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President Bush Defends Iraq Policy

Aired May 25, 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: President Bush tries to build support for U.S. efforts in Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I sent American troops to Iraq to defend our security, not to stay as an occupying power. I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: It was all what we heard before, with the exception of Abu Ghraib prison, which many of us suggested he do two months ago.

ANNOUNCER: Did the president make his case?

And he's a delegate to this summer's Democratic Party Convention in Boston. We'll ask Jerry Springer if he has any plans for a floor fight.



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



President Bush lays out his strategy for Iraq's transition to self-rule. Maybe at some point, maybe in the next couple of years, we'll hear John Kerry's strategy.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, the president's speech last night was both good and original, but the parts that were good weren't original. The parts that were original weren't good.

We'll debate which was which with two experts on foreign policy. And we begin, as we always do, with the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

One bit of news President Bush made last night in his speech was when he mentioned the notorious Iraqi prison whose name does not exactly roll off the presidential tongue.



BUSH: Under the dictator, prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture.


BEGALA: Mr. Bush has already spent $1 million of your money upgrading that unnameable prison. Now he's going to bulldoze it and spend tens of millions more of your dollars to rebuild it, all for symbolism. Now, we don't know who will get the contract to build the new prison, but guess who got a $52 million contract to build the detainee centers in Guantanamo? Can you say Halliburton?

I have a cheaper and more effective symbol, Mr. President. Fire Rumsfeld. Fire Wolfowitz. Fire Rice.


BEGALA: Fire all the incompetents and deceivers who got us into this mess. That would send a message.

CARLSON: Well, first of all, sometimes, symbolism, as you well know, is worth doing for its own sake. Second, literally dozens of Halliburton employees have died serving American interests...


CARLSON: ... abroad this year. And until you can explain what's wrong with Halliburton, I think we should lay off Halliburton.

BEGALA: They got no-bid contracts. That's what's wrong with Halliburton.

CARLSON: Well, President Bush's strongest asset in his reelection campaign is not his incumbency, though, of course, that helps. It's the fact that his enemies have become so hateful, so enraged, so irresponsible, so completely over the top that they discredit themselves.

Consider recent a fund-raising pitch sent by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on behalf of the John Kerry for president campaign. If Republicans get their way, Clinton wrote -- quote -- "you and I will be living in an America governed not by our hopes, but by our fears. We'll be living in an America where we see our freedoms diminished. Don't let Republicans create an America we won't recognize."

"An America we don't recognize," as if Republicans were Nazis or members of the Klan, as if they were evil, rather than simply fellow Americans with a different point of view. This is the rhetoric of extremism. It's disgusting. And it will lose Democrats this election.

BEGALA: Yours is the rhetoric of extremism, Tucker, when you try to pretend


CARLSON: ... of extremism. She disagrees with her opponents.


CARLSON: ... they're going to destroy America.

BEGALA: Excuse me for talking while you're interrupting.

Dick Armey, the former Republican leader of the House...

CARLSON: He's not even in the House, Paul.

BEGALA: ... also thinks that the Patriot Act goes too far. A lot of great patriotic Americans think that Mr. Bush is playing to our fears and not our hopes.

CARLSON: That's not what she said.



BEGALA: Every word she said was true. God bless Hillary.



CARLSON: OK, you can outshout me, Paul.


CARLSON: Whatever. That's fine. She's an extremist and she's going to lose.

BEGALA: President Bush took a spill on his bike Saturday. It's the sort of thing that could happen to any athletic person. It happens to lots of us, but his reaction to that spill was perhaps instructive.

Mr. Bush's spokesman told reporters -- quote -- "It's been raining a lot and the top soil is loose."


BEGALA: But the Web site looked up the actual precipitation in the days before Mr. Bush's fall. Here it is.


BEGALA: May 22, zero inches of rain, May 21, zero inches, May 20, zero, May 19, zero, May 18, zero, May 17, zero, May 16, zero, May 15, zero, May 14, 0.03 inches of rain. So when Mr. Bush's aide says it's been raining a lot, he means it rained three-one-hundredths of an inch eight days before Mr. Bush fell.


BEGALA: So what why would the Bushies lie about the weather? Perhaps the better question is, when will they tell the truth about anything?


CARLSON: You got it, Paul. The audience is impressed. You busted him! You got him! This election's over, baby! This election's over! You busted him! Whew!


BEGALA: Actually, it is, in point of fact.

CARLSON: You got him, Paul!


CARLSON: You go. Bush loses on rainfall!


CARLSON: That's right, baby!

BEGALA: You know how you tell he's lying? His lips move.


CARLSON: Well, it's time for another installment of the John Kerry slogan watch, where we track what exactly the Kerry campaign says it stands for. This morning Senator Kerry came out with his 10th -- that's right, his 10th -- campaign slogan in less than a year. It is, take off to a stronger America.

The slogan was announced at the unveiling of Kerry's new campaign plane, a five-cabin 757 with its own stand-up bar. It's not quite as luxurious as Kerry's own private jet, but, still, it's not bad. And just to show that he's not wholly without irony, John Kerry had one of his nine other slogans painted on the side of it. It says, "The Real Deal." Of course it does, because when you fly around in your own five-cabin 757 with a stand-up bar, you are, needless to say, the real deal.

Reporters who travel with Kerry almost never use these slogans, of course. They can't keep track of them either. Instead, they refer to the plane more accurately as "Hair France."


BEGALA: Well, at least John Kerry is not dressing up in a flight suit and landing on an aircraft carrier.

CARLSON: Oh, give me a break. Give me a break, Paul.

BEGALA: If we want to compare planes here, look at President Bush dressing up like G.I. Joe.


BEGALA: Then he goes to the ranch and dresses up like Mr. Greenjeans.

CARLSON: I know you hate Bush. I know you hate Bush.


CARLSON: He's the biggest cross-dresser in America.


CARLSON: You got him!


CARLSON: Wait. No, but I thought you were for cross-dressing, Paul. You're a Democrat. You can't criticize cross-dressing. You are a bigot, buddy. You are a gay basher. You just criticized cross- dressing. That's outrageous. Bigotry on our show.



BEGALA: You know what?

President Bush last night called for such bold new ideas as security and democracy for Iraq. Today, experts are analyzing all the details. Just kidding. There were no details. Longtime observers say they haven't seen so much hot air since the Hindenburg. We will debate the president's speech and his Iraq policy.

And then this will be fun. Jerry Springer is headed to Boston this summer. Find out what the Democratic delegate Jerry Springer has planned toward my party's convention this summer.

Stay with us.


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.


CARLSON: Welcome back. President Bush says there are difficult days ahead for Iraq. And of course, he is right. But last night, he also laid out a plan to turn that country over to the Iraqis. It's a sensible idea, one with broad bipartisan support. And yet Democrats are required to attack it anyway. Let's see how they do it.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate this plan, P.J. Crowley, a senior fellow with the Center For American Progress here in Washington, and former Virginia Governor James Gilmore.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, good to see you again.



BEGALA: Governor Gilmore, everybody has been analyzing the president's speech. Let me -- our hometown paper here, "The Washington Post," here is what they said. This is an analysis by two veteran reporters in "The Washington Post" today.

"After promising -- quote -- 'concrete steps' -- unquote -- the White House basically repackaged stalled U.S. policy as a five-step plan."

Why did the president mislead us about this speech?

JAMES GILMORE (R), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: Well, you know, I think the speech lays out exactly the direction that we're going in.

And we've been in a status quo situation -- no, that's not true. We've been in a status quo situation. He is now moving the ball ahead. What he is saying is that we are going to in fact stick to this turnover that creates a civil authority that puts the genuine sovereignty and moral responsibility and legal responsibility not on us, but on the people it should be on, the Iraqis.

And then, at that point, you begin to move more to a civil society instead of a military conflict. And I think that's exactly the right direction in which we should be going.

BEGALA: Let me ask you about that sovereignty. The president, you said, phrased a lot last night.

Now, what he didn't say because he wasn't fully honest was that they're going to have sovereignty in Iraq after June 30, except two minor things. They can't pass any laws and they can't control the use of force within their own borders. What the hell is sovereignty if you can't control force within your borders or pass laws?



BEGALA: Why shouldn't he tell the truth?

GILMORE: No. No. That's oversimplistic.

Here's the fact. The fact is that they're going to put this into a provisional government which is going to lay the plans for an elected group of people. And then, once the elected group of people are in place after elections are held, they are going to pass laws. And, in fact, we do need to move ahead to the point where people who cut off people's heads, people who set off car bombs, they are criminals.

And they need to be brought to justice in a place like Iraq under a legitimate form of government. And that's the direction we're going in. And I think that's very visionary. I think that's the right direction.



P.J. CROWLEY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Regrettably, the insurgents won't give us that much time.

CARLSON: Now, P.J., speaking of running out of the time, I think you probably agree Democrats are running out of time for coming up with their own alternative vision of what ought to happen next in Iraq.


CROWLEY: Tucker, I hope that the five-point plan succeeds. I just don't think it will.

CARLSON: OK, then I want to read you just two -- I'd be interested in hearing what the Kerry campaign's plan is and so would a couple of Democrats.

Here are two quotes. I think they're pretty interesting. Bob Filner, very left-wing Democratic from Southern California: "People are sick of this war and they need a strategy of how to get out of it, and we're not, as Democrats, giving it to them," he says.

Ron Oliver, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, a pretty sensible guys, says: "I think Kerry is going to have to sharpen his message on Iraq. He has to present some clear alternatives to what we have now."

I think those are both good points. Democrats saying that. What is the Kerry plan? There isn't one.


CROWLEY: Well, listen, the issue is, you know, for example, the president, one of his five points is, internationalize this effort. It is exactly the right thing. It's what John Kerry has been saying for some time.

The problem is that this president is not capable of changing the dynamic on the ground. We have in Iraq today 88 percent of Iraqis see us as occupiers, not as liberators. And nothing the president presented last night is going to change. The American no longer believe in the president's strategy. He says stay the course.


CROWLEY: But, as Tony Zinni said, that course is leading us over Niagara Falls.


CARLSON: I think -- look, one thing at a time. Very quickly here, you say that 80 percent -- not clear if you can get accurate opinion polls out of Iraq, because, as you know, there aren't any. But let's just say you're right, that 80 percent of Iraqis hate the president and want America to leave.


CROWLEY: ... 57 percent of Iraqi


CARLSON: Whatever number. They are all made-up numbers, anyway, as you're fully aware.



CARLSON: Let's just say a lot of Iraqis hate us. What would John Kerry do differently to make Iraqis like us? I'm totally confused.

CROWLEY: Well, for example, John Kerry will make an earnest effort to internationalize the effort and he may actually get response from the international community. The fact is that today the world is not going to follow George Bush anywhere, but out of office.


BEGALA: Let me pick up that -- let me pick up that argument.


BEGALA: Governor, the president today in fact called the leader of France -- no report yet that France is going to help us in response to the president's entreaties. But isn't President Bush calling for international support a little bit like John Dillinger calling for gun control? It may be the right policy, but he's hardly the man to pull it off, is he?

GILMORE: The fact is that once you put an Iraqi government in place and there are elections held, it would be nice to have international support. And I think the Germans and the French probably will help the Iraqis, as opposed to helping us. But the point is, the first critical step is to get the authority and the power where it belongs, which is to elected government.


BEGALA: To whom will we turn it over on July 1?

GILMORE: In terms of the provisional government...

BEGALA: Forty days away.

GILMORE: In terms of the provisional government, it only matters whether the people have a decent amount of support and respect within the community. But they're only there, Paul, until an election is held.


BEGALA: Shouldn't we know who the hell they are before we turn it over to them?

CARLSON: P.J., do you know who they are?

CROWLEY: No, and the president doesn't either.

It is 37 days away. We do not know who will govern. And we do not know what the Iraqi people will think of that government.


GILMORE: This is a red herring, I'm telling you.

CROWLEY: And there's every reason to believe that the Iraqi people will look at the interim government with the same sense of illegitimacy as they do the Iraqi Governing Council that we have right now.


GILMORE: They are there to hold the fort until an election is held. And once an election


CARLSON: Let me ask you a question here.

BEGALA: When you were elected governor of Virginia, you had 10 weeks to prepare to take office for a job that people have had for 200 years. Why shouldn't the Iraqis have more than 37 days? They still don't know who we're going to hand it over to.

GILMORE: The key is, you put a group into place who then prepare for an election. It is the election that comes up the road that actually grants the genuine ability and legitimacy to govern.

And at that point, those people are in a position to set laws and actually enforce laws and say that people who cut off people's heads are criminals and we're not supposed to be for them. And that's the fact.


CARLSON: Now, P.J., you can't possibly disagree with President Bush's point last night that any legitimate government in Iraq has got to be an Iraq government. Your idea that the international community will somehow come in, the U.N., France, Germany, is awfully paternalistic and 19th century, isn't it? It has to be an Iraqi government.

CROWLEY: No, I am all for this.

The dilemma is that the president put forward a plan called the November 15 plan. And the only element that's left is June 30. And that June 30 was set not based on the Iraqi needs, but on his political needs.


CARLSON: But one thing that you're not admitting, I think, and that the Kerry campaign is not admitting, in all this talk about internationalizing the conflict -- it never gets more specific than that -- is that in fact our so-called allies in Western Europe, A, don't have the military, the manpower to spare, and, B, don't to. I want to read you a quote.


CROWLEY: They do -- they would if...

CARLSON: Really? Is that true?

CROWLEY: They would if they wanted to.

CARLSON: Now, Michel Barnier -- you can probably pronounce it better than I, being liberal, but he is the French foreign minister, said -- quote -- "It is out of the question" -- out of the question. "There will be no French soldiers in Iraq, not now, not later."

CROWLEY: That's right.

CARLSON: Why don't you just admit that no matter who is president the frogs are not sending troops to Iraq? Admit it.

CROWLEY: The international force means more than just France. That's all you can ever throw at us, is France, France, France, France.

CARLSON: That's all you guys care about, is France.

CROWLEY: But the fact is, for example, last night, what the American people needed was candor. If in fact the president is not going to be able to attract international support -- and this president is not -- he needs to tell the American people, this is going to take years. This is going to take hundreds of billions of dollars, whereas right now he's playing with $25 billion here, $50 billion there. He's hiding the price tag until after the election, where we're facing a $500 billion deficit. We'll spend that much and more in Iraq before we're done.

BEGALA: Governor, shouldn't the president have come clean with the cost of this last night?


BEGALA: Come clean with the cost, how much it is going to cost you and me and all of these people in this audience to clean up his mess in Iraq. Shouldn't he have come clean about what it is going to cost us?

GILMORE: What I think the president needed to do and did do was to point direction and provide leadership and tell exactly the path we're going down.

And you know what? The international community, that would be nice. It would be helpful, but the fact of the matter is that the French, the Germans, nor the Americans, at end of the day, are going to run Iraq. The Iraqis are going to run Iraq. And that's why we're putting a provisional government in place, so that they can have an election and provide that kind of sovereignty and direction for the future.


CARLSON: Unfortunately, we are completely out of time. I think that's -- we can agree on that point.


CARLSON: OK, former Governor Gilmore, thank you very much.

P.J. Crowley, thank you very much. We appreciate it.



CARLSON: Well, as if Boston did not have enough to worry about with all those Democrats coming to town, look who's been named a member of the Ohio delegation. We'll talk to delegate Jerry Springer of Cincinnati, Ohio, next.

Is there any relief in sight for storm victims in the Midwest? Wolf Blitzer will tell you right after the break.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the United Nations Security Council meets behind closed doors to discuss the U.S.-British plan for Iraq. France wants changes. Russia wants details.

Spring storms attack the Midwest. Volunteers stack sandbags in the Chicago area. Northern Missouri cleans up after tornadoes.

And is the Iraq prison scandal another Watergate? I'll speak with legendary reporter Carl Bernstein.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Talk show host Jerry Springer has been named Democrat of the year in his home state of Ohio. And just this month, he was selected at an at-large delegate to the Democratic Party's National Convention, which will be this summer in Boston. We will be there. And so will Jerry.

We welcome him now back to the CROSSFIRE.

Ladies and gentlemen, my friend, Jerry Springer.


CARLSON: Ladies and gentlemen!

BEGALA: How are you doing, Jerry?


BEGALA: Good to see you. How are you doing?

CARLSON: Nice to see you.


BEGALA: Jerry Springer, ladies and gentlemen.

CARLSON: All right!

BEGALA: They love you.

CARLSON: Now, Democrat of the year. I will say, you've always been Democrat of the century in my mind.

I want to read you a quote from Dan Trevas, who is the spokesman for the Ohio party. I may be mispronouncing his name. He says he recognizes you for your hard work in helping the party rebuild itself. What, was the party like in a love triangle with its own sister? What was wrong with the party that you had to rebuild it?


JERRY SPRINGER, TALK SHOW HOST: Well, first of all, I didn't rebuild the party.

CARLSON: Oh, come on. Don't be modest.


CARLSON: How did you rebuild it.

SPRINGER: Yes. OK, I rebuilt the party.


SPRINGER: But, no, the reality is that Ohio has had one-party control. The Republicans have controlled the state of Ohio for the last 10, 12, 14 years.

And so we need to rebuild it, because we have to offer people an alternative to the current policies. Right now, Ohio is in a world of hurt. More 18-to-34-year-olds are leaving the state of Ohio than any other state in the Union. We cannot stand here and make fun of West Virginia or Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi. It's Ohio


CARLSON: No, I make fun of Ohio first always.


SPRINGER: Yes. We've got to change that. And, hopefully, those of us who are in a position to be helpful, to articulate a message that the people are going to go for, maybe we can change the leadership in the state of Ohio. That's what I'm trying to do.

BEGALA: Don't you find it slightly political when conservative elites attack you for how you earn a living, when in fact their hero, Dick Cheney, became a millionaire in part by running a company that sold equipment to Saddam Hussein and Iraq, to the Ayatollahs in Iran and to the dictators in Libya? Isn't that a little hypocritical, for them to look down at you and how you earn a living?



But, look, anyone who criticizes my show, God bless you, you're right. The show's stupid.


SPRINGER: I mean, you know, I can't ever go on the air and say, oh, this is -- I do a good show. It's a crazy show. I know that, but it's irrelevant to people's lives in terms of political issues.

BEGALA: And it's not selling oil field equipment to Saddam Hussein.

SPRINGER: I agree. I agree. And I don't think Dick Cheney ought to be vice president of the United States. And, hopefully...


SPRINGER: And, hopefully, in November, the people will vote and change that.

Ohio is very critical in that because it is one of these states that could go either way. And if Ohio votes Democrat, then John Kerry is the next president.

CARLSON: Now, you're a delegate from Ohio. And as you probably know, the Democratic Party in many states has set up a strict quota system requiring that a certain number of delegates be transsexuals, transvestites.


CARLSON: Men dressed as women.


CARLSON: And that's true. I'm not making it up. You can't make up a lot of this stuff. I'm wondering, given that, if you think, when you get to the convention, you'll see a lot of people there who have been on your show?


SPRINGER: Well, I guess -- I used to be a woman.


CARLSON: Really?

SPRINGER: Yes. I used to be


CARLSON: You look better as a man, no offense or anything.

SPRINGER: Yes. I used to be Sally Jesse Raphael.


SPRINGER: I -- I don't know.

Yes, you know, look, the Democratic Party has tried for the last -- at least last 30 years that I've been paying attention to it to represent the entire culture. I think that's important. I think, when you take a look and you watch on television the Republican Convention, virtually everyone sitting out there in delegates looks alike.

CARLSON: Fewer transvestites, definitely.

SPRINGER: Well, also fewer minorities. Also, you know -- it's clearly a white male party.


(APPLAUSE) SPRINGER: And now -- and good for white males. I've been one for a long time.


CARLSON: I'm just going to have cut you off right there. We're going to take a quick commercial break on that happy note, celebrating white males.

We're going to take a quick commercial break. Has Jerry Springer has -- does he have his sights set on higher office for himself? We'll find out what office and ask him if he's running when we come back. He'll reveal it here on CROSSFIRE.



CARLSON: We welcome back our special guest, talk show host and Democrat of the year, Jerry Springer, who is preparing to attend this summer's Democratic National Convention as a delegate from Ohio.

BEGALA: Now, Jerry, let's look ahead. You thought about running for Senate, decided not to. In 2006, in your home state of Ohio, the governor seat is open. Will you run?

SPRINGER: It's possible that I will. I'll make that determination after the presidential race.

The middle class is hurting in America. This administration has declared war on the middle class. There really is a difference between those who are very wealthy, which is a small group, and the great vast majority of Americans, where both parents have to work just to get their kids through school, where they're trying to get health care for their kids, where they're trying to keep their jobs, there's job insecurity.

I really believe that a governor, for example, could really make a difference in that state.


CARLSON: Well, so, then, are you going to run? What do you think? What do you think your chances are?


SPRINGER: Yes, I would like to. I haven't decided firmly to do it yet, but I would like to.


CARLSON: How much would you spend if you did?

SPRINGER: A lot of money.


CARLSON: More than $100,000?

SPRINGER: A little more than $100,000.

Yes, I'm going to spend a lot of money. And I would hope to raise a lot of money. But I have to stop the show if I'm going to do that. And I realize that. And I will get about a year and a half into -- in other words, if I decide to run, I'll stop the show next year.

BEGALA: Jerry Springer, that will be the last word. We hope you will join us when we're in Boston for the convention. You'll be a delegate there.

SPRINGER: I'm there.

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

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow, Wednesday, for yet more CROSSFIRE. Have a great night.



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