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CNN CROSSFIRE

President Bush Defends Iraq Policy

Aired August 26, 2003 - 16:42   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.

In the CROSSFIRE: The president defends his Iraq policy, despite more bad news from Baghdad.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No matter how long it takes, we will bring to justice those who plot against America.

ANNOUNCER: We will debate Iraq's political impact on the president and others with special guest host Al Franken sitting in on the left today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Al Franken and Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

We will keep you up to date on the Massachusetts plane crash as we receive more information.

And a special welcome again to our guest host on the left today, Al Franken.

AL FRANKEN, GUEST HOST: Thank you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FRANKEN: Thanks, Tucker.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Thank you, Al.

We have just watched President Bush remind the country that the war on terrorism is ongoing and it is a war and a very dangerous one. We learned today that 139 Americans have been killed in Iraq since major combat operations ceased. That is one more than was killed in the military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein. Polls consistently show that the American people support the president's Iraq policy and have supported it from the beginning. But Democrats see an opening. Is this finally a winning political issue for the left?

Stepping into the CROSSFIRE to debate that proposition, Democratic consultant Vic Kamber and Republican strategist Terry Holt.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: Terry, thank you for joining us.

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thank you. You're welcome.

FRANKEN: And by that, I mean Tucker.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN: In December, I'm going on my fourth USO tour, because I have...

HOLT: Thank you.

FRANKEN: Well, it is my pleasure. It is my honor.

And I'm going to Iraq. And I'm going to Afghanistan this time. And it's because I love our troops. And Americans love our troops.

And my question is, is it reasonable to assume, if this drumbeat of one death after another day after day happens, that, eventually, Americans are going to sort of lose trust in the president's policy?

HOLT: Well, the president has to continue to be consistent. And he has to have speeches like he did today to continue to make the case, perseverance, patience and will. It's a long war. It's still a dangerous place.

But we have a couple of hundred thousand men and women in uniform over there that are standing in front of hostile forces every day. So we are going to have casualties. And that's the high cost of this war.

FRANKEN: Do you think Americans would be more willing to cut the president slack if he had not misled us as to why we went into the war?

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT: I don't think he has misled us.

FRANKEN: You don't?

HOLT: I think he has been very persistent in making the case.

FRANKEN: Well, he said that it was an imminent danger and that there were these weapons of mass destruction that...

HOLT: Well, I think most Americans would prefer that the president erred on the side of playing offense against terrorism, rather than waiting for terrorism to come to us.

FRANKEN: That's fine, but...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Vic -- I'm going to have to cut you off to ask, Al, to ask Vic...

FRANKEN: OK.

CARLSON: I have listened very carefully to the Democratic candidates critique the war in Iraq. All pretty much make the same case that it was a mistake and that the American efforts since the victory have been inadequate. And I'll even grant you that.

VIC KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: There was a victory -- OK.

CARLSON: For the sake of argument.

I haven't heard a single one propose or even begin to outline what we ought to do next, in other words, make an adult argument for where we go from here. It's not enough to criticize the war. These candidates have to tell us what we do. And what -- what do we do?

KAMBER: Tucker, wait. Wait.

They have to solve the problem that the president put us in?

CARLSON: Come on.

KAMBER: They -- no, come on, Tucker.

The bottom line is, this president took us to war without information properly given to the American public and without a plan to get us out. He took us to war. We had a great victory. We all agree. Saddam Hussein is gone. The world is a better place today without Saddam Hussein. The bottom line is, there was no plan to get us out of war. There still is no plan. You have got John McCain saying and John Warner saying, we should put 50,000 more troops there. You have got Don Rumsfeld saying: Wait. We can't put any more troops there right now.

You've got 160,000 Americans there in harm's way.

CARLSON: You haven't mentioned, Vic -- I'm sorry. I have to interrupt you, because you're not answering the question.

KAMBER: I'm not -- I can't answer you, because there is no solution.

CARLSON: You haven't explained...

KAMBER: The solution is pulling out or getting the U.N. in.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN: The U.N. in.

KAMBER: Getting the U.N. in and having the U.N. oversee this and the world come in and oversee this problem.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: So you believe the Democratic candidates...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: You believe -- I just want to very quickly explore the consequences of what you just said. You believe Democratic candidates should, or perhaps will, suggest that American forces ought to withdraw from Iraq, is what you're saying?

FRANKEN: No.

KAMBER: No.

I said that America should go to the U.N., ask for U.N. help, be willing to allow the U.N. to go in and run their own troops. We don't have to worry about who runs the troops. We don't have to be the ones to solve the problem. What we have to do is have world support in this cause.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FRANKEN: OK. I'd like to...

(APPLAUSE)

FRANKEN: OK, Terry, I'd like to -- a short answer on this, if I could.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN: Which do you think was...

HOLT: I can do that.

FRANKEN: OK.

Which do you think was stupider?

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN: When President Bush called our war on terrorism a crusade or when he said of the guerrillas in Iraq, bring them on? Quick answer. Which was stupider?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

HOLT: Crusade was the wrong word.

FRANKEN: Yes. OK. Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: All right, now, Vic, let -- let -- let me -- let me jump in.

(CROSSTALK)

KAMBER: I can't guarantee to be short like that.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: You have -- you have just suggested -- you have suggested what almost every Democratic candidate, apart from Al Sharpton, has suggested. And that is that American authority and power in the world is the single largest threat the world faces.

KAMBER: No, no, no, no. Don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say that.

CARLSON: And you have suggested that the United Nations is the answer.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Tell me this. In light of the bombing of the U.N. compound last week -- in light of the bombing of it -- where is the evidence that the Iraqi people are real anxious for the U.N. to step up its presence in Iraq?

KAMBER: I didn't say the Iraqi people, any more than there is evidence that the Iraqi people want the U.S. there.

I mean, you're telling me that the Shiite Muslims want the U.S. there? You're telling me the Assyrian Christians want the U.S. there? You're telling me the other Muslims want the U.S. there? We haven't seen all those people in the streets screaming and yelling, "Yes, yes, yes, America is here."

People are glad Saddam Hussein is gone. This country, the rest of the world, is glad he's gone. We don't have an answer, Tucker, in terms of how we get out of there. The answer has to be world support to help solve this country's problems, to put it back -- and that's the U.N., unless you don't believe in the U.N.

CARLSON: I'm sorry. I'm going to -- I'm going to have to -- I'm going to have to -- somebody doesn't, because somebody bombed it. But I'm going to have to cut off this conversation quickly right now.

We'll be back in just a moment, more with our guests.

And then, we'll get an update on the plane crash off the coast of Massachusetts.

We will be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Miles O'Brien live in Washington, D.C., live pictures on your screen right now courtesy of our affiliate WHDH.

You're looking at the wreckage of a Beechcraft 1900 commuter airliner, which crashed about 3:30 Eastern time, shortly after parting from the Hyannis, Massachusetts, airport on Cape Cod. There, you see the two possible models operated by an outfit called Colgan Air, which is affiliated with U.S. Airways.

The Aircraft was occupied by just two crewmembers, no passengers aboard. They were just ferrying the aircraft from point to point. It was on its way from Albany. The pilot radioed distress shortly after departure from Hyannis Airport. And then, shortly thereafter, it crashed into the waters of Nantucket Sound.

We're watching the story very closely. We'll give you details (VIDEO GAP)

Let's return now to CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

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