese."

CARVILLE: What's a Celtic then? It's a Celt...

CARLSON: It's a Celt.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: A kilt is what a Celt wears around his midsection.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: My great grandfather was born in Ireland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, my name is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from Boston, Massachusetts. And I just happen to be Iranian-American, too. And I was just wondering that, do you guys think the Bush administration is underestimating the influence of religion in its policy towards Middle Eastern countries and particularly Iran?

CARLSON: That's a good question. I don't think so. I mean, Iran is a theocracy and I think most people in the West, this administration included, see that as part of the problem, that states in which countries in which religion and government are intertwined tend to be or can be dangerous and oppressive.

CARVILLE: I think one of the problems they have is that the Shias in southern Iraq, which have a lot of allegiance to the theocracy in Iran. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). From the left, I'm James Carville, and that's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. See you tomorrow.

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



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