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How Will Iraq Impact U.S. Presidential Election?

Aired June 29, 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: Now the Iraqis are in charge.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In just 15 months, the Iraqi people have left behind one of the worst regimes in the Middle East. And their country is becoming the world's newest democracy.

ANNOUNCER: How will events in Iraq affect the U.S. presidential race?

And, as Bill Clinton's book approaches a million sold, are there any shoes on Robert Novak's menu?



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



Iraq's new government announced today it wants to put Saddam Hussein and 11 of his henchmen on trial for genocide war crimes and crimes against humanity. What will the American liberals find to whine about that?


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, nothing.

But, of course, it is Mr. Bush's failed Iraq policy that will be on trial in November. And staging a public trial of Saddam will not distract Americans from the fact that it's our president who has given our country an endless occupation and a jobless economy. We'll debate the latest bad news out of Iraq in just a moment.

But, first, we'll start with the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." An ad in today's "New York Times" by the grassroots group claims that George W. Bush still owns Iraq. "Don't be deceived," the ad said. "Yesterday's ceremony wasn't a handoff at all. It was a fumble." Tragically, MoveOn appears to be correct. Three Marines were killed and two wounded by a roadside bomb in Baghdad today. America still has 138,000 troops in Iraq.

Mr. Bush has failed to persuade our NATO allies to take over the occupation, as they did in President Clinton's successful occupation of Kosovo. Al-Jazeera is region that the animals holding 20-year-old Army Specialist Matt Maupin have murdered him. And the family of Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, who has also reportedly been captured, has asked people to pray for his son.

Mr. Hassoun, our prayers are with you, your son, with all of our troops in Iraq.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, I would have hoped that you could have put aside your partisanship just for one day to applaud some good news out of Iraq. This handover is something that bipartisan approval of. People like Joe Biden said there's a new mood by the Iraqi people. You find John Kerry, we hope for the best there. And all we get from you is this whining and miserable and bad news



BEGALA: No, we get somebody upset when I see Americans killed in action, serving a policy that has no plan to it, not allies, not enough armor, not enough allies, not enough strategy. We need a new president to fix this thing in Iraq.


NOVAK: Well, there's a lot about John Kerry to complain about. He's too liberal, too indecisive, too dull, and, since his wife is a billionaire, too rich.

But despite his appearance before the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition today, prominent African-Americans say he's too white. Ron Walters, a well-known black political scientist, complained to "The Washington Post" that the Democratic presidential candidate is always pictured surrounded by white people. The Reverend Joseph Lowery of the Reverend Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference grumbled, suggesting blacks may not turn out to vote for Senator Kerry.

Jesse Jackson grumbled that he isn't close to the candidate and nobody is calling Jesse to ask him to help. Do you think black Americans finally are getting the idea that Democrats take them for granted?

BEGALA: Well, wait a minute.

John Kerry goes to Rainbow/PUSH today and you say he taking African-Americans for granted. It's George W. Bush who has shut out African-Americans in his campaign for votes. He does take photo-ops with them. That's fine. But he wouldn't meet with the NAACP. He is not going to see Rainbow/PUSH. He's the one who ought to be going out trying to earn the votes of every American. John Kerry wants every vote, irrespective of color. He's not going to Bob Jones University, like George W. Bush did, which has racist policies.



NOVAK: The blacks give 96 percent of the vote -- they give 96 percent of the vote to the Democrats. And I'm not saying they're taken for granted. It's Jesse Jackson. It's Joseph Lowery and its Ron Walters.

The nation..

BEGALA: Well, the nation...



NOVAK: All right.

BEGALA: Well, Bob can read this. It would be pretty amusing.

The nation is going in the wrong direction, my friends. Our president is not doing his job very well. He's more of a divider than a uniter. These aren't my opinions. They are the conclusions in today's "New York Times"/CBS poll. A majority of Americans think the war in Iraq was not worth it. They also think Mr. Bush is not doing a good job on the economy or on foreign policy or on Iraq. And eight out of 10 of our fellow Americans say that our president is either hiding something or outright lying about the war in Iraq.

Now, as if to prove how out of touch they are, I'm sure Bush partisans will try to spin this poll as favorable to them. But the realists on the Bush team will recall the wisdom of the previous Texan in the White House, Lyndon Johnson, who said -- quote -- "You can't shine a cow paddy." I had to clean that language up a little bit.


NOVAK: You know, Paul, "The New York Times"' poll does say that the Americans feel safer with George Bush than they do with John Kerry.

But there's another poll that George Washington University Battleground Poll -- George Washington University is our host.

BEGALA: Great school.

NOVAK: They say that, by a wide margin, their national poll shows Bush doing a better job on handling the war, fighting terrorism. The American people feel safer with him. It depends what poll you read.



BEGALA: When people decide that the president is lying to them, he's through.

NOVAK: For a while, I thought that Hillary Rodham Clinton was actually trying to be nice. What disappointing behavior that would be for Madame Defarge. But she has been back in form lately. This week, in San Francisco, where else, she vowed to defeat what she called the Republicans' extraordinarily ruthless campaign.

She told Democrats who paid up to $10,000 to attend that event that she was going to raise their taxes -- quote -- "We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good." Doesn't that sound like communism?


NOVAK: But it's probably what the rich San Francisco liberals want, and certainly what they deserve, even if they don't want it.

BEGALA: Well, what Senator Clinton -- and that is her title, Senator Clinton -- deserves is better than being called a communist and better The English majors will know Madame Defarge, who the English majors here will know is the woman who sat and knitted while people were beheaded during the French Revolution in the book "A Tale of two Cities."

I think, given what's happening in Iraq right now, it's a really unfortunate way to characterize one of the finest people in public life that I know. And I know you'll apologize for that unfortunate



NOVAK: I'll tell you. Certainly, next time I talk about her, I'll call her senator. Will that make you happy?

BEGALA: What about Madame Defarge? That is kind of across the line. I mean, come on.


NOVAK: Well, not my line.


BEGALA: I guess not.

Well, day one of Iraq supposedly in the hands of Iraqis is with us. But news of more American deaths in Iraq make some of us wonder if anything has changed for the troops in the field. We will debate President Bush's Iraq policy after this.

And then, when Senator Clinton sold a million books, my pal Tucker Carlson ate his shoe. So what do you think Bob Novak will do if Bill Clinton reaches the same milestone?

We'll find out just ahead on CROSSFIRE.


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: A couple of new nationwide polls find the race for the White House remains extremely tight.

The most recent George Washington University Battleground 2004 Poll has President Bush and Senator Kerry exactly even, 48 percent each. "The New York Times"/CBS News survey gives John Kerry a one- point edge over President Bush. Boll polls were taken before the president's latest success, the handover of sovereignty to Iraq. Wanna bet that President Bush takes the lead when those results are in?

In the CROSSFIRE to debate how the events in Iraq will affect the campaign, Kerry foreign policy adviser Wendy Sherman. She was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration. Also here, Bob Walker, former congressman, Republican of Pennsylvania.


BEGALA: Good to see you both.


BEGALA: Bob, I do want to bet. I'll bet you a cold beer that none of this helps the president in the polls at all. And here's why I think so.

Today's CBS News/"New York Times" poll asks the American people what I think is the fundamental question here. Was the war in Iraq worth the loss of American life? Only 32 percent yes; 2-1 one say no, 60 percent of the American people.

Let me ask you, that 60 percent, are we unpatriotic? Are we traitors? Are you going to give the usual right-wing line to the vast majority of Americans, who now know that President Bush has gotten us off on a tragic mistake here?

BOB WALKER (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I don't think you're traitors. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So we're unpatriotic, though.


But it seems to me that probably when we were winning our independence and French were giving lives for us in this country, there were probably lots of citizens back in France who didn't agree with the -- that support.


BEGALA: What French gave -- wait a minute -- what French gave their lives for us? The American Revolution was fought by the Americans, sir.

WALKER: The French fought, friends, on our side.


WALKER: The French Navy did.

And my point is that it takes a little while sometimes for history to play itself out. And my guess is, in this particular case, that this will take a little time for people to see what was actually accomplished there. But I sure know this, that President Bush in having stood up to Saddam Hussein, who was an enemy of this country, has provided not only a brighter day for the Iraqi people, but also a brighter day for the U.S.

BEGALA: So it was worth...



BEGALA: Make that clear. It was worth the loss of 850 American lives?

WALKER: Well, I believe that those people who died are heroes.

BEGALA: I do, too.

WALKER: I realize that many, many people on the left, Paul...


WALKER: Many people on the left believe that they're victims of a bad policy. I don't think that. I don't think they're victims at all. I think they're heroes who


BEGALA: Heroes who are put in the place of a bad policy.

NOVAK: Wendy Sherman, I'm so glad you're here.

SHERMAN: I'm so glad to be here with you, Bob.

NOVAK: Because you're going to explain to me the mind and the inner workings of the mind of John Kerry, since you're one of his advisers.

He said the other day to "The Boston Globe," his house paper, he said, "I think NATO needs to recognize its responsibility here" -- that's in Iraq -- "and I regret the president hasn't brought them to the place where they do.'

Now, today, the prime minister of France, Jacques Chirac said: "I would be entirely hostile to any presence of NATO in Iraq. I think it would be dangerous. It would be counterproductive. And it would not be proper. It would be ill-conceived and ill-perceived by the Iraqis themselves." How do you do business with a guy like that?

SHERMAN: I think you have just made John Kerry's point. What John Kerry said is that the president of the United States ought to go to NATO and ought to get them involved in Iraq. And he ought to have done it many, many months ago. At this point, what Jacques Chirac...


SHERMAN: And believe me...

NOVAK: Don't worry about them. You can talk to them.

SHERMAN: And believe me, there's no administration that gets along with the French every day. Probably the French who fought in the American Revolution was the last time there was friendship with the French on foreign policy.


NOVAK: You don't believe there's any...

SHERMAN: But nonetheless, nonetheless, what happened here, Bob, and the reason that Chirac and others in NATO are sort of a little hesitant to go forward here, a little hesitant...


SHERMAN: ... is because George Bush said, don't need you, we can do it on our own. And now that he's got a mess, he wants them to come rescue him.


NOVAK: Wait a minute. That's not true. That's not true.

SHERMAN: That's not what George Bush said at all.

NOVAK: That's not true. He wanted the British. He got the British. You don't really believe -- look in my eyes -- you don't believe that there will be a single French boot setting foot in Iraq under any conditions, do you?

SHERMAN: I do not expect there to be French boots.

NOVAK: OK. All right.

SHERMAN: But there ought to be boots from NATO and...

NOVAK: There are.

WALKER: There are. There are.


SHERMAN: There are coalition partners, but there is no...


WALKER: Yesterday, when the Iraqi prime minister talked about what had happened here -- and I quote from him -- he said, "I must salute the coalition states and their leaders led by the United States, Britain, Italy, Rumania, Poland, Australia, Japan and South Korea, and other coalition states, which helped us..."


SHERMAN: Ninety percent of the troops are American troops, 90 percent.

WALKER: "Which helped us liberate Iraq from Saddam and his clique. And we extend to them the hand of friendship, partnership, gratitude and peace."

That seemed to me the kind of international policy that this country deserves.


SHERMAN: Because Allawi wanted NATO to come through.


BEGALA: Congressman, one of the president's great strengths in the past has been the sense among the American people that he's a truth-teller. He's lost that.

WALKER: No, he hasn't.

BEGALA: Well, let me tell you what the American people say. "The New York Times" again, the CBS News poll out today, asked this question. In his statements on Iraq, do you think the president is entirely telling the truth, mostly telling the truth, but hiding something, or outright lying? Seventy-nine percent believe he's outright lying or he's hiding something, eight out of 10 Americans, Bob.

(APPLAUSE) WALKER: Pick your poll, Paul, because there's another poll out today done by Fox News, in which it says...


WALKER: Well, you don't like Fox News. But the fact is, you pick


BEGALA: I like them. I don't respect them. I find them amusing. I like fiction once in a while. But I like fact.


WALKER: And I find "New York Times" and their liberalism pretty amusing as well.


WALKER: But the fact is, who is more honest and trustworthy? Bush 42 percent, Kerry 31 percent.



WALKER: The fact is that John Kerry -- John Kerry has no trust with the American people either.

NOVAK: Since we're in the polling game, Ambassador Sherman, there's a -- I like to praise the poll of the people who have us as their guests. And that's George Washington University, their Battleground Poll.


WALKER: That's right.

NOVAK: And here's a question. Who has done a better job of handling the war in Iraq -- who would do a better job? Bush, 54 percent, Kerry 40 percent. And then this is what I like. Who would do a better job safeguarding America from a terrorist threat? Bush 59 percent, Kerry 36 percent.


NOVAK: That's not even close, is it?

SHERMAN: That poll also, in a head-to-head, has John Kerry ahead by a point.



WALKER: Bush is up 43-39 percent in that poll.

SHERMAN: No, not in the reelect, in the reelect, not in the elect, not in the head-to-head election.

WALKER: In the general election matchup on the George Washington poll, if you include Nader in the race, Bush is up 43 percent.

SHERMAN: If you include Nader in the race, OK. But the point here is that...


WALKER: Oh, we


NOVAK: You don't what they are going to do with Nader.

SHERMAN: Right. I know what we're going to do with Nader.

WALKER: They are trying to get rid of Nader and so on.


SHERMAN: Of course we should get rid of Nader, because Republicans are fooling Nader.


BEGALA: We'll do lots of programs on Ralph Nader.


SHERMAN: Republicans are working very hard to get Ralph Nader on the ballot, because they know that he may be the only way that they have a prayer to beat John Kerry in the general election.


BEGALA: Let's leave that alone.


WALKER: Ralph Nader only gets 1 percent in this poll.

BEGALA: Let me come back -- let me come back to the question of Iraq. And this is not from a liberal group or a conservative group. This is from an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, one of President Bush's people who he put in there in Iraq, gave an interview to "The Christian Science Monitor" and was very candid.

"To be blunt, we failed. I don't think you can blame Bremer." That's Paul Bremer, the ambassador who was there on the ground as our viceroy. "We just weren't prepared for what we were getting ourselves into."

Now, that's a stunning admission of failure by the very people who are conducting the policy.


BEGALA: They must know, right? They're certainly telling the truth and the president is misleading us, isn't he?

WALKER: First of all, no. First of all, I don't think it's a failure when the Bush administration does exactly what they said they were going to do. And that is


BEGALA: They didn't say they were going to waste 800 lives over there


WALKER: No, they turned -- they said what they were going to do was bring about an independence from Iraq from a brutal dictatorship and that they were going to turn over power to the Iraq people. That's what took place yesterday. It's a pretty good thing.


WALKER: And that success -- let me quote -- since you quoted from a newspaper, let me quote from the "USA Today," because I think this statement comes closer.

It says: "No matter whether you agree or disagree with the Iraq war, the fact is, an Iraqi leader and his government are now in charge, represents a new starting point after decades of a brutalizing dictatorship."


BEGALA: Why are we dying? Why are our boys doing the dying? If their boys are doing the dying, they can be in charge.


WALKER: You didn't want our boys to be doing the dying in World War II for Germany or France either?


NOVAK: I think we're so lucky to have a Kerry adviser here. And I want to quote another thing he said to his house paper, "The Boston Globe."

He said...

SHERMAN: One of your favorites.

NOVAK: No, I'm in "The Boston Herald."


NOVAK: "The world is far more tattered and volatile than it was when this president came into office, and I believe one of the reasons is the ill-advised way he went into Iraq."

Well, the last I knew, the Taliban are out of Afghanistan. Saddam Hussein is out of Iraq. Tell me what country is in worse shape now since Bush is in office? Tell me one.


SHERMAN: I think we're going back to the conversation we just had. There is nobody in this audience today and nobody in America who isn't glad that there is an Iraqi government in charge in Iraq. And there's no one who is not glad that Saddam Hussein is gone. But what have we left the Iraqi people? We have left them with a mess.

NOVAK: All right.

SHERMAN: We have not left them with a real sovereign government.



NOVAK: You made my point. Every place is better off.

All right, next, in "Rapid Fire," we'll tell you why one of the speakers at the Democratic Convention might have to have his mouth washed out first.

And what's next for Saddam Hussein? Wolf Blitzer has the latest on what the new Iraqi government has planned for the good old dictator.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, Iraq will assume legal custody of former President Saddam Hussein tomorrow. And the Iraqis say he'll be going on trial for crimes against humanity. My special conversation with the head of the Iraqi special tribunal, that's coming up.

Two Iranians expelled from the United States, were they casing New York City for a possible terror attack?

And an eyewitness look at a high-powered bank robbery right here in the nation's capital.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE. NOVAK: It's time for "Rapid Fire," short questions, short answers. And we get down to business almost as quickly as Iraq's new government.

We're debating Iraq's impact on the presidential campaign with Kerry foreign policy adviser Wendy Sherman and former Congressman Bob Walker.

BEGALA: Bob, Wolf Blitzer just reported that the Iraqis are now going to press charges against Saddam Hussein. I was talking to a buddy of minute in Texas today, Tony Sanchez. And he predicted that, right before the election, they are going to stage a big public trial of Saddam, just to distract people from the failure of our policy in Iraq. Are they going to do that?

WALKER: I don't think so. There's more conspiracy theories flying around in the left these days than anything that goes out. My guess is that they're going to do this in a very studied and judicial way. And -- we'll get a good result.

NOVAK: Teddy Kennedy, one of the speakers at your convention, said, "Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management, U.S. management." Isn't that shameful for a U.S. senator to say that?

SHERMAN: I think it's shameful what happened. I think we all are more than distressed over what happened. We know that most of our soldiers are great guys and gals. And we have to look at what's happening here, not only what these individuals did, but whether we have problems in our system. And I think that's something that we should take seriously in this country. And I know the people listening today do.


BEGALA: Bob, the Army today is calling up 5,600 reservists, folks who have been discharged. Isn't that proof that President Bush has overstretched our military?


WALKER: Well, the problem is that the military did not get the sufficient support during the years of the administration before, and we are living with that at the present time.


WALKER: But the fact is that we probably do have our military pretty far stretched at the present time.

BEGALA: Bob Walker, former congressman from Pennsylvania, good to see you again. Wendy Sherman, Ambassador Sherman, now an adviser to John Kerry, thank you both for a fun debate.



BEGALA: Well, the question is, how far will Novak go? I think that every afternoon as I sit here. For instance, do you think he'll jump out of a plane if my former boss President Clinton sells a million books? I certainly hope so. You are not going to want to miss this straight ahead on CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: It's been about a year since my pal Tucker Carlson ate his shoe after promising to do so if Hillary Rodham Clinton sold one million copies of her book "Living History." Of course, because Senator Clinton was gracious and generous, Tucker actually got to eat cake instead of shoe leather.

Now former President Bill Clinton's book "My Life" is already about to pass the one million mark, even though it's only been a few days, been on sale less than a week. And that puts my pal Bob Novak on the spot.

Bob, what will you do?

NOVAK: Paul, if he sells a million copies, I promise to give him a signed copy of my memoirs when they come out.


NOVAK: I promise that, even though they're half -- even though they're half the size, they're twice as good.


BEGALA: I can't wait for yours. I can't wait for that.

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 coming up next.



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