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President Bush Vows to Stay the Course in Iraq

Aired June 2, 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: At commencement ceremonies at the Air Force Academy, the commander in chief vows to stay the course in Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The security and peace of our country are at stake and success in the struggle is our only option.

ANNOUNCER: With a new government taking shape in Iraq, is success close at hand?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington university, Margaret Carlson and Robert Novak.



President Bush is not backing down. In Colorado Springs today, he delivered the commencement address to graduating cadets at the United States Air Force Academy. I'm ready to debate it with my guest co-host, Margaret Carlson.

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


NOVAK: With John Kerry trying to introduce himself to the American people, he soon will be eclipsed by an apparition. Is it a bird, a plane, or Superman? No, it's Bill Clinton hawking his 950- page book about, who else, himself.


NOVAK: The former president begins June 20 going on CBS' "60 Minutes" for an unprecedented full hour to begin a TV blitz. Ah, memories. "60 Minutes" is where Bill and Hillary in 1992 confessed marital troubles. He will be all over television sucking up the oxygen needed by Senator Kerry.


NOVAK: I hear the book is terrific, but that Bill's rewriting of history makes it more appropriate in the fiction section of the bookstore.


CARLSON: Well, Bob, I think Hillary had some fiction in "Living History" and she laughed all the way to the bank, so I don't think we need to worry about Bill Clinton.

NOVAK: But poor John Kerry. Who's going to listen to John Kerry when you've got Bill Clinton on "60 Minutes" with Mike Wallace?


CARLSON: Yes, well, it may remind people what they liked about the Democrats.

From "The New York Times" today, a report that Secretary of State Colin Powell has been hounding the CIA for months. Administration officials tell "The Times" that Powell wants an accounting for bogus intelligence that put him in the position of telling the United Nations last year that Iraq -- quote -- "definitely" possessed weapons of mass destruction and the mobile labs to produce them.

We all now know that was a gross overstatement, if not a lie, as does Secretary Powell. The difference between Powell and the other dupees like the president and vice president is that the former general wants name, rank, and serial number of those who jacked up the intel to get him to put his reputation on the line at the U.N.

Maybe Powell, Bob, will make someone pay for the slam-dunk that turned out to be an air ball.


NOVAK: I think there should be some accountability. I think it's a -- I know you're very sorry that Saddam Hussein is gone, but I think we're glad he's gone, but I think there should be some accountability, if there was false information put out.

CARLSON: Good, Bob, I'm very proud of you. And I'm not sorry that Saddam Hussein is gone.

NOVAK: You're not?


NOVAK: Well, I'm proud of you.


CARLSON: I wouldn't be sorry if you were gone. (LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: We're proud of each other, aren't we?


NOVAK: If you yearn for the famous bar scene from the movie "Star Wars," go immediately to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington.

Today through Friday, the Campaign For America's Future is running a Take Back America Conference. Would-be takers include every prominent left-winger in America, including some I had forgotten.

Howard Dean, the screamer, will be there. So are two former conservatives turned extreme leftists, David Brock and Arianna Huffington, left-wing labor leaders Gerald Monty -- I'm sorry -- it should be Gerald McEntee and Leo Gerard, back from an undisclosed location, Jesse Jackson Sr. and tomorrow's CROSSFIRE host, professor Robert Reich.

The conference is run by Robert Borosage, the leftist who managed Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns. But how can they take back America, Margaret, when they never had it?


CARLSON: Bob, I know you don't like labor union leaders, but it's McEntee. It's Mr. McEntee.


CARLSON: Listen, Take Back America. Do you forget the years 1992 to 2000 or are you now conceding that Bill Clinton is a moderate?

NOVAK: Well, I never thought...



NOVAK: I never thought that Bill Clinton was a left-wing extremist. I thought he was an unprincipled liar, but I never thought he was a left-wing extremist.


NOVAK: But you've got time to get there for the evening session of the left-wing event tonight.



CARLSON: Right. I'll be getting -- collecting a speaking fee there, Bob. NOVAK: Go ahead, Margaret.

CARLSON: We may be in for a changing of the guard on Capitol Hill. Last night in South Dakota, Stephanie Herseth handed the party a new seat in the House of Representatives by winning a special election to replace disgraced Republican Bill Janklow. Janklow, you may recall, resigned in January after being convicted and sentenced for fatally running down a motorcyclist.

This comes on the heels of the unprecedented visit of Senator Bill Frist coming to South Dakota to campaign against his counterpart, Tom Daschle. Herseth's victory could signal new political momentum for the Democrats in the South, where five incumbent senators have all announced their retirements. Louisiana, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Florida are all up for grabs.

Our military comes disproportionately from the South. If troops are still dying in Iraq, the solid South may not be so solidly Republican anymore.

NOVAK: Well, I don't quite understand any of that, but I have two problems.

CARLSON: Can I do it, again, Bob, and a little bit slower?


NOVAK: The first problem is, it's going to be very difficult to get all those Republican incumbents to be guilty of manslaughter and running down a motorcyclist. That is an odd course of events.

CARLSON: Right, it is. It is. Yes. Not very Republican has done that, no.

NOVAK: No. No.



NOVAK: And the second thing is, those Republicans -- those seats that you mentioned are all Democratic incumbent seats. If they win those seats, they just hold their own. They don't take over.


CARLSON: Except I hardly call Zell Miller a Democrat anymore.

NOVAK: Next, President Bush reminded us all today, the war on terror is still being waged and Iraq is central in that fight. But is a free and democratic Iraq essential to defeating terrorism?

And parting is such sweet sorrow. There's a help-wanted sign at the White House, as a key player there calls it quits. Who is it? I'll bet you don't know. We'll tell you later if you 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.



NOVAK: With rows of young Air Force cadets as his backdrop, President Bush eloquently made the nation's case for our presence in Iraq. He delivered the commencement address to the U.S. Air Force Academy's graduating class, whose motto is parati ad bellum, ready for war.

In the CROSSFIRE to talk about it from Capitol Hill today, two members of the House International Relations Committee, Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, and Congressman Gary Ackerman, Democrat from New York.

CARLSON: Congressman Tancredo, welcome.

Let me read something you said about the war: "There is no one who can say what will happen in Iraq after Saddam Hussein is gone. I worry about the establishment of a first-strike precedent. It's scary stuff."

But juxtaposed against this is -- quote -- "Do you believe in the veracity of the president of the United States?" Now, since then, the president has turned out to be wrong about weapons of mass destruction, that we would be greeted by sweets and flowers and on and on. And I don't have to go through the list for you.

How do you feel about that now? You cast your vote, of course, for the war.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: I feel exactly the same way. For it, that's right I did. And I feel exactly the same way.

TANCREDO: I know that the outcome is still in doubt.

There is -- you know, just because the major fighting is over with, we all know that the real task still lays ahead of us. And I do not know, nor can anyone tell you how it is going to play out for sure. But I will tell you that I do believe in the veracity of the president. You say that he was wrong on issues. Being wrong is different than lying. And I do not believe he ever lied to the American people.

NOVAK: Congressman Ackerman, the question that the president addressed at the Air Force Academy today was the -- was this connection between Iraq and terrorism.

I want to -- I want to you to listen to something that the president said today. I know you were glued to your television set watching him live. But just to recall what he said, Mr. Ackerman, I want you to listen to him, please, for a minute.


BUSH: If America were not fighting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, what would these thousands of killers do, suddenly begin leading productive lives of service and charity?


NOVAK: Yes, that's a good question. What do you think they would do, Mr. Ackerman? Do you think they would join the Democratic Party or something like that?



REP. GARY ACKERMAN, (D), NEW YORK: I think, first of all, the president sounded a little too much like a wise guy in that remark.

To lead the American people yet again down the trail into something that's absolutely not true, trying to make it look as if we have now contained and trapped all of the terrorists in Iraq, he's now taken the war on terrorism and he's made it morph into the war against Iraq to confuse the American people. We have huge problems with terrorists and terrorism all over the world. That has nothing to do with Iraq and this has taken our attention away from the real problem.

NOVAK: So what -- I'd like to know. You didn't answer the question. The point is, there are a lot of terrorists in Iraq right now who are under fire. They're dying every day. What do you think they'd be doing if we didn't have troops there?

ACKERMAN: I really don't understand your question. What would the terrorists be doing if we weren't there?


ACKERMAN: They would probably be watching their dishes and trying to restore their water and restore their kids and send them to school.


NOVAK: You really believe that?

ACKERMAN: The Iraqi people are not all terrorists.

And if you really believe that, Bob Novak, then why are we turning the country back over to them?

CARLSON: Yes, Mr. Tancredo, let me follow up on that question. Bob and the president make it sound like a good thing that our troops are serving as decoys in Iraq, keeping terrorists from attacking us here at home. There's really no connection. I mean, we've created new terrorists among the insurgents in Iraq. And the idea that we'd be having our troops as sitting ducks in Iraq being a good thing...

TANCREDO: Here is the -- here is the good thing about what we're trying to do and why troops are in Iraq.

If we can -- and it's a big if -- I guarantee you, I understand that -- but if we can be successful in Iraq, we can change the course of the world. We can change the course of the destiny of the Middle East and certainly even of the United States. That is really what is at stake. Isn't it actually worth it for us to be involved there, hoping that if we can just possibly plant the seeds of democracy in an area of the world that has never, ever seen those seeds grow, but if we can do it, wouldn't it be worth it to change the dynamics in the Middle East and hence all over the world? Wouldn't it be better?


CARLSON: Indeed it would. But, so far, that doesn't seem to be happening, so much so that the president barely talks about that fantastic dream of Paul Wolfowitz that we'd be met with sweets and flowers and that we'd have a democracy in Iraq.

The Iraqi Governing Council and its successor hardly look like a democratically -- a democratic body.


CARLSON: The president only says freedom now. He doesn't even use the word democracy.

TANCREDO: Look, the people who are presently the transitional government and that group that is now in power in Iraq, we know it is temporary. We know that there will be an election in Iraq. We know that the Iraqi people will make the decision about who their leaders will be. You know, again, a lot of things can play out not to our advantage. I know it's true. This is a risky business we're in.

But I suggest to you, we really don't have an option. It is worth our endeavor. It's an honorable endeavor and we've got to try our best to make it work. And all the backbiting and sniping that goes on here on this side isn't helping a damn bit.

ACKERMAN: This is the biggest bait...


ACKERMAN: This is the biggest bait-and-switch scheme in the history of the world. We didn't go over there and lose over 800 of our bravest, most wonderful young men and women in order to spread the seeds of democracy. The president isn't Johnny Appleseed in this case.

We went there to prevent an imminent attack on the United States from Iraq from people who are not about to attack the United States from that country. This has nothing to do with the war on international terrorism. And we are now, the administration now, trying to justify our presence, justify our losses. And they will not be able to do that because they don't have a clue and they don't have a plan.


NOVAK: Congressman Ackerman, on that connection, I would like to read to you a quote, and I want -- here, you're one of the smartest guys I know in Congress, and therefore I would like to you tell me who do you think said this -- quote...

ACKERMAN: I said it.


NOVAK: No, no, it wasn't you. It wasn't you.

Quote: "Iraq may not be the war on terror itself, but it is critical to the outcome of the war on terror. And, therefore, any advance in Iraq is an advance in that." Who do you think said that?

ACKERMAN: That sounds pretty much something I said.


ACKERMAN: Bill Clinton, was it not?

NOVAK: No, it's John Kerry. Senator John Kerry said that.

ACKERMAN: Well, Clinton said something very close to it.

NOVAK: He said it is critical to the outcome of the war.


NOVAK: This was just last December. It wasn't years ago. And so why have you changed your tune? Isn't that just playing politics with America's fighting men?

ACKERMAN: No, it's not.

It's the administration that's playing politics and doing everything they can to get reelected and playing tough guy and macho. This entire thing from the very beginning had nothing to do with Iraq. It had to do with the war on terrorism.


NOVAK: So Kerry was wrong when he said Iraq is connected to the war with terrorism?

ACKERMAN: President Kerry and myself and Congressman Tancredo and every member of the Senate and every member of the Congress and half of the president's Cabinet, including the secretary of state, were misled by cooking the books on the intelligence agencies and showing us documents and convincing the world and the U.N. of things that were not true. These things did not exist.

And they sold it to us, and we sat like a jury being presented with bad evidence by a prosecutor, believed it and came up with a terrible verdict. Now we're in trouble. Now what are we going to do? And the president doesn't know how to get us out of it and he's trying to justify it.

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

Up next is "Rapid Fire." Is there another flip-flopper in the Democratic Party besides John Kerry? Iraq's new cabinet meets for the first time. Wolf Blitzer has an update next.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush addresses graduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy and compares the fight in Iraq to World War II.

The newly named Iraqi interim cabinet holes its first meeting, but is U.S. policy right now on the right track? I'll speak with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

And meet the man who meets the press. Journalist Tim Russert joins me live. We'll talk about politics and much more.

Those stories and much more just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Another day, another opportunity for President Bush to try to rationalize U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come as fast as President Bush's approval ratings go down.



CARLSON: Our guest on Capitol Hill, two members of the House International Relations Committee, Democrat Gary Ackerman of New York and Republican Tom Tancredo of Colorado -- Bob.

NOVAK: Congressman Ackerman, when the House voted on the $87 billion for Iraq, you voted yes. When it came back, same amount of money, $87 billion from the Senate, you voted no. Are you trying to out-flip-flop John Kerry?

ACKERMAN: No, I'm trying to get the administration to give us a plan. And anything we propose in Congress, they ask us where the money's coming from and what we're going to do with it. They have no plan for the $87 billion. And if I'm going to continue to spend $87 billion or $100 billion or $25 billion of the taxpayers' money, they owe us a plan, and they have none.


CARLSON: Congressman, Congressman Tancredo, Congressman Tancredo, you don't like the U.N., but your president is hugging the U.N. ever closer as he tries to find a way out of Iraq. How do you feel about relying now on the U.N.?

TANCREDO: Well, I think we can rely on parts of the U.N. and individuals from the U.N., but I don't think we should rely on the U.N.

You know, we look around the world and if you give me a couple of months, I might be able to come up with an idea, a place where the U.N. has actually been effective in nation-building. It really isn't the best place to go. There are individuals there that we can go to and get them to be part of this process that will be helpful. Generally, however, the U.N. is not a helpful place.


NOVAK: Congressman Ackerman, since you are so upset that the president was misled, are you sorry that Saddam Hussein is not back in Baghdad running the show, as he was before the president moved?

ACKERMAN: No, let me tell you something. The world is a much better place without Saddam Hussein. The real question is, is the world a safer place? And, in that, the president is misleading us again.

CARLSON: Congressman Tancredo, it turns out that there's going to be a terrible dilemma with this sovereign government over who controls the troops.


CARLSON: How are you going to deal with that?

TANCREDO: Because you know what? It really isn't sovereign. And I guarantee you, I would disagree any time anybody uses that words. It really isn't. It's going to be partially sovereign, partially, but it is not going to have full sovereignty.


TANCREDO: Because the fact is, when it comes down to it, if our troops need to be protected, we're going to do it.


NOVAK: Out of time, gentlemen.

Thank you, Congressman Tancredo.

ACKERMAN: Partial sovereignty is like a little bit pregnant.


NOVAK: Thank you, Congressman Ackerman.

CARLSON: Bob is sovereign.


NOVAK: Next, he was on a role through five administrations. Now a White House player is moving on to a sweeter gig. And it's causing high anxiety at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Find out who it is next.


NOVAK: Parting is such sweet sorrow, especially when the White House pastry chef hangs up his apron.

Roland Mesnier will leave the executive mansion at the end of July after 25 years. Mesnier was hired by Rosalynn Carter in 1979. Since then, he has served up everything from chocolate chip cookies to blown sugar giraffes for presidents and visiting potentates. I'm sure this is going to be a big blow to the Bushes for their next four years in the White House. I know, when CROSSFIRE lost its pastry chef, we were depressed for weeks.

CARLSON: Oh, that explains a lot. Mesnier sounds suspiciously French, Bob, for an all-American administration that liked freedom fries. But maybe Martha Stewart could do her community service at the White House.


CARLSON: And we could have an American chef.


NOVAK: Log -- log on to your computer tomorrow at 4:30 Eastern for another edition of CROSSFIRE interactive Thursdays. Give us your feedback while you watch the show and become eligible to win fabulous prizes. Just go to

CARLSON: From Washington, I'm Margaret Carlson. And that's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: And from the far 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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