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Bush and Kerry at War
Aired September 7, 2004 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE: Eight weeks from Election Day, President Bush and Senator John Kerry trade punches over Iraq.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No matter how many times Senator Kerry flip-flops, we were right to make America safer by removing Saddam Hussein from power.
ANNOUNCER: Which candidate has the edge on the election if the war is the No. 1 issue?
Today on CROSSFIRE.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
A grim milestone is reached in Iraq today. The death toll for American troops there has now reached 1,000. And with their conventions behind them and Election Day exactly eight weeks from today, President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry are sparring over the war in Iraq.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Don't agree with what John Kerry says about Iraq? Don't worry. He will change his position probably tomorrow. And, at that point, we'll debate it.
But, for today, we're going to batter around Kerry's Iraq policy of the moment, but, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."
Well, first, he was for the war in Iraq. Then he was against the war in Iraq. Then he was for it again, explaining just weeks ago that even with all we now know, he would still vote to authorize an invasion. Now John Kerry has a brand new position on Iraq, which is really just his old position or one of them. He's against it, again.
In a series of speeches yesterday, Kerry attacked the Iraq invasion in language cribbed directly from Howard Dean. And then he went even further, calling not simply for bringing the troops home, which may not be a bad idea at all, but for dismantling all American military bases in Iraq, which is reckless. The United States maintains military bases all around the world, and it has for more than 100 years, to the good of America and the rest of this planet.
And yet Kerry is arguing that after losing 1,000 soldiers in this war, the U.S. doesn't have the moral authority to keep a single base in Iraq. And even Howard Dean wouldn't say that. And he ought to take that back.
BEGALA: It's not about moral authority. It's about what's in America's strategic interest.
CARLSON: To have no military bases?
BEGALA: We have 90 percent of the...
BEGALA: ... 90 percent the casualties, 1,000 men and some women killed so far?
CARLSON: I agree. I agree.
BEGALA: And for what? Because Bush says he miscalculated?
BEGALA: Oh, gee, thanks. This is not a math test, Mr. President. These people's lives are...
CARLSON: You're ignoring my point. And I agree with you.
My point is, once we do leave -- and I think we ought to -- not to leave a military base behind in the very center of the world's problems, Iraq, is insane. That's wrong.
BEGALA: We should do what is in out strategic interests, rather than leaving a huge target on our back in...
CARLSON: Not to leave a military installation there? You know that that's reckless.
BEGALA: Well, Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday attacked Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton for being too soft on terrorism. Of course, President Reagan, who passed away in June, is unable to defend himself. And Mr. Clinton at the time was undergoing open-heart surgery when Cheney attacked him.
Now, in truth, both President Reagan and President Clinton did a lot more than Bush ever did. Mr. Reagan bombed the terrorist camp of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. President Bush (sic) of course bombed Osama bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan and his chemical weapons plant in Sudan. Mr. Cheney, on the other hand, never once met with his own terrorism task force. And his boss ignored warnings about terrorism from President Clinton, from former National Security Sandy Berger, from the Hard-Rudman commission and from his own counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke.
Mr. Bush even ignored a briefing that screamed -- quote -- "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." -- unquote. Look, if Mr. Bush and his vice president had been as ruthless in attacking terrorists as they are in attacking former presidents who can't defend themselves, Osama bin Laden would be dead by now.
CARLSON: You know, it takes a lot of brass to say something like that, I have to say. Having read the 9/11 report -- I haven't even brought this up on the show because I can't even get into it, it makes me so mad. But the...
BEGALA: ... Cheney never convened his own task force?
CARLSON: The opportunities the Clinton administration turned down, as you know, at least three, to take Osama bin Laden into custody or kill him...
BEGALA: That's not true. We actually attacked him. And Bush did nothing. Bush didn't even convene his task force. And he ignored every warning that he was given.
BEGALA: And now he wants to attack Ronald Reagan and President Clinton.
CARLSON: You can outshout me. You can outshout me.
BEGALA: Gutless and classless, that is what Dick Cheney is.
CARLSON: Why don't you just read the report?
BEGALA: He's gutless and classless.
CARLSON: In private, you often hear Democrats -- that's right Democrats, not Republicans -- complain bitterly about Kerry's long- windedness. And it's true that Kerry never uses a word when 1,500 will do.
CARLSON: But what Kerry's detractors -- Democrats, again -- may not realize is, it could be much worse.
For instance, in this week's "New Yorker," Al Gore -- that would be the Democrats' last presidential candidate -- is asked if he'll run for office again. His reply -- in the public interest, we bring it to you here verbatim -- quote -- "Basically, the answer is, I do not expect to ever be a candidate again." The second part of the answer is, "I haven't ruled it out completely."
CARLSON: And the third qualifier is, "I don't add the second part as a way of signaling coyness. It's merely to complete an honest answer to the question and it in no way changes the principal part of the answer, which is, I really do not expect that I will be a candidate."
CARLSON: And that's just the beginning.
CARLSON: We don't have the heart or the time to bring you the rest of his answer. In other words, said Mr. Gore, maybe. Keep in mind, this is the man who many Democrats claim they wish had been elected president, but, in their hearts, they're glad he wasn't.
BEGALA: No. I am furious still at thief Justice Rehnquist.
CARLSON: Oh, come on.
BEGALA: Al Gore is a smarter man. He's a more experienced man. He's a stronger man. He's a better man.
BEGALA: He should be our president and we wouldn't be in the mess that we are in, in Iraq today if he were. God bless Al Gore. I love Al Gore.
CARLSON: If you listen to Al Gore -- if you listen to Al Gore calling Republicans Nazis... BEGALA: Let's accuse him of being smart.
CARLSON: Let me finish my sentence, please.
BEGALA: I'm sorry. Go ahead.
CARLSON: He referred to Republicans as Nazis.
BEGALA: He did not.
CARLSON: Yes, digital brownshirts, he called them in a speech. That is disqualifying right there, in my view.
CARLSON: He said that.
BEGALA: Speaking of who is more articulate, at last week's Republican Convention, President Bush was actually compared to Winston Churchill. Speaking in Missouri yesterday, Mr. Bush reminded us why.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: Well, somehow Mr. Bush's throne sniffers have equated his verbal clumsiness with truth-telling, as if Mr. Busch's inability to complete a coherent thought somehow means he also cannot tell a lie. I wish.
BEGALA: The truth is, there's no gaffe that led Mr. Bush to promise on Thursday night that Medicare was strong and then on Friday to raise premiums by the largest amount in history, nor were mission accomplished or Iraqi oil will pay for the occupation or we'll be greeted as liberators mere gaffes.
Mr. Bush's miscues are indeed amusing. But it's not funny, as we say in Texas, when someone pees on your boots and tells you it's raining.
CARLSON: Look, Paul, I'm not going to sit here and let you prevent OB-GYNs from practicing their love.
CARLSON: I'm just not. And I will say -- I will say, actually, that you ought to be concerned about entitlements and the idea that we can just let Medicare and Social Security just keep going on.
CARLSON: No, no.
And not means-test them and not raise the fees a little.
CARLSON: You know that that's a lie. Come on. And at least he's at least attempting to do something about them, unlike the Democrats.
BEGALA: No, he told us Medicare was strong and he raised the premiums the next day. That's a
CARLSON: The premiums need to be raised, as you know.
BEGALA: It's a very misleading thing he did.
CARLSON: Next on CROSSFIRE, more about OB-GYNs.
CARLSON: And then the war over the war. A second front has opened and it's called the battleground states. Senator John Kerry has just eight short weeks to decide which position he might take on Iraq. Can he do it? Where he stops, nobody knows.
And later, what is up, doc? Did former President Bill Clinton know the man who was about to stop his heart possibly voted for the other party? If he did, it may have been enough to do the trick. Stay with us. We will explain.
We'll be right back.
CARLSON: Welcome back.
We're debating the politics of Iraq, Senator Kerry now calling it the wrong war at the wrong time. President Bush firing back that this is about Mr. Kerry's eighth position on the subject.
In the CROSSFIRE to debate it, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida, member of the House Armed Services Committee, and also Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, who sits on the House International Relations Committee. (APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: Gentlemen, good to see you again. Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
BEGALA: Congressman King, obviously tragic news out of Iraq today. The 1,000th -- each one is precious, but the media does tend to focus on these round numbers. The 1,000 service men and some women killed in combat today.
I want to hearken back to what the vice president promised us leading us into this war. He went on "Meet the Press" and he told Tim Russert this on March 16, before the war began, 2003, "We will in fact be greeted as liberators." Now that 1,000 troops have died, the president dismisses that as a mere miscalculation. Isn't that a pretty atrocious thing to say to 1,000 families who have lost a loved one, just, whoops, it was just a miscalculation?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: The war itself was a noble effort.
Joe Lieberman has said that every American should be proud of what we've done in Iraq. Listen, every death is tragic. I have lost constituents of mine. Every death in Iraq is tragic. But I believe that overall war against terrorism, as far as trying to bring stability to the Middle East, what we're doing in Iraq is the right thing. And I think it's important that we stand together to the extent we can.
And I think if John Kerry does have a disagreement with the president, he should say it. Again, not just to make a political point, but the fact that he has changed his position a number of times I think is really lowering the standards of the debate we should be having. And I can understand why people disagree with Iraq. I support it. I can understand why people disagree.
BEGALA: So let me get to that.
The president, much more importantly, has shifted his position. He says it was a miscalculation. That is how he handled after the fall of Baghdad. He says he miscalculated. Now what has he done to change course or to correct, except attack John Kerry for wanting to change course in the face of President Bush's own admitted miscalculation?
KING: No, President Bush still says the war was the right thing to do. There's always certain miscalculations. The fact is, many things went right after we won.
BEGALA: But, so, what has he done to correct his miscalculation?
KING: General Petraeus is in charge of training Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi police to make them become a strong domestic force. We have the Iraqi government in place with Allawi.
These are all things that are going forward. Every school has been opened. Every hospital has been opened. And we're doing the best we can to restore some sense of stability. And, again, many things did go right after we conquered Iraq or after we defeated Hussein. The fact is that some things did go wrong. That happens in every war.
CARLSON: Congressman Meek, the quote I was so struck by in John Kerry's speeches yesterday was that he would not simply withdraw the bulk of American troops over the first four years of his first term, but that he would pledge not to leave American military bases behind in Iraq. He said he had no long-term plan to leave military bases in Iraq.
Why would that be? After losing all these men in Iraq, why wouldn't we maintain a military base in Iraq? It's good for the United States. We attend bases all around the world. Why would John Kerry not want to do that?
REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA: Well, you know, it's difficult to crystal ball all of this, but Americans have gone through an awful lot in the wallet as it relates to Iraq, also as it relates to the loss of life.
And I think Americans are becoming more and more bitter with this war in Iraq, more and more bitter about the spin on the war in Iraq. The last conversation you exchanged at this table was about a position. Well, the president has changed his position more than 10 times. First, it was weapons of mass deception. Then it was possible threat of the U.S. Then it was a connection to 9/11 which the president himself said, after Dick Cheney kept saying it, there's no connection in 9/11.
Then they had the convention -- or the Republicans had the convention and then said, well, we went into try to make the correlation between 9/11 and Iraq at the same time. So the bottom line is
CARLSON: I'll even grant you that smart people change their mind.
CARLSON: I'm not going to attack Kerry on that right now. I'll save that for tomorrow.
CARLSON: But for right now, he said yesterday that, again, he would not need military bases. And part of the rap on Kerry is, he is not vigorous enough in defending the United States. Our bases around the world and particularly in the Middle East are vital to American national security. Again, a simple question. Why wouldn't he want us to maintain military bases in Iraq?
MEEK: The real issue is that Kerry is committed to protecting the U.S.
The real issue is that the real war is in Afghanistan as it relates going after the individuals that brought down the two towers. We want to focus on those sort of things. I know, in four years from now, there will be a different story. Three years from now, two weeks from now, it will be a different story as it relates to the outlook on Iraq and what we should do and what we shouldn't do.
But the bottom line is, we have more than a yeoman's amount of troops in Iraq. We're bunting the casualties and we're near 7,000 U.S. troops injured. Folks are talking about the 1,000. Yes. And a number of those individuals came from my district, too, and from my state, but I will tell you time after time again the individuals that are going through Walter Reed Hospital, those individuals that are coming in C-130s, no television, no cameras, no anything, these are individuals that are paying the price.
And so it's a heavy price in the wallet. It's a heavy price as it relates to physical casualties.
BEGALA: Congressman King, let's pick up this point about the price in the wallet. Congressman Meek is obviously right about the wounded and the dead. But on a much smaller level, it still matters to Americans how much money they're paying, particularly when Americans believe that they've been misled.
Here's what the Bush administration said again going into this war. This is President Bush's chief of international development, the person in charge of rebuilding Iraq. He told ABC's "Nightline" -- quote -- "The American part of this rebuilding of Iraq will be $1.7 billion. We have no plans for any further-on funding for this."
So far, we've spent $200 billion, not just $1.7 billion, but $200 billion. Is this another miscalculation and, if so, who should pay the price for that?
KING: First of all, I deny completely that President Bush misled us. We can have that debate a separate time.
BEGALA: He was just off by $198 billion?
KING: I'm talking about -- I'm talking about overall as far as misleading. No.
Listen, there's always changes made as you go into a war. The fact is that, I don't care what it costs. If it's important to our national interests, we have to pay it. Now, we can have a debate over whether it is for our national interests. I believe it is for our national interests. And having been there and to stay there and to make sure we solidify a hold in the Middle East, that we bring some stability to the Middle East, it's important we pay whatever the price is.
If we cut and run now, like we did in Somalia, it leads to worse reactions later on.
BEGALA: This is an honorable view and this is an honorable debate.
BEGALA: But it is not honorable, I submit to you, to mislead the American people, to first tell our troops they'll be greeted as liberators, so they're not given enough allies and support.
BEGALA: And then tell the taxpayers it will be $1.7 billion, when it's going to be $200 billion.
BEGALA: When is this man going to tell us the truth about...
KING: First of all, we were greeted as liberators. That's No. 1. They were greeted as liberators when they came...
BEGALA: They have got a hell of a way of showing their gratitude.
KING: You're talking about 3, 4, 5 percent of the population creating an awful lot of problem. But the overall people in Iraq did greet us as liberators when we came in.
Now, as far as the cost, no one knew the full extent of the damage that was done to the Iraqi economy by Saddam Hussein. That was not even a major issue before the war, what the cost was going to be. So to say that we were somehow misleading on the question of the cost, it raises a question. You can go back to all the debates in November, December, January, February, leading up to the war. There was very little talk about the cost.
I agree. The cost...
BEGALA: They wouldn't tell us the cost. Senator Biden in the Senate and others kept asking. And they wouldn't give a straight answer.
CARLSON: I want to get Mr. Meek...
KING: On the other hand, an awful lot has gone better than was projected also.
CARLSON: Mr. Meek, John Kerry is making what strikes me as a fascinating argument. He's arguing on the one hand that we need to withdraw American troops from Iraq and replace them with foreign troops, Pakistanis, Jordanians, Turks. They should fight the war.
He's arguing at the same time, however, that the war itself is wrong. It's the wrong war. If it is the wrong war, why should other poorer people fight it for us?
MEEK: Well, the real issue here as it relates to the region, there are more countries that are surrounded around Iraq that are at greater threat than the United States from Iraq, and that this should be a U.N. mission.
This -- we've been trying -- well, first, we said we didn't want the U.N. And then we went back, kneeling on our knees, U.N., please come in and help us. And so now we have a problem. We have a leadership problem. We have a problem with other nations looking at the United States of America and saying, do I want to connect myself the United States and its present leadership?
CARLSON: I'm asking a question of principle, however. John Kerry is making a moral statement: This war is wrong. He said that yesterday. He'll say it again.
Simultaneously, he's saying other poorer people ought to fight it for us. My question remains, why should poor people fight a wrong war? I'm serious.
MEEK: I wouldn't say
CARLSON: He's saying that, not me.
MEEK: I don't think he's saying other poor people should fight...
CARLSON: He's saying the Pakistanis.
CARLSON: He's saying the Turks.
CARLSON: So why should they fight it?
MEEK: They're neighbors. They have a vested interest. If we have to fight the war on terror and they have to fight the war on terror, then they want it to keep the terrorism down in that particular area.
As it relates to the United States of America, Iraq wasn't getting ready to attack the United States of America. Saddam Hussein, President Bush said -- it is not the Kendrick Meek report -- there's no connection between 9/11 and Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
So what's the real issue? Why is bin Laden still running around free? Why can't we stop the funding to...
MEEK: Why can't we stop the funding to al Qaeda? We're allowing them to grow poppy plants, the largest crop
BEGALA: We have to take a break.
Congressman Meek, I'm sorry to cut you off.
MEEK: Oh, no problem.
BEGALA: Keep your seats for just a second.
BEGALA: We have to take a break.
And in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask just how long American troops should stay in Iraq.
And fighting the terrorists in Russia. Thousands rally in Moscow in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war on terror in his country. But the man President Bush dubbed "Pooty Pute" says America is undermining his battle. Wolf Blitzer will give us an update after the break.
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. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Coming up at the top of the hour, a grim milestone for U.S. troops in Iraq. The death toll reaches 1,000 -- 1,002, to be precise. Russia's rage against terrorists. Thousands stage a rally in Moscow and President Vladimir Putin accuses the West of a double standard.
Former President Bill Clinton is on the road to recovery, but how long will it take? I'll speak live with a Super Bowl coach who was back on the field just 35 days after a similar surgery.
Those stories, much more, only minute away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."
Now back to CROSSFIRE.
CARLSON: Welcome back.
It's time now for "Rapid Fire." The questions come faster even than John Kerry changes his mind on Iraq.
With us today, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida, member oft House Armed Services Committee, and also Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, also a novelist. And he sits on the House International Relations Committee.
BEGALA: Congressman King, our president has called the war in Iraq -- quote -- "a catastrophic success."
What was it, a catastrophe or a success?
KING: It was a success. Certainly, it's an ongoing success. It's absolutely essential to the war on terrorism. And, again, I agree with Joe Lieberman. And I also agree with what John Kerry said for years leading up to that, when I was on this very show with him, where he said we had to take action in Iraq, whether or not the French and the U.N. blocked us.
CARLSON: Congressman Meek, do you find it odd or troubling at all that John Kerry argues simultaneously that the war was morally wrong, but he would vote for it again anyway?
MEEK: Well, the war has been operated wrong. And he has said that he would have treated the war totally differently as the commander in chief leading our troops.
BEGALA: Congressman, how long should Americans continue to pay 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the costs in Iraq?
KING: The reality is, in every military engagement in the world, we're going to end up paying 90 percent of it. In Kosovo, it was 95 percent; 95 percent of the missions in Kosovo were flown by the United States. The fact is, NATO is not a major military power. They can't provide more than 30,000 or 50,000 troops at max anywhere. So the fact is, unfortunately, the United States is the world's only remaining superpower. And we will have to stay there as long -- we have to -- but the longer we stay there, the less chance there is of staying for a long time. People like John Kerry giving a deadline is what is going to force us to stay there longer.
CARLSON: That is such a great point, Congressman Meek. I want to ask you about it. You just said that it's wrong that America is absorbing the bulk of the cost in Iraq. Learning now that 95 percent of the missions were flown by American pilots in Kosovo, don't you want to rethink your support for that Clinton venture in Kosovo?
MEEK: Oh, no. Listen, Kosovo was a success. And we had a good leader in place to be able to...
CARLSON: But we didn't reach out. Shouldn't the U.N. have given...
MEEK: We reached out, but let me tell you something. Kosovo compared to Iraq is two different issues.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: How many did we lose in the occupation of Kosovo?
KING: No, but the principle is the same. If 95 percent of
BEGALA: How many did we lose?
BEGALA: One thousand fewer than we lost in Iraq.
CARLSON: I'm sorry to interrupt.
CARLSON: Oh, I'm sorry to open up the Kosovo box.
CARLSON: Gentlemen, I'm sorry.
OK. We're going to save this for the Kosovo show. We'll do that next week.
CARLSON: OK, Congressman Meek, Congressman King, all right.
Up next, one thing Bill Clinton may have not known about his doctor -- and maybe it was for the best -- he sort of revealed it before. We'll tell you the whole story when we return.
We'll be right back.
CARLSON: Welcome back.
You remember when President Reagan was shot and joked to his doctors that he hoped they were all Republicans? Now, guess which party Bill Clinton's lead surgeon gives his allegiance and a ton of his money to?
That's right. Dr. Craig Smith, the cardiologist who led yesterday's heart bypass operation on the former president, is a George W. Bush supporter. He donated $2,000 to the president's reelection campaign in April. Smith's expertise in the operating room is apparently much appreciated by the former president. Mr. Clinton is said to be doing fine on this day after the surgery.
BEGALA: And God bless Dr. Smith, a Republican with a heart, as opposed to Dick Cheney, who attacked President Clinton when he was on the operating table.
CARLSON: You know what?
BEGALA: Shame on Dick Cheney.
CARLSON: I knew...
BEGALA: Shame on Dick Cheney.
CARLSON: I knew you would find a way to get a vulgar, nasty partisan attack in there.
CARLSON: That's not vulgar. I prayed for Dick Cheney for all 12 of his heart attacks. And I continue to pray for the man for his health.
CARLSON: Paul, you know what? You wrecked it.
BEGALA: Shame on Dick Cheney.
CARLSON: Let's try again tomorrow. We'll try again tomorrow.
BEGALA: Gutless and classless.
CARLSON: We're going to be nice tomorrow.
BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.
CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE. Have a great night.
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