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CNN CROSSFIRE

Interview With Wesley Clark

Aired December 9, 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.

In the CROSSFIRE:

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here to endorse Howard Dean as the next president!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Al Gore backs Howard Dean and shocks the Democratic establishment.

GORE: We need to remake the Democratic Party.

ANNOUNCER: We'll ask the Democratic Party chairman if he agrees.

We also get reaction from presidential candidate Wesley Clark and from the Joe Lieberman campaign -- today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the CNN Election Express in Durham, New Hampshire, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The CNN Election Express has screeched into the state of New Hampshire, where the countryside is snowy and the political landscape has been hit by a blizzard, Al Gore's remarkable endorsement of the unstoppable Howard Dean.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: We brought the CNN Election Express here to Durham, New Hampshire, for tonight's debate among the Democratic presidential candidates.

A short time ago, we sat down with one of those candidates, retired General, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEGALA: And we're in New Castle, New Hampshire, talking with Democratic contender Wesley Clark.

General Clark, welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Good to see you. WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, thanks a lot, Paul. Good to be here.

CARLSON: General, thanks a lot.

CLARK: Nice to see you, Tucker.

CARLSON: Nice to see you.

You spoke to former President Bill Clinton last night, shortly after Vice President -- former Vice President Gore endorsed Howard Dean for the presidency. What did former President Clinton say to you?

CLARK: Well, we just talked about the general thing.

I had talked to him two or three times since I've been running. I hadn't talk to him for a while. I thought I would just give him an update. I feel really good about the campaign. I think I'm picking up momentum. And that's the kind of views I shared with him.

CARLSON: Many Democrats have pointed out today how awful it was, rude and cruel that former Vice President Gore didn't tell Joe Lieberman, his former running mate, that he was going to endorse Dean. Did Mr. Clinton say anything about that? And what do you think?

CLARK: Well, he mentioned that -- I think Senator Lieberman had called him or something. But I don't know. That's what they said earlier.

I don't think it's something that I would have done, had I been in Vice President Gore's position. I think the conventional wisdom on this was that, let's let the voters sort it out, because endorsements don't win elections. It's not about the powerful. It's about the people. That's what American democracy is.

BEGALA: Well, one of the things Vice President Gore said this morning, though, General, was that Howard Dean is the only major candidate who made the right decision about the war. Well, you're certainly a major candidate. He says you made the wrong decision about the war.

(LAUGHTER)

CLARK: Well, in that case, he's wrong, because there were a lot of us who made the right decision. And I'm one of them.

But the thing about this, Paul, is that "I told you so" isn't a policy. What the real question is now is, what are we going to do and who is going to get us out of it? And who can stand toe to toe against George W. Bush and make sure we don't get into another one? And I'm that candidate.

BEGALA: Well, how do we get out of it? Dennis Kucinich says we should just pull our troops out and come home.

CLARK: Well, an early exit like this means either retreat or defeat.

We're certainly not going to retreat. And we don't want a defeat in Iraq. What we need is a success strategy. And that's what this administration really has failed to provide. I think, to put a success strategy in place, you have got to do several things. No. 1, you have to form an international umbrella organization. Call it an Iraqi reconstruction development agency, like we did in the Balkans, and let every country that's contributing have a seat at the table, and put a non-American in charge.

That way, it's clear that we're not the occupying power. And then you've got to put the Iraqis more in charge of their country. We don't want to run the country. So we should be standing up some kind of an Iraqi interim authority as soon as possible. We could do it next week by taking indirect democracy, the representatives of the councils that are there, bring them in, give them authority.

Send Paul Bremer and the American occupation authority home as soon as possible. They represent an occupation of a country that we don't want to be occupying. And then, as far as the military is concerned, well, it should be reporting through NATO and we need to change the force mix. We need a lighter, more lethal, more agile, intelligence-driven force. And those 1,400 special forces and intelligence troops that are still looking for the weapons of mass destruction, wouldn't they be a lot better off if they were instead looking for the people that are trying to hurt us over there?

CARLSON: General Clark, your comments about Howard Dean have seemed, at times, bitter recently. You remarked the other day that, at the very moment you were lying recuperating from wounds received in the battlefield in Vietnam, he was skiing at some expensive ski resort out West.

That's contemptuous, isn't it?

CLARK: Well, Tucker, politics is easy. Humor is a little harder.

That was actually in response to a question about a skiing contest between candidates that was being proposed for New Hampshire. And I was simply trying to make a joke out of this. It doesn't quite come out the right way.

CARLSON: Well, but it -- but it -- it highlights a real difference. It's a statement of fact. But it also makes an implied point that, here you were bleeding, almost killed for your country, and there was Howard Dean, this rich kid, skiing out in Aspen.

Again, it sounds to me very much like a statement of contempt. You have no contempt?

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: Well, I'm very proud of what I did during the Vietnam War.

CARLSON: Yes.

CLARK: And I think that, when you're talking about leadership, I think, as a president, you have to be able to connect the top to the bottom.

In other words, you have to understand the national policy, how the intelligence works, how decisions are being made. You have to respect allies. You have to work with them. But you also have to understand the impact on the soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and families that are engaged in this. And I'm the candidate here who has done that. I worked it at the bottom, just like John Kerry did. But I've worked it all the way up through, including at the top.

BEGALA: At which end of that

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: And this is one of the problems that we have today -- if I could just finish this thought, Paul.

BEGALA: I'm sorry.

CLARK: ... with our president.

CARLSON: Yes, Paul. Come on.

CLARK: With our president, who pronounces the policy, but doesn't want to be with the families and with the people who are actually implementing it.

BEGALA: Well, at which end of that spectrum do you think Governor Dean falls short? Does he have a lack of understanding about policy-making at the top or a lack of appreciation for execution at the bottom?

CLARK: Well, he just -- it's not -- it's not his world. He hasn't played in that world. He's got a different series of expertise.

He'll have advisers. He's an intelligent man. And he's got advisers now. But I don't think there's any real substitute for the experience. I remember when I was in the Kosovo campaign and I would lay awake at night, as we were passing on the bombing targets. And we'd be looking at the schools nearby and the churches nearby and hoping that the bombs would fall accurately and we wouldn't kill innocent people.

And I remember that terrible day when we had the discussion about whether we were going to order the troops into Pristina Airfield and thinking about the stresses. And I think that those kinds of experiences are qualitatively different than what you have outside of the national security area. And I think that's the kind of experience that shapes someone to take the responsibilities of the commander in chief at this time in American history.

BEGALA: Let me come back to Vice President Gore's endorsement of Governor Dean, because that's the political news of the day.

One of the things Al Gore said struck me. He quoted Ronald Reagan, an interesting thing to do in a Democratic primary. And he said Ronald Reagan had what he called the 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. And he said, culturally, our party is not quite as lockstep as Republicans. But he urged -- that was his word -- he urged you and your fellow competitors not to be attacking each other, either in the debate this evening or the rest of the campaign.

Are you going to honor that request from Vice President Gore?

CLARK: Well, I'm glad he's made that request.

That's the request I made several weeks ago at one of the early debates. I think Democrats should be working to defeat George W. Bush. I think that's the primary target. But politics is politics. And when you have nine people in a race, I know there's a lot of animus. But the American people really don't care who voted for what 10 years ago.

What they care about are the candidates themselves, their positions on the issues of the day and their record of leadership and standing up for what's right.

BEGALA: So how are we supposed -- we, as Democrats, supposed to distinguish between you and Dean or you and the rest of the field? I worked for Bill Clinton. He ripped Paul Tsongas' head off and spat down his neck. I thought that was great. Al Gore became the nominee by eviscerating Bill Bradley. Isn't that the Democratic way, if not the American way? What's the matter? Are you afraid to hit these guys?

CLARK: Are you talking about me personally?

BEGALA: You personally, yes, sir.

CLARK: I think that -- well, I think that I'm very much distinguished from the rest of the people in this race. I'm the only person who has spent his entire life in public service in uniform.

Like Al Sharpton, I'm not a professional politician. But, unlike Al Sharpton, I haven't spent the rest of my whole life in the pursuit of oratory and a lot of other things.

(LAUGHTER)

CLARK: So I'm running in this race because people asked me to and because I believe that, as president of the United States, I can do the best job in keeping America safe. And I believe, as the Democrat, I'm the one best capable of facing down George W. Bush and winning this election.

I think the American people have to look at me and my record, what I've done, what I stand for, and judge for themselves. When the time comes, I'm happy to point out those differences. But I respect the other people in this race. There are a lot of good people in this race. And I think our party will be stronger for it by establishing a basis of respect and a decorum among the candidates that lets the voters decide what the differences are.

BEGALA: I'm sorry to press the point, but how are they going to know if you don't say, I'm right on X and he's wrong? Or are you only going to say, I'm right?

CLARK: Well, I'm going to say...

BEGALA: Don't you have an obligation? If you think that one of your colleagues and competitors in this race would take your party and our country in the wrong direction, don't you have an obligation to attack them on this?

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: I think that very much depends on the debate and where you are in it and where you are in your own campaign.

BEGALA: Well, specifically, national security.

CLARK: Well, let me talk about my -- let me talk my campaign.

BEGALA: You're a four-star general. Governor Dean has a distinguished record in public service, but not in the military. Is that a difference you want to exploit?

CLARK: Well, it's a difference that is a profound difference. And it's a difference that the electorate should see.

But right now, the electorate is getting to know me. And I want to meet the people in New Hampshire. I want them to understand me as a person. I don't want to be out there attacking other candidates. I want them to know who I am. It's pretty daunting when you come up against a four-star general. I mean, they're part of a big institution. They've had a lot of authority.

And before you can run for office in the United States of America today, the voters have to know you. I don't -- I think we're long past the time when a man could be on horseback and sort of be nominated by acclimation because he had been a general. At least, I hope we're past that time, because the president of the United States has a lot of other responsibilities than just national security.

And I'm well aware of that. I want voters to get to know me. And that's where I am in the campaign. I'm still working that piece. I'll tell you this, though. If anybody attacks me, I believe in a very strong and proactive defense.

CARLSON: But, General Clark, with all due respect, you have less than two months, as I see it, to do that, right -- I mean, or -- rather, a little bit less than three months. So February 3, I think we can all agree, it will be decided who the nominee of your party is. Where specifically, in what state are you going to stop Howard Dean?

CLARK: Well, now you want to talk about process and strategy.

CARLSON: No, it's not process.

CLARK: Here's the way I look at it.

CARLSON: If you want to be president, you have to do it.

CLARK: Here's the way I look at it.

CARLSON: Yes.

CLARK: No. 1 is, I'm working New Hampshire. That's where I am right now.

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: I like the people here and I really love the retail politics.

CARLSON: Yes.

CLARK: No. 2, we're going to be strong all through the South. We're going to stop Howard Dean throughout the South, because I'm the candidate that best represents the hopes and dreams and can best meet the fears and insecurities of ordinary Americans all over this country.

And, as the voters get to know me, they'll realize that more and more. I didn't grow up in New York City. I grew up in Arkansas. I made my own way. I served in the United States armed forces for my entire adult life. I came home from Vietnam on a stretcher. I kept the faith. I stayed with the Army. And I have been in business. I believe in patriotism. I believe in faith. And I believe in dedication to duty.

And that's what I'll represent in this campaign. And those are values that will resonate across America and especially in the South.

BEGALA: General Wesley Clark, always good to have you on CROSSFIRE. Thank you for your time.

CLARK: Thanks a lot, Paul.

BEGALA: Best wishes on the campaign trail. Be safe.

CLARK: Thank you, Tucker.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARLSON: General Wesley Clark just moments ago in New Castle, New Hampshire.

Just ahead: It has been an amazing day for the Democrats running for president. We'll talk to party chairman Terry McAuliffe next about the campaign to beat President Bush. Also, we'll get reaction from the Lieberman campaign about today's stunning endorsement of Howard Dean by former running mate Al Gore.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

We are live in Durham, New Hampshire, site of tonight's Democratic presidential debate.

Now, when he endorsed Howard Dean this morning, former Vice President Al Gore said -- quote -- "We need to remake the Democratic Party," which begs the question, in whose image is it made now, if not Bill Clinton's and Al Gore's?

Our next guest may have a few thoughts on that topic. Stepping into the CROSSFIRE, the party's top man, my party's chairman, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Paul, great to be with you.

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

MCAULIFFE: You guys are a little bundled up out here.

CARLSON: Hey, no gloves. I'm impressed.

MCAULIFFE: No gloves, no coat. You'd think you were in Alaska.

CARLSON: Yes, well.

MCAULIFFE: You got to toughen up, Tucker.

CARLSON: Well, you know what? It's a tough road ahead for you.

It looks to me like Howard Dean is going to be your party's nominee, bad news for you and all the other cockroaches, as he describes Washington insiders.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Tell me about your efforts to suck up to and make nice to Howard Dean now that he's going to win.

MCAULIFFE: First of all, I wanted to mention, seriously, Paul Simon just passed away.

BEGALA: Oh.

MCAULIFFE: A great Democrat, Illinois, who fought hard in this state in 1988. So, on behalf of the whole Democratic Party, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Paul Simon. As it relates to Howard Dean, I don't know if he's going to be the nominee. Today was a very significant day, having Al Gore, obviously, the background of Al Gore and national security, what he did for his eight years as vice president of this great country. But we don't have the first vote cast. We'll see what happens. I love all nine equally.

But if Howard Dean is the nominee, I'm telling you, Tucker, you better watch out, because this party's coming.

BEGALA: But, Terry, the story is not even just what Gore did, but it's how he did it.

Much talk today about the fact that he did not call his running mate, Joe Lieberman, before he did it. You're the party chairman. Did your party's former standard-bearer call you and give you a heads- up before he publicly announced he was endorsing Governor Dean?

MCAULIFFE: No, I don't think the vice president called anybody, from what I read in the reports. I would assume that

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: What does that say about him as a party man?

MCAULIFFE: I would assume that he wanted to call Joe Lieberman and the other candidates before it leaked out. Unfortunately, in politics, things leak out.

Of course he should have called Joe Lieberman. He was his running mate. It didn't happen. And I would just say that, probably, he intended to do it. It leaked out and he didn't get a chance to do it. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

CARLSON: Terry, one of the reasons so many Washington Democrats don't like Howard Dean, apart from the fact he doesn't like them, is because they recognize he can't win because he's too radical.

Case in point, a week ago, a week and a half ago, he suggested, implied, that President Bush may have been informed about 9/11 ahead of time by the Saudis. He kept open that possibility. That's out of bounds and outrageous, isn't it?

MCAULIFFE: No, it's not.

And, first of all, many people like and are working hard for Howard Dean. Many people in Washington are working for other candidates. I got to tell you, I get asked this 100 times a day. I don't know who the nominee will be. But if it's Howard Dean, I can tell you, there's a passion and excitement out there. I can tell you, as you know, Tucker, I just finished visiting 50 states. There's a visceral dislike of this president and his policies.

So I don't know who of the nine will get it. But any of them is going to beat George Bush. I'm excited about that. Howard Dean has been a great party man. He is -- wait -- he is -- next week, he and I are going to California together. He's doing fund-raising for the party. He has done calls for me. He has sent letters for me. You Republicans want to create divisions within our party.

CARLSON: OK, but don't you think Howard Dean, who I support, too...

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: ... should agree at this point to stop implying that the president might have known about 9/11 before it happened? It's just too much. It's too outrageous to say something like that.

MCAULIFFE: Well, I think what Howard Dean is trying to say, there are a lot of issues out there, there was a lot of intelligence, and how it was interpreted. Maybe we could have picked it up.

But that's for Howard Dean to talk about in his campaign. We're going to have a very feisty debate in the hall right behind me tonight. A lot of action. This issue may come out. But what Howard Dean is trying to say, there was a failure in the Bush administration as it relates to the intelligence. And maybe they could have figured this out. We don't know. But, you know, let's get through the campaign. Whoever is the Democratic nominee on that podium doing the debate with George Bush, we're going to ask him these kind of questions.

George Bush has been a failure. The economy is in horrible shape, 3.3 million people out of work. These are the issues we're going to talk about, Tucker.

CARLSON: Well, that's -- that's a whole separate debate. I'd love to have you come back and explain why the economy is in horrible shape.

(CROSSTALK)

MCAULIFFE: I'll come see you any time.

CARLSON: Terry McAuliffe, we love having you. Please...

CLARK: I thought I was going to be on for an hour.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Well, I know. Well,

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I know you're surprised.

(CROSSTALK)

MCAULIFFE: All right, Tucker. Why don't you wear some more clothes?

All right, Paul. BEGALA: Great to see you, Chairman. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Is there is no loyalty in politics? Of course there is no loyalty in politics. Next, we'll hear what a Joe Lieberman supporter thinks of Al Gore's decision to abandon his former running mate in the most humiliating possible way.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on disturbing clues -- excuse me -- found in the case of a missing college student in North Dakota.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

CARLSON: Well, it is historic when you think about it. By endorsing Howard Dean, Al Gore has not simply turned his back on moderate Democrats -- and there are some still left -- he betrayed his onetime running mate, Joe Lieberman. The tragedy.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight in Lieberman campaign pollster Mark Penn.

BEGALA: Mark, good to see you again.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I do need to ask you about -- I -- you and I both -- you worked for President Clinton and Vice President Gore as their pollster. I worked for them as an adviser. But what does it say about Al Gore that he, three years ago, decided, in the whole country, the best person to be president, if, God forbid, something should happen to him, was Joe Lieberman. What has changed, besides the politics, that now he's for Howard Dean? He could have called Howard Dean three years ago, but, instead, he called Joe Lieberman? Why did he change, do you think?

MARK PENN, LIEBERMAN POLLSTER: Well, nothing has changed about Joe Lieberman.

Joe Lieberman has got the very same positions I think that he and Al Gore had in 2000. I think Al Gore has changed. I think he has moved over to the left. He's moved over to Dean's politics, in terms of raising taxes, in terms of being weak on defense.

But, Paul, look, you and I know that loyalty has never been Al Gore's strong suit. He was never particularly loyal to President Clinton during the last campaign. Why would this be any different?

CARLSON: That is an excellent -- I'm so glad, Mark Penn, that someone is saying that out loud, because that's -- I think that's exactly right. What bothers me about the Joe-Lieberman-for-president campaign is that here you have a guy who actually is making some sensible, adult noises about foreign policy and he's being shunned by his own party. It doesn't look like he's going to be the nominee. I hope he is. But he's not getting there, at least at this point. What does it say about the party? The whole party seems to have gone crazy.

PENN: Well, I think we have got rising support here in New Hampshire. We have got a lot independent voters and independent- minded Democrats coming over to Joe Lieberman.

I think now, frankly, they're going to take another look. We've been energized by this. People are coming up to Senator Lieberman on the street, saying: You've been wronged. I'm going to take a look at you. I want to vote for you.

CARLSON: So people hate Al Gore so much that his scorning Joe Lieberman helps Lieberman? Is that what you're saying?

PENN: I think they think that Al Gore did the wrong thing. He should let the people decide first. We have got a primary system. The Clintons, for example, aren't endorsing anybody now. He should have stayed out of it until the people had their say.

And I think people in New Hampshire have been known to change their mind when they think they're being pushed and bullied into voting one way or the other.

BEGALA: Now, Mark, quickly -- we're almost out of time -- I understand that Vice President Gore did call Senator Lieberman later today, after his announcement. Do you know what they talked about?

PENN: I don't know. I know he called later, as you said, after this thing got out. But I really don't know. And the senator said, any conversations he has like that are private.

BEGALA: Mark Penn, pollster for Joe Lieberman, former pollster for Bill Clinton and Al Gore, thank you very much for joining us here on CROSSFIRE on a chilly night in New Hampshire.

CARLSON: Thanks.

BEGALA: Up next: the pulse of New Hampshire. We'll take a look at what's ahead for the Democrats here in the frigid Granite State.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to a below-zero CROSSFIRE here in New Hampshire.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Paul, I -- here's my prediction. Joe Lieberman can be a bit self-satisfied sometimes, but, at the bottom, he's got a pretty good sense of humor. My prediction is that he plays the scorn -- the response he got from Al Gore the other day to his advantage tonight by making fun of himself and Gore.

BEGALA: Lieberman is good at expressing himself more in sadness than in anger.

CARLSON: Yes.

BEGALA: Tonight, I hope he's angry.

I don't like this stuff about the 11th commandment. I want these guys to hate each other, to go after each other on the issues, not personal attacks. But I hope, at the debate down the hall here, that they hit each other. And I hope Lieberman is the first among them doing it.

CARLSON: And will Howard Dean gloat? The real question. I hope so.

BEGALA: Well, that remains to be seen.

Tomorrow, on the CROSSFIRE campaign Election Express, or whatever that bus is called behind me, we will have Senator John Edwards.

That's it for now. From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow, as Paul said. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

See you tomorrow.

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