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Senate Questions Top U.S. Generals

Aired May 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: The generals running the war in Iraq are called before the Senate. They acknowledge things have gone wrong.

LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: As a senior commander in Iraq, I accept responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib.

ANNOUNCER: They also express determination to overcome the obstacles ahead.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Despite the images of Abu Ghraib and burning Humvees that constantly play on our media screens, we are winning the battle against extremists.

ANNOUNCER: Are the investigations and news coverage distracting the military or exposing a war plan gone wrong?

And John Kerry meets with Ralph Nader. Does Kerry have an alternative for Nader's call for a withdrawal from Iraq?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.



As an American soldier faces confinement and a discharge for his role in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, three of the U.S. military's top brass are called back to Capitol Hill. But shouldn't they be in Iraq? There is a war going on, after all.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, the committee chairman today said he offered to have the generals testify by satellite, but they were going to be in town anyway. More importantly, with six weeks to go until the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, the Bush plan for Iraqis' future is just about as hard to find as those weapons of mass destruction.


BEGALA: We will have more on the political warfare just ahead but first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter is the chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee and he's mad as hell at the Senate because the Senate is investigating the prisoner abuse scandal, maybe rather than covering it up. Hunter says -- quote -- "The Senate has become mesmerized by cameras and they have given now probably more publicity to what six people did in the Abu Ghraib prison at 2:30 in the morning than the invasion of Normandy" -- unquote.

I gather what Congressman Hunter is trying to say is that the House's agenda is more important than the Senate's investigation. After all, while the Senate has been trying to restore America's honor, the House been very busy naming courthouses after dead guys and passing resolutions in favor of such courageous issues as music education, the Lions Club, and allowing the Colin Powell grounds to be used for the Soapbox Derby.

Face it, the House Republican symbol is no longer the elephant. It is Nero, who famously fiddled while Rome burned.


CARLSON: Well, I mean, I don't think anybody is saying that the abuses at the prison aren't worth investigating. Of they are.

BEGALA: Mr. Hunter is.

CARLSON: He's not saying that at all. He's saying, get some perspective on it. And, in fact, I think the House and Senate both have a lot of important things to do. In fact, it would be nice if someone came up with a plan for what we do next in Iraq.


BEGALA: But for a body that's naming post offices after dead guys to be criticizing the Senate...


BEGALA: ... who's actually at least trying to find out the facts is outrageous. Duncan Hunter is a smart guy. He's a capable chairman. He should be investigating this.


CARLSON: The point is, the abuse at the prison is not the sum of everything that's happened in Iraq. I think that's the point.

BEGALA: But neither is naming post offices after dead guys.

CARLSON: Well, as part of its ongoing effort to divide Americans into a bewildering number of categories and subcategories, the Democratic Party has announced a new affirmative action plan for gays, lesbians and cross-dressers.

According to the Associated Press, the party has set sexuality- based quotas for its delegates at this summer's national convention in Boston, these in addition to the party's usual quotas based on race, gender, disability, national origin and hairstyle.



CARLSON: California, for instance, will have to sent precisely 22 gay men and 22 lesbians to the convention. North Carolina will have to send five, although they can be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered or, one suspects, some heretofore unthought combination of all four of those things.


CARLSON: Even remote, chilly Maine will have to pony up a minimum of three gays or an equal number of men who may or may not be gay but in any case wear women's clothing. Those are the rules. And if you don't find them at least mildly funny, you're probably a Democrat.


BEGALA: Tucker, I like the Republicans quotas, which they have two from Exxon, two from Enron, two from Texaco, two from Chevron, 22...


BEGALA: ... from Halliburton.


BEGALA: I mean, come on. My party -- my party is open to everyone, even those who George Bush hates, even those George Bush says aren't allowed to fall in love.

CARLSON: It's not open to anyone. If it was, they wouldn't


BEGALA: ... open to Enron lobbyists. That's true.

CARLSON: They wouldn't have the quotas, Paul.



BEGALA: The Enron party is run, chaired by an Enron lobbyist.


BEGALA: ... Gillespie is the chairman of the Republican Party.

CARLSON: You're embarrassed to argue the principle of it.




CARLSON: Yes, you are.


BEGALA: ... gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered and otherwise community. Well...

CARLSON: Otherwise what, Paul?

BEGALA: Otherwise Republican. We'd even take them.

Well, what would you be if you opposed funding for President Clinton's 100,000 cops program, as well as programs to cover Americans without health insurance or to expand rural health care or even build new veterans hospitals? Well, you would be a Republican.

But what if, after opposing all of those programs, you actually tried to take credit for supporting them? Well, then you would be a Bush Republican, you would be a hypocrite, but I repeat myself. "The New York Times" today details program after program, issue after issue where President Bush has actually had the gall to take credit for programs that he opposes, from health care to the poor to hospitals for our veterans.

Mr. Bush is taking credit for policies that he opposes. It's a little bit like Bobby Cox, the manager of the Atlanta Braves, trying to take credit for Arizona Diamondback Randy Johnson's perfect game last night against Atlanta. Look, when you're on the wrong side, you have no right to claim credit, Mr. President.

CARLSON: Look, I think -- I'd like to hear Bush make a principled case against government spending.


CARLSON: But the fact is that the Republicans control the Congress. These programs are the fruit of Republican votes, Paul. And I will say that taking credit for programs you have opposed is probably more honorable than disowning programs you supported simply because the president supports them, as Democrats have done, federalizing education, the prescription drug program.



BEGALA: Tucker, the guy opposes those programs and then he stands up and claims he supported them.


BEGALA: He's trying to cut them by 80 to 100 percent and then he stands up and says that he's for them.

CARLSON: Eighty to 100 percent.

BEGALA: Well, 82 percent


BEGALA: I'm sorry. I happen to know something about the federal budget, unlike our president.


CARLSON: I don't see any evidence of that.

Well, in his new movie, "Fahrenheit 911," Michael Moore alleges the following things, that President Bush is responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, that Bush's family is connected to Osama bin Laden in some important, sinister way, and that Bush intentionally caused the deaths of thousands of people in the war with Iraq simply to enrich his friends in the oil industry.

It's hardly worth repeating these claims or even refuting them. They are the ramblings of the lunatic fringe, or they used to be anyway. Yet "The Washington Post" reports today at least four previously mainstream Democratic operatives, including former press secretaries for Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, have been hired to promote Moore's movie. And they are, all of which raises an interesting question: What happens when the lunatic fringe and the mainstream of the Democratic Party become indistinguishable?

Unfortunately, that is happening right now. Where are all the responsible Democrats? Speak up. You are losing your party to the lunatics. And you are. And it's upsetting.

BEGALA: I haven't seen the movie, so I'm in no position to judge.


BEGALA: But if Michael Moore started right now and went without sleeping for the rest of his life and told nothing but lies about Iraq, he still wouldn't catch up with President Bush.



BEGALA: There is no chance.


BEGALA: He's called a filmmaker.


BEGALA: He's a filmmaker and a polemicist. Why don't you focus on the misstatements of our president and our vice president, who got us into this war?


CARLSON: Your party is going crazy.


CARLSON: To support someone who accuses the president of being behind 9/11?


BEGALA: A president who misled us into a war is a heck of a lot worse.

CARLSON: I give up.



CARLSON: Well, as problems pile up in Iraq, U.S. generals are dragged in front of television cameras on Capitol Hill. Are the politics of the war in Iraq getting in the way of winning the war in Iraq?

And John Kerry is keeping some interesting company these days. We'll have the latest on his courtships of Howard Dean and Ralph Nader. It's amazing.

We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The situation in Iraq continues to plague the Bush administration. Today, another round of hearings on the prisoner abuse scandal on Capitol Hill with three top generals testifying under oath before the Senate. In the CROSSFIRE today, Cliff May with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Jamie Rubin, former assistant secretary of state and now an adviser to John Kerry's campaign.

Gentlemen, good to see you.


CARLSON: Thanks a lot for joining us.

As you well know, the Bush and Kerry plans for Iraq going forward not so dissimilar. Both involve the international community, or hope to. Both have pledged to put more troops in if necessary. Both have pledged to stay as long as it takes to finish the job, whatever that is. So it seems to me, if you're an anti-war, liberal Bush hater, you have only one choice, vote for Ralph Nader, who actually is offering an alternative, pull the troops out within six months.

With that in mind, here's what John Kerry said about this to the Associated Press. This is the most Orwellian thing I've read this year -- "In the end, I hope I can make people aware that a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush." That may be true. "A vote for John Kerry is a vote for the principles and values they care about." Of course, a vote for John Kerry is a vote for expedience, right? It's not for principles. A vote for Nader is a vote for principles, no?

JAMIE RUBIN, ADVISER TO SENATOR JOHN KERRY: No. hat was a good speech, Tucker, but...

CARLSON: Thank you. It's true, though, too.

RUBIN: But John Kerry has a very different plan than George Bush for Iraq, because John Kerry will be able to secure real support from the international community.

Right now, we are doing 90 percent of the work, 90 percent of the money, 90 percent of the casualties. John Kerry has a concrete plan to get international support so we can succeed there. He disagrees with Ralph Nader on this: Failure in Iraq will be bad for our country. It will be bad for the United States. We'll face the prospect of a failed state with Osama bin Laden types and the people who cut off Nicholas Berg's head ruling the roost. That's something we can't accept.

CARLSON: I agree. I couldn't agree more. I agree with you and I agree with John Kerry on that. But then, I'm not a crazed left-wing Bush hater. And, if I were, why wouldn't I vote for the man who said it plainly? Let's pull the troops out of Iraq in the next six months. That would be a vote for principle and that would be a vote for Ralph Nader.

RUBIN: A vote for Nader I think we all learned in 2000 is a vote for George Bush. If you want to change...

(APPLAUSE) RUBIN: If you want to change America's standing in the world, if you want to return the respect that we've had for many, many years, where our allies respect us, work with us, and the moral authority of the United States is returned, you want John Kerry in office. That's what those people who support Ralph Nader want, too.


BEGALA: Let me ask you about the moral authority of the United States of America. "The New York Times," a fine newspaper for which you once worked, reports today on the front page that the International Committee of the Red Cross reported back in November last year to our government that there were abuses going on in that prison. And, according to "The Times," the response was to try to curtail Red Cross inspections, rather than to fix the problem.

Isn't that a moral outrage for our government to do that?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Actually, when the Red Cross came to Bremer, he immediately initiated the investigations that took place, beginning then. That's when it started.

BEGALA: You're dodging.


BEGALA: The report in "The Times" today...

MAY: I don't know.


BEGALA: The report in "The Times" today, Cliff, says that the Red Cross came to the United States Army...

MAY: I understand.

BEGALA: ... which was controlling that prison and that instead of correcting it, they covered it up.


MAY: No, no, no. No, what happened was an investigation, an investigation began and they also began to look into it.


BEGALA: Two months later.

MAY: No, it began as soon as Bremer knew about it. But let me ask this.


BEGALA: Wait a minute. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: No, I'm not going to let you finish the dodge. I'm sorry, Cliff. I love you. You're a brilliant guy. But the question is, the allegation in "The Times" today is that our Army curtailed the inspections when they learned that the abuses were going on.


MAY: Look, I think they curtailed the behavior and they began an inspection of it, and the Red Cross has had access. And if the Red Cross hadn't had access, you probably wouldn't have known this.

And, by the way, does the Red Cross have access in Syria, in Saudi Arabia? Does it have access in Iran? Did it have access to Saddam Hussein?

BEGALA: They're the good guys.


MAY: No, we're not. And let's understand.

So, just for a minute, stop trying to use this scandal -- and it was that -- to continually beat up on President Bush and let's talk about other things as well.


BEGALA: I'm trying to hold people accountable. I'm trying to hold people accountable for


MAY: Because we had some very bad people who cut off the head of Nick Berg. And that was done by our enemies in Iraq, who we want to fight.

And, by the way, I only wish that John Kerry had said to Ralph Nader, Ralph, you're wrong on Iraq. A defeat for America there would be bad for you, bad for me, bad for Americans. Why couldn't he say that to Ralph Nader?

RUBIN: John Kerry has said that over and over again.

MAY: He didn't say it to Ralph Nader.

RUBIN: How do you know? Were you there?


MAY: You told me. You told me.


(APPLAUSE) CARLSON: That is actually an interesting question.

Not only has John Kerry been talking to Ralph Nader. He's also been wining and dining Howard Dean over a series of dinner dates. And the irony here is that Howard Dean really did speak truth to power during the primaries, I think, particularly in his description of John Kerry vis-a-vis the war.

Let me read you this quote. I think you'll agree with it -- from Howard Dean. "I suppose if you have the nerve to cover your own vote and then try to pretend you didn't vote that way, you have the nerve to do anything in Washington. The fact is, we wouldn't be in Iraq if it weren't for Democrats like John Kerry."

That's absolutely, inarguably true. He voted for this war. Isn't it a bit much, A, for him to pretend he was against it all along, and, B, to be sucking up to Howard Dean?

RUBIN: No. 1, it's not true.

Howard Dean did a lot of good to the Democratic Party, because he returned our country to a point where it was OK to criticize the president.


RUBIN: He returned our country to a position where opposition in America returned. And we give him credit for that.

But on the war, John Kerry was as clear as he could be. And I had the same position. It was correct to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. It was correct to be worried about the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But when this president rushed us into war based on exaggerating that threat, didn't do it with our allies, didn't exhaust diplomacy and didn't -- and this is the crucial point -- didn't have a realistic plan to succeed, he failed to meet the tests that John Kerry called for at the time he voted.



CARLSON: I suspect that you were talking to Kerry then even about whether he ought to vote for this war or not. It was very clear. You were here in Washington. We were all here. It was very clear that was a vote for war. We knew basically the parameters of what the Bush administration intended to do at that point. John Kerry knew. He voted for war. Why can't he just admit that?

RUBIN: He voted to authorize the president to do the right thing, to bring diplomacy to bear using the threat of force. That was the correct decision.

And he didn't believe and I think none of us at this table believed that the Bush administration would have exaggerated the threat so much so that he told -- the president told the country that this was a grave and gathering storm. We will have to go now. And what do we find? No weapons of mass destruction.


BEGALA: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of that policy, was testifying on Capitol Hill yesterday and had this exchange with Senator Russ Feingold. Let me show it to you and ask you to comment.


SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: There are reports that Iraq, our troop strength in Iraq will remain at about 135,000 troops until the end of 2005. Is that report inaccurate?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: We don't know what it will be. We've had changes, as you know, month by month. We have several different plans to be able to deal with the different levels that might be required. Our current level is higher than we had planned for this time this year.


BEGALA: Good God, Cliff. This arrogant professor is one who helped mislead us into this war and now he tells us, well, gee, we have no idea. He's the one who slapped down a heroic Army general when the general told him he wasn't sending enough troops to occupy the country successfully.

MAY: We are engaged in a war. It's a real war. Those who thought it was a metaphorical war were incorrect. And this is not an enemy you can shock.

BEGALA: He was incorrect. Wolfowitz was incorrect.

MAY: Wolfowitz said, we needed -- he did say, look, we didn't anticipate the kind of resistance that we have found in Iraq. And I think it's good that he admitted that. Why? Because you cannot fight a war like this without understanding that.

BEGALA: So who should pay for that mistake, besides our troops?

MAY: Who should pay for that? You know, no would have said that to Roosevelt during World War II. No would have said that to Churchill during World War II. What you say is...

BEGALA: If you have a commander who is not getting the job done, you get rid of him, Cliff.



MAY: Let me tell you, my fear is that you want Bush's defeat more than you want America's victory.

BEGALA: Shame and you. Don't you peer into my heart, Cliff May. I love this country. I love this country. And I don't want to see our president send men off to their deaths


MAY: We're talking about here...

BEGALA: Don't tell me what my motives are, Mr. May.


MAY: What we're talking about here...


BEGALA: We're going to take a quick break. Hang on. I'm going to towel off and get a cool drink.

And when we come back, our guests will enter the "Rapid Fire," where the questions will come almost as fast as the administration can pass the buck for its disaster in Iraq.


BEGALA: And just who were the people targeted by U.S. missiles near the Iraqi-Syrian border today? Wolf Blitzer will have the latest right after the break.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up at the top of the hour, was it an airstrike gone awry? Iraqis say innocent civilians were killed in a wedding party. The Pentagon says it had the right target.

What caused the carnage among Palestinian protesters in Gaza? Israel offers regrets, but no clear explanation.

And for a time, he was America's mayor. Now Rudy Giuliani has advice and some chilling memories for the 9/11 Commission.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Welcome back.

It's time for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions faster than U.S. generals can shuttle between the battlefield and Capitol Hill. We're talking about the political warfare that has been raging over the situation in Iraq, including the prisoner abuse scandal.

In the CROSSFIRE today, Jamie Rubin, senior adviser to the John Kerry for president campaign, and Cliff May with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

BEGALA: Cliff and Jamie, thank you for staying with us through the break.

"The Hill" newspaper on Capitol Hill quotes Senator George Voinovich, a Republican from Ohio, saying the Bush administration -- quote -- "is not leveling with the American people." When a Republican senator accuses our president of not leveling with us, doesn't he have a credibility crisis?

MAY: George Voinovich? I don't know.

I would say -- look, I would say Republicans are very open about this kind of thing. We fight among ourselves all the time. The point is that we -- look, right now, the president, of course, is talking about what has to be done in Iraq. What we need is for Democrats and Republicans to come together and say, how do we succeed for America...


MAY: ... and for the Iraqi people and for the Middle East? Because that's what we need to do.

CARLSON: Jamie Rubin, Michael Moore's new movie accuses the president of the United States of being responsible for 9/11 and also of waging the war in Iraq on behalf of the oil companies. A number of prominent Democrats have gone to work essentially promoting that movie. Where are the responsible Democrats who are going to stand up and say, this is an outrage; be quiet, Michael Moore; you're wrong? Will you do that?

RUBIN: I'm happy to say that I don't agree with Michael Moore on point one, that George Bush was responsible for 9/11. I don't agree with Michael Moore on point two, that he did this for the oil companies.

CARLSON: Good for you.

RUBIN: What I will say is that George Bush has mismanaged American foreign policy and it's hurting us.


BEGALA: Cliff, there is an investigation going on within the Pentagon


MAY: ... Michael Moore administration.


BEGALA: The Defense Department is investigating the lower-level soldiers who are accused of wrongdoing. Who should investigate up the chain of command to people like Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, maybe Deputy Secretary Cambone, or even the president? Who should investigate them?

MAY: We've got a process in place to investigate this sort of thing.


MAY: What do you want? Do you want a special prosecutor again, Paul? What is your idea?


BEGALA: I'm just asking, who should control this? Who do you trust to investigate Rumsfeld and Bush? Rumsfeld and Bush?


MAY: I trust the military. I trust our system of law. I trust the rule of law as we have it. I don't think we need to reinvent it because of people you don't like you would like to get


BEGALA: I actually like them. I just don't trust them.

CARLSON: We're going to have to end.

Jamie Rubin, thank you very much. Cliff May, thank you. We hope you'll come back,even after this.


CARLSON: John Kerry and Howard Dean slugged it out in Iowa and then New Hampshire. Believe it or not, these former opponents are now lovebirds. When we come back, we'll get to the heart of the matter.


CARLSON: Well, once bitter rivals, they're now very close friends, or so they appear. Check out this scene, John Kerry and Howard Dean getting together during a four-hour flight for a friendly game of hearts.


CARLSON: They've been traveling together a lot lately. They've even shared meals at restaurants. It's part of a Democratic push for unity after the bruising primary and caucus season. Back then, Dean accused Kerry of being beholden to special interest groups. And Kerry shot back, saying Dean didn't have the temperament to run the country. They were both right, of course but now it looks like all is forgiven.

BEGALA: Well, that's called leadership.

John Kerry is uniting his party, as opposed to President Bush, who still has John McCain so mad at him.


CARLSON: Oh, please. Oh, give me a break. BEGALA: Bush has united the troglodytes and Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, but he can't get thinking Republicans like John McCain to support him.


CARLSON: Sucking up to Howard Dean? That's so embarrassing, Paul. I can't believe you just said that.


BEGALA: Thoughtful Republicans of course will vote Democratic, as they often do.

Well, look, if you are a thoughtful person and you want to be a part of the ultimate "Fireback," log onto your computer tomorrow for our special edition of CROSSFIRE 4:30 p.m. Eastern. It's our CROSSFIRE interactive Thursday. You can give us your feedback while you watch the show and become eligible to win semi-valuable prizes, including an all-expense-paid trip, beer and all, to see CROSSFIRE here live in Washington. Just go to, slash, your TV.

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

CARLSON: Don't slash your TV. From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow night for yet more CROSSFIRE. See you then.



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