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Was Iraq Right War at Right Time?

Aired March 19, 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: on the anniversary of the Iraq war, a call to continued action and unity.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The war on terror is not a figure of speech. It is an inescapable calling of our generation.

ANNOUNCER: But was Iraq the right war at the right time?

WESLEY CLARK (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We distracted ourselves from the focus on terrorism to go into Iraq.



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


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

On this anniversary of the Iraq war, tough questions about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and President Bush's whoppers of massive dimensions.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Do the Democrats really want to argue that Iraq would be better off today if Saddam Hussein was still in power?

We'll let them try to make that argument right after the best political briefing on television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Senator John Kerry's foreign policy adviser made a remarkable statement today -- quote -- "It is simply not appropriate for any foreign leader to endorse a candidate in America's presidential election" -- end quote.

Now, wasn't it John Kerry who started bragging about foreign leaders supporting him? Wasn't it John Kerry who shouted down a Republican heckler who wanted the names of these foreign leaders? The trouble is the names of the foreign leaders who support Kerry are not names Kerry wants mentioned, the left-wing Socialist prime minister- elect of Spain, who wants to appease terrorism, the brutal communist dictator of North Korea, the anti-democratic, anti-American president of Venezuela. With foreign friends like that, John Kerry doesn't need any enemies.

BEGALA: Bob, well, I know how good a reporter you are, so you appreciate that the reporter who first quoted Kerry saying foreign leaders now says no. He's checked his tape. He actually said more leaders, more leaders support Kerry, which I think is probably true. Kerry did not go around saying foreign leaders support him.

NOVAK: Right.

BEGALA: But, in fact, it's obvious that most of the world wants to change American policy. By the way, most Americans want to change American policy, too. So I think Kerry's got a point.

NOVAK: Paul, you're a -- you've worked in the political venues many years. You know, when a guy makes a mistake, the first thing he does is, he starts to fudge. Well, I didn't really say that.


NOVAK: I didn't say foreign leaders. I said leaders.

BEGALA: Well, did President Clinton or President Bush do more to fight terrorism? Needless to say, former Clinton aides like me think that Clinton did, while Bush aides obviously think their man did.

Well, it's why I'm so interested in reading a soon-to-be- published new book, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War On Terror," by Richard Clarke. Mr. Clarke was the top counterterrorism leaders under both Presidents Clinton and Bush. One of Clarke's colleagues has also spoken out. Lieutenant General Donald Kerrick was also a national security aide under both presidents.

And he told "The Washington Post" that while Clinton's people burned with urgency to get bin Laden, when it came to the Bush White House -- quote -- "Candidly speaking, I didn't detect that kind of focus. That's not being derogatory," General Kerrick said. "It's just a fact."

Mr. Clarke will appear on "60 Minutes" this Sunday to preview his book. I for one can't wait.

NOVAK: Paul, you sound like you have an idea of what's in the Richard Clarke book. I have no idea what's in it, but I know a fact that you may not know. And that is that Richard Clarke, after the destruction by the terrorists of the U.S. ship Cole and the killing of so many sailors, had pinpointed Osama bin Laden and pleaded with the Clinton Cabinet to go ahead and get Osama bin Laden. They missed the chance.


NOVAK: I wonder if he'll tell the truth on that.

BEGALA: Let's wait and see what Clarke says in his book.

NOVAK: I wonder if he'll tell the truth.

BEGALA: Let's see what he says. He served both presidents, and we'll see what the facts are.

NOVAK: Those of us who thought Howard Dean was gone after Democratic voters decisively rejected him were sadly mistaken. Howard clearly doesn't want to go back to being a country doctor in Vermont or indeed spending a lot of time in the people's republic of Vermont.

So Dean went to Seattle, where he is supposed to have lots of support, to unveil something called Democracy For America. It looks to me like a personal political machine to keep Dr. Dean in the political spotlight. He promised that very soon he will endorse John Kerry for president, but Kerry getting elected isn't enough, said Howard. After all, there has to be something done for Dr. Dean.

BEGALA: Well, no. I think what Dr. Dean was done is a whole lot for my party. He gave us back our spine. In many ways, he gave us back our soul. He raised millions of dollars, ethically, something that President Bush does by raising it from oil companies and other special interests. I think my party owes Howard Dean a lot.


BEGALA: And God bless him for staying engaged. You know, Bob, you may want him to go back and shut up, but I am glad he's still in the fight.

NOVAK: You and James Carville really give me a kick, because you sat here across from me just pounding on Howard Dean when you were afraid he was going to get nominated, because you knew he would be a disaster. And now that you've dodged that bullet, you say what a wonderful guy he is and done


NOVAK: ... for his party.

BEGALA: I did not want him to be my nominee. It's true. I did not want him to be my nominee, because John Kerry is stronger on national defense and has more experience.


BEGALA: But he's got a great role to contribute. Thank God Howard Dean is contributing.

Well, Richard Foster, the chief Medicare actuary, has implicated the White House in the alleged cover-up of the true cost of President Bush's prescription drug plan. Foster told today's "Washington Post" that he understood his boss to be acting on instructions from the White House when he was urged to withhold from Congress the actual cost of Mr. Bush's plan. The Department of Health and Human Services inspector general has already launched an investigation. Congressional Democrats have called for the General Accounting Office to conduct an independent probe.

Foster alleges that he was intimidated by the Bush administration into hiding the true cost of the plan from Congress. Now, whoever it was who called the Bushies the most crooked, dishonest bunch of liars sure knew what he was talking about, didn't he?

NOVAK: You know what?

BEGALA: John Kerry was right.

NOVAK: This gentleman...


NOVAK: This gentleman that you're talking about, in the first place, he is a Democrat. He is a staunch enemy of this administration. He is a person who was supposed to -- is supposed to testify before the Ways and Means Committee next week. What is he giving an advance interview for except to build himself up? And then he said he wasn't sure that the White House was behind it. Did you read that in the interview?

BEGALA: I did. That's why we need an investigation.

NOVAK: He wasn't sure. He wasn't sure. But you didn't say that when you said that.


BEGALA: I said he understood it, which is what he told "The Washington Post."

NOVAK: He understood. He said he wasn't sure. Let's be straight.


BEGALA: Let's have an investigation. Let's have an investigation.


NOVAK: Let's be straight.

BEGALA: This administration has covered up from the American people enough things about weapons and now about Medicare. Let's have an investigation and get somebody honest to find out what happened out there.

NOVAK: This is a Democratic -- This is a Democratic plot.

BEGALA: Oh, baloney. He works for President Bush. It's not a Democratic plot. NOVAK: He's a bureaucrat. He is not -- he doesn't work for him.

BEGALA: He's a truth teller.

Well, it is the first anniversary of the war in Iraq. It is also 10 months and 19 days since President Bush stood under that banner that said "Mission Accomplished" back on the aircraft carrier. In a minute, we will debate how long it will be until the mission truly is accomplished.

And later, can the Secret Service keep up with my man John Kerry? We will show you in a minute.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Tonight marks the first anniversary of President Bush's war in Iraq. A statement from Senator John Kerry reminds us -- quote -- "Simply put, this president did not tell the truth about the war from the beginning and our country is paying the price" -- unquote.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate all this, Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence and former Democratic Congressman Tom Andrews. He is also national director of the Win Without War Coalition.

Gentlemen, thanks.



NOVAK: Tom Andrews, on this first anniversary of the war, there were differences of opinion in Europe about going to war, a lot of people opposed to it. But I would like you to listen to what the prime minister of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, has to say now, one year later.

Let's listen.


BERTIE AHERN, IRISH PRIME MINISTER: Whatever about the differences of last year, there is not a difference about successfully working to get a democratically sovereign administration operating.


NOVAK: Do you disagree with that, that there is unity, that you have to have a democratic regime; you can't cut and run in Iraq?

TOM ANDREWS, WIN WITHOUT WAR: You know, no one is suggesting that we cut and run in Iraq. That would be a complete disaster. What we're suggesting is that we be honest about what happened in Iraq, the basis for going into Iraq, that we be honest with our allies like the Polish president who said yesterday that he had been deceived and misled in going into Iraq because the president of the United States and his administration systematically told the world and the American people something that wasn't true. We need to hold that president accountable for those deceptions and the fact that we're in a mess that we shouldn't be in. You know, we've lost 500 -- I'm sorry.

NOVAK: No. Go ahead.

ANDREWS: We've lost 574 Americans. We've lost 10,000 innocent Iraqis.

NOVAK: But while you're going into


ANDREWS: Here's the point. Here's the point.

We were told, well, we were going in to disarm Saddam Hussein. We were told we were going in to stop this growing danger. That had already been done, as we now know, by the United Nations without one American being killed, without one innocent Iraqi being killed.


NOVAK: Mr. Andrews, you know, you're -- just for truth in labeling, you are a partisan Democrat, a former congressman -- well, you are -- from the state of Maine.

ANDREWS: I am a Democrat.

NOVAK: And you want to just bash the president, bash the administration. The question I'm asking you, which you didn't respond to, instead of going into this whole litany that I hear, oh, so many times from Paul Begala, that I'm asking you, isn't it true that there is general agreement that progress is being made, as Bertie Ahern said, on a democratic region in Iraq?

ANDREWS: You know, there is progress being made toward rebuilding Iraq in fits and starts.

But I want to tell you something. We started out with a fiction given to us by this administration that Iraq was a witch's brew of terrorism and contributing to global terrorism around the world. We've made that fiction a reality. There have been 50 suicide bombings just since August; 550 people have been killed, and Osama bin Laden and that network of terrorism has never been stronger. We took the resources out of Afghanistan, where we had him on the run.

We focused it on someone who had not attacked us, that was not a threat. And right now in Afghanistan, we have a resurgent al Qaeda. We have the Taliban that has control of one-third of Afghanistan, and we have international -- we have more terrorist attacks since 9/11 -- since 9/11 than before. This is -- this is unacceptable.

BEGALA: Let me bring in Congressman Pence into this.

Let me give you a quick rundown of what we were promised, what the president and his administration told us one year ago. These are just the top 10. I stopped at 10. First, that Iraq was a threat to the United States.


BEGALA: Most important thing the president said.

Second, that Saddam had ties to al Qaeda. Third, that he tried to buy uranium in Africa to further his nuclear program. Fourth, that he had stockpiles of chemical weapons. Fifth, he had stockpiles of biological weapons. Sixth, he had unmanned aerial vehicles that could attack the United States. Seventh, that we would be greeted at liberators. Eighth, that the total cost would be $1.7 billion.

Nine, that the occupation would not require a lot of troops. And the top 10, democracy will flourish. Now, there still may -- that still may happen. I don't -- I hold out some hope, I guess. But, certainly, at best, one out of 10, really, zero out of 10, shouldn't be he be held accountable for that level of falsehood?

PENCE: Paul, David Letterman couldn't have done that better. I really compliment you.


BEGALA: But it's not a joke. It's a tragedy. I know how you value the truth.


PENCE: We are -- Paul, we are celebrating -- despite what my friend Tom is suggesting here, we are celebrating today the initiation of the end of a brutal dictator dictatorship in Iraq one year ago today and the dawn of freedom for the people of Iraq.

Tom makes the argument -- we are looking into this issue of why the intelligence service of every country in the Western world, including many that opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom, believed that he was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. We're going to get the answers to those questions. But, as the president said today at the White House, Paul, there is no neutral ground between liberty and tyranny, between freedom and oppression.

And the United States of America and our brave men and women in uniform and our allies confronted Saddam Hussein. We ended the tyranny, a 30-year reign that repressed his people. And the Iraqis that I met with two weeks ago were teary-eyed in their joy and appreciation for that.

(APPLAUSE) NOVAK: Tom Andrews, we had a situation of one of the worst terrorist incidents, the train, the coordinated train bombings in Spain, and the people of Spain decided that they would, in fear, vote for the candidate who said he would pull the troops out of Iraq.

I want to read you a quote about this situation. "In my judgment, the new prime minister should not have decided that he was going to pull out of Iraq. He should have said this" -- that is, the terrorist bombing -- "increases our determination to get the job done." Do you know who said that?

ANDREWS: Who said that?

NOVAK: John Kerry. John Kerry. Do you agree with that or disagree with that?

ANDREWS: Let me tell you something. The people of Spain -- and I know there's a big echo chamber that the people of Spain voted against -- as a retreat to terrorists. They didn't. They voted against deception and manipulation by their government. Their government gave them the same line that they gave us.

NOVAK: So you disagree with that statement?

ANDREWS: No, I'm telling you, I'm disagreeing with your statement, which is the premise of your question.


NOVAK: I'm ask you if you agree or disagree with John Kerry's statement. Can you say that?

ANDREWS: Read it again.

NOVAK: He should have said this increases our determination to get the job done. He shouldn't have said he was taking the troops out.

ANDREWS: Absolutely. There's no question about it.

But what he said was, he will pull the troops out unless the United Nations plays the role that the United Nations should have played from the very beginning. And I agree with that, too. But the point is this, is that the people of Spain were taken down a road of deception and manipulation, both about Iraq and about what happened in that terrible tragedy.

PENCE: Tom, I don't really


ANDREWS: They rejected that. They rejected that.


BEGALA: Well, here's what the Army War College says, not deception and manipulation, but just efficacy, whether it was a wise thing to do. They described the war as unfocused, unnecessary, and a detour.


NOVAK: That wasn't the American War College. That was one paper, one paper by one -- one professor.

BEGALA: By a professor from the Army War College.

NOVAK: Well, don't say it's the Army War College.

BEGALA: But he is from the Army War College.


ANDREWS: And published in Army War College


BEGALA: And it was published by the Army War College.

PENCE: All right.

BEGALA: Not a partisan source at all.


BEGALA: In fact, the guy who wrote it was a longtime veteran of military affairs.

NOVAK: He's a professor.

BEGALA: Can I get to the point? Excuse me for talking while you're interrupting, Mr. Novak.


BEGALA: But shouldn't we concerned when experts say that this war was an unnecessary, unfocused detour from the real threat, al Qaeda, who really did kill our people?

PENCE: Paul, all I tell you is, having met for almost an entire day with regular Iraqis in Basra and having met with people who were among the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in the last 30 years under this regime and having heard firsthand about 400,000 bodies of boys and girls and men and women that have been found in mass graves, 800,000 people that are still missing that were dragged from their homes, we did the right thing one year ago today when we confronted Saddam Hussein and ended his reign of terror.


NOVAK: We're going to have to take a break, gentlemen.

(APPLAUSE) NOVAK: Next, in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask our guests if it's time for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

And, in just a minute, Wolf Blitzer has new pictures of that shoot-out with al Qaeda over in Pakistan.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, shoot-out with al Qaeda, today, new pictures from above and new questions on who's hiding among the hundreds of fierce fighters.

The president one year after he ordered the invasion of Iraq, his message for the country, the allies. And we'll have a live rebuttal from the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

And one-on-one with Donald Trump on his firing ways, his personal life, and his advice on how to get rich.

Those stories, plus our special Friday feature, "The Inside Edge" with Carlos Watson, all that just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Time now for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions even faster than John Kerry can change his positions on the issues.



NOVAK: Our guests, former Democratic Congressman Tom Andrews of Maine. He's the national director of the Win Without War Coalition. And Congressman Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana -- Paul.

BEGALA: Congressman Pence, when he ran for president, George W. Bush said he would never commit troops without, among other things, a clear exit strategy. Does he have one here?

PENCE: I think that history has forced itself on the United States of America to rise to the challenge to come in to end tyranny in Iraq, as we did in Afghanistan and to wage the war on terror, Paul, until it is finished.

BEGALA: Exit strategy?

PENCE: No arbitrary deadlines.

NOVAK: Mr. Andrews, if you were running the show, if you were president, and you got the U.N. to take over...

ANDREWS: I'm sure you'd be happy at that.

NOVAK: I'd be delighted.


NOVAK: When would you pull the troops out?

ANDREWS: I'd pull -- I'd end the military occupation of Iraq, Bob, and I would make it an international operation of rescuing and rebuilding that country under the auspices of the United Nations, and I would bring in all those countries that we alienated and lied to and make them part of that rebuilding process and share that responsibility with the international community.


BEGALA: Mike Pence, when Ronald Reagan was president, he held NATO together through one of its worst crises. He put intermediate nuclear forces in Europe with the support of the French and others. Why can't President Bush even keep Spain, Italy, and Poland, members of his own coalition, on board? That's a failure of leadership, isn't it?

PENCE: Well, I don't think it's a failure of leadership. I think it's -- I think, sadly, Paul, it is that 9/11 happened here. And it is understandable if the people of the United States and the president of the United States understand that we have to take the war on terror to the terrorists, whether we're joined by everyone in the world or not.

NOVAK: Mr. Andrews, the Oxford International Research poll shows that -- a poll of Iraqis -- that 71 percent of them think -- expect their life to be much better a year from now. Only 6 percent think it will be worse. Are the Iraqis wrong about that?

ANDREWS: I hope that they're right. But after $125 billion of U.S. tax money going into that country, I hope things are going to improve. But I want to tell you something. We could...


NOVAK: Well, we can't do it.


NOVAK: Tom Andrews, thank you very much.

ANDREWS: Thank you, Bob.

NOVAK: Mike Pence, thank you so much.

PENCE: Thank you, Bob.


NOVAK: John Kerry isn't just slipping in the polls. He's also slipping on the mountain, the story, complete with a deleted expletive -- can't wait for this one -- next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: John Kerry has a political mountain to climb in trying to win the White House, but he got a little practice today by climbing a real mountain in Idaho.

The senator is supposed to be on vacation with Secret Service agents and reporters and cameras in tow, of course. "The New York Times" reports that yesterday Kerry used an expletive to describe a Secret Service agent who inadvertently cut him off and caused him to go down. Our cameraman got to the scene a few seconds too late. He had fallen down, too. All we heard Kerry say is, "The guy just crashed into me." That guy is paid by the government to take a bullet for John Kerry.

BEGALA: I love the Secret Service. But I think the right is worried that we have a real man in John Kerry instead of an Andover cheerleader like Bush.


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

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

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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