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Iraq Out of Control?

Aired April 7, 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: fighting and casualties in Iraq, with continued criticism from the campaign trail.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is exactly the kind of thing that will happen absent a legitimate kind of international presence.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stay the course in Iraq. We're not going to be intimidated by thugs or assassins.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, what will Condoleezza Rice say about the Bush administration's fight against terrorism before 9/11?



ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.


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

Like all Americans, of course, we here at CROSSFIRE are thinking of our brave troops as they fight President Bush's war in Iraq.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Let's hope those troops are permitted to do whatever they think is necessary to control the savages who are trying to kill Americans.

We'll get to the political sniping surrounding this, which needs to stop immediately, right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

John Kerry gave a policy address this afternoon at Georgetown University, part of his ongoing plan to convince voters that despite the evidence the U.S. economy is in a depression. Again, Kerry promised to create 10 million new jobs in just four years. Again, he gave no real specifics of how he would do that. What was interesting, though, is what John Kerry didn't say. On a day when U.S. Marines are dying in gun battles outside Baghdad, Kerry said nothing about Iraq, nothing about what he would do to pull troops out, nothing about when we should turn sovereignty over, nothing about anything other than turning the country over to some sort of legitimate international force. What does John Kerry think about we ought to do in Iraq?

BEGALA: Well, first off, you can attack Kerry for a lot of things, but when he gives a speech on domestic jobs and he doesn't talk about Iraq, that's a very unfair attack.

He did come on "JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS." Judy asked him about Iraq. He had a lot more thoughtful things to say than our president, who gives his Andover cheerleader speech, and says, they're evil.


BEGALA: Hell, I know they're evil.


BEGALA: I know they're evil, Mr. President. I want to know how we're going to get rid of them.


CARLSON: If you want -- if you want to displace the president in war, Paul...

BEGALA: Jesus.

CARLSON: And there's no reason to get religious on me.


CARLSON: You have to highlight what you would do. It's not enough to imply that American forces are illegitimate, as he did today.

BEGALA: He did not.

CARLSON: Yes, he did. He said we need a legitimate international force there and if we had them, this wouldn't be happening. No serious person thinks that.

BEGALA: Well, American forces are legitimate, but they're not international.



BEGALA: We're bearing all the burden. We're bearing all the body bags. We're getting all the body count. We ought to internationalize



BEGALA: Well, anyway, here in Washington, of course, everybody has their panties in a wad about tomorrow's testimony by Dr. Condoleezza Rice.

What they're overlooking though is the fact that President Bush has agreed to meet with the 9/11 Commission only if he's accompanied by Vice President Cheney. This is unprecedented in American history. Presidents Lincoln and Ford both testified before Congress without the help of any vice president. President Bill Clinton, of course, testified before Ken Starr's inquisition without the help of Al Gore. And Ronald Reagan testified before the Tower commission investigating the Iran Contra scandal without holding George Bush Sr.'s hand.

At the time, of course, Reagan was 76 years old. He had been shot. He had been operated on for cancer. And he had a very hard time remembering some of the critical details, but the Gipper did not hide behind his vice president or anybody else.


BEGALA: Ronald Reagan faced his testimony without fear and without a crutch. And you know what? He actually took responsibility for his administration's failed foreign policy. George W. Bush, let me tell you, you're no Ronald Reagan. Shame on Mr. Bush.

CARLSON: I do think at some point there's going to be a backlash against the Democratic attempt to relentlessly politicize this commission looking into 9/11, politicize the war in Iraq and, frankly, politicize 9/11. For all the attacks on Republicans for politicizing 9/11, some of which are probably true...


CARLSON: ... they don't compare to the Democratic attempts to politicize it. It's disgusting.


BEGALA: Isn't it cowardly -- isn't it cowardly for Bush to refuse to testify alone?

CARLSON: Cowardly? I think Dick Cheney wants to go in there with Bush. I mean, I don't -- who cares. We just want their testimony.


BEGALA: I thought they didn't like two males in a relationship.


CARLSON: Oh, come on.

BEGALA: Why don't we separate them out and let them each testify?


Well, the paperback edition of Hillary Clinton's autobiography comes out later this month complete with a new afterword in which she attacks the Bush administration for being hostile to the middle class. Simon & Schuster is printing 525,000 copies of the book. That's in addition to the nearly 1.7 million copies already in print.

What does this all mean? Well, first, contrary to some predictions, Mrs. Clinton is a genuine publishing phenomenon. Second, she is a hard partisan who is willing to impugn not just the policies of her opponents, but also their motives. Finally, in the eyes of many Democrats, she is a living saint, the very reincarnation of Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, and Mahatma Gandhi all rolled into one.


CARLSON: Given all of this, here's the question. Why has John Kerry not already picked Mrs. Clinton as his running mate? The Kerry campaign apparently is choosing from a list of dreaded middle-aged white men. And we all know they're evil.

Whatever happened to diversity? The Democratic Party talks about it a lot. John Kerry should pick Hillary Clinton. If he doesn't, that will constitute a grave insult, not simply to the Clinton family, to the Clinton legacy, but to all women everywhere.



BEGALA: Tucker, what are you -- could we use some of that as a blurb on Hillary's book jacket?


BEGALA: You helped her sell a million copies of the hardback.


CARLSON: If you're going to live by the rules of P.C...


CARLSON: ... which says that it's not enough to restrain yourselves to white guys, I think he needs to pick Hillary Clinton. It's an insult to women if he doesn't.

BEGALA: What are you going to eat if she sells a million copies of the softcover? CARLSON: I'll be glad for her, but I'll be happier if she's the V.P. nominee. She ought to be. She deserves it. And good luck running with her.

BEGALA: And then she should be the president one day and I think she will be.

CARLSON: I can't wait.


BEGALA: Well, for decades, Merle Haggard has been the country western voice of every man, especially conservative white Southern men. Haggard performed for President Richard Nixon in 1973 and for Ronald Reagan in 1982. He's the author of such patriotic classics as "Okie from Muskogee" and, if you're running down my country, man, you're walking on the fighting side of me.

Of course, Haggard like most conservative white Southern men, voted for George Bush in 2000. But now Merle is having second thoughts. His new song, "That's the News," slam politicians like Mr. Bush who -- quote -- "do all the talking while soldiers pay the dues" -- unquote. And he recently said of President Bush -- quote -- "I'm not really all that happy with him" -- unquote.

Mr. President, let me tell you, if you're losing Merle Haggard, you're losing this election.




CARLSON: I had no idea. I didn't know Merle Haggard wasn't really happy with him.

BEGALA: I love Merle Haggard.

CARLSON: You know what? This is so stupid.

BEGALA: I love. Merle Haggard


CARLSON: In every war, every time a president commits troops, those troops do the dying and he does the talking, no matter who the president is. We've got a war going on, Paul, and we need to figure out how to get out of it. And we need a sort of counter vision from the Democratic Party. Where is it?

BEGALA: What's Bush's vision, except, we're good and they're evil?


BEGALA: I keep coming back to it. He gives his Andover cheerleader speeches. Go, team.


BEGALA: I know they're evil, Mr. President.

CARLSON: Kerry is not going to win an election unless he sort of ventures to put an idea out there.


CARLSON: He hasn't been serious about it.


BEGALA: He's got a bad problem if he's losing Merle Haggard. I'm just telling you, he is the voice...

CARLSON: Who cares about Merle Haggard?

BEGALA: ... my fellow rednecks all across the South. God bless Merle Haggard.

Well, American forces, as we reported earlier, are in deadly fights all across Iraq today. More than dozen troops have been killed this week alone. President Bush says we're on course to transfer sovereignty to Iraq in less than 100 days, but others say that his deadline may be more about politics than military strategy.

Tomorrow, Dr. Condoleezza Rice is set to appear before the 9/11 Commission. What will she say? What should she say? We will debate these questions and more next on CROSSFIRE.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e-mail us at Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Fighting between insurgents and U.S. forces spread to more Iraqi cities today. Fighting in Baghdad is reported to be the fiercest since last year, when President Bush famously stood under that banner reading "Mission Accomplished."

In the CROSSFIRE to talk about a mission that is clearly not yet accomplished are Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, along with Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is the District of Columbia's delegate to the United States Congress.

Thank you both for joining us.

(APPLAUSE) CARLSON: Ms. Norton, thanks for joining us.

"The Boston Globe" today points out the obvious. And that is that even some Democrats are embarrassed and worried by John Kerry's inability to do anything other than attack Bush and not lay out his own vision of what we should do in, say, Iraq.

Listen to what Joe Biden, senator from Delaware, has just said about this -- quote -- "It's not enough to point out what President Bush isn't doing. We should saying what we will do." I don't think there's any disagreeing with that.

At what point do you think it will be when Kerry tells us what he's going to do in Iraq?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. DELEGATE: Well, Kerry's got a hard problem, because the fact is, we're stuck.

And the reason we're stuck is because, if you invade somebody's country on false information, without any allies, about the worst thing -- about the only thing worst thing you can do than the invasion is leaving the country in chaos, a chaos of your own making. So we're going to have -- what will Kerry's going to have to tell them is, the only way to get our allies back, so that we can get some troops in there besides our troops, is to get yourself another...

CARLSON: Wait. What do you mean...

NORTON: ... is to get yourself another president, a president with some credibility.


CARLSON: Wait. What you mean of their -- hold on. Wait. Wait. Wait.


CARLSON: What do you mean of their own making? You think Americans -- you think the American government is responsible for the murder of these Americans?

NORTON: I think the American government is responsible for the invasion, responsible for the chaos in Iraq as I speak.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, I do think that Tucker makes a good point that Senator Kerry needs to put out his alternate strategy for Iraq. I actually think he's done a much better job than Tucker gives him credit for. That shouldn't surprise you.

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: I'm with Tucker on that one.

BEGALA: I can imagine.

But our president, however, first and foremost, as the commander in chief... DAVIS: Right. Right.

BEGALA: ... needs to tell us what his strategy is.

Here's 11 months ago. Here's a photograph of our president. He went on the USS Lincoln, stood under a banner that his White House made that said "Mission Accomplished." Now, you see on the other side of the screen is the reality in Fallujah this week, devastation, destruction. Congresswoman Norton called it chaos. Was it wise for the president then to have declared mission accomplished and was he misleading us when he did?

DAVIS: Well, the mission of removing Saddam Hussein who had murdered over 300,000 of his people, men, women, children, without trial, he's gone. That's no longer happening. Now, the aftermath is still going on. It's going to be with us for a while. I don't think anybody ever pretended otherwise.

And as we approach this deadline...

BEGALA: But when he says mission accomplished, 498 Americans...

DAVIS: Saddam is gone.

BEGALA: ... have been killed; 498 Americans have been killed since that day he stood on that aircraft carrier, killed in Iraq. That was misleading for him to say mission accomplished, wasn't it?


BEGALA: He didn't say, Saddam is gone. That would have been


DAVIS: Saddam was gone.

BEGALA: It said mission accomplished. That was false and misleading, wasn't it?

DAVIS: Well, I don't think it was false and misleading.

But I do think that removing Saddam Hussein was the major part of this mission and that the country is in better shape today than it was under Saddam Hussein.


CARLSON: Now, Delegate Norton, you just pointed out that Iraq is now in chaos. But you said that in fact the 30-year totalitarian rule of Saddam Hussein is not responsible. Religious extremism is not responsible.

NORTON: I said no such thing.

CARLSON: You said, the United States government is responsible for that chaos. NORTON: I said we're responsible for the chaos. And the reason we're responsible for the chaos is, we have a campaign strategy. We don't have an exit strategy for getting out of there.


NORTON: And, therefore, we're getting out of there any way we can. And because we had no plan for how to come in and then how to get out, we have to take responsibility for what's happening there now. Look, George Bush, take responsibility. It's your invasion.


CARLSON: So I'm just -- just to make sure I have this right, because you're saying something that seems to be pretty radical, that when American voters watch on their televisions today mobs of black- clad Shia running through the streets shooting Americans, we can know that Delegate Norton thinks that America is responsible for that.

NORTON: They should hold their president responsible for the fact that there was no plan to keep that from happening.

CARLSON: Are you sure you want to say that?

NORTON: I do and I just said it.



BEGALA: Congressman Davis, Ms. Norton just said that the June 30 deadline for transferring sovereignty that the president has set is perhaps dealing more with politics than the realities on the ground. The president was asked about that this week. And here's what the president said about transferring sovereignty over to Iraqis on June 30. Here's the president.


BUSH: The United Nations is over there now. The United Nations representative is there now to work on the -- on to whom we transfer sovereignty. In other words, it's one thing to decide it's a transfer. We're now in the process of deciding what the entity will look like to whom we will transfer sovereignty. But, no, the date remains firm.


BEGALA: What the hell is he talking about?


BEGALA: This is a man without a clue and without a plan, isn't it?

DAVIS: Well, I think the June 30 date wasn't just set by us. The Iraqis would like to put an Iraqi face on this, too.

BEGALA: So, but what is his plan? What was he saying? That was gibberish.


DAVIS: I think what's he saying is...


DAVIS: With the Governing Council, you just can't hand it over. We have to decide who's going to be in charge. And we've got the U.N. involved, exactly what John Kerry said earlier in his interviews that he wanted to happen, wanted the U.N. on the ground involved in this. They're there negotiating exactly who within that council we're going to be handing it over to, who is going to be in charge, and what the makeup of that government's going to be until you have elections.

BEGALA: All right, Congressman Davis, Congresswoman Norton, keep your seats just a second.

We're going to come back in just a minute. And when we do, we'll talk about this topic. Condoleezza Rice of course tomorrow will be under oath before the 9/11 Commission, perhaps seeking to rebut the testimony of the president's former top terrorism adviser Richard Clarke. What will she say? What should she say? And what will Americans say afterwards? We'll ask our two Congress members that next.

And then right after the break, though, Wolf Blitzer will have the latest for us on where the battle lines are being drawn in Iraq.

Stay with us.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, battles on many fronts in Iraq. We'll show you where the U.S. troops are engaging Iraqi insurgents and who has the upper hand right now. Is it time for the U.S. to at least consider pulling out of Iraq? A debate between two U.S. congressmen, Dennis Kucinich and Mark Foley. That's coming up.

And all eyes on Condoleezza Rice. On the eve of her testimony, how will the 9/11 Commission hold her accountable? I'll speak with a commission member, former Illinois Governor James Thompson.

Those stories, much more only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies before the 9/11 Commission tomorrow morning. You can see it live here on CNN at 9:00 Eastern. Here to talk what she might say, what she should say, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, Dr. Rice is a very able public spokeswoman. I'm sure she'll do just fine.

But she has had, when she's not under oath, a proclivity to say things that are not at odds -- that are at odds with the facts. Case in point, she said, we were very focused on al Qaeda before September 11. Even President Bush told Bob Woodward that that wasn't the case, that he wasn't really on point. She said that President Bush had asked for an al Qaeda from the CIA. George Tenet testified, no, that's not the case. The CIA went to the White House and said, we want to tell him about the al Qaeda threat.

She said, nobody could have anticipated using planes as weapons. Plainly false. Even she's tried to correct that. Her deputy said that nobody in the situation room remembers this famous conversation between President Bush and Dick Clarke. Even the White House now has had to acknowledge that many witnesses do recall it. Doesn't she have a problem with telling the truth?

DAVIS: I'm sure she'll be under oath tomorrow. I'm sure she's been reviewing off the notes and not going off the cuff answering. And we'll have I think a better understanding of the facts after tomorrow.

She is a very articulate woman who is heavily involved with this. And I think that's why it's important she testify tomorrow under oath.

But I will say this. There's been a lot of people who try to blame Clinton or blame Bush for 9/11. You've got to blame Osama bin Laden. He deserves some responsibility here.


DAVIS: We had one skyjacking for 10 years prior to this element.

Now, it's important we learn from this experience so it can't happen again. But we need to understand, this was way outside the box in terms of anticipation. And we just need to make sure it doesn't happen.


Delegate Norton, it's true that you have heard a lot of Democrats try to blame 9/11 on the president. It's pretty disgusting. Let me put up a fact that I think it's kind of hard to get around reported. This was reported yesterday. The final policy paper on national security that President Clinton submitted to Congress, something called the national security strategy for a global age -- doubtless you read it -- 45,000 words long, makes no mention of al Qaeda and refers to Osama bin Laden by name just four times.

Isn't the point pretty much what the congressman said; nobody paid enough attention to terrorism before 9/11 and the Democrats ought to stop trying to pin 9/11 on Bush?

NORTON: Well, we're going to find out when the commission reports. But, on the record, it is clear that the Clinton people say they said to the Bush people, look, we had a lot of things on our plate. They went down what they were, but the thing that you're going to have to pay the most attention to is al Qaeda. They told them that. They were so busy being the un-Clinton new administration...

CARLSON: Why wasn't it in the report, then, if they said that?

NORTON: Look, well...

CARLSON: No, it was not in the report to Congress.

NORTON: Mentioned four times? I don't know what's in the report.

CARLSON: It doesn't mention it at all. Al Qaeda is not mentioned once.

NORTON: It said al Qaeda was mentioned four times.

CARLSON: No, Osama mentioned four times, al Qaeda not one time.

NORTON: Osama mentioned. Same thing.

BEGALA: And what group does he run?


CARLSON: Well, if al Qaeda was the biggest priority, do you think they would mention it like a single time in 45,000 words?



NORTON: Look, I think -- I think -- I think this. I think this, that, until this commission comes, we're not going to know whether Clarke's rendition of what happened is correct or the Bush's rendition. The Bush's rendition is, we were doing all we could, except all the evidence shows that we paid no attention to it.

You know what they were doing? And you know as well as I do, because you are as much a devotee of the talk shows. They had one issue and one issue only. And that was missile defense. Time -- Sunday after Sunday, missile defense, missile defense. I never heard Condi Rice say the word al Qaeda or Osama once before 9/11.


CARLSON: Or anybody else say it, yes.

BEGALA: I want to come back to this question of credibility, because I think that's what this is all about and that why it's important that Dr. Rice be under oath. And I think we agree about that.

Yesterday, the White House spokesman complained that the last time Dr. Rice met with the commission, only five commission members showed up, suggesting maybe they weren't very interested in her testimony when it wasn't in public. What he failed to say is that the White House insisted that no more than three show up. That's a breathtaking lie.

Karen Hughes, another top aide to the president, on "Meet the Press" on Sunday said she didn't think the president really did ever oppose creating a 9/11 Commission, a flat-out falsehood. What is it that -- these are good people. I know them both, Scott and Karen. Why is it when people get close to George W. Bush, they get far away from the truth?



BEGALA: What is it about him that makes these people into liars?


DAVIS: This is a particular Washington syndrome. We saw it under the Clinton administration. We see it here.

You have so many spin-meisters out there with so many different versions. It's good to get people up under oath, where they will have to answer it, read up on it, and give a straight answer. Unfortunately, I think the testimony is going to be highlighted more today than if they had come forward in the first place. That's a lesson you learn the hard way in this town. But I think that Dr. Rice will give a good accounting of the administration herself tomorrow. And we'll just have to wait and see.

CARLSON: Now, Delegate Norton, as a political matter, do you think this works? John Kerry yesterday on NPR said -- made a point of saying that President Bush was on vacation in Crawford, Texas, for 30 days right before September 11, as if he was asleep at the switch, and, again, as if 9/11 was his fault.

And I'm wondering, leaving aside even the facts of that, which we'll wait until the report comes out, do you think people are going to buy that? Does that work politically? Or is it just too disgusting?

NORTON: Sure it does. Sure it does.

CARLSON: It's too disgusting, isn't it?

NORTON: Why is it -- is it disgusting that he was away in Texas? Yes.

CARLSON: No, but blaming 9/11 on the president, you don't think that goes too far maybe a tiny bit?


NORTON: That's not what he said. He said, look, the man was not on the job. He was 30 days in Texas. I think that's fair game. Look, this is going to be a nasty campaign. There's no reason why John Kerry ought to hold back.

CARLSON: But this isn't a campaign. This is an inquiry into how 9/11 happened. It's not a campaign. And it shouldn't be, should it?

NORTON: He mentioned in answering that the man was in Texas 30 days before. That's a long time to be in Texas if what you say you were doing was preparing for the next attack, indeed, trying to be stronger, as I understand the testimony to be, stronger on Osama than the Clinton people had been. Well, you weren't being strong if you were all the way in Texas.


BEGALA: We're almost out of time. I want to ask you briefly, before 9/11, do you believe the president had a higher emphasis on Star Wars or al Qaeda?

DAVIS: I think he had an emphasis on a lot of security issues, some of which he had inherited from his predecessor. It includes Star Wars in terms of conventional.

But I think we'll learn tomorrow some of the steps they had taken to fight al Qaeda and terrorism. I just don't think anybody anticipated the magnitude of what happened on 9/11. I think that was off the radar screen of both parties and everybody involved. We had not had a skyjacking in 10 years.

CARLSON: OK, Tom Davis of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, thank you both very much.

We appreciate it.


CARLSON: CNN will have live coverage of Condoleezza Rice's testimony tomorrow before the 9/11 Commission beginning in the morning at 9:00 a.m. sharp. We'll put it all in the CROSSFIRE tomorrow afternoon at 4:30 Eastern.

I put myself in a little "Jeopardy" over the weekend and had a pretty good time doing it. It turns out that one of the other power players taking part isn't so happy about what happened. Find out who that is next, a story of sour grapes.

We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Well, the game show "Jeopardy" came to Washington this weekend for its annual "Power Players" edition. It was a great time had by almost all. According to "Roll Call," Tavis Smiley was not amused when fellow contestant Tim Russert was presented with a category called "Meet the Press," while former EPA administrator Christie Todd Whitman, the onetime governor of New Jersey, lucked into a category called "New Jersey Exits."

Smiley, who did not get a category of his own, tells "Roll Call" -- and this is an exact quote -- "It was nasty. It was wrong. It was unfair," to which I add, bigotry in game shows, Paul. It's everywhere.

BEGALA: Sounds like an edition of CROSSFIRE.

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

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

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Have a great night.



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