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Honoring America's Heroes

Aired November 11, 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: Veterans Day against the background of Iraq and mounting casualties.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They did not live to be called veterans, but this nation will never forget their lives of service and all they did for us.

ANNOUNCER: Not forgotten, but also not shown on television.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We'd have to recognize that we are engaged in a very difficult conflict. And it should not lead to trying to avoid the sight of caskets coming home.

ANNOUNCER: Service, sacrifice and politics -- today on CROSSFIRE.



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



On this Veterans Day, President Bush thanked and paid tribute to all the men and women who have fought for America, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: But our commander in chief has not attended a single funeral for even one of the hundreds of heroes killed in Iraq. And some are asking why the Bush administration will not allow coverage of the return of those flag-draped caskets. That is our debate.

We'll begin it right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Well, President Bush certainly has an odd way of thanking veterans. His administration is considering closing 58 military schools and 19 commissaries, a move that the garrison commander at Fort Stewart calls -- quote -- "a betrayal" -- unquote. The Bush administration also opposes extending health benefits for National Guardsmen, supports a $1.4 billion cut in military housing, and left a military -- one million military children out of the child tax credit.

Surprised? Well, you shouldn't be. Mr. Bush apparently likes playing dress-up fighter pilot, but now, just as during Vietnam, when our military really needs him, George W. Bush is AWOL.

Now, of course, the reason that I'm free to criticize our president is because of the sacrifice and service of America's veterans, including CROSSFIRE's own Marine Corporal James Carville and Army Lieutenant Bob Novak. So, on this Veterans Day, thank you, vets, for my freedom.


NOVAK: You're welcome, Paul.

BEGALA: Thank you, Bob.

NOVAK: But, you know, I would like you to have at least a modicum of accuracy in these nightly screeds and Bush bashing. He was never AWOL in the Reserve. AWOL is a military offense, court-martial. And he was not AWOL. And it's a libel for you to keep saying it.

BEGALA: He was AWOL. Sue me, Mr. President.



BEGALA: His general said so.

NOVAK: That's a lie. That's not true at all.


BEGALA: His commanding general says so.

NOVAK: George Soros is one of the richest men in the world, with money to burn. So he's doing the next best thing to burning it. He's giving it to the Democrats. Until now, he's been committed to left- wing causes like marijuana legalization.

But just now, he committed $5 million to the left-wing activist group to beat George W. Bush in 2004. That totals $15.5 million in Soros money for anti-Bush purposes. It's soft money, which undercuts the McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill that liberals pressed so hard to pass. So, will the liberals give George Soros back his money as tainted? Are you kidding? That would take integrity.


BEGALA: Well, now, wait a minute. George Soros is a great American success story. He escaped first the Nazi, then the communist tyranny in his native Hungary, which is where my family came from. He's built a vast fortune here. And so there's a billionaire who doesn't support President Bush. Is that treason somehow? I think it's great.



NOVAK: No, what I'm saying is, it's hypocrisy when all this business, you're not supposed to have independent expenditures, you're not supposed to have this big special interest money. And he has invested in every liberal, left-wing cause.


NOVAK: And his new cause is beating Bush.

BEGALA: Well, let's hope he succeeds.

Many of us who opposed the war in Iraq did so because, we argued at the time, Iraq was successfully contained and therefore no threat to America and that a war over there would distract us from greater dangers posed by al Qaeda, North Korea and Iran. Six months later -- six months after toppling Saddam Hussein, that is, it's obvious that we were right. Al Qaeda has claimed credit for the car bombing that killed 17 in Saudi Arabia. The CIA says North Korea has mastered the dark art of making nuclear weapons.

And inspectors now say Iran has produced a small amount of plutonium, apparently with the help of President Bush's friend, Russian President Vladimir "Pootie-Poot" Putin.


BEGALA: Well, if the goal of President Bush's foreign policy was to make America weaker, more vulnerable and more hated, mission accomplished.


NOVAK: You know, Paul, that's all out of old stuff, nothing new in that, except the al Qaeda being involved in the bombing of Saudi Arabia. Do you think that, if we pull the troops out of Iraq, as some Democrats want to do, that that would make us stronger in the world?

BEGALA: No, certainly not. In fact, I'm open to the argument John McCain makes that we should have more troops. We should certainly have foreign troops, probably have different troops, and certainly a different commander in chief. We need to change this policy. And all of this is news from this week. The CIA just this week reported this about North Korea.


BEGALA: And the Iran story is on the front page of the paper today. NOVAK: That's been in the news for two weeks.

When is a filibuster not a filibuster? When Senate Democratic Whip Harry Reid addresses the Senate for 8.5 hours. It wasn't a filibuster because Senator Reid wasn't trying to prevent passage of the bill, just to show he was peeved. He told colleagues, "You can only be slapped around so many times." What irked him was Republicans scheduling 50 hours of debate to protest Democrat filibusters blocking President Bush's judicial nominations.

I like Harry Reid, but he has been around long enough to know that the majority, the Republicans now, sets the Senate schedule.

Harry, if you let those judicial nominations come to a vote, you wouldn't get slapped around anymore.


BEGALA: Well, let me say, I like Bill Frist, the Republican who runs the Senate. He's a -- he seems to be a terrific guy, but he is doing a terrible job running the Senate. The wheels are coming off the wagon. The Senate is now dysfunctional.

It's the job of the Republicans to run the Senate and to try to do it in a bipartisan way. And when a reasonable moderate like Harry Reid gets that angry, that means the Republicans have failed in their approach.


NOVAK: Wouldn't you say, Paul, that if you permitted a vote, an up-or-down vote, on all the judicial nominations, just say, who has got the majority in the Senate, all this would end?

BEGALA: No, they should -- first off, they should never put those right-wing cranks on a lifetime judgeship.


BEGALA: No way. Stop those kooks.


NOVAK: Honoring -- honoring the heroes of war, how to salute those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in battle, without turning their deaths into a public political spectacle, we'll debate that question after the break.

And later: the most popular Democrat who is not running for president -- or is she?



NOVAK: In a Veterans Day speech, President Bush declared -- quote -- "The will and resolve of America are being tested in Afghanistan and in Iraq" -- end quote. Some people want to undermine that will and resolve by harping on U.S. casualties and even televising the return of the coffins containing those killed in action. Is that any way to honor our heroes?

In the CROSSFIRE, former Assistant Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb. He's with the Center For American Progress; also conservative strategist Bay Buchanan. She's president of the American Cause.


BEGALA: First, thank you both very much.

Bay, our president is a big-hearted guy.


BEGALA: He's a nice guy. He says he's a compassionate conservative. I'll give him that. I think he's certainly a compassionate man.

And, case in point, last week, he went to California, flew out there and comforted folks who had been devastated by this fire. Here's a photograph of our president. Now, this is in full range of the cameras, but that doesn't mean he was posing. I think that was real.


BEGALA: To a limited extent, I know the guy. I think this is absolutely authentic. This is part of the job of the president.


BEGALA: To comfort people in pain. Why, then, will our president comfort a woman who has lost her home, but not comfort a family who has lost their son in combat?

BUCHANAN: Your statement, your premise is inaccurate. He has. He has comforted these people. He's met with families who have lost loved ones in Iraq. He's done so privately and not in the public forum. I don't see why that is necessary to have the cameras there while he comforts them.

BEGALA: White House aides say, in fact, he's written notes to these families, which is laudable -- he's a very busy man -- but that he has not attended a single military funeral. That's a break with past practices from at least the last three presidents.

BUCHANAN: He has not


BEGALA: Is that a while practice, to refuse to attend military funerals? BUCHANAN: I agree that, while he has met with some of them, he hasn't gone to the funerals. And I think it is the right thing, because we're going through a war here. And we have now almost 400 dead. I don't think it's appropriate for the president to pick and choose one fallen soldier, one of our heroes, as having some reason why he would go to their funeral and kind of honor them more than -- I think all of them should be equal.

They're great men and women who have died in the service of their country and they should all be treated equally. And he should be there for those families in private. And that's how he chooses to do so.

NOVAK: Mr. Korb, with the economy picking up, the big issue for the Democrats is the deaths in Iraq. And they want to point up those deaths as much as possible by having these coffin returns televised and having the grieving survivors shown on television.

General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said today, "As you know, we publish the casualties on DOD Web sites. The policies in effect at Dover go back to 1991 and have been consistent since then through three administrations now. So what it's really about is the proper dignity and respect and not making a spectacle of our returning heroes, especially those who have fallen."

What fault can you find with that statement?

LAWRENCE KORB, FORMER ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, what we need to do is make sure the American people know that there's a war and that young men and young women are sacrificing. We don't have a draft, as we had in all of our other major wars.

And if the American people are not -- understand what's happening, I don't know if they're going to continue to support the war, nor do they realize what's involved. Since September 11, we've not been asked to make any sacrifices. In fact, if anything, they've cut our taxes. This is the first war we've ever had where we've not asked for any sacr...

NOVAK: You're getting off the subject.

KORB: No, you're getting off the subject here, too, when you...

NOVAK: I make the subject, Mr. Korb.


NOVAK: I hate to tell -- I hate to tell you that.


NOVAK: I'd like you to try to ask my question.


NOVAK: Because you're getting on to tax policy and all kinds of things.

I want to ask you, what General Myers said, that this policy has been in effect through three administrations, since 1991, that we don't televise these arrivals at Dover, except under exceptional circumstances. And so what is the debate?

KORB: Because we have a different circumstance now. We have a war that, as Bay pointed out, has claimed 400 casualties, continuing to claim casualties. I was in Iraq last week sponsored -- on a trip sponsored by the Department of Defense; 36 young men and young women died there.

Americans need to realize the cost of what's going on. And I think this is very, very important, because this sacrifice is not shared. As I mentioned, we don't have conscription now. We don't have a draft. And so we need to let people know that they're -- we're paying a price for it.


BUCHANAN: But, Larry, they do know. They -- this is an -- this is an administration that embedded journalists. They were on the front lines. They were talking to the soldiers. We've had enormous coverage.

This is an administration that speaks and talks to the media every single day. We know about these casualties almost within hours of them occurring. I pick up "The New York Times,' I see 16 faces. I read all the stories within days of their deaths. These are -- the American people are very, very well aware of it. And I don't know why viewing the coffins with flags over them would be in any way beneficial to the families or to this country.

BEGALA: Let suggest that there's a special role that the president plays. I served President Clinton in the White House. I went with him on August 13, 1998, when those bodies came back from Tanzania and Kenya. Our embassies had been bombed by al Qaeda.

As you suggested, we met in private, behind a screen, at Andrews Air Force Base with the families, but then, in public, welcomed those flag-draped caskets back. And I remember President Reagan, who both of you served...


BEGALA: ... doing the same thing at Camp Lejeune. He went and spoke; 241 Marines, soldiers and sailors killed in Lebanon under President Reagan. He went -- here's what he said. Here's why he went, he told us on that day 20 years ago this week: "I came here today to honor so many who did their duty and gave that last, full measure of their devotion. They kept faith with us and our way of life. We wouldn't be free long, but for the dedication of such individuals. They were heroes. We're grateful to have had them with us."

We remember that sacrifice 20 years later, in part because our president did his job and went to that event. Isn't this what our current president should do as well?

BUCHANAN: And those words were beautiful words. And our president and President Bush has said very similar ones at events honoring them, such as this morning, where he's honored the fallen ones again, both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the key here, Paul, is, we had 264 Marines die the same day. All the bodies came back. The president was there to welcome them. And it was very unusual circumstances. We have now, people, one dies this day, two tomorrow, 16 next week. These are coming back continually.

To have -- the president can't be flying up there every single week. Why should he choose one family the other? I believe this man is trying to think of families, trying to reduce the real tragic and difficult pain that many of them are facing, and also the ones that have families overseas today. I think he's doing the right thing.

NOVAK: Mr. Korb, I want you to take a look at a graphic we have here on American deaths. We had, in World War II, 405,399 deaths, a vast amount compared to the next two wars. And I'm old enough. I can remember World War II. There was no ceremonies of coffins coming back. And if you had had coffin ceremonies on that war, it would have been devastating for American morale, would it not have?

KORB: Yes, but you had a different circumstance. You had conscription. Everybody served. People understood what was going on.

The circumstances are different. Because of the unfairness of the draft in Vietnam, which allowed a lot of people in high places now in government to avoid military service, we had to end conscription and start a volunteer military. And because you have that, Americans need to understand what's -- because they're not touched by this war.


NOVAK: Let me ask you a candid question. You've always been very blunt. You're against this war. You didn't like this operation. Isn't it a fact that, if you have these ceremonies, it's going to cut support for the war?

KORB: No, I don't think so.

I think what it will do is let Americans know that it's not going to be quick and easy, like the administration led us to believe. Don Rumsfeld said we'd be down to 30,000 troops by the end of the year. That's not going to happen. They need to know that. They need -- to use his words, they need to know it's a long, hard slog, so they will support it.

The problem you have now is the -- whatever progress we're making, we're not making the progress we were led to believe. We were told we'd be greeted as liberators. That hasn't happened. We were told that major combat was over. Well, in fact, we've had more people die since then.

BEGALA: We're going to -- Bay, we're going to let you respond in just a minute.


BEGALA: We're going to take a quick break.

Larry Korb, keep your seat.

And next, in "Rapid Fire," as predicted, video of President Bush in a flight suit has turned up in a campaign ad, just like we all thought it would. But this is not an ad to boost President Bush. We will get reaction from our guests on this controversial new ad.

And then, after the break, Wolf Blitzer has word that another member of the "Honeymooners" cast has died. Stay with us.



BEGALA: When President Bush landed on aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln last May, everybody just assumed that the pictures would turn up in a campaign commercial. Well, they have. They're in a new ad for Democrat Senator John Kerry.


NARRATOR: ... George Bush and change the direction of the nation? John Kerry, a leader on national security, a decorated combat veteran, served on the Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee. John Kerry.


BEGALA: The ad is running in Iowa and New Hampshire.

We're going to give it the "Rapid Fire" treatment now with our guests, conservative strategist Bay Buchanan -- she's president of the American Cause -- and former assistant defense secretary under President Reagan, Lawrence Korb of the Center For American Progress.

NOVAK: Do you see anything wrong, Mr. Korb, with the commander in chief landing on the carrier Abraham Lincoln?

KORB: Well, I think most presidents I have known would not put a flight suit on. If they were going on, they would -- even Eisenhower would never wear his uniform when he was president.

I think putting up a sign or allowing a sign to be up saying "Mission Accomplished," when we had a long, hard slog ahead of us did not make any sense.

BEGALA: Bay Buchanan, John Kerry has won the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, three Purple Hearts. He is an American hero, isn't he?

BUCHANAN: There's no question he's a war hero. I don't think anyone questions that, Paul. But the key is, this is the same person that could have really challenged the president and gotten some real answers in Congress when they had to vote on the authority, giving the president authority to go to war. He chose not to and he voted for it. Six months later, he's saying it was a dangerous policy. The man has been on both sides of this issue and he has no credibility to take on the president on it.

NOVAK: Mr. Korb, you have mentioned conscription several times. Would you be in favor of reinstituting the draft in America right now?

KORB: If we could make it a fair draft, I think I would. But I don't know how to do that. We've never been able to do that.


NOVAK: Was that a yes or a no?

KORB: Well, I would say, no, not right now.

BEGALA: Bay, do you think Kerry ad makers, Bob Shrum and Jim Margolis, Democrats, are trying maybe to give the impression, without stating it, that the president likes to play dress-up and sort of have the good times with the troops, but doesn't want the painful moments at military funerals? Is that


BUCHANAN: I think what they're trying to say is that he is a war hero and he has credibility on the issue of foreign policy, as opposed to Dean. He's running against Howard Dean right now, not George Bush. And so I think that all he's trying to do, is say, listen, I'm one that can take this man on. And I can take a charge of a war because I have been in one.

NOVAK: Mr. Korb, do you think that if the funerals were televised and the weeping survivors were shown, it would increase or decrease support for the war among the public?

KORB: I think, in the long term, it would increase it, because Americans would realize that we're at war and this is not just some sideshow that doesn't impact you unless you have people serving in the military.

BEGALA: Bay Buchanan, we're out of time. I thank you very much, from American Cause.

Lawrence Korb, from the Center For American Progress.


BEGALA: Thank you both very much for a fun debate.


BEGALA: Or an important debate, rather. NOVAK: On this Veterans Day, we want to know, after which war did this holiday begin, World War II, World War II, or the Korean War? We'll have the answer right after the break.

And a draft-Hillary movement hits the streets. Is this the call Senator Clinton has been desperately waiting for?


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Before the break, we asked our audience, after which war did the United States begin recognizing Veterans Day? Well, back then, it was called Armistice Day. And the audience was right. It was right after World War I. The American's victory there was commemorated. And now all veterans are honored today on Veterans Day.


NOVAK: And, finally, we take you to a run, run, run, Hillary, run, rally held earlier today here in Washington. As you can see, it wasn't exactly the Million Man March.


NOVAK: This farce was arranged by a group that calls itself the Oral Majority.


NOVAK: Perhaps -- perhaps the tourists were amused.

BEGALA: Well, Bob, you've, of course, been a big promoter of Hillary running. She's not going to. But...

NOVAK: I can hardly wait.

BEGALA: But I remember what you said when she first ran for the Senate. And I'm quoting you here from your show "CAPITAL GANG." You said: "I'm counting on Hillary Clinton losing. I just can't believe she can win that race."

NOVAK: I still can't believe it.


NOVAK: But New Yorkers are New Yorkers.

I'll tell you this. She's speaking this weekend at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines. She is going to dwarf all the little pygmies running for president. Do you think she'll surprise everybody and say: "I was lying. I'm really going to run"?

BEGALA: No, she's not going to run. One day, she may. And she would be a surpassingly wonderful president.

NOVAK: She could get the nomination even now, couldn't she? BEGALA: She could get the nomination and she could beat Bush. But she's not going to run.


BEGALA: Wait until 2008. Maybe she'll run then. I personally intend to try to talk her into it, because I think she'd be a great president, but not this time around.

NOVAK: I hope she runs, too, because we've got to behead that dragon. It's got to be done.

BEGALA: Oh, stop. She's wonderful.

Well, from the left, I am Paul Begala. Happy Veterans Day. And thank you, vets. 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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