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Time to Reconsider Draft?

Aired April 21, 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: As some U.S. troops have their stay in Iraq extended and two allies withdraw their forces, is it time to reconsider the draft?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly one option which a year ago, a year and a half ago I didn't think was much of an option for a couple of reasons, was a draft. And I think you all understand why that probably isn't an option, but I'm not so sure.

ANNOUNCER: But is a draft really the answer?



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



American troops are committed to combat in Iraq and polls show the American people are willing to send more forces there as required by the generals.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: And does the United States military need to start drafting people to fill the gaps in President Bush's desperately overstretched military? Those issues and much more today on CROSSFIRE.

But, first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

You know, one of the most incendiary comments in the new Bob Woodward book is Mr. Woodward quoting Secretary of State Colin Powell calling parts of Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon team -- quote -- "the gestapo office" -- unquote. Now, look, even I think it's unfair to compare Rummy and his aides to the gestapo, for goodness sakes. And General -- Secretary Powell, that is -- has said that he doesn't recall using such a hateful word. At least in one small way, Rumsfeld is behaving like an autocrat by apparently censoring the news. According to today's "Washington Post," Secretary Rumsfeld has deleted a critical sentence from the transcript of his interview with Mr. Woodward. The sentence suggests that Rumsfeld in fact did give a Saudi prince a two-month heads-up before America invaded Iraq, which of course means the Bush administration trusted an Arab prince from a dictatorship with the truth long before they trusted the American people.

Now, look, that's a far cry from gestapo, but it's also a far cry from being honest.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, I don't know who you're kidding, but in January of that year, I was in a small group of conservative journalists, got briefed by the president. It was quite clear we were going in. You didn't just fall off the turnip truck. You knew well before Prince Bandar went in there that we were going into Iraq.


BEGALA: Because I know Bush was lying. He said we had no plans. He was lying then. He said, we had no plans. He said that in January even as he was briefing you and Prince Bandar about the plans. It's outrageous.



NOVAK: Remember when John Kerry was giving Howard Dean such a hard time because Dean would not release to the public his files as governor of Vermont? The senator must have forgotten, to judge from his recent behavior. He was dragged kicking and screaming by news media pressure to release some more of his Vietnam military war records.

And his fabulously rich wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, broke with tradition in refusing to release her tax returns. Now, without financial backing by the Heinz ketchup fortune, John Kerry would not have been reelected senator in 1996 and he would not have clinched the presidential nomination this year. Mrs. Heinz-Kerry's taxes, therefore, have become the public's business.

BEGALA: As a general matter, I agree with you that politicians should disclose everything. You're right about the military records, certainly, about Senator Kerry's own taxes.

I have the hard time with the spouse because she's not running. And I hate how the right-wing always beats up on wives. I saw what they did to Hillary Clinton. Now they're going to try to do it to Senator Kerry's wife.


BEGALA: We never attack Laura Bush. She is a delight. I admire and adore Laura Bush. And I just don't like attacking candidates' spouses.

NOVAK: If you listen to me, I can explain to you why.


NOVAK: Because he could not have been reelected in '96 without that home that he got from her. So her tax returns are integral with his political fortunes.

BEGALA: The finances are disclosed. I don't know if we need every detail on the taxes. Anyway, we'll come back to that.

They have set a date. The invitations have all gone out. All now we need now is for the happy couple to show up. I'm talking of course about President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Officials today said the pair will be interviewed by the 9/11 Commission a week from tomorrow. Now, neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney will be under oath. So there's no fear of committing perjury if they stretch the truth.

But the president is insisting on appearing alongside Vice President Cheney. Now, no sitting president has ever made such a demand before. So why the, oh, so, macho Mr. Bush would insist on holding Dick Cheney's skirt and hiding behind him, that is, is a mystery to me. But, look, I look on the bright side. At least there's one same-sex relationship that George W. Bush approves of.


NOVAK: You know, let me give you a couple of facts of life, Paul. No. 1, no president has ever testified under oath.


BEGALA: Bill Clinton




NOVAK: Just a minute.



NOVAK: No president has ever testified under oath to a presidential fact-finding commission. No. 2, most -- almost all the people who have testified in private to this commission were not under oath.

And, thirdly, even though this is a free country, I think your remarks about same-sex relationships are over the line and except for a partisan wacko are just -- I think it's objectionable. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: It's wimpy and unmanly for George Bush to hide behind Dick Cheney. He should tell the truth.

NOVAK: As a lifelong professional journalist, I can tell you, editors and reporters who put out America's daily newspapers are overwhelmingly liberal Democrats. And it shows in the content of their newspapers, but not enough to suit Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The junior senator from New York went before the American Society of Newspaper Editors to urge them to be more vigilant and act with more tenacity toward the Bush administration, in other words, bash Bush harder. Hillary egged on newspapers against radio talk show hosts, treating them as Democrats against Republicans.

How do you think the editors reacted towards Senator Clinton? With anger for being treated as their stooges, I hope.

BEGALA: America's editors have been stooges for George W. Bush and his obscene war, including "The Washington Post," which editorialized for that war and today is still trying to beat the drums for that embarrassing war.

They should be tougher on the president. They have given him a free ride. I have no idea why. Maybe because he's a charming guy. But it ain't about charm. It's about whether he's doing the right job for our country. I think Hillary is right to try to give these guys a little spinal transplant. They're a bunch of wimps.



NOVAK: If you don't think those newspapers are liberal, you haven't been reading -- you haven't been reading them. And, by the way, "The Washington Post" was for the war. You know who else was for the war, who voted for it? John Kerry.


BEGALA: He wasn't writing an editorial stumping for it. John Kerry was wrong if he supported that war, but "The Post" has been even more wrong.

Things have gotten so bad in Iraq, at least one prominent Republican senator says it's time to think about bringing back the draft. An equally prominent Democrat from the House says he's been calling for that for a year and a half. We will be debate the draft with two of the men who will be deciding whether to reinstitute it next.

And later, what sacrifices would you make to raise money to pay for public schools? And why are strippers part of the plan in one state?

Stay with us.


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: Bring back the draft, that has long been the cry of critics of the U.S. military intervention in Iraq. But now it's being echoed by some supporters of President Bush.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York and Republican Congressman Peter King, also of New York.


NOVAK: Peter, one of your fellow Republicans, the distinguished senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel, was on Lou Dobbs' show last night. And let's listen to what he said.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: If, in fact this is a generational war that the president has noted, all of us I think have noted, then why should we ask very few people in our society to bear the heavy price, to carry the heavy burden and not ask everybody to carry some burden?


BROWN: Isn't that a good point? I did my little bit to carry the burden during the Korean War. Isn't that a good point?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I have no strong opposition to what Chuck Hagel is saying. But we had this debate 32, 33 years ago. And it was decided, for military purposes, it was better to have a volunteer Army. And today, it would take I think probably almost a year, more than a year to train the average soldier. Back in the days when you were an infantryman with your


NOVAK: I was never an infantryman. I was an officer.

KING: Oh, excuse me. OK.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: So officers can't do infantry work.


RANGEL: You haven't changed.



KING: I'll let you two guys



KING: It's a lot more sophisticated. It takes a lot more training. And the draft really would be counterproductive.

I mean, by the time you had somebody trained, it would be time to get out. Listen, we want to have the debate. We should have it. But I think where Charlie -- where I disagree with Charlie is trying to tie it to Iraq. I didn't hear Democrats talking about a draft when it was Haiti or Bosnia or Kosovo. And even if we did not the casualties there that we have now, any time you send soldiers into battle, you have to assume there's going to be casualties.

So I think that if we are talking about having a draft, we should have it, but not tie it to Iraq, because it then it makes it too easy to make an emotional appeal, as opposed to what's best for the country.

BEGALA: Congressman Rangel, I would say, first, you were talking about this a year and a half ago in the context of Iraq, as Congressman King points out.

But, in the intervening time, you had a brief period where you were probably the most prominent supporter of General Wesley Clark for president.

Now, here's what General Clark has said about bring back the draft: "I don't think it's time to reinstate the draft. America's armed forces need people who want to be there. And I would not reinstitute the draft. Here's the key thing on the draft. We believe that the armed forces are better with a volunteer force."

So is General Clark wrong?

RANGEL: Listen, this is an apolitical thing to do. It is not a popular thing to do.

And if people think that you're morally right, as long as you're talking about their son and their husband, they want you politically to back off. General Clark is a professional military guy. You bet your life he would prefer to have volunteers rather than draftees. But to say let's not look at it in terms of Iraq, I would not be talking about it if it wasn't for Iraq.

The president is the war president. He declared war against Iraq. We will have 700 people who died that wouldn't be dead if we weren't at war. And most all of them are coming from communities of high unemployment, whether it's the rural South or whether it's the inner cities. And I'm saying is that, if you can't get people to enlist because it's the patriotic thing to do, if you can't get them to enlist through bonuses, if you're going to overuse the reservists and the National Guard, and if even civilians for the need for money, for economic reasons, are sacrificing their lives, that if we're going to be there, if we're going to be there for decades, as the senator just said, we need a more universal pool of people to make sacrifices.

KING: But, Charlie, this is the debate we had 30 years ago. And, at that time, we had 37,000 troops in Korea. We still do. We had thousands of troops in Germany. We still do.


KING: We know there are going to be troops dispersed around the world. It was a debate where the overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats both felt that a draft was not in the best interests of the American military or the American people.

But, listen, I have no basic objection to a draft, but I'm just saying, before we go back, let's have a real debate and not do it in the emotion of the moment about Iraq. We can actually bring up Iraq, but I think that certain people are bringing it up and you've been continuing -- unlike John Kerry, who voted for the war, you have been against the war from day one. And I commend you for your integrity, even though I disagree with you.

RANGEL: You don't need any men and women. You don't need any big Army if you're not at war and you don't have Iraq and you don't have Iraq as far as the eye can see.

Now, the reason why we went to the volunteer Army is because the country was torn apart. It was unfair, the draft. If you couldn't find your way to Canada, if you couldn't get into any college -- it was the biggest boon you ever had in college entries -- then of course only the minorities and the poor get stuck.

This draft says everyone between 18 and 26, only a fraction of 1 percent will have to see military service, but the rest will be able to serve in our hospitals, our schools.


KING: Charlie, but if the military people say and if the civilians say that this is not in the best interests of the country as far as having a strong standing force, having an effective Army, should we do it anyway just to prove a philosophical point?


KING: I don't think we should. And that's really the point here, what's the best, most effective military force.

(CROSSTALK) RANGEL: Let me make it very clear. I don't push my draft bill. The Pentagon will be pushing it. Those people who say that we need 50,000, 20,000 more, where are they going to get it?


KING: General Clark, who is the one most foremost military leaders, says it's a bad idea.

RANGEL: I know, but General Clark is not running anything except some private firm. What I'm saying is...

KING: He was your candidate for president.


RANGEL: He's not my candidate for the draft. That's right. My candidate is Kerry.


NOVAK: Congressman Rangel...

KING: He was for the war.

NOVAK: ... let me go to another aspect of this. We do live in a democracy where what people think is important.

And let's just put up the last Gallup poll we had on this subject showed, done for CNN and "USA Today." Among 30 and over, 79 percent opposed, 18-29, 88 opposed. That's not like a 60/40 thing or a 55-45. That's overwhelming. People don't want this draft.

RANGEL: Let me reframe the question. Would you want your son to fight for liberty and to bring liberty and democracy to Iraq and place his life in jeopardy? Answer, no, Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative.

The next question is, do you believe this war is in the best interests of the United States? And do you believe that it's in the security of the United States? Now, if you believe that and you're not willing to pay some type of price, if you're not willing to share the sacrifice, you're being a hypocrite. It's like saying, let's go fight. I'll hold your coat.


BEGALA: Congressman King, we were just talking about Wes Clark, who was Congressman Rangel's candidate. Your candidate for president in 2000 was John McCain. Now, he generally does not like the draft, but he made a very interesting criticism of the all-volunteer force.

KING: I was hoping the White House was going to forget that.



BEGALA: Well, no, you were right. Even though I'm a Democrat, we'd be a lot better off with McCain than the guy we've got now.

Senator McCain says this: "I think, overall, with one exception, the all-volunteer force has been very successful. And that one exception is the obvious one, that is all not all classes of Americans serve." And, in fact, the last time we had a draft, the same thing happened. Dick Cheney famously testified under oath that he had other priorities in the '60s. Why are we letting everybody who is well off have other priorities while the middle-class kids and poor have to go fight?

KING: Again, my bottom line -- first of all, let me disagree with Bob Novak. Forget what the polls say. If it's in the best interests of the country, we should go ahead and do it because people are never going to volunteer for anything. If you ask people if they want to pay taxes, are going to will say no. So I don't we should just be bound by polls as we make a decision.

I think it should be a military decision, not just -- not the philosophical decision Charlie wants it to make. If it's in the best interests of our armed force to have a volunteer Army, we should keep a volunteer Army. If we need a draft to have sufficient forces, then we should certainly consider a draft. I think it should be on the table.

But I'm just saying I think Charlie is bringing it up in the context of Iraq. We could have brought it up in the context of Haiti or Bosnia or Kosovo. And we didn't.

RANGEL: I'm saying that Rumsfeld is going to look at a draft. Forget Charlie Rangel. There are no other places to go. We have a mandatory draft on our enlisted men who are now getting extensions of the time that -- their contract. We're bringing up the reservists. These are middle-aged people. I've seen two grandparents go off in the National Guard. Their families are tired of it.

You can't send them over two and three and four times. Rumsfeld is going to be the one asking for the draft.


KING: Rumsfeld will, but Wesley Clark won't.


RANGEL: Wesley Clark is out. Rumsfeld


KING: He was your man. He was your man.


NOVAK: We've got to take a break. (CROSSTALK)

KING: He's going to be it next time, too.

NOVAK: Next, in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask our guests if women, women, yes, should be drafted.

And right after the break, looking for those behind terror attacks from Saudi Arabia to Southern Iraq -- "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, deadly attacks in Basra, a firefight in Fallujah. We'll have the latest on the violence in Iraq.

The plan to step up homeland security, what the government is doing and why. I'll speak live with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

The Midwest suffers devastating spring storms. And more bad weather may be on the way.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where we serve up questions faster than President Bush can extend the tour of duty of our already beleaguered troops.

We're talking about the problems in Iraq and whether America should reinstate the draft with Congressman Charlie Rangel, a Democrat of New York, and with Peter King, Republican, also of New York.

NOVAK: Charlie Rangel, do you think the draft should include women, send the women of America into combat as infantrymen?

RANGEL: That's a military decision, how they would be used. But you bet your life when I say it's universal, it means everybody. The only exceptions that would be would be those that haven't finished high school. And they've got until 19 years old to do that.

BEGALA: Congressman King, since you don't want a draft, would you allow gays and lesbians to continue to serve honorably, instead of kicking them out with this goofy no ask, no tell?

KING: Well, let me go back to Charlie's thing. I think women should be drafted. It's quality.

As far as gays and lesbians, again, don't ask, don't tell. I will stand with Bill Clinton on that. I just think that it could create problems to have openly gay and openly lesbian people in the Army, but, listen, I'm not losing any sleep on it.

RANGEL: Put King on my Rangel draft bill.


NOVAK: Don't you think, Congress Rangel, that an infantryman today needs a lot more training than he did in your day?

RANGEL: I have no idea. I haven't been in for 50 years.


BEGALA: Congressman King, isn't it true that the military is overstretched? And what would do you if not have a draft?

KING: I think we should put more incentives in to get voluntary Army -- more volunteers. But, again, I say, if the military shows they cannot get what they need, then we should certainly consider the draft, absolutely. I just don't see it happening right now.


NOVAK: Are you worried about the upper class not ever having served in the military in this country now?

KING: Yes, I think, philosophically, there's a point to what Charlie is making. But I don't know if it's in the best interests of the country to reinstate the draft. That's what I'm coming back to. I don't think it's the best military to have a draft.


RANGEL: I don't know of anybody, even if they went into the military where they were screaming and yelling, that didn't come out a better person.


KING: But is it better for the military? That's the question.

BEGALA: Charlie Rangel, Democrat of New York, Peter King, Republican of New York, thank you for a terrific debate on a very controversial topic.

RANGEL: And guess what? We're friends.


BEGALA: You are. Thank you very much. You do us honor to join us today.



BEGALA: Keep your seat just for one second.

Texas's Republican governor has a way to cut taxes for the wealthy and shift taxes onto the hardest working people in show business. And, no, I don't mean talk show hosts. The governor of Texas wants to tax strippers. We will reveal it all next.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

You know, my beloved home state of Texas is of course the home of the University of Texas Longhorns, but it's also one of the world's capitals for what's called gentlemen's clubs, where patrons are such gentlemen that the girls feel safe walking around and, you know, even dancing wearing next to nothing.

But Texas' Republican Governor Rick Perry wants to tax this vital industry. He wants a $5 tax for admission to topless bars. He also wants a pack of cigarettes to add another $1 tax on that. About the only tax the Republicans -- the only sin, that is, that the Republicans don't want to tax is greed. So smokers, drinkers and patrons of the art of the striptease, welcome back to my Democratic Party.

Besides, if we're going to tax topless dancers, why don't we tax the biggest boob ever -- ever produced by Texas, George W. Bush?


BEGALA: We don't we tax him?

NOVAK: Paul, President Bush, who you speak of so disrespectfully, is taxed very heavily. He pays a lot of taxes, as -- we're not taxing the -- governor is not taxing the dancers. He's taxing the people who go to the striptease joints and who smoke. And you say that's not good. You want to tax the people who invest, who produce, who are the heart of America.


BEGALA: No, I want to tax the people who are avoiding the taxes now. No, Dick Cheney -- Dick Cheney paid about 12.7 percent effective rate, 12.7. Every one of those hardworking young ladies dancing her heart out is paying higher than 12.7 percent.


BEGALA: Dick Cheney should pay a higher

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: ... tax, not these poor girls. George Bush should pay taxes.

NOVAK: He wants to tax the customers.

BEGALA: God bless the strippers.

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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