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Bush and Kerry at War Over Iraq

Aired September 20, 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 road to the White House leads straight to Iraq, as John Kerry and George Bush go to war on the issue.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's saying he prefers the stability of a dictatorship to the hope and security of democracy. I couldn't disagree more.

ANNOUNCER: CBS admits being duped over those Bush National Guard documents.

And the sweet side to working in the White House. We'll talk to a man who's been responsible for the president's pastry perks.




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

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

Tragic breaking news out of Iraq today. An Islamist Web site showed video of an American hostage being beheaded by the animals who had abducted him. President Bush has been saying we are making progress in Iraq. John Kerry and a chorus of Republican senators say the president's either out of touch or simply misleading us. Senator Kerry today outlined a new direction for America in Iraq.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Outlined a new direction, that's a little strong. In fact, Kerry has used the word Iraq quite a bit. Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. But there's still no evidence he has any idea what he thinks about Iraq. The politics of Iraq next.

But, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." BEGALA: With the news today of the beheading of American hostage Eugene Armstrong, the debate over Iraq has gone beyond a partisan issue.

Republican Senator Dick Lugar says the reason Iraqi reconstruction is such a disaster is because of -- quote -- "incompetence in this administration." Republican Senator John McCain says Mr. Bush is not being straight about Iraq. And another Republican senator, Chuck Hagel says -- quote -- "I don't think we're winning" -- unquote -- "the war in Iraq."

But President Bush sees things very differently. He told "The Manchester Union Leader" this weekend -- quote -- "I'm pleased with the progress" -- unquote -- in Iraq. Pleased with the progress in Iraq. Well, at least now the debate is joined. Is Senator Lugar right that Mr. Bush is incompetent, or is Senator McCain right that he's dishonest? The truth is, they're both right. You know, I never thought I'd agree with so many Republican senators.


CARLSON: Well, I don't think you agree with them, because, whereas you agree that the situation in Iraq is a disaster and we're not winning -- and I would agree with that, too -- I think Chuck Hagel is absolutely right, and so is Dick Lugar -- none of those senators is going to endorse John Kerry, because they understand -- in fact, they speak on the president's behalf, because they know that while President Bush has made a lot of mistakes in Iraq, a lot, Kerry would be worse. They believe that.

BEGALA: No, they don't.


BEGALA: They're just partisan Republicans. That's all.

CARLSON: No, no. That's not true.



BEGALA: But at least they're telling the truth, unlike the president.

CARLSON: No, no. They're telling the truth only when it suits you.



CARLSON: And you will admit, all three of those guys, you ask, "What do you think of John Kerry?" they'll say, I don't respect him and I have no idea what he thinks about Iraq.

BEGALA: Oh, that's a baloney sandwich.


BEGALA: They close that curtain, I bet half of them vote for Bush -- I mean, vote against him.



CARLSON: Well, after more than a week of lies and cover-ups, CBS News has finally come clean, admitting that the documents that formed the basis of a "60 Minutes" hit piece on the president's National Guard service are most likely not real. They're fake, false, forgeries, not fit for print or television.

Worse, CBS conceded that it obtained those documents from a probably unbalanced Bush hater and Democratic partisan with ties to the Kerry campaign. The network took this man at his word, at one point describing him -- quote -- "as an unimpeachable source." It's shocking, yes, but maybe not so surprising, because, for more than 20 years, CBS has allowed Dan Rather, an openly partisan Democrat who went to a Democratic fund-raiser a couple years ago, to serve as its public face, all while pretending Rather has no political biases of his own.

The effect of all this, by the time this current story broke, the document story, many Americans no longer believed anything CBS had to say, which in the end is the real scandal.

It hurts us, Paul. I don't -- never cry media bias. I never whine about it.

BEGALA: You just did.

CARLSON: I said precisely that Dan Rather is a Democratic partisan, which is true.

BEGALA: No, it's not. He was as tough on Bill Clinton as he's being on George W. Bush.


CARLSON: Actually, Paul, he actually performed at a Democratic fund-raiser a couple of years ago.


BEGALA: His daughter had a party for Democrats that he attended. That's what it was.


BEGALA: Look, I don't work for Dan Rather. I'm not here to defend him.

CARLSON: I'm just saying, it hurts all of us. It hurts all of us.

BEGALA: But you ought to be at least honest about Mr. -- he made -- CBS clearly made journalistic mistakes.

CARLSON: Journalistic mistakes?


BEGALA: But to take that and


BEGALA: .. .say for 20 years they've been in this conspiracy for the left, that's


CARLSON: I don't believe it's a conspiracy. I defend the press every day on this show. I will say what they have done hurts all of us. It's an outrage. And I do think Dan Rather's political point of view had something to do with it.


BEGALA: I don't at all. I don't at all.

Well, speaking of political point of view, is Dennis Hastert coming unglued? A few weeks ago, the Republican House speaker suggested that millionaire businessman George Soros got money from what he called "drug groups" -- unquote. Now Hastert says that al Qaeda supports John Kerry for president. When a reporter asked Speaker Hastert if he thought al Qaeda would operate with more comfort if Kerry were elected, Hastert said, "That's my opinion, yes."

Now, interestingly -- if I could say that, interestingly -- back in March, Reuters reported that a statement issued by a group claiming to be al Qaeda actually endorsed President Bush for reelection. The group said it was not possible to find a leader more foolish than Bush. The group went on to say -- and I'm quoting the group here -- quote -- "Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps, because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization. Because of this, we desire Bush to be elected."

So take that, Speaker Hastert.


CARLSON: So al Qaeda's on your side. Good for you, Paul. That's great.

I personally don't care what al Qaeda thinks about this


BEGALA: No. Al Qaeda is on Bush's side. CARLSON: You're citing al Qaeda as a reason to vote for John Kerry.

BEGALA: I'm trying to show what a nut case Denny Hastert has become.

CARLSON: Who cares?

BEGALA: He's the speaker of the House.

CARLSON: But, then, why are you doing it? Why are you quoting al Qaeda to say vote for John Kerry?


BEGALA: Because the only objective evidence we of al Qaeda is that they're supporting Bush.


CARLSON: Oh, who cares what al Qaeda thinks about our election?


BEGALA: I care about Dennis Hastert, our speaker of the House, who is clearly a bubble off a plum here, man. He just needs to get a checkup from the neck up.


CARLSON: You just did the same thing


CARLSON: You just did the exact same thing.


BEGALA: It was called an ironic comparison.

CARLSON: All right.

Well, al Qaeda or not, John Kerry gave yet another so-called policy speech on Iraq today in which he revealed almost no new policies. Kerry did, however, manage to embarrass himself yet again. At one point, the Massachusetts senator accused President Bush of being inflexible for saying that he'd invade Iraq again even knowing what we know now. But wait a second. John Kerry himself said almost precisely that same thing recently, that, if given the chance, he'd cast the very same vote to authorize the very same war.

In other words, if George W. Bush has learned nothing, then neither has John Kerry. But most significant was what Kerry did not say in his speech today. He offered no glimpse of how he'd handle the insurgency now in progress, what he'd do to or with guerrilla leader Muqtada al-Sadr. And strangest of all, Kerry did not tell us what he'd do with the 130,000 American troops in Iraq, bring them home, keep them there. These are not academic questions.

Until John Kerry answers them, he cannot be taken seriously as a presidential candidate.


BEGALA: Well, first George W. Bush has to answer those questions. But what Senator Kerry said today...

CARLSON: Actually, he has, disagree with him or not.

BEGALA: What Senator Kerry said today was that he voted to authorize the use of force.


BEGALA: Bush abused that authority. That's two totally different things.


CARLSON: It's a very tricky distinction.

BEGALA: No, it's not.

CARLSON: When you vote for a war


BEGALA: No, it's not. He voted to give Bush the authority. He didn't vote for George W. Bush


CARLSON: He didn't really vote for the war. No, he didn't.

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

CARLSON: No, no, he really didn't, Paul, obviously.

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



BEGALA: He didn't vote for President Bush to lie to us. He didn't vote for President Bush to ignore the advice of our generals.

CARLSON: Right. OK. All right.

BEGALA: He didn't vote for President Bush to alienate our allies.

CARLSON: All right.


BEGALA: He didn't vote for any of that.

CARLSON: Right. He's a great guy! Bush is evil! OK.

BEGALA: Well, Senator Kerry -- now that Tucker, I think, is finished...


BEGALA: Senator Kerry has laid out his plan for Iraq. So when is President Bush actually going to put his pom-poms down, stop the cheerleading, and level with the American people about his debacle in the desert? We'll debate the war in Iraq next.

Then later, the inside story on White House sweet teeth. We will talk to the chef who has pleased the palates of many a world leader.

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.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The shocking news from Iraq today that another American has reportedly been beheaded brings the debate about the war to center stage with gruesome force. In a major speech today, Senator John Kerry accused President Bush of what he called stubborn incompetence. In New Hampshire, the president fired back, saying his opponent has -- quote -- "a pattern of twisting in the wind" -- unquote.

Here to debate all of this, Mike Pence, the Republican congressman from Indiana, and Kerry former policy adviser, former assistant Secretary of State Jamie Rubin.


BEGALA: Gentlemen, good to see you.

Congressman Pence, let me just ask you to -- this breaking news this afternoon, the report is that an Islamist Web site is broadcasting a video of another American being beheaded. Will this finally move our president away from this happy talk about how we're making progress and tell us how we're actually going to win this war?

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Well, No. 1, our prayers and condolences to the Armstrong family. I cannot imagine the sense of loss they're experiencing.

But I have to tell you, Paul, I think most Americans and this president will respond with even greater resolve. These type of grisly beheadings and murders demonstrate the mendacity and the cruelty and the violence to which those who would derail the process toward democracy in Iraq are willing to stoop.

And I think you're going to see the president rededicate himself as he speaks to the U.N. yesterday to the prospect of a free and stable Iraq, whatever the cost.

BEGALA: Well, that's a wonderful goal. My question is, he said he miscalculated. And one of the miscalculations I think is exactly what you're saying, the level of savagery that our very brave troops and other civilians are encountering over there. So what has he done to recalculate? Now that he's told us he miscalculated, even though he was warned, what's he doing differently, then?

PENCE: Well, I think the president made, I thought, some very provocative comments about a catastrophic victory. You know, the reality is that winning the...

BEGALA: He's half right. By the way, what does that mean? How can you have a catastrophic victory?

PENCE: Well, what it means is, we were all amazed, left, right, and center, about the extraordinary job that our American military did in defeating the conventional forces of Saddam Hussein.

What we were not prepared for was that complete collapse of the military would also mean the complete collapse of any civilian authority, because, as I learned when I was in Iraq, Saddam Hussein gave no quarter, gave no authority to local law enforcement personnel. When his military fell, literally, it sent the nation into anarchy. And these murderers, the Saddam Fedayeen and other terrorists in their midst, have been able to have free rein in certain quarters.

And we only have one choice. And that is to defeat them, so that the free people of Iraq will have a future they deserve.


CARLSON: Now, Jamie Rubin, kind of a remarkable exchange between Tim Russert and Tom Daschle, Senator Tom Daschle yesterday on "Meet the Press" -- I'm sure you were watching very carefully -- and kind of devastating to John Kerry.

Here's what it was. Here's the exchange.


TIM RUSSERT, HOST: Didn't Senator Kerry vote against $87 million for aid to the troops?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: He did. I disagree with that. When I was over there, that was one of the most important things we could do, was to send the message, I think, that these members of the Guard and the Reserves, our active duty personnel, need the support, need the equipment they've got to have.


CARLSON: So that's Tom Daschle saying what a lot of Republicans have been saying, not even as strongly as Tom Daschle just said, and that is that the message Senator Kerry sent to the troops when he voted against that 87 million dollars -- billion dollars, was devastating, that it was a lack of confidence in them. That was the message that it sent to them.

JAMIE RUBIN, ADVISER TO SENATOR JOHN KERRY: Well, Tom Daschle is in a close race in South Dakota. And there are certain things he has to say during that race.


CARLSON: Come on.

RUBIN: But let me tell you what John Kerry understood then, which is becoming clear to the American people now.

We had a failed policy in Iraq. He was not going to give President Bush a blank check. That was a year ago. Look what's happened in the last year. The situation has gotten worse week after week. And the president has no plan. There's no reconstruction going and there's no training of Iraqi forces. The insurgency is growing.

All the things that were going wrong a year ago, the reason why John Kerry wouldn't give a blank check to a failed policy have proven true. The president's judgment was wrong. It was flawed. If the president gets another four years, what we're going to get is flawed judgment again and again.


CARLSON: OK, that may be right, but it would be nice -- it would be nice to know...

RUBIN: And that's John Kerry's position.

CARLSON: It would be nice to know where Senator Kerry is coming from, what the baseline is for Senator Kerry.

Now, not long ago, you were quoted as saying that Senator Kerry, had he been president, elected in 2000, he would have invaded Iraq, too. And then that, your statement, was subsequently changed. I'm wondering, since you're sitting here now, do you think, had John Kerry been president, he would have invaded Iraq?

RUBIN: Well, thank you for bringing that up, Tucker. Look, even a former...

CARLSON: It's an interesting question. I'm not trying to be mean. I honestly want to know. RUBIN: Even a former spokesman can misspeak, and I misspoke. John Kerry has been as clear as he could be today. The debate has been joined. He has said there were no terrorists in Iraq.

CARLSON: Would he have invaded or not?

RUBIN: There were no terrorists in Iraq before. They're there now. We've alienated allies. We had allies on our side. The situation in Iraq has now deteriorated.

Knowing all that, given all the misjudgments of this administration, given the fact that we have a failed policy and every week that goes by we're no closer to success there, John Kerry has said, since it's the job of the commander in chief to make us safer, we are less secure because of the failed judgments of this administration. That's as clear as it can be.


PENCE: The truth is -- isn't it true, actually, Tucker -- and I don't question Jamie's integrity -- but the truth is, John Kerry's had a variety of positions on this. And I think the reason why...

CARLSON: I can't keen even keep track of them all.


PENCE: John Kerry has said, even if he knew that there were not weapons of mass destruction, standing with the Grand Canyon behind him, he said he would have gone ahead and gone to war.


RUBIN: Now, wait a minute. He didn't say that. Excuse me. You took my time. Now I'd like to answer that.

PENCE: Yes. Go ahead.

RUBIN: John Kerry did not say that. He said it was important to strengthen the hand of a president. What we know here today is very simple.

PENCE: John Kerry said that, even knowing what he knew then, he would have gone to war.


RUBIN: No, he didn't say that. Please don't repeat something he didn't say.

What he said was, it's important to strengthen the hand of the president. So he would have voted to strengthen the president's hand. But when you put this debate together...


CARLSON: The vote was about strengthening the president's hand?

RUBIN: Correct.

CARLSON: I thought it was a vote about going to war, though, wasn't it?

RUBIN: No. It was a vote to strengthen the president's hand. You may think that that's a cute distinction. But in foreign policy, the president is stronger when his hand is strengthened by the Congress. That's the way the world works. The issue in this debate is whether President Bush made good judgments...

PENCE: Well, let me jump in, if I can.

BEGALA: Let me ask you a question.


RUBIN: ... or bad judgments. He's made bad judgments, as you yourself have said.

PENCE: The point is that John Kerry, John Kerry...


PENCE: John Kerry has taken divergent views on this. And the reason, Paul, the reason why the American people, in increasing numbers -- and I know the polls are frustrating to many of you, maybe Jamie included -- but the reason the president is widening his lead is because the American people want to stand with the commander in chief who knows what he knows and is willing to believe in and have faith in the mission of democracy in Iraq.


BEGALA: Just to continue the same failed policy, no matter what? I disagree.


CARLSON: ... take a quick commercial break.

Next, in "Rapid Fire," CBS says it can't prove those National Guard documents are real. Was the Kerry campaign involved? Great question.

And, right after the break, an American hostage has been killed in Iraq. What are the hostage takers saying about the other men they're holding? Wolf Blitzer has more right after the break.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, an American hostage is beheaded in Iraq. An Islamist Web site warns that another American and a British hostage are next.

CBS News does an about-face on its report about President Bush's National Guard records.

And Ivan's aftermath. We'll have reports on widespread flooding and a dramatic rescue. Those stories, plus details just worked out on three presidential debates -- all that coming up only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.


CARLSON: Welcome back. It's time for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come a lot quicker than a CBS apology, and you won't feel duped afterward.

Joining us, Jamie Rubin, a former adviser to the Kerry campaign, and Mike Pence, Republican congressman from Indiana.

Jamie Rubin, we learned today what many of us suspected, that the documents CBS got came from a Kerry partisan, someone who had been in coordinating with the campaign, who had been in touch with Senator Max Cleland. Isn't there a easier way to beat Bush than making phony documents? Why not just run on the issues?

RUBIN: I know nothing about this documents. Coordinating is a pretty big leap, even for you, Tucker. A phone call that hasn't been returned is hardly coordinated.


CARLSON: No, it was returned. They spoke.

RUBIN: And it was referred on to the staff and it wasn't responded to.

The Kerry campaign does believe that this issue is going to be about George Bush's choices as president. And today, he delivered a devastating indictment of George Bush's judgment. That's what this campaign is going to be run on.


BEGALA: Congressman Pence, do you agree with the senior senator from Indiana, Richard Lugar, Republican, that the president's policy in Iraq has shown -- and I'm quoting here -- "incompetence in the administration"?

PENCE: Well, I'm from Indiana, Paul, so it's always a good idea to agree with Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana.

RUBIN: Go ahead.

BEGALA: I do. I agree with him.

PENCE: But let me say this -- let me say very clearly, I don't know about the devastating punch, Jamie.

Look, Dick Lugar supports George W. Bush as commander in chief.

BEGALA: Even though he thinks he's incompetent?

PENCE: He supports our policy in Iraq. Don't take it out of context, Paul. He said he was concerned about incompetence in the administration of reconstruction dollars. Dick Lugar is an important voice, but Dick Lugar supports George W. Bush, because he believes this president will see Iraq through to stability and the freedom that they so richly deserve.



CARLSON: Jamie, in Kerry's speech today, he says we need to get our allies to help train Iraqi policemen and soldiers. He must not know that's already going on, that Iraqi policemen are being trained in Jordan. Shouldn't you tell him that that's happening before he embarrasses himself?


RUBIN: There's a few trainers that are helping. It's a very, very tiny program. And you know why that is?

CARLSON: Well, tell Kerry that. He doesn't know.

RUBIN: And you know why that is? Because the rest of the world doesn't trust the judgment of this president. How can you go to war over weapons of mass destruction and then there's no weapons of mass destruction and expect people to believe you?


RUBIN: That's what this election is about.

BEGALA: That will have to be the last word.

Jamie Rubin, former assistant secretary of state, now with the Kerry campaign, Mike Pence, Republican congressman from Indiana, thank you both very much.

RUBIN: Nice to see you.

PENCE: Thank you.

BEGALA: On a lighter note, hopefully a sweeter note, coming up next, when it comes to dessert at the White House, our next guest is even a bigger expert than my old boss Bill Clinton. We will ask him about presidents and their favorite sweets next.



There are a few sweet perks to living in the White House. And for 25 years, one man was on call to deal with the sweet teeth of presidents, first ladies and visiting heads of state. Many of his incredible confections are in a new book, "Dessert University: More Than 300 Spectacular Recipes and Essential Lessons.

Former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier joins us now.


BEGALA: Roland, it's wonderful to see you.

ROLAND MESNIER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PASTRY CHEF: Thank you. Thank you. It's very nice to see you. Thank you.

BEGALA: Thank you.

MESNIER: Thank you very much.

BEGALA: First, I have to ask you, because I did work for President Clinton, who loves you...

MESNIER: I remember, yes.


BEGALA: He returned to the White House recently. Very graciously, President Bush had him back to unveil his portrait. But he said the best part about going back to the White House was not the portrait. It was one of your desserts. Tell us which one he loved so much.


MESNIER: The peach and blackberry cobbler. And this is something that he always liked. And also he liked more than just one dessert, you know.


MESNIER: He had -- he liked a lot of them. And another one was the cherry pie. But the blackberry and peach cobbler is the one that he really liked that day again when he came back, yes.

CARLSON: What's the strangest request you ever had?

MESNIER: Strangest question?

CARLSON: Request.

MESNIER: Oh, request.



CARLSON: None, not at the White House.


MESNIER: ... is very popular. You know that.

CARLSON: Well, which administration ate the most dessert?

MESNIER: They all did. When they first come in, they're not dessert lover. After two weeks, they converted.


BEGALA: Even -- but, no, even President Bush, though, who is wonderfully fit -- I mean, he is a man in great shape.

MESNIER: Yes. Yes.

BEGALA: Even he has a sweet tooth?

MESNIER: Oh, yes, oh, yes, very much so, yes.

BEGALA: What does he like?

MESNIER: You know, the trick of most presidents, when the butler come and serve them dessert, by the time they go out of the dining room, they call them right back and say, to save you a trip give, me another piece. That's a very common thing, you see.


CARLSON: So when you live at the White House, you can order dessert whenever you want, I suppose?

MESNIER: Well, you could, but they don't. You'd be amazed how they really take meal time for meal time. You know, there's no snacking in between.

CARLSON: You never get a 3:00 a.m. request for something sweet?



CARLSON: Honestly?

MESNIER: Yes. Yes.

BEGALA: Can a normal person create some of these? These are works of art.


BEGALA: And yet, can a normal person back home actually take this book and use it to create what you do? MESNIER: Every recipe in this book are so easy to make and goof- proof. Even you can probably. You know, you two...


BEGALA: I suspect not.

MESNIER: You know, I think you two will agree on one thing at least, because you disagree all the time.


MESNIER: But on these desserts in the book here, I guarantee you, you will have a full agreement on how good those desserts are.

CARLSON: I would eat any one of those desserts more than once. But aren't you afraid that Atkins is going to put you out of business?

MESNIER: No. No, no, no, no, no, no. Well, they don't have a thing up on me, not at all.



MESNIER: The minute you read what's in this book, you'll forget about that.

BEGALA: Wonderful.

CARLSON: I hope your side wins, chef Mesnier. Thank you.

MESNIER: Thank you.

BEGALA: Roland Mesnier.

MESNIER: Thank you.

BEGALA: The greatest pastry chef in the world.

MESNIER: Thank you. Thank you for letting me. Thank you very much.

BEGALA: Served our presidents for 25 years.


BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala.

The book is "Dessert University." Buy it.

CARLSON: And from the right, hungrily, I'm Tucker Carlson.


CARLSON: Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Have a great night.


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