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Does America Want New Commander in Chief?

Aired March 15, 2004 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: The U.S. may be minus one ally in the war in Iraq. Is Bush losing support abroad? What about at home? Do voters want a new commander in chief?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This administration is big on bluster, and they're short on action.




ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Robert Novak.


Today, we're debating what presidential would make the best commander in chief.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: There's no doubt about the answer, but we'll debate it right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The Reverend Al Sharpton finally endorsed prospective Democratic nominee John Kerry. But listen to the quotes given to "The New York Post" before they met today. Said a senior New York state Democrat -- quote -- "The Kerry camp thinks that, on balance, they might be better off without Sharpton on their side" -- end quote. Said a source close to Sharpton -- quote -- "If the Kerry campaign messes with Reverend Sharpton, they do so at the their own peril" -- end quote.

Kerry wanted Sharpton to end his candidacy. He didn't. But Sharpton wanted assurances he won't be ignored. Was this the Democratic establishment seeking votes of African-Americans if they stay in the back of the bus?


CARVILLE: I think -- I think Reverend Sharpton has done very well as a candidate. He's a very loyal Democrat. And, you know, welcome to endorsing Senator Kerry. Everybody else does. He's got 2,600 delegates now. And I'm sure he'll be very helpful in getting out the vote.


NOVAK: Well, he's smart. He's knowledgeable. He's charismatic. Why not put him on the ticket? And then you have a Kerry/Sharpton ticket.


CARVILLE: I admit that -- I admit that -- I admit that he would be stronger than Dick Cheney. He wouldn't have all of this stuff around his neck that Cheney did.



NOVAK: Good for -- good for you.

CARVILLE: He'll probably get somebody that has a little more experience than that, but, you know.

Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of life is just showing up. Even by that modest measure, George W. -- George W. Bush is a failure. He didn't show up for National Guard duty in Alabama. He probably doesn't want to show up to talk to the 9/11 Commission about what he did or didn't do to protect America from attack. And now he doesn't want to show up to debate John Kerry.

John Kerry, a real man, has challenged George W. Bush, a half of a man, to a series of monthly debates about the future of our country. As Senator Kerry said, this would be a great way to show America what democracy is really about. President Bush says, no way. It's starting to make sense to me why George W. Bush was a cheerleader.



CARVILLE: The man is just scared to death to get on the field where the big boys play.


NOVAK: Well, James, I tell you, I'm going to make you a little prediction. There will be three or four debates, which is about the right number to keep people's attention.

And the Democrats -- history repeats. democrats will make the same mistake. Four years ago, they said, wait until he -- wait until Bush gets in there with Al Gore. Gore will chew him up. You remember them saying that? In fact, Gore fell on his face. So don't make a prediction. Let's play the game


CARVILLE: All I'm saying is, the man -- he wants to have $10 million of negativity and he's not man enough to stand up on the stage and face the man face-to-face. That's what the problem is.

That's why we're not respected around the world, because they know...


CARVILLE: ... this boy didn't show up for National Guard. They know he doesn't want to show up for 9/11. He's got to be there.



NOVAK: He'll show up for the four debates.


NOVAK: There she goes again, Senator Hillary Clinton talking about the vast right-wing conspiracy again. Only, this time, those dastardly conservatives are not after her husband. Hillary says they have John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, in the crosshairs.

In fact, the conspiracy, she said in a National Public Radio appearance is now, get this, a vast right-wing media interlocking and infrastructure, so says Senator Clinton. She says it's perfectly all right for Senator Kerry to call Republicans crooks and liars. Is that good advice from a smart politician or is it possible that the last thing Hillary really wants to happen is a Kerry presidency, closing off any chance of her four years from now?

CARVILLE: Now, wait a minute. Let me get this straight here. She said that there's the vast conspiracy against Senator Kerry, the same thing she said about -- of course, she's accurate. I'll be glad to name who is all part of this.

But then she said that because she really doesn't want him to win? I can't -- I'm vexed here.


NOVAK: Well, you didn't listen carefully.


CARVILLE: I listened as carefully as I could. It just didn't make any sense, Bob.


NOVAK: When she says it's OK for Kerry to call Republicans crooks or liars, I think that's very bad advice. CARVILLE: I think -- Senator Kerry, you were exactly right...




CARVILLE: ... when you called them that and you should have never apologized and you were right. And I want you to win.

Yesterday, the Maryland Terrapins won the school's first ACC championship in 20 years. I want to congratulate the men's basketball team, Coach Williams and Maryland's biggest fan, Bob Novak.

I also want to recognize another great program and another great coach. That's LSU's track program and their coach, Pat Henry. This weekend, both the LSU men's and women's track teams won the NCAA indoor championship. That's never been done before. In his 17 years of coaching LSU track, Pat Henry's team have won 27 national championships. That's right, 27 national championships.

We spend a lot of times in politics talking about failed leadership. I think it's worth taking a moment to recognize great leadership it takes to turn young men and women into champions. Congratulations to you, coach Henry. And congratulations to LSU, the finest institution of higher learning on the face of the Earth.


NOVAK: Well, I think you're right about leadership, James. I was in the Greensboro Coliseum yesterday afternoon when Maryland upset Duke. They were 12 points behind with three minutes to play. And those tough young men, they sucked it up and beat a great team.

Now, I'll tell you, those are little tests...


CARVILLE: Hell of an achievement.

NOVAK: ... that most people don't have all their life. And they're 20 -- 19, 20 years old. I think intercollegiate college athletics is a great thing for developing character and leadership.



CARVILLE: I agree. And you know what it's really good for, is entertaining me sitting there watching it.


NOVAK: Me, too. Spanish voters have rejected one of America's friends in the war against terrorism, but does John Kerry really have the list of sacred endorsers -- secret endorsers around the grown, as he claims? Or is he just making it up? Coming up, we'll debate who what it takes to be this nation's commander in chief.


NOVAK: Later, I'll ask the Ragin' Cajun what nickname he would give Senator John Kerry.

ANNOUNCER: Get ahead of the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for CROSSFIRE's daily "Political Alert" e-mail. You'll get a preview of each day's show, plus an inside look at the day's political headlines. Just go to and sign up today.



NOVAK: It used to be that politics stopped at the water's edge. But John Kerry's nonstop attacks on President Bush include criticism of the war on terror and the war in Iraq. So who would be the better commander in chief in America?

In the CROSSFIRE, Congresswoman Jane Harman, Democrat of California, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.


CARVILLE: Senator Allen, your Army's 3rd Infantry Division, in its own report -- this was a report by the 3rd Infantry Division -- said in the after-action report that, when it arrived in Baghdad, it had no instructions, no mission statement. Despite the virtual certainty the military would accomplish regime change, there was no plan for oversight or reconstruction.

Now, what kind of a commander in chief would send young Americans into battle with absolutely no plan when they arrived in Baghdad? And why would anybody reelect a commander in chief that was so negligent not to have a plan in place for what to do when they got to Baghdad?


SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: That's a nice exaggeration of the facts.

The reason they're going to reelect and have confidence in President Bush as commander in chief is because he is led by principles. He is steady. He is not one who goes wobbly in the face of terrorism. He united this country after we were hit on 9/11. He moved forward. He tried to, as best he could, and did very successfully in Afghanistan, get a group of countries with us. Obviously, we're seeing progress there in Afghanistan. Insofar as the military action in Iraq, it went faster than we thought. We're watching it on CNN live. And, as far as the president's concerned and the troops in the field, the commanders were the ones who were doing the operational tactics. And we knew what we wanted to do. We wanted to make sure that we secured that country as quickly as possible. There is a tragic loss of lives. We certainly admire those brave men and women.

But to say that he was negligent, they were as prepared as they possibly could be.

CARVILLE: All right.

ALLEN: And when you look on the other side, here's one who voted against giving those men and women body armor when the president requested that funding.

NOVAK: Congresswoman -- Congresswoman Harman, you have a well- deserved reputation as a moderate. And I'm going to put it to the test, because I want you to look -- we'll talk in a moment about one of the most peculiar comments I've ever seen in a lifetime of watching politics by a presidential nominee.

On March 8, Senator Kerry, talking to a bunch of supporters said -- quote -- "I've met foreign leaders, who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, 'You gotta win this. You gotta beat this guy. You need a new policy,' things like that."

And, in response, just yesterday, Secretary of State Powell says: "If he feels it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list some names. If he can't list names, then perhaps he should find something else to talk about."

He won't list names. That's poor conduct by your candidate, isn't it?

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I wasn't there. I'm not sure what the full context was.

But my comment is that we need to do a better job of building an international coalition to support our foreign policy. We're seeing right now, with the result in Spain, which was unfortunate in two respects, first of all, the tragic loss of life there due to a set of attacks caused by some number of terrorists, possibly al Qaeda. I don't think that's yet fully proved, but then, unfortunately, a quick reaction by the Spanish government that denied that al Qaeda might play a role and that led to voter reaction that's really pretty difficult.

We're going to have to work with Spain. We're going to have to work with Germany better.

NOVAK: I didn't ask you about Spain.

HARMAN: And we're going to have to work with France better.



NOVAK: Wait a minute.

HARMAN: And this president right now is going to be tested by how he does that.

NOVAK: I asked you about Senator Kerry.


NOVAK: And it isn't a complicated question. John Kerry -- John Kerry -- John Kerry says there are foreign...


NOVAK: Just a minute.

HARMAN: All right.

NOVAK: Says there are foreign leaders who say, who told him they want Bush defeated. Colin Powell challenged him to name names. He won't name names. What do you think of that?

HARMAN: I'm just a lot slower than you. The way I process your question is, should this administration be doing a better job of working with governments? My answer is yes.

NOVAK: Well, that isn't what I asked you.



CARVILLE: I understand that. And I asked Senator Allen about Baghdad and I ended up in Tora Tora or somewhere else, or Tora Bora.

Senator, let me show you a clip, because the Bush administration is now -- I guess I should say just a blatant falsehood, that they never said that there was any kind of a serious threat from Iraq before the war or whatever. Let me show you Senator Rumsfeld -- I mean Secretary Rumsfeld -- making a complete fool of himself on Bob Schieffer's show this week.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I can't spoke for nobody and everybody in the administration and say nobody said that.

BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST: The vice president didn't say that?

RUMSFELD: Not -- if you have any citations, I'd like to see them.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN: We have one here. It says, some have argued that the -- this is you speaking -- some have argued that the nuclear threat from Iraq is not imminent, that Saddam is at least five to seven years away from having nuclear weapons. I would not be so certain.


FRIEDMAN: It's close to imminent.

RUMSFELD: Well, I tried to be precise, and I've tried to be accurate.


CARVILLE: Now, he went to get caught again and he stammered all over himself.

Do you think this inspires confidence in people, Americans, American troops when they see that their secretary of defense -- the secretary of defense doesn't even know what he said and is sitting there stammering away like he's caught -- like some deer caught in the headlights on a Sunday morning talk show?



ALLEN: All of this -- all of this may -- all of this may be just great fodder and a bunch of gotchas back and forth.


ALLEN: I've visited some of these -- these troops at Walter Reed Hospital, and their legs -- one leg shot off, another one amputated below the knees. He still had optimism that at least he had his knees.

And these young men and women, some who've lost their lives, others who have come back injured, are there for a good reason. And, yes, there are a lot of different reasons we got into it. But let's recognize that the solution here is not to just Monday morning quarterback, but how do we move forward?

And we are trying to move forward to have the Iraqis control that -- their own country. They're moving forward. It's going to be very difficult. Clearly, our troops are in a very precarious position. There are other countries involved. But to just joke about all of this, I understand politics, and there's a lot of bump and run in it. But this president has showed resolve. This president has showed -- has shown steadiness. We cannot cut and run. We do have to adapt to situations as best we can.

CARVILLE: Senator, Senator...

ALLEN: And have the Iraqis take over their own security.

(CROSSTALK) CARVILLE: They asked the secretary of defense that -- they said, you said that there was an imminent threat prior to this war.


CARVILLE: Which we're losing kids left and right and he tried to deny something that he said. That's hardly -- that's hardly a minor issue.

HARMAN: Let me speak to that.

CARVILLE: Go ahead, Congresswoman.

HARMAN: My field is intelligence. And the prewar national intelligence estimate on Iraq said, without qualifications, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons. Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear capability. I believed that. I voted for the Iraq resolution. I am not recanting my vote. I'm not at all.

And I think our use of military force was enormously effective. But our postwar planning was extremely poor. And we're paying for it. And there's going to be a transition on July 1, and let's just hope it is to a moderate, transparent, some form of government there that protects human rights and respects the human rights of many different ethnicities in that country. And I worry about that.


NOVAK: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, James.


CARVILLE: Jane Harman, you may not like it, but you're stuck with this candidate. He's going to be the nominee of your party. And you can't run away from him.

HARMAN: I didn't say I didn't like him.

NOVAK: Well, you won't address my questions.

Now, I think he's been doing...


NOVAK: I think he's been doing a reasonably good job of impersonating Governor Dean of Vermont.


NOVAK: Of attacking questioners.

HARMAN: All right.

NOVAK: In Pennsylvania, one of the questioners asked him the same thing I'd like to know, why won't he name the names of -- he brought the subject up of foreign leaders.

ALLEN: Right.


NOVAK: And what Senator Kerry said, are you a Democrat or Republican? What are you? Are you a registered Republican? Are you a Republican? You answer the question.

Is that presidential? Is that commander in chief?

HARMAN: I think it's -- it's -- people are perfectly entitled to get angry. And I understand why people are angry at a policy now which is based on very poor postwar planning. I think this president -- let me say this. And I'm not one who's a big screamer, which is why you don't invite me on the show very much, and I appreciate that.

NOVAK: I'd like to invite you all the time.

HARMAN: Thank you very much, Bob.

NOVAK: You're welcome.

HARMAN: But this president should be measured by what he does now in office, not the attacks he lobs. How is he governing as commander in chief? What is the postwar planning going to lead us to?

NOVAK: But I'm asking you about your candidate. You won't comment on his performance.


HARMAN: I'll comment. He's not the commander in chief. He's trying out for commander in chief.

NOVAK: Well, should he be? What he's showing you is how he would act.

HARMAN: He has put forward a pretty decent plan for using military strength, which I favor and he favors, but also our other tools.


CARVILLE: Can I ask a question? Can I make a point? Can I make a point here?


CARVILLE: Correct me if I'm wrong.

When we went to war, we kicked the U.N. inspectors out of Iraq. They had U.N. inspectors there for 30 days that were asking us, where is this stuff? And they couldn't find any and they were telling us that. And we told the U.N. inspectors, get out. We're going to war no matter what. Now, had you known that there were going to be U.N. inspectors on the ground searching the sites that we gave them, you think you would have voted the same way?

HARMAN: Well, let's start with, the U.N. inspectors left in 1998.

CARVILLE: But they came back.

HARMAN: I don't excuse Saddam Hussein for his conduct.

CARVILLE: But they came back.


HARMAN: They came back temporarily.

CARVILLE: But they came back. We kicked them out to start the war. That's a fact.

HARMAN: Well, they came back. They were denied full access.

NOVAK: They were denied access. And he doesn't want to hear that. He doesn't want to hear the truth.


CARVILLE: What did they find? What did they find?




NOVAK: Up next, in "Rapid Fire," I'll ask our guest if John Kerry has one foreign supporter he might not really want?

And, right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on the mass killings case in California.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we're standing by for news out of Fresno, California, in a grisly murder case, a man charged with killing nine of his own children.

The fallout of terror in the aftermath of bomb blasts in Spain. Did the terrorists score a victory by causing political upheaval?

And from Libya's nuclear weapons supplies to your gas prices, I'll speak live with the energy secretary, Spencer Abraham.

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" -- now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARVILLE: It's time for "Rapid Fire," where we try to keep things short, because, just like George W. Bush, we don't have a lot of time left.



CARVILLE: Our guests are Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia and Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of the great state of California.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Harman, one of the leaders who definitely, everybody knows, is supporting Senator Kerry over President Bush is Kim Jong Il, the communist dictator of North Carolina.


CARVILLE: North Korea.

NOVAK: Sorry, sorry.


HARMAN: Wait a minute, Bob.


NOVAK: I'm still at the ACC Tournament.

Do you think -- do you think -- do you think Senator Kerry welcomes that support?

HARMAN: That's the wrong question. The right question is, will he be the best leader for America? And I think in many ways he's demonstrating that he will be.


NOVAK: That's


CARVILLE: Senator Allen, just -- and I understand this is a guess and, you know, and this is what we do here. What is the percent chance do you think that we'll have elections in Iraq before the year is over?

ALLEN: I've asked that same question. I think the chances are much better than they were with Saddam Hussein in power.


ALLEN: And I think it's moving that way. Their interim agreement shows an understanding of a confederation of individual rights, that Islamic law would be a part, not the sole source of laws.

I think that they're moving that direction. I hate to make a prediction. I know we'll have elections in this country. And the folks in Fayetteville, North Carolina, are not going to care about who the French or the Germans or the North Koreans endorse. And they'll be for President Bush.

NOVAK: I apologize to North Carolina.


CARVILLE: He just hates North Carolina so bad. He's a Maryland fan.


CARVILLE: He just get them out of his mind.

NOVAK: Jane Harman, one more chance. Give me your opinion of what you think of Senator Kerry's campaign so far and the negativism.

HARMAN: I think that as a victim of negative campaigns, especially when I ran for governor of California...


HARMAN: I think they're despicable. I think the right campaign is for each side to lay out in a positive way what it will do to lead this country in the most dangerous world any of us has ever imagined. President Bush is on the watch right now. And he's got eight months to show us whether he can do a better job of making this a safer world.


HARMAN: And he'll be measured by that.

NOVAK: That was a very good statement. That's a good closing statement. Thank you, Jane Harman.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

NOVAK: Thank you, George Allen.

CARVILLE: Thank you. Thank you.

NOVAK: According to a former Dukes of Hazzard cast member, John Kerry should adopt a nickname.

Coming up, Ragin' Cajun and the Prince of Darkness -- that's our nicknames -- will help him out him out with a few suggestions.

I'm the Prince of Darkness.


NOVAK: From "Honest Abe" Lincoln, to "Kingfish" Huey Long, to "Bubba" Bill Clinton, U.S. voters like politicians with nicknames.

In yesterday's "Washington Post," former Congressman Ben "Cooter" Jones muses on what name might give John Kerry a boost in the South. After considering the options of "Buzzard" and "Hound Dog," Jones finally comes to rest on Catfish.

James, could you do any better?

CARVILLE: I don't have to, because Catfish Hunter pitched for the Yankees and John Kerry would have a fit if that were the case. I would call him "Stud Horse."


NOVAK: My nickname is Longshanks. Longshanks was the nickname for King Edward I of England, who was brutal, ruthless and really rich.

CARVILLE: From the left, I'm brutal, ruthless James Carville. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

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

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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