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CNN CROSSFIRE

Is Iraq Safer After Saddam's Capture?

Aired December 17, 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: On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak, and Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE, Saddam Hussein is out of circulation. But is Iraq any safer? And how soon until the Iraqis can handle their own country?

Plus, Tucker Carlson's live update on his day in Baghdad. Today, on CROSSFIRE. Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Before we get to today's debate, we want to get the very latest on a breaking news story. A federal judge has ruled that John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot President Reagan and his press secretary Jim Brady in 1981, can be allowed unsupervised visits with his family. With details on this breaking news is CNN Justice Department correspondent Kelli Arena.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. A federal judge did grant John Hinckley Jr. unsupervised visits. This is for the first time since he was admitted to St. Elizabeth's Hospital after attempting to assassinate President Reagan in 1981.

Hinckley will be allowed six day visits with his parents within a 50-mile radius of Washington, D.C. That to be followed by two overnight visits also, within that same 50-mile radius. Now, this is not the first time that Hinckley's been out in public. He's gone on several trips with hospital staff to places like malls and movies.

The visits do have certain conditions, though. His parents must submit an itinerary. Hinckley will not be allowed out of his parents' sight for even a minute. Hinckley's not allowed to contact the media and he's not allowed any contact with a woman that he was involved in a several-year-long relationship with.

Hinckley had asked for unsupervised visits to his parents' home in Virginia, which the judge denied. But hospital staff has told the court that these visits are part of his ongoing rehabilitation, that Hinckley does not pose a danger to himself or the public at this time. The judge apparently agreeing to go along, at least incrementally, at this point. Back to you.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Thank you very much, Kelli. You know, Paul, this is an absolutely terrible decision and it was made by one of the left-wing judges, one of the many left-wing judges that Bill Clinton imposed on this country -- Paul Friedman. And that's why it's so important to get some conservative judges on the federal bench.

BEGALA: Nothing partisan about this, Bob. I think you're right that it's a wrong decision. I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to make it a partisan issue. I'm not for anybody harming any of our presidents or ever walking free. The guy should never walk the streets again. I think you're right, it's a bad decision but it's got nothing to do with politics.

NOVAK: Today we're debating whether Iraq is safer with Saddam Hussein under lock and key with no unsupervised visiting rights with anyone. But first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Why are Democratic politicians so downcast about the capture of Saddam Hussein? Take a look at the CNN/USA Today Gallup poll released today. It shows President Bush's approval rating has soared to 63 percent. But how does the president do against the Democratic front- runner Howard Dean? Very well, thank you. It's 60 percent for Bush, 37 percent for Dean. A mammoth lead of 23 percentage points.

Now Democrats may say not to worry, things may get a lot worse in Iraq. Is the world's oldest political party reduced to hoping and praying for bad news for America to defeat George W. Bush?

BEGALA: No. What we're hoping and praying for is a plan to succeed in Iraq. Capturing Saddam Hussein is a wonderful thing but it is not a plan for internationalizing the conflict, bringing allies in there to fight alongside us, and then ultimately winning and setting up a stable Iraq, which the polls today also show, the "New York Times" poll, that the American people don't believe Mr. Bush has a plan to do any of those things.

NOVAK: Oh, you're a smart politician and you know you're on the wrong side of this issue. The American people are really admiring the way President Bush has handled a very difficult situation. You better talk about the minimum wage or some baloney like that.

BEGALA: This is a temporary spike. You shall see.

Well, Vice President Dick Cheney has bitterly attacked what he called, quote, "cheap shot journalism" and accused reporters of not getting the real facts on Halliburton. Mr. Vice President, here are the real facts. Fact: Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton from 1995 through the year 2000.

Fact: Mr. Cheney's company had contracts worth $73 million with Saddam Hussein's bloody regime in Iraq. Fact: one key executive says Mr. Cheney was, quote, "definitely aware," unquote, of the business dealings with Iraq.

Fact: the same corporation that considered Saddam Hussein a valued customer when Dick Cheney was its CEO was awarded a multi- billion-dollar-no-bid government contract in Iraq, now that Dick Cheney is our vice president. Those, sir, are the facts. Mr. Cheney, if you want to dispute them, you're always welcome here in the CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: You know, your colleague, Mr. James Carville on this program, made exactly the same point. And that's because you cannot talk about any issues. All you can do is harp on Dick Cheney. There goes the bankruptcy of the left wing court right now. If you thought no amount of name calling would bother Howard Dean, think again. First, look again at this TV ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Howard Dean cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy. It's time for Democrats to think about that. And think about it now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, fired off a letter to the other Democrats running for president. He called the ad, quote, "the kind of fear mongering attack we've come to expect from Republicans." End quote. It's an ad that was put on the air by Democrats. He asked that it be taken off the air. This from a candidate who suggested President Bush had advanced warning of 9/11, and Joe, this ad is just a hint of what's coming if Dr. Dean is actually nominated.

BEGALA: Well, it's absolutely true. Howard Dean cannot compete with George W. Bush. Right. He can't compete with Bush misleading us about wars. He can't compete with George W. Bush about getting us stuck in a quagmire, he can't compete with George W. Bush in alienating allies. In all of the things Mr. Bush has failed on, Howard Dean or any of the Democrats would be a lot better.

Well, the Federal Elections Commission has determined that Attorney General John Ashcroft's campaign violated federal law by accepting illegal campaign contributions. Mr. Ashcroft was also excoriated yesterday by a federal judge for violating a gag order and making comments that threatened the fairness of a criminal trial.

Now why would President Bush keep a law-breaker as attorney general? Well, cynics might conclude it has something to do with Mr. Ashcroft's thus far fruitless investigation into the Bush administration official who betrayed the secrecy of an undercover CIA agent. Well, perhaps Mr. Ashcroft is good at covering up more than just naked breasts on statues at the Justice Department.

NOVAK: Let me see if I got the Democratic agenda correct. You're very, very tough on nit picking little problems with campaign finance, which never bothered you certainly with Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But you're very soft on terrorists? Is that about right?

BEGALA: I'm not very soft. I want George Bush to go back to Afghanistan and finish the job there. Bush was soft on terrorism, not me. Well, now that Saddam Hussein is in custody and being interrogated, are our troops in Iraq any safer? Those questions and more just ahead.

And then later, Tucker Carlson in Baghdad, which, of course, means there's still at least one very dangerous dude still walking around the Iraqi capital. We'll check in with our brave and intrepid co-host in a live report in a few minutes. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: President Bush says there is no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam Hussein being gone. Of course, Dr. Howard Dean would not have prescribed the U.S. actions that took Saddam out. In the CROSSFIRE today, Joe Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and former assistant defense secretary, Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy.

BEGALA: Thank you both for coming.

Frank, we all heard the runup to the war, our president told us that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. I thought it turns out he didn't. But it was a reasonable thing to think at the time. Now he's saying something very, very different. Here's what he said last night in an interview with ABC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the world is better off because we got rid of him.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC ANCHOR: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons, still...

BUSH: So what's the difference?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: What's the difference? Well, here's the difference, Frank. Here's what the president actually said before the war to get us into it. "The Iraqi regime possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. The evidence indicates Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." He went on and on. He didn't say, well, no difference before the war. How can he say that now?

FRANK GAFFNEY, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Which president? President Clinton?

BEGALA: President Bush.

GAFFNEY: No, but President Clinton said exactly the same thing.

BEGALA: President Clinton didn't send our guys halfway around the world to get stuck in a quagmire, Frank.

GAFFNEY: That was his mistake, because what he said was essentially the same thing, almost verbatim, but he didn't do anything about it. What I think George Bush did is he said this is a sufficiently grave danger to us, after 9/11, that a guy who's got these capabilities, and I don't know anybody who said he doesn't have these capabilities. The truth of the matter is, we haven't found them yet.

That, plus his nexus to terror is something that we can't tolerate. And post 9/11, this president did something about it, and I think properly so.

NOVAK: Joe Cirincione, I want to give you another quote of the president from the interview last night. Let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: A gathering threat after 9/11 is a threat that needed to be dealt with, and it was done after 12 long years of the world saying, the man's a danger. And so we got rid of him. And there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: You can't really disagree with that, can you?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: No, it is a safer place. And we should all be glad that Saddam is gone. The problem is, the cost of getting him out. We have lost 500 American lives in this battle. Plus, several thousand wounded without arms, legs or eyes. Tens of thousands of Iraqis dead or wounded. Is that -- was that worth it? Is that worth it?

NOVAK: We lost -- we lost 400,000 to get rid of Hitler, didn't we?

CIRINCIONE: Hitler was a completely different -- and this is the problem that Bush makes. He's demonized Saddam, tried to inflate the threat to such a great extent that he, George Bush, is the Hitler slayer. He's going up against Saddam, the great demon of the world.

Well, you saw what Saddam looks like, he's a frightened man in a hole in the ground. He didn't represent a threat beyond that to his own people before we went after him. And now he's no threat at all. Are we safer off? Yes. But was it worth the price? No. There were other ways to accomplish the same ends.

BEGALA: That's the nob of the debate. Turns out our president not only misled the country at large, his administration misled some important people in the United States Senate. One of the people who voted for Mr. Bush's war, Senator Bill Nelson, conservative Democrat from Florida, told Florida today this...

NOVAK: Conservative senator? BEGALA: Bill Nelson? Sure, he voted for Mr. Bush's war. Said: "Senators were told by the Bush administration Iraq had both biological and chemical weapons, notably anthrax, and it could deliver them to cities along the eastern seaboard, via unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as drones. They have not found anything that resembles a UAV that has that capacity," says Senator Nelson. So he was misled, wasn't he?

GAFFNEY: I don't think so. I think the capability that George Bush talked about was real. And the problem that we've got...

BEGALA: We can't find the drones, we can't find the weapons, we can't find anthrax.

GAFFNEY: The nature of a drone can be anything from an aircraft, an old Cessna, with an autopilot mechanism on it and GPS system to something that's dedicated.

BEGALA: Where is it?

GAFFNEY: It could be buried in the sand at an air base.

BEGALA: We had 100,000 guys there for six months, Frank. He didn't have it. Bush misled us into a war.

GAFFNEY: We didn't find Saddam Hussein for six to eight months because he was in a hole in the ground. The problem is, you've jumped to the conclusion that because we haven't found that stuff, it didn't exist. I think that's wrong. And to the contrary, I would say we are safer because Saddam is gone. We were at risk because Saddam was not the frightened man in a hole when we started this thing. Saddam was a guy who was running a country with tens of billions of dollars in oil resources at his disposal, and lashed up with international terror. Which I believe -- I personally believe was used against us in the past. It's certainly true. There's abundant evidence of that.

NOVAK: There was a very interesting situation yesterday, where the foreign minister of Iraq, not somebody from the U.S., the Pentagon or the White House, Hoshyar Zebari, had a statement. He said this. He said, "One years ago the Security Council was divided between those who wanted to appease Saddam Hussein and those who wanted to hold him accountable. The United Nations as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years. The U.N. must not fail the Iraqi people again." That's strong testimony. Isn't it?

CIRINCIONE: It is, but it's completely wrong, because the U.N. was not failing the Iraqi people a year ago. A year ago today we had Saddam Hussein surrounded. We had over 100,000, building up to 200,000 troops around him. We had dozens, building up to hundreds of inspectors in him. He was in an iron cage. He wasn't going anywhere, and he was getting weaker by the day, not stronger.

It's not true that it was a choice between war and doing nothing. We were doing something. If the president had had the patience and the wisdom to stay the course, we would have -- we'd be in a much stronger position today.

NOVAK: He would still be in power, would he not? Saddam Hussein?

CIRINCIONE: Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe the Iraqi people -- this is up to the Iraqi people to overthrow a tyrant. It's not a job that we should be doing.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me test your intellectual honesty. It's wrong and dangerous for President Clinton to use containment, sanctions and bombing to keep Saddam Hussein in a box. Was it wrong while Bill Clinton was doing that, was it wrong for Dick Cheney to sell him oil field equipment? Make...

GAFFNEY: It was.

BEGALA: Say it again?

GAFFNEY: I think it was.

BEGALA: Good for you. You got a lot of respect (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY: I think it was wrong for us to be doing things through subsidiaries with Iraq, with Iran, with Syria...

BEGALA: Libya.

GAFFNEY: Anybody else on this terrorism list.

BEGALA: Good for you.

GAFFNEY: But I would just say to Joe, the problem that we have to confront -- he talks about the costs. If we're going to talk about the costs, let's talk about the 300,000 Iraqi people who died at Saddam Hussein's hands. And there's no reason to believe -- there is no reason to believe that if Saddam Hussein were still in that cage, he wouldn't still be killing his people.

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY: I think we ought to be resisting that at every turn. And not certainly saying to Taiwan, obey that.

NOVAK: I just want to ask you one thing, the Kay report, Dr. Kay's report, he says that -- it indicates that Iraq was developing missiles with ranges up to 1,000 kilometers. He said Iraq had tested an unmanned aerial vehicle to 500 kilometers, also in violation of U.N. resolutions. He was a threat, wasn't he?

CIRINCIONE: He was definitely a threat. Mostly to his own people. Secondarily to the region. Was he an imminent or an urgent threat to us, that's the question. And the president said he was.

(CROSSTALK)

CIRINCIONE: The president said it was a growing danger...

GAFFNEY: Let's wait for him to become an imminent threat. He said I don't think that's advisable.

(CROSSTALK)

CIRINCIONE: They tried to have it both ways.

GAFFNEY: You said the president. I just want to be clear.

CIRINCIONE: The president said he may have nuclear weapons. He's close to getting nuclear weapons. He's linked up to the al Qaeda terrorists. That's what he said. And the danger was, we had to take him out now before they took out our cities.

It turned out that was completely false. What the president said just wasn't true.

BEGALA: Got to be it. Joe Cirincione, Frank Gaffney, thank you very much.

And coming up, Tucker Carlson joins us from Iraq with a live update on what it's really like in the streets of the Iraqi capital. And then after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on that court ruling involving the man who shot President Reagan back in 1981. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, a late developing story. The man who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan will get some limited free time without an escort. We'll tell you about this very surprising decision by a U.S. district judge.

Interrogating Saddam Hussein. What's acceptable, what's not. And how CIA officers may go about trying to extract information from their valuable captive. I'll speak live with two experts.

And Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. He'll join me live. He'll tell us why he's continuing his attack against Howard Dean. And how does he feel about Al Gore right now. All that coming up. Right now, though, there's been a development in the jury deliberations involving the accused sniper Lee Boyd Malvo. For that, let's go to CNN's Elaine Quijano in Chesapeake, Virginia. She's got the latest.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Wolf. Just moments ago we learned that the jury apparently has a question. This jury has been deliberating since about 9:00 a.m. Eastern time. They took an hour-long break between 1:00 and 2:00 for lunch. And they were scheduled to keep court hours, meaning they would wrap up around 5:00. So we don't know yet what exactly this question has to do with. We just know, as I said, moments ago we learned that the jury has a question of some sort -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Elaine. We'll be checking back with you. Elaine Quijano covering the jury deliberations. All of those stories, much more coming up only minutes away on "Wolf Blitzer Reports." Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Thank you, Wolf. Tucker Carlson is spending a little quality time in Iraq. It's going on 1:00 in the morning there, but he's still awake enough to join us.

BEGALA: Tucker, it's good to see you, my friend.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Hey, Bob, Paul, how are you doing?

BEGALA: Good, thanks. A number of reports of fire fights and bombings. Any of them near you? What can you tell us about them?

CARLSON: Well, I mean, there are certainly fire fights all the time. I mean, most of them aren't reported because they're just ubiquitous. I heard them right when I got up this morning. I heard them all day long when we were in the car. Went up to the Saddam Iraq/Iran war monument, the famous crossed swords you see on television.

We're the only people there. It's in the Green Zone which is relatively the safest part of Iraq from what I can tell. We heard a fire fight fairly close by. I thought it must have been a firing range of some kind but then there was return fire. So it obviously wasn't. You hear them all the time. Same with explosions.

And again, most of them don't go reported. There was some sort of massive explosion here downtown, I think right near the house I'm staying in early this morning. And it's not clear whether it was a car bomb or whether it was an -- a collision between a petroleum truck and taxi. Driving here is pretty radical here, too. But, yes, there's a lot of that here.

NOVAK: Tucker, would you explain for the viewers what the Green Zone is and how it differs from the other parts of Baghdad that you've been in?

CARLSON: Well, first, it differs dramatically. It's a little -- from what I can tell driving through it today, it's a little bit of America right in the middle of Iraq. The Green Zone essentially is across the river from where I am now and it is the -- Saddam's presidential compound.

There's Uday's mistresses' house, there are the famous parade grounds with the fascist symbols on them. And then the presidential palace palaces that's occupied by the U.S. military. From what I can tell, the bulk of the U.S. military in Baghdad are within that zone and by the CPA, Ambassador Bremer and the people who are creating the new Iraqi government here. But it is really -- it's an oasis in the middle of this city, where there really isn't a visible American presence, again, from what I can tell, driving around the city for the last three days.

The only American flag I have seen in Baghdad so far, literally, the only one, was in a bar at the Baghdad International Airport where I went today on the fourth floor of the airport. There really isn't an obvious American presence here. It's striking. I'm not quite sure what it means but you notice it.

BEGALA: Well, Tucker, quickly, the airport I gather is fairly deserted, right?

CARLSON: Is what?

BEGALA: It's fairly deserted, is it?

CARLSON: I couldn't hear exactly what you said. But I want to say, one interesting thing I learned today, and that is that the people who are in the military, somebody I spoke to today, knows what's going on, said that the next three weeks are absolutely critical after the capture of Saddam, that we will know the direction this country is going in, in the next three weeks. Whether it's going to descend to a broader insurgence here or whether it's going to actually right itself and become a sustaining decent country, a good place to live.

BEGALA: Tucker Carlson, thank you for staying up late for us. Stay safe, be well.

CARLSON: Thank you.

BEGALA: Coming up, some counter programming to the Super Bowl might be a little too hot to handle for some Ram tough guys. We'll tell you all about it in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The lingerie bowl was scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday. It was to feature young ladies, well, playing football in their underwear. It's a pay-per-view show, but there's been a flag thrown on the field. It seems that the National Dodge Dealer Advertising Association is recommending that Chrysler pull its sponsorship because, gasp, it might be seen by some as sexist.

NOVAK: Paul, that's the worst news I've ever heard. I had so looked forward to that.

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

NOVAK: I'm Robert Novak. Join us again for next for another edition of CROSSFIRE. Wolf Blitzer starts his report right now.

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