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President Bush Defends Iraq Policy Before United Nations

Aired September 23, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: President Bush tells the United Nations the U.S. did the right thing by ousting Saddam Hussein. Now it's time for the rest of the world to help pay the bill.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The nation of Iraq needs and deserves our aid. And all nations of goodwill should step forward and provide that support.

ANNOUNCER: Will anyone answer his call?

And, in California, it's 14 days to go and counting down. The recall election is back on. Are the courts playing politics? -- today on CROSSFIRE.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.


President Bush went before the United Nations today without apologies or regrets, defending how he got rid of Saddam Hussein. The question is, who will stand with the U.S. at the U.N.? We will put Iraq policy in the CROSSFIRE in a moment.

But first, our policy is to bring you the best little political briefing on television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The notoriously leftist U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had a fit of good sense today and interpreted the law as written, not as imagined in the feverish imagination of liberal judges. An 11-judge panel reversed its own panel of three lefty judges and reinstated the California recall election for October 7. The ACLU won't even appeal to the Supreme Court. That means Californians will have a chance to get rid of Governor Gray Davis and maybe vote in somebody who has never served a day in public office, Arnold Schwarzenegger. What a great day this is for democracy.

(LAUGHTER) PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: You know, Bob, I generally don't like courts getting involved in elections. You will remember Bush vs. Gore, where the Supreme Court hijacked the presidential election.

I do wish this were appealed, though, just to watch those Bush justices squirm, when their one-shot, one-time-only judicial fiat was actually going to be applied to another case. And they would have had to postpone the election if you fairly applied Bush vs. Gore.

NOVAK: Would you say your rule, Paul, is, you only like the judges to interfere when it serves the Democratic Party's purpose?

BEGALA: No, no, no.

NOVAK: Didn't the judges Florida interfere in the case? That started the whole thing.

BEGALA: George Bush filed the lawsuit. It was George Bush who went to the..



BEGALA: By the way, he would like to restrict our ability to file lawsuits, but he became president because of one. I don't get it.

Anyway, well, remember, now, this is Begala's rule of the California recall. It can always get weirder. And it has. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, the right-wing millionaire whose money fueled the recall and who went bitterly when Arnold Schwarzenegger chased him from the field, now is urging Republicans to vote no on the recall and keep Gray Davis in office if both conservative Tom McClintock and Schwarzenegger continue to split the Republican vote.

That's right. The guy who started the recall is now urging Republicans to vote no on the recall and keep Gray Davis in office. No word yet on whether Congressman Issa will spend any more on his millions on political ads attacking himself.



NOVAK: You know, Paul, let me try to explain it to you. You would know if you had watched Judy Woodruff interviewing Congressman Issa on "INSIDE POLITICS."

He said he was trying to get people's attention by saying that. He got yours. What he's trying to do is get one or the other of the candidates, probably McClintock, out of the race. I like Congressman Issa. He spent his own money to cause this. But he had 4 percent in the polls when he got out. I don't think he's going to sway many voters one way or the other. BEGALA: I did see Judy's very fine interview with him. And I guess what you are trying to say is, we can't take him at his word, which is just another way to say he's a Republican and a politician.



NOVAK: There's been a lot of talk about Hillary Rodham Clinton running for president in 2004. But she better say her prayers every night that Rudy Giuliani will not run against her for reelection to the Senate in 2006. The Marist College poll in New York state shows Rudy beating Hillary badly, 57 percent to 40 percent.

And although Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer is considered unbeatable for reelect in New York next year, he wouldn't be as unbeatable against Giuliani. The same poll shows Rudy beating Chuck 51 percent to 45 percent. But rest easy, Hillary and Chuck. Rudy Giuliani wants to run for governor of New York, if, that is, he doesn't run for president first.

BEGALA: That's interesting. I will gladly admit that Rudy Giuliani is one of the great mayors of New York history. But those same qualities that made him a great mayor would him a terrible senator. He's not suited for a legislative body where you actually have to get along with people and make compromises. Maybe he will run for the governor. I wish him well. I hope the Democrat beats him, if that's the case. But I think he'd be a disaster in the Senate.

NOVAK: I'll tell you something. One of the great Super Bowl races will be Eliot Spitzer, who is a very attorney general of New York, against Rudy Giuliani, worth even covering, Paul.


BEGALA: I'll tell you what. That matchup, maybe we will take CROSSFIRE up to New York and cover that one.

Well, in the 2000 vice presidential debate, Dick Cheney was asked if he supported equal constitutional rights for gays. He said it was a matter of freedom.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that means that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It's really no one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard.


BEGALA: But, in today "Washington Times," Republican national chairman and former Enron lobbyist Ed Gillespie accused gay rights supporters, like Vice President Cheney, of bigotry and intolerance. Apparently unable to run on the jobless economy or the endless occupation, the Republican strategy is to divide Americans.

I for one, and for once, am proud to be on the same side as Dick Cheney for gay rights.


NOVAK: Well, Paul, before you give a kiss on the chick of Dick Cheney, let me read to you what he said at that debate next.

He said -- quote -- "The next step, then, of course, is the question of whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction. That's a tougher problem. That's not a slam dunk." He said he didn't know. And that's what the issue is.

Now, I'm going to tell you this. President Bush is against official sanction. This is going to be a great debate in America. And I think most of the American people are on the president's side.


BEGALA: Dick Cheney has the same position as every Democrat running for president. And shame on Republicans for dividing America and attacking gays.

Well, anyway, President Bush addressed the United Nations today. He asked the world to help Iraq write a constitution, train civil servants, and hold free elections. But 140,000 American troops in Iraq might be wondering, what about some sending troops over here to help us out? Two members of Congress will debate the president's speech and his Iraq in just a minute.




NOVAK: President Bush went to the U.N. today and told the members the world was safer because Saddam Hussein is gone. Then he asked for all nations of goodwill to help rebuild the country and pay the cost. The president of France predictably did not say yes.

Iraq is in the CROSSFIRE today. With us live, Congressman Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Congresswoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, Republican of Florida.

BEGALA: Thank you both for joining us.



BEGALA: Both of you are senior members of the House International Relations Committee. So let's pick your brains here.

First, partisanship aside, it's always a good day when our president is on the world stage and speaking at the U.N. He talked about what the U.N.'s role ought to be in Iraq. And let me play a bit of that tape from the president this morning.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As in the aftermath of other conflicts, the United Nations should assist in developing a constitution and training civil servants and conducting free and fair elections.


BEGALA: That's it. Congresswoman, constitutions and bureaucrats and running elections, what about helping those kids who are over there sweating their guts out in the desert? How about some doggone troops? Why didn't our president go the world community and say, send some troops to bear the burden?

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Well, because he knows what the U.N. is good at. They are good at passing resolutions and they are good at debating and they're good at writing constitutions and all of that. But...

BEGALA: Well, why does he want U.N. peacekeepers in Africa, then, and not in Iraq?

ROS-LEHTINEN: But which one of those countries -- and we do have a lot of coalition forces there. Why aren't those countries helping us now? Why does the president need to say, you, France, send us the troops?

France can send us the troops right now. They are unwilling to. They are willing to criticize.


BEGALA: They hate his guts, because he insulted them.

ROS-LEHTINEN: They take this so personally that they are unwilling to look at the bigger picture, that Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein, that we have eliminated a regime that has been murderous to its own people. And that is to the betterment not only to the Iraqi people, but to the entire region, and as well as to France, little France, who thinks so highly of itself. The U.N. has very little to say about this, unfortunately.

NOVAK: Congressman Menendez, let's get away from the Bush bashing for once and tell me, what would you do, if you had a Democrat in there right now, as to how long U.S. troops should stay there? Would you cut and run, as we did in Vietnam, and let chaos take over in Iraq? Or would you say, we are going to be there as long as it takes, as the president has said?

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, Bob, the answer to that question is, I think a Democratic president would have gone to the United Nations and pursued a multilateral cause, where all countries would have joined in.

NOVAK: I'm talking about right now.

MENENDEZ: Would have joined in and made sure that, in fact, if we had found the weapons of mass destruction, which we have not.

NOVAK: What would you do now? What would you do now?

MENENDEZ: Which we have not found the weapons of mass destruction. As a matter of fact, I listened to the president's speech. And, basically, I see we went from top gun to hat in hand. We went from going to, in essence, flip-flopping on every justification for the war.

NOVAK: He shouldn't have gone to -- he shouldn't have gone to the U.N.?

MENENDEZ: He certainly should go to the U.N.. But when he went to the U.N. -- you can't pick and choose when you want to use the U.N. And that's what the president is trying to do.

NOVAK: What can he do now? Tell me what he can do now.

MENENDEZ: So we are committed -- well, we are committed -- we are committed now, Bob.

NOVAK: OK. Thank you.

MENENDEZ: But -- but we are not committed to a course that continues to put our soldiers' lives at jeopardy. We are not committed to a course where 40,000 of our troops there have no flak jackets whatever. We are not committed to a course that says that the only purpose for the United Nations is to get some civil servants together.

The United Nations has a much bigger role. It should have been asked for that role today. It should have been part of the original role in the first instance. And we would not simply be shedding American lives and American capital along the way.


BEGALA: A moment ago you said -- and I suspect you are right -- you know more about these things than I do -- you said they take this personally, they being the French, and I guess other allies of the United States.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, and they also want a piece of the pie. They want some contracts. They want some economic


MENENDEZ: Just like Halliburton. They want some of Halliburton's contracts.

(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: Doesn't that, though, then, suggest that they might be willing to bear the burden, so that 90 percent of the troops aren't American, if a new president asked them? So don't we need to replace this president with someone who the world community doesn't hate and who can lead the world, like President Clinton did in Kosovo?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, this is not about electoral politics. No.

I think that France very clearly showed its colors, just as Germany did. They were willing to pass another resolution and another resolution and yet another resolution. But they were not willing to put the troops there then. And they are not willing to put the troops there now. It wouldn't matter whether it would be a Democratic president or a Republican president.

I think we have, in President Bush, a person of vision, a person who has a clear objective, that war has not been this wonderful miniseries that we would have liked to have seen. World War II took a long time for us to be victorious. And no one was asking us, how long are we going to be there? How much is it going to cost? We knew that the cause was just and we are a better society now, having gotten rid of those thugs. And we are going to be a better society now, having gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and all the other thugs in the region.


NOVAK: Congressman, I would like you to listen to what the president of France, Jacques Chirac, said to the U.N. today.


JACQUES CHIRAC, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): No one can claim the right to use force unilaterally, or preventively. Conversely, in the face of mounting threats, it must be assured that the council has appropriate means of evaluation and of collective action and that it has the will to act.


NOVAK: Do you accept the French standard that the United States can never send troops to war without the permission of the United Nations?

MENENDEZ: No, the United States always has the right in the national interest and national security of this country to defend itself.

The problem is, is that everything that the -- our president said was -- the reasons for going to war in Iraq have been disproven.

NOVAK: You proved my premise.

MENENDEZ: Oh, no. This is the greatest flip-flop that I have seen in quite some time.

(APPLAUSE) MENENDEZ: This is the incredible set of circumstances. Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where is the imminent threat to the United States? Where were all of the things, including smallpox and everything else that we vaccinated our troops for? Nowhere to be found, Bob, nowhere to be found.

Now we change the justifications. Now we go to the U.N. and we say, we want you to participate. But we are not willing let them fully participate. We want to make sure that we can protect Halliburton's contracts. That's what this administration is concerned about. You are not going to get international troops. You are not going to get a contribution to the hundreds of billions that will have to be spent in Iraq unless you are willing to give the United Nations a meaningful say. And after you tell them to take a hike, it's a little late.


BEGALA: I want to get Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen in and quickly bring it back to home.

I want to quote someone who is not at all French. His name is George Voinovich. He's a Republican. He's a United States senator from Ohio. And this is what he had to say about the needs here at home. As our president is asking you all in Congress to give him $87 billion of our money, Senator Voinovich, a Republican, says this: "Look at the needs we have here at home with our roads, sewers, and water projects. It's hard to tell people there isn't money for sewers and water and then send that kind of money to Iraq."


BEGALA: Do you agree with Senator Voinovich?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I would say it's certainly a powerful statement. And no one would deny that we have needs here domestically.

But it would not do us any good to have wonderful water and sewer systems if we are going to be under constant terrorist attacks here in the United States. And we don't want another 9/11. We don't want any other attacks against our country and against our interests. And look what's happened in Iraq and in Afghanistan. By bringing the war to those areas, we have brought out the terrorists in their own backyard and not in our backyard.

We have seen all of the evil terrorists and all of the folks who want to destroy our way of life. Yes, we want water, we want sewers, we want a great public education system. But look what is happening over there. Look how many people hate our values and what we stand for. It's better to fight them in Iraq than better -- to fight them in the United States.


BEGALA: Well, we're going to have to go to a quick break. ROS-LEHTINEN: OK.

BEGALA: Keep your seat, though. We are going to come back for more of this, believe me.

When we come back, we are going to give the president's Iraq treatment the old "Rapid Fire" treatment. And then, there's an investigation into possible espionage by a member of the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay. Wolf Blitzer has all the details just ahead.




BEGALA: We are back now on CROSSFIRE with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- she's a Republican congressman from Florida -- and Robert Menendez, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey.

The debate is Iraq. Who can the president count on to help pay for his war?

NOVAK: Congressman, Senator Kennedy gave an interview the other day in which he called the war against Iraq a fraud perpetrated in Texas. Do you agree with that language?

MENENDEZ: I understand why the president -- I mean, why the senator gave rise to those concerns. You see everything that President Bush went to the American people on and you have seen one justification after the other fall by the wayside, be discarded, and ultimately create a serious question in the minds of the Congress and the American people as to what was the real justification here.

BEGALA: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat from Illinois, has a proposal to spend $1 here at home for every dollar we spend in Iraq. Will you vote for that legislation?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, because I think that we have two tracks. We have domestic spending. We have spending that's going to be for our own national security interests.

And to say that the spending of the funds in Iraq is just international spending is wrong. That is part of our homeland security, national security. Every dollar we spend in Iraq is to keep Americans safe from these terrorists. You want them to be alive and well and being a threat to our nation or you want them eliminated? That is a domestic spending priority.

NOVAK: Congressman -- Congressman -- Congressman Menendez, you haven't endorsed anybody for president yet. Are you ready to go for General Wes Clark? He's the new front-runner.

MENENDEZ: We welcome General Clark to the fray. And I haven't made a decision. We have some tremendous candidates in this field.


MENENDEZ: But I hope none of these candidates take the view that we are successful in Iraq and in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is recreating itself and where we have ultimately attracted more terrorists to Iraq than we had before.

NOVAK: OK. Congresswoman Menendez, thank you very much.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you.



NOVAK: As the world searches for answers in Iraq, we want to know what you think. Is it time for the U.S. and the French to kiss and make up when it comes to world affairs? We'll have results after the break.

And, in "Fireback," one of our viewers has a complaint about the reporting from Iraq.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now to check our "Ask the Audience" segment. We asked, is it time for the French and the Americans to kiss and make up? I'm not quite sure what kind of the kiss the French would have for us. But there we go. Most Americans say, yes, even the Republicans, by a more narrow majority. But most of our audience, rather, says, yes, it's time to make up. And Mr. Bush maybe could learn a lesson.

NOVAK: I think he wants to make up.


NOVAK: All right, our first "Fireback" from Tim Beaumont of Victoria, B.C., Canada: "I'm getting tired of the negative press the war in Iraq is getting. From a historical standpoint, the war has been an unbelievable success. And the odd snippet of positive spin that I can find on the Net seems to be very encouraging."

Tim, you are an enlightened Canadian.

BEGALA: He's right about one thing. It's been unbelievable. Everything Mr. Bush has said has been unbelievable.


BEGALA: About the weapons and the threat -- and it's totally unbelievable. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Beth Secosky of Cary, North Carolina, writes: "The Republicans continue to argue that, because Saddam is out of power, the war was a good thing. I say the ends don't justify the means of lying to the American people and mortgaging our children's future."


NOVAK: See, that's -- that's -- that's the problem, Paul, that, if you -- if you think it would be a better thing for Iraq to have Saddam Hussein in power in Baghdad, go ahead and say it.

BEGALA: The question is, was it worth it? And Americans are divided.

NOVAK: Question?

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm Michael from Remsen, New York. And I just find it amusing that President Bush can ignore the international community when he wants to exercise military might, but he has to go begging hat in hand when things go awry.

NOVAK: Well, I think -- what, did you get that from Paul? Because he's been saying that.


NOVAK: I think the fact is that he went to the U.N. community to try to get authorization, and they wouldn't give it to him. And he went ahead anyway. I don't think we need authorization to go to war from the U.N.

BEGALA: Well, successful presidents, like Bush's father and Bill Clinton, did have the world with them when they led us into war.


BEGALA: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm Bob from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

And my question to you, Paul, is, wouldn't our tax money that Mr. Bush is looking for, wouldn't it be better off used here in our Southern states that just got rocked with all the hurricane and they got no power and no water?

BEGALA: I think that we need to make more investments at home, but I think Bob makes a good point that we can't cut and run. So what I would do is have fewer tax cuts for the rich and invest in people at home. That's




BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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