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War of Words Over Iraq Intensifies

Aired September 8, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: The war of words over Iraq heats up.

In the same building where President Bush made his case for going to war, John Kerry launches a blistering attack.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if there's one thing that I learned from my own experience in a war, I would never have gone to war without a plan to win the peace.

ANNOUNCER: And new salvos over the issue of national security.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today on November 2, we make the right choice, because, if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This statement by his vice president was intended not only to divide us. In addition to that, it is dishonorable and it is undignified.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, the president's military record is again in the line of fire. Did Lieutenant Bush meet his commitments during his days in the National Guard? It's political warfare today on CROSSFIRE.



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

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Two wars, 35 years and 3,800 miles apart take center stage in the presidential campaign today. John Kerry says President Bush's war in Iraq is costing us billions we need at home, while President Bush is fending off charges from a newspaper investigation that finds that he fell well short of meeting his obligation in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: That's right, the Vietnam War, that's not going on right now.

Meanwhile, for the 50th time in as many weeks, the Kerry campaign is taking us on a sentimental journey back to, you guessed it, Vietnam. Isn't it about time Kerry found a position on the war in progress? We'll debate that.

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

Kerry gave a speech today in Cincinnati and in it added yet another position to his long and growing list of stands on Iraq. Mere hours ago, you may remember, Kerry called the war itself just plain wrong, the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that was yesterday. Today, Kerry attacked Bush not for invading Iraq, but for invading in the wrong way. That's right. Kerry is now implying that he, too, would have gone to war in Iraq, just in a different manner than Bush did.

So here are your choices this November, two candidates, both of whom supported the war in Iraq, but only one of whom can explain why. So if you're for the war, the choice is obvious. Vote for Bush. At least he believes what he is saying. But if you're sincerely against the war, and many decent people are, it's equally clear that John Kerry does not represent you at all.

BEGALA: You know, I read the same speech that you did.


BEGALA: And Kerry made a very principled critique of what -- what Kerry was saying is, even if you supported this war, which he voted for...

CARLSON: No, he said he supported the war.

BEGALA: Let me finish.

Even if he supported the war, the way that the president prosecuted it was negligent to those soldiers who needed better leadership, a better plan, better command.


BEGALA: Bush failed us.


CARLSON: You try to outtalk, rather than outargue.


CARLSON: The point is, yesterday, yesterday, John Kerry said this war was wrong. Today, he said -- he implied that he would have taken us to war as well.

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: That's what I'm arguing.

BEGALA: He didn't imply anything.

CARLSON: Yes, he did.

BEGALA: He gave a 30-minute speech where he stated his position clearly.


BEGALA: He doesn't need anybody to take inference from it.

CARLSON: Is he for the war or against it? I just want to know, is he for it or against it?


BEGALA: I'm against it, by God.

Well, citing previously overlooked records, "The Boston Globe" today reports that President Bush was not telling the truth when he insisted that he fulfilled his military commitment in the Air National Guard. "The Globe" reports -- quote -- "Bush, a fighter-interceptor pilot, performed no service for one six-month period in 1972 and for another period of almost three months in 1973, the records show" -- unquote.

"The Globe" goes on to note that -- quote -- "Since 'The Globe' first reported Bush's spotty attendance record in May 2000, no one has come forward with any credible recollection of having witnessed Bush performing Guard service in Alabama or after he returned to Houston in 1973" -- end quote.

And today on CBS' "60 Minutes," the Texas politician who pulled strings to get Mr. Bush into the Guard will speak out. The issue is not that George W. Bush didn't serve in 1972. It's that he's not telling the truth in 2004.

CARLSON: Are you telling me that George W. Bush didn't kill a ton of communists in Vietnam?

BEGALA: I'm saying he's not telling the truth.

CARLSON: Paul, you are blowing my mind.


CARLSON: I have to tell you, you know what? I totally -- I was going to vote for him, but now that I know there are questions about his National Guard service in 1972, you have blown my mind. You have blown my mind.


CARLSON: I'm not voting for him now! Oh, my gosh! (APPLAUSE)


BEGALA: It turns out he is lying about his Guard service. And it turns out that a man who would lie about the Guard service would also lie about a war in Iraq in 2003.


CARLSON: Yes, oh, definitely. Definitely. Oh, you're absolutely


CARLSON: This is why the left is insane and pathetic.

BEGALA: He needs to just tell the truth. He might like it. He should try it just once.


CARLSON: All right, more on Bush's National Guard service next. Just kidding.

Well, it's easy to respect ideologues. They may be wrong, but at least they mean for they say. For this reason, they tend to be pretty honest. It's much harder to respect partisans, because for a partisan, the only sin is deviating from the party line. Partisans are not bothered by lying, at least not when it's committed in the name of their team.

Ronald Reagan was an ideologue. Jimmy Carter, sadly, is a partisan. Consider Carter's recent attack on Senator Zell Miller of Georgia. The former president has written Miller a letter accusing him of being disloyal to the Democratic Party, historically disloyal, he said, in a speech last week in New York. "You betrayed the trust to fellow Democrats," Carter writes, "for talking about the party's weakness on foreign policy."

In other words, whatever you do, Senator Miller, don't tell the truth in public. It might hurt the party.

And that's as close to principle as the current Democratic principle will get these days.

BEGALA: No, that's not what President Carter said.

CARLSON: Year. I have got the letter.

BEGALA: I read the letter.


BEGALA: Look, here's the problem. You just attacked John Kerry because you said he has different positions. Zell Miller described John Kerry as an authentic American hero who helped build a strong military.


BEGALA: Zell did. I love Zell Miller. I worked for him. For 10 years, I wrote his speeches.

CARLSON: That's not what I said.

BEGALA: And he said that about John Kerry. Now he flip-flops and all of a sudden thinks John Kerry will only defend us with spitballs?


BEGALA: John Kerry still has shrapnel in his leg. For these guys to say that he is throwing spitballs is an insult.


CARLSON: Paul, Paul, attempt to have a conversation, rather than just an election. I'm not attacking anybody for flip-flopping.


BEGALA: You just did.

CARLSON: I am not.


BEGALA: Five minutes, you attacked John Kerry for flip-flopping. Was I on the wrong channel, guys, or was Tucker...


CARLSON: When you appeal to the audience like that....

BEGALA: I love the audience.

CARLSON: ... rather than respond to what I say, it illustrates that you actually can't respond to what I'm saying.


CARLSON: And so you demagogue.

BEGALA: John Kerry is a flip-flopper in your eyes. So fine. So is Zell Miller, then. And I love Kerry, I love Zell Miller, both.


BEGALA: Well, Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday that if war hero John Kerry defeats Andover cheerleader George W. Bush, well, America will be attacked by terrorists again.

(LAUGHTER) BEGALA: Speaking in Des Moines, here's what Mr. Cheney said.


CHENEY: Because, if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that'll be devastating.


BEGALA: Mr. Vice President, what would Kerry do that would invite a terrorist attack? Would he, say, warnings about the terrorism from the previous president and from the former national security adviser and from a bipartisan panel of experts and from his own anti-terror chief?


BEGALA: Well, maybe he would play golf after being briefed about Osama bin Laden's determination to attack the United States. Or perhaps Kerry would simply sit mute, stunned, panic-stricken reading "The Pet Goat" to second-graders after being told that America was under attack.


BEGALA: Now, look, maybe Vice President Cheney has a point, because that kind of behavior would be downright dangerous.

CARLSON: Now, I'm going to ask you to let me finish my sentence before interrupting me, because I think it is kind of important. If Cheney had in fact said that, because I think that would be wrong. That's not what he said.


BEGALA: I broadcast it.

CARLSON: You cut out the last part of the sentence, which is right here. He said it would be devastating from the standpoint of the U.S. and then we would fall back into the pre-9/11 mind-set that the terrorist attacks are just criminal acts.


CARLSON: In other words, Kerry and Cheney had said from the beginning, we're going to get attacked again. Everyone knows that. Cheney is warning against falling back into the pre-9/11 mind-set.

BEGALA: Cheney said


CARLSON: That's not what he is saying.

BEGALA: I played the tape, Tucker. CARLSON: You played only part of it, Paul. I have the rest right here. That's dishonest and you know it.

BEGALA: No, it's not dishonest.

CARLSON: It's right here, Pal.

BEGALA: It was absolutely honest. It was exactly what Cheney said and it's what he meant.

CARLSON: You didn't play the whole bite. That's outrageous that you would do that and pretend that is what he said.


BEGALA: It's absolutely fair on what Cheney said and what Cheney meant.

CARLSON: That's totally false.


CARLSON: Up next on CROSSFIRE, political warfare in the battle for the White House. Today's front line, the war in Iraq, national security and the president's military record. That's right, the Alabama National Guard. We know you want to know more about that.

And later, an Arkansas hot spot takes President Clinton's surgery to heart. And we'll tell you how when we come back.


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


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Senator John Kerry says President Bush has made the wrong choices in Iraq and they've cost us over 1,000 lives and $200 billion. Vice President Cheney says that if Kerry wins, America will be attacked by terrorists. And "The Boston Globe" says records show that George W. Bush did not complete his National Guard duty, but got away with it.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate all of this, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She's from Florida and a member of the House International Relations Committee. She joins us from Capitol Hill.


BEGALA: And Democrat Congressman Norm Dicks from Washington, a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security. He's here in our studio. Thank you both for coming.



CARLSON: Congressman Dicks, thanks a lot for joining us. You are a serious person, not always a party-line guy. I can tell by your votes. So I'm not baiting you. I'm asking you honestly. Help me understand John Kerry's position on the war in Iraq. Yesterday, he seemed to be saying -- he said point-blank it was the wrong war. The wrong was wrong. It was just wrong to go to war.

Today in a speech in Cincinnati, he described how he would have prosecuted the war, implying that he would have gone to war, too, but just in a different way. Does John Kerry think it was a good idea we went to war, a bad idea we went to war? How do they answer that?

REP. NORM DICKS (D), WASHINGTON: I think what John Kerry is concerned about is, once we made the decision to go to war, that we didn't have a proper plan, that we didn't bring in our international allies to form a true coalition and that we're paying $200 billion out of our Treasury at a time when we need the money for homeland security, health care, education and job creation.

And we don't have that money because the intelligence was wrong. It was flawed. I was at the White House at many meetings. I heard the slam-dunk phrase that we've got this intelligence. It's clear- cut.

And it wasn't clear cut. And I think had Congress known now what -- known then what it knows now, there would never even have been a vote on this issue.


CARLSON: But that's not what John Kerry -- I think a lot of what you said is -- it's fair, absolutely fair. And I have criticized the Bush administration's prosecution of the war.

But there is this important debate about whether it was ever worth it in the first place. And John Kerry seems to be saying pretty clearly, yes it was worth invading Iraq. I was for the invasion. We just made mistakes in doing it. Do you understand him to say that?

DICKS: I think you have to assume that the intelligence was correct when you make this statement that you would have voted for the war, if you voted for the war because you thought there were going to be weapons of mass destruction found there.

CARLSON: But he has said he would have voted for it knowing what he knows now.

DICKS: Well...

CARLSON: What do you make of that? DICKS: And I do believe that there wouldn't even have been a vote. I don't think there would have been a vote in the Congress had there not been the argument about weapons of mass destruction.

When you take that away, this would have never come up for a vote, because there wouldn't have been a case for doing it. And -- and



BEGALA: ... Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen into this.

Senator Kerry today went back to the same place where President Bush probably made his most compelling case for war in Cincinnati. And he argued that while we were promised the rebuilding of Iraq would only cost $1.7 billion, the poor planning now has run a tab of over $200 billion.

Here's Senator Kerry today.


KERRY: The cost of the president's go-it-alone policy in Iraq is now $200 billion and counting; $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford after-school programs for our children; $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans.


BEGALA: Now, Congresswoman, because President Bush's father had allies, they paid 95 percent of the cost of the last Gulf War. We're paying 90 percent of this one. And it is costing us here at home, isn't it?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, this is really hypocritical of John Kerry, because, as all of us know, he voted for authorization of the armed forces in Iraq, but then he didn't vote for one penny to give to our troops for body armor and for all of the supplies that they needed.

Yes, he voted for the war, but, no, he's not going to fund the war. And now he's saying, gee, we're voting for money for the war while we're denying all of these after-school programs and education and health care domestically here in the United States. That is just typical hypocrisy and out-and-out lies. Domestically...


BEGALA: Let me just make this point. The record shows that Senator Kerry voted for the appropriations for the war, that $87 billion, if it was paid for, so that we wouldn't increase the deficit and have the money for these things. In this regard -- I would have voted the other way, I have to say.


BEGALA: I disapprove of his position.


ROS-LEHTINEN: We all know what John Kerry's is: I voted for it before I voted against it.

BEGALA: No, no. He voted for the version that was paid for that wouldn't increase the deficit, so we would still have money for education and health care. Isn't that at least a legitimate point?



ROS-LEHTINEN: No, no, no, because all of us know that when it comes to deficit spending, John Kerry is a real conservative in terms of fiscal economic policy. Come on.

He's the number one most liberal member of the United States Senate. And what happened is that they want to change the subject now. Because the economy is coming back, if he wants to talk about domestic programs, it's the 12th month of consecutive economic growth in the United States, said so by Alan Greenspan today in Congress. The job growth is up. Manufacturing jobs are up. Housing is up. Real estate is up.



ROS-LEHTINEN: That is Alan Greenspan that is saying that the economy is back on its right track. And so now they want to talk about something else. And the poll numbers are slipping for Kerry.


DICKS: But how about yesterday, CBO came out? We have a $422 billion deficit.


ROS-LEHTINEN: And John Kerry is going to fix that. Come on.

DICKS: But how can we not pay for this war if we had an opportunity by not make making the tax cuts permanent, which will cost us another trillion dollars on a $2.6 trillion deficit?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I'll tell you how.


DICKS: That is what Kerry was saying. He was willing to pay for it.




CARLSON: Mr. Dicks, let me ask you a question.


ROS-LEHTINEN: Norm did it the right way. He voted for the war and he voted to fund the war. Kerry did it the wrong way. He voted for the war, but not to fund it. That makes no sense.


CARLSON: Congressman, let me try to get the bottom of this.

On Monday, John Kerry said -- he has had about nine different positions on what he would do with the troops currently on Iraq. But on Monday, on Labor Day, he said that he would bring all of them home, try to bring all of them home, if he becomes president within his first term.

Today, just a day, two days later, he pointed out in his speech -- quote -- "Entire regions of Iraq are controlled by insurgents and terrorists." Why would someone who believed that Iraq was filled with insurgence and terrorists want to bring the troops home, commit to bringing them home within the first term?

DICKS: Well, but I think it goes back...


DICKS: I think it goes back to -- and I think Kerry has said this -- the failure of the administration to anticipate the insurgency.

CARLSON: Right. That may be right, but what do you do now is the question.


DICKS: I think what you do now -- I still think -- I still think General Shinseki was right in saying we need an adequate force there to stabilize the country. I personally don't believe we have an adequate force there yet to stabilize the country. And that's where the international coalition not being able to get these other countries to contribute significant troops in order to stabilize the situation has undercut our position there.

And we also have got to get...



BEGALA: No, let me ask you -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but let me ask you about the story that's in "The Boston Globe" today.

Let me quote from "The Boston Globe." This is about President Bush, then Lieutenant Bush serving in the National Guard. "The Globe"'s been on the story now for four years. And I think they've written a definitive story today. They say: "Bush, a fighter- interceptor pilot, performed no service for one six-month period in 1972 and for another period of almost three months in 1973, the records show."

Now, the president says again and again that he completed his duty, but the records show that he did not. Why is he misleading us?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, first of all, I'd like to have John Kerry open up his military records, which he has still to do.

BEGALA: We've done plenty of shows on John Kerry.


BEGALA: We've done plenty of shows on Kerry's record.


ROS-LEHTINEN: Second of all, let me talk about George Bush's record.


BEGALA: Let's talk about whether he misled us when he said he fulfilled his duty.

ROS-LEHTINEN: George Bush is very proud of the service that he has given to the country in the Texas Air Guard. He has almost 600 flying hours. He performed admirably Texas and Alabama and then again in Texas. He was dishonorably discharged. And he said it time and time again.


BEGALA: He was honorably -- honorably -- let me correct you.


ROS-LEHTINEN: He was honorably -- he was honorably discharged.


BEGALA: In defense of the president, he was honorably discharged, which just means he got away with it.

ROS-LEHTINEN: And the person who is making those accusations, "The Boston Globe" does not point out, is actually working for a Democratic organization.


BEGALA: It's records that "The Globe" got.


CARLSON: I'm sorry, Congresswoman. I have to cut you off.


ROS-LEHTINEN: They're getting this from a Democratic think tank.


CARLSON: I'm going to have to cut you off. We're going to have to take a quick commercial break. I know our viewers want to know a lot more about the Alabama National Guard 35 years ago. And maybe we'll talk about it some more when we come back.


CARLSON: Up next in "Rapid Fire," why are some Democrats complaining that Kerry advisers are getting paid too much? Democrats are complaining about that.

And, as Florida cleans up after Frances and weary residents keep an eye out for Ivan, President Bush returns to the Sunshine State with his checkbook in hand. Free money. Wolf Blitzer has an update on the president's day after the break.

Stay with us.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, a NASA capsule that was supposed to float to Earth plummets to the ground when its parachute failed to deploy. Is its precious cargo destroyed?

President Bush visits Florida after signing a $2 billion hurricane relief bill.

And new questions about the president's tenure in the Air National Guard. I'll speak with a former member of the president's Alabama unit.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time for "Rapid Fire," where the question comes even faster than John Kerry can make up new positions on the war in Iraq, if that's possible.


CARLSON: With us today, Democratic Congressman Norm Dicks from Washington state, and on Capitol Hill, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from the state of Florida.

BEGALA: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, tonight on "60 Minutes," the politician who got Governor Bush, President Bush, into the National Guard is going to tell all. The Republicans have already started attacking him. Will you decry the smear on this guy, who is just trying to tell his story?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, first of all, I am so busted. I'll never get into the White House Christmas party again, Paul. I can't believe I misspoke. Make sure we know that President Bush served his commitment and he was honorably discharged from the...


BEGALA: He was honorably discharged. He did not serve his commitment. He just got away with it.


ROS-LEHTINEN: But let me tell you. Are we talking about Mr. Barnes? Mr. Barnes, is he the one who's making this accusation, the same guy who's part of the Kerry campaign?

BEGALA: The former lieutenant governor of Texas.

ROS-LEHTINEN: He's a guy who has given to the Kerry campaign. He's been part of the Kerry...


BEGALA: And given $50,000 to Republicans.


ROS-LEHTINEN: Come on. He's given hundreds of thousands to Democratic candidates. This is a political hack job. They want to change the subject on the days that the Bush traction is taking off. He's doing better. The economy is doing better. So what do they do? Change the subject.

CARLSON: Congresswoman, I'm just going to get Mr. Dicks in here.

Now, Mr. Dicks, just to fast-forward 35 years into the present day, Tony Coelho, who chaired Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, said the other day to "The Washington Post" -- quote -- he's "very disgusted by Kerry's top advisers. You're paying these guys a lot of damn money. If Kerry is screwing up, where is our Karl Rove?"

Good question. They are overpaid, aren't they? Who is the worst Kerry adviser?


DICKS: Well, I think -- actually, I think the Kerry campaign has been great.

CARLSON: Really?

DICKS: I worked with them going in the state of Washington. They did a great job out there.


DICKS: I wouldn't have -- I wouldn't fire anybody. I might add a few people, like they're doing. And I think that will help strengthen the campaign. Mary Beth Cahill I think is still terrific.

CARLSON: Really? Wow.

BEGALA: Congressman Norm Dicks, thank you very much for coming on.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from storm-ravaged, Florida, we thank you for joining us from Capitol Hill. And our thoughts and prayers go to everybody in your state who have been hit by all these storms.


BEGALA: Just ahead on CROSSFIRE, former President Clinton isn't the only one making changes after his heart surgery. Stay tuned to find out how one of my old boss' favorite restaurants is doing its part for his part -- its part -- for his heart.

Stay with us.


BEGALA: Welcome back.

Bill Clinton is now out of intensive care and in a hospital room in New York watching CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: But before his open heart surgery, he called out to Hillary, honey, I guess a Big Mac and a banana split are out of the question, aren't they?

Well, the former president is now going on a heart-healthy diet. To make things easier for him, his favorite barbecue joint back in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is planning some changes. Get this. The restaurant is McClard's Barbecue. It's Bill Clinton's favorite. And for the first time in 76 years, it is changing its menu. Among the proposed changes, sliced pork or beef, beans and coleslaw, but without any bread or sugar to eliminate the carbs.

I don't think that's quite going to pass the heart-healthy test, Tucker, but it's a nice gesture.

CARLSON: I think it will. I'm all for it. I like banana splits and Big Macs, though.


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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