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CNN CROSSFIRE

Who's Right in the War on Terror?

Aired October 11, 2004 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE, taking on the war on terror. John Kerry says he wants to reduce terrorism until it is only a nuisance. That brought strong reaction from George Bush.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance. Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive, destroying terrorist networks and spreading freedom and liberty around the world.

ANNOUNCER: The passing of Christopher Reeve, he was a strong supporter of stem cell research. Will his death heat up the debate on the campaign trail? Today on CROSSFIRE.

Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and sitting in on the right, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hi, gang. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The candidates for president are all over the road waves and all over the airwaves with new ads in battleground states and yet another new negative Bush stump speech.

With the third and final presidential debate just a few days away, most polls show John Kerry won Friday's debate. So you can be sure that President Bush will not go gently into that good night when Wednesday's debate comes.

And speaking of gentle souls, our own Bob Novak is on the mend after breaking his hip. He'll be back soon. But joining me today in the CROSSFIRE, pinch-hitting for Bob Novak, former presidential candidate and the president of American Values, Gary Bauer.

Gary, thanks for filling in.

GARY BAUER, CO-HOST: Good to be here.

BEGALA: Thank you very much.

And we will begin as we always do, with the best little political briefing in television, the "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

BAUER: In yesterday's "New York Times Magazine, Senator John Kerry said he wants to get back to the place where the terrorists are just not a major factor in our lives but just a nuisance. He then went on to compare the problem -- listen to this, folks -- to gambling and prostitution.

Earlier this year he said terrorism was a law enforcement problem. And he promised to fight a more sensitive war on terror.

Listen up, Senator Kerry. We're fighting Jihadists, Islamofascists, not just a nuisance or law enforcement problem. Those who attacked us are a mortal threat to Western civilization.

President Bush gets up every day wanting to defeat them. Meanwhile, Senator Kerry is still in denial. He just doesn't get it, Paul.

BEGALA: Kerry, he actually said he wants to crush them so completely that they're nothing more than just a nuisance. We will never eliminate all terrorism. Every since Adam slew Eve, there's been evil in the world -- I mean Cain slew Abel. There's been evil in the world.

BAUER: I was getting ready to give you a little Bible lesson.

BEGALA: Thank you. I'm happy to do that.

But what President Bush said is that we can't win the war on terror. Kerry offers a much more optimistic and aggressive program, and you say he's in denial? I don't get it.

BAUER: Paul, he doesn't even know we're in a war. He said in this interview that he wasn't changed at all by 9/11. His top political advisers says it's not a war. It's a metaphor.

BEGALA: We will get back to this more when our guests come out.

Meanwhile, three more American troops were killed in Iraq today.

According to the "Los Angeles Times," quote, "A little noticed section of the CIA'S Duelfer report on Iraqi weapons says the risk of a 'devastating' attack with unconventional weapons has grown since the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq last year," unquote.

Insurgents are trying to get nerve gas, blistering agents and other chemical or biological weapons to use against our troops, weapons that would make today's car bombs look tame by comparison.

Now Saddam's weapons program was shut down. But President Bush's invasion of Iraq has unleashed insurgent groups that are trying to force Iraqi scientists to make weapons of mass destruction for them.

So, according to President Bush's own CIA report, he invaded Iraq to counter a WMD threat that did not exist, but his invasion has created a new WMD threat that is all too real. BAUER: Paul, listen -- listen to you guys on the left, you would think that George Bush was responsible for Americans dying wherever they die.

Look, Paul, we were attacked at the USS Cole. We were attacked on 9/11. Military men and civilians died. The jihadists that are attacking us in Iraq come out of the same evil philosophy. We've got to fight back, and that's going to mean some tough days. But don't blame George Bush for these deaths.

BEGALA: I didn't blame him for deaths. I blamed him for his invasion, which has created the situation that is allowing this to happen. This is his invasion, and he's responsible for it.

BAUER: OK, Paul.

OK. John Kerry, joined by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton -- there's a trio -- stopped by a Baptist church in Florida yesterday in an attempt to woo black voters.

Kerry told the churchgoers that they shouldn't let the president's support of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage sway their vote. Kerry adviser, Jesse Jackson, asked, "How did we get in the middle of this agenda?" And Senator Kerry called the issue of same-sex marriage a diversionary tactic.

Well, let me try to educate him. The issue got in the middle of the agenda because of a handful of activist, left-wing judges in Massachusetts and the out of control mayor of San Francisco, who are trying to force same-sex marriage on the country.

These are the same types of judges that Kerry is committed to putting on the Supreme Court. The country, blacks, whites and Hispanics, overwhelmingly reject the idea of same same-sex marriage, and they ought to reject John Kerry, too.

BEGALA: Wait a minute. John Kerry is against same-sex marriage, but he thinks that there should be some sort of partnership benefits. President Bush flip-flopped during this election year. He has always opposed a constitutional amendment. Now he's flip-flopped.

It's been so divisive it even divided Bush and Cheney. Even Cheney disagrees with Bush.

BAUER: Tell me one thing Kerry would do to stop same-sex marriage?

BEGALA: He opposes it. He'd let states decide what civil benefits that they can have.

BAUER: The answer is nothing. He'll do nothing.

BEGALA: Well, Christopher Reeve, who died yesterday, will be remembered, of course, as an advocate for spinal cord injuries and stem cell research.

After his crippling accident, Reeve overcame thoughts of suicide to spend the balance of his life helping others.

His friend, John Kerry, mentioned Reeve by name in Friday night's debate. President Bush in that debate said embryonic stem cell research is the taking of the human life, but he boasted that he was the first president to fund such research. Morally incoherent.

If Mr. Bush believed it's the taking of a human life, he would shut down every in vitro fertilization clinic in America, since the process of helping infertile couples make babies often includes the creation and destruction of the same blastocyst Mr. Bush says cannot be used for medical research.

So if it's OK to use and destroy blastocyst to create life, why won't Mr. Bush let them be used to save lives?

BAUER: You know, Paul, in a campaign -- in a campaign filled with a lot of disgusting things, the way your side has tried to exploit human suffering on this issue is absolutely amazing.

BEGALA: Like Nancy Reagan? She's on my side. Has she been exploiting it?

BAUER: She endorsed George Bush.

BEGALA: She endorsed stem cell research, too. She's on my side of this issue.

BAUER: She's not a scientist, and she's woman who have -- obviously went through a terrible time.

BEGALA: Bush is not a scientist. He never even read a science book in his life. What's he doing?

BAUER: But he's got -- he's got the advice of scientists. Not one person that's been helped by stem cell.

BEGALA: I'm with Nancy Reagan, Gary. Bush banned it. I'm with Nancy.

BAUER: It's not banned. There's private research all over the country.

BEGALA: Me and first lady Nancy Reagan, God bless you.

Well, it is another war of words over the war on terror. If President Bush was as aggressive in attacking Osama bin Laden as he has been in attacking John Kerry, maybe bin Laden would be dead now instead of making more videos than Britney Spears.

We will discuss all of that in a moment.

And later, which candidate for president will cause more Americans to lose sleep? We will tell you what Insomniac Nation is saying about the campaigns later in the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

John Kerry told the "New York Times" that he thinks we should and can actually win the war on terror. He says he wants to so thoroughly crush the terrorists that one day they'll be no more than just a nuisance.

President Bush, of course, famously told the "Today" show he didn't think it was possible to win the war on terror, is now expressing shock, shock at Kerry's optimism.

Today in the CROSSFIRE to debate these this and other developments on the campaign trail, Republican consultant Charlie Black and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.

BAUER: Peter -- Peter, every day is an adventure with Senator Kerry. The weekend, you know, the war on terrorism, let's bring it to a nuisance. His top adviser, foreign policy adviser, said that it really wasn't a war. It was sort of like the war on poverty.

I can't figure out where the guy was. I think even more interestingly he said that 9/11 didn't change anything. Does Senator Kerry know we're at war or not, and if he doesn't realize whether we're at war or not, how can he possibly win it?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I'll tell you, Gary, he knows that this is the biggest problem facing America, and he knows that George Bush has taken us down the wrong road.

He has squandered the world opinion. The weight of the world was with us on the 12th of September, and he squandered that.

And he knows that we need folks on the front lines. And that's why he's against the Bush plan to cut 100,000 new police on the street. That's why he doesn't believe in the freeze in the customs effort. That's why he knows that this is a worldwide effort.

BAUER: I didn't ask you about police. But he just said that he knows that the world is not behind us.

Let me ask you when the world was behind us in 1991. Broad coalition, had exactly the kind of coalition Senator Kerry wanted. We knew Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

And what did Kerry do? How did he vote, Peter? You tell me. How did he vote in 1991?

FENN: The interesting thing about after 1991 was that the system that we put in place after -- and by the way George Bush's father and Dick Cheney were against taking over Baghdad, because they knew it would be a quagmire, and they said it. But we...

BAUER: How did Senator Kerry vote? He voted no.

FENN: Right. But -- but the point is that we -- what we now have for ten years we find out that that system was working to keep the weapons of mass destruction out of this guy's hands. And we got the intelligence all along, thanks to George Bush.

BEGALA: Let me ask Charlie Black on this. I am struck that the Republicans -- I understand it's 25 days before the election. They're having a hissy-fit over anything they can find.

But I thought that Kerry's comments, as I mentioned earlier, were strikingly optimistic. He didn't say terrorism today is just a nuisance. He said, "I want to so thoroughly crush them that they'll be nothing more than, like, gum on the bottom of my shoe." Which I love that kind of thinking, because I think it's optimistic.

I mean, contrast that with our president, who thoughtfully provided some fodder for a new John Kerry ad. Here's a John Kerry ad starring President Bush. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the war on terror, Bush said, "I don't think you can win it."

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: I don't think you can win it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not with his failed leadership. It's time for a new direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: "I don't think we can win it." Who's the optimist here? Kerry, who says we're going to crush them or Bush, who says we can't win?

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The president is the realist who's fighting the war on terror. Nine-eleven did change him, so it's a top priority in his life to win the war.

He doesn't think you can eradicate all terrorists from the Earth. Not in our lifetime, probably not in anybody's lifetime.

But for John Kerry to say that he'd like to reduce it to a nuisance just demonstrates the mindset he's had throughout his political career. He was for a nuclear freeze when we needed weapons to win the Cold War.

BEGALA: You and Gary are, like, 15 year, 20 years...

BLACK: As Gary pointed out, he was against the Gulf War...

BEGALA: Let's look at...

BLACK: ... when we passed the global test of a coalition in that time.

BEGALA: I understand.

BLACK: Every time in his public life he's had a chance... BEGALA: You know what, we could probably get to the Spanish- American War, too. And read that back 100 years. But let's...

BLACK: No guarantee he would have been, yes, because it's imperialist.

BEGALA: Let's go look at 9/11. You say 9/11 changed...

BLACK: Nine-eleven changed the test, Paul.

BEGALA: ... President Bush, and Lord Almighty, I pray it did. Because look what he did before 9/11. He ignored a warning about al Qaeda from Bill Clinton, ignored a warning from Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, ignored the warnings of Dick Clarke, ignored the warnings of the Hart-Rudman Commission, ignored the warnings of the Gilmore Commission, ignored the warnings of the CIA.

And when they briefed him and said, "Sir, Osama bin Laden has a plan to attack America," he went and played golf. So I hope it changed him, because he did a terrible job before 9/11.

BLACK: You just described -- He was -- George Bush was in office for seven months before 9/11. You just described the eight years of the Clinton administration.

But let's talk about John Kerry.

BEGALA: Yes, but those were all warnings to Bush. Those were all warnings for Bush.

BLACK: John Kerry...

BEGALA: If Bill Clinton weren't reading...

BLACK: ... after the bombing -- after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 when everybody in the Democratic Party and the White House should have paid attention, Kerry wanted to cut the intelligence budget by $7.5 Billion. What kind of sensitivity is that?

FENN: The Republicans cut the intelligence budget by $4 Billion.

BAUER: Let me -- let me raise another issue here, because the next debate is going to be on domestic issues and probably on social issues.

Senator Kerry says he believes marriage is between a man and woman. He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, one of only 14 senators to do so. He came out for a constitutional amendment and then against the constitutional amendment. He goes back and forth.

Can you just tell me, Peter, one thing, just one thing, because we don't have a lot of time.

FENN: I see. You're going to limit me now.

BAUER: Yes, because I don't even think you're going to be able to come up with one.

FENN: Is this a setup? Is this a setup?

BAUER: Tell me one thing President Kerry would do to make sure marriage stays between a man and a woman?

FENN: This is a subject for the states. He has said so. He believes very strongly that you folks are using this as a divisive, negative political issue. And I'll tell you -- no.

BAUER: Saying marriage is between a man and a woman?

FENN: By -- no, no. By putting -- by putting -- by putting together a constitutional amendment, which you know won't pass, that Republicans are against, that moderates are against, and this is...

BAUER: Well, it won't pass as long as we're keeping Senator Kerry in the Senate (ph).

But let me ask you again. Is there anything that Senator Kerry is willing to do as president to ensure that marriage remains between a man and woman?

FENN: You know what? You know what he's ready to do as president? He's ready to be tolerant, tolerant to all Americans.

BAUER: So is that a no?

FENN: Open to all kinds.

BAUER: That's a no.

BAUER: So he will not -- he will not vote for or support a constitutional amendment...

BAUER: Is that a no?

BAUER: He will not vote for or support a constitutional amendment which cannot pass, which is a divisive effort in order to mobilize your base.

BEGALA: All right. Let me bring up an issue that I think -- it was discussed in the last debate, because a citizen asked the president and Senator Kerry about it, and it's embryonic stem cell research.

Yesterday's passing of Chris Reeve, I think, is much more likely even to come up again in the next debate. But let's look back and see what our president said about this issue in the last debate. Here's President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Embryonic stem cell research requires the destruction of life to create a stem cell. I'm the first president ever to allow funding, federal funding for stem cell research. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Now this is not "The Daily Show." We didn't do any cute editing of that. The president says, "It's the taking of life and I proudly funded it." That's morally incoherent, isn't it?

BLACK: No, it's not. Because what he did, Paul -- what the president did after careful study with scientists on the one side...

BAUER: He's fixed that now.

BLACK: ... and ethicists on the other side was reach a balanced approach. Those stem cell lines that are already in existence, he is using federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on those lines.

He is prohibiting federal funding, not private funding. There's plenty of embryonic stem cell research going on with private funds.

BEGALA: But if he believes it's murder, why doesn't he ban it? Why should private money go to what he believes is murder?

BLACK: Those lines were already there.

BEGALA: Why should in vitro fertilization go on? That creates a sort of murder...

BLACK: We're not creating lines to use for research. Those lines were already there. And by the way...

BEGALA: But it's OK...

BLACK: ... Kerry voted against the states having stem cell -- when he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act.

FENN: Because it was a political issue. It was a political issue.

Here's the issue -- no, no. Here's the issue with stem cell research. Now the research now is there are only 11 to 20 lines. There are thousands of embryos out there that were in fertility clinics where there aren't going to be babies that can be used.

Christopher Reeve put his life on the line for this. And his last -- one of his last statements was -- and I'm going to read it to you. "While we prolong the stem cell debate, millions consider to suffer. It is time to harness the power of government and go forward. And we don't have a president that will do that."

BLACK: Peter, my condolences to Mr. Reeve's family. He did represent that cause well.

But the president is the first president to have any federal funding for stem cell research.

BEGALA: Of course, he thinks it's murder.

BLACK: Where was Bill Clinton? Where was John Kerry in all this time?

BEGALA: It sounds like a flip-flop to me.

BLACK: No, he's not having it both way. He's balancing -- he's balancing between ethics and science.

BAUER: Peter -- Peter, you guys, there's no depths you guys aren't willing to exploit. You tried it with Ronald Reagan and now, and now you're trying it with Christopher Reeve.

Can you tell us -- can you tell us one person -- can you tell us one person, Peter, that has been helped by embryonic stem cell research? There's been no tests done on any individual that this has helped. Cord cells, it does help. Adult stem cells, it does help. That's what the science says, instead of these cheap politics.

FENN: But we're now -- we're now looking at Parkinson's. This is very important, Parkinson's. We're even looking at cancer. Some of us have personal experience with cancer. I will tell you...

BAUER: Lots of people have horrible diseases, but you're raising false hopes.

FENN: ... I understand that. But why...

BAUER: You're raising false hopes.

FENN: No. I don't think we are raising false hopes. I think we're continuing science, sound science. And we should do it and not get involved in politics.

BEGALA: OK. That's the last word for this segment. Charlie, keep your seat. Peter, keep your seat. We're going to have a lot more in the next segment, which we call "Rapid Fire," where we fire the questions and answers even faster than President Bush can launch a negative ad.

And some weapons are actually being handed over to authorities in some parts of Iraq. Find out why from Wolf Blitzer, who will report to us right after the break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, car ferries are an important part of the Seattle transportation system. Are terrorists now plotting to attack them?

The actor Christopher Reeve is dead at 52. Why he was such a hero to so many people who didn't even see the "Superman" movies.

And big time entertainment and politics. I'll talk to Dave Matthews about his concert in Washington tonight and I'll ask him why he's rallying against President Bush. All of those stories and much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORT." Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf, for that update. Look forward to your report at the top of the hour.

Here on CROSSFIRE, it is time for "Rapid Fire," where the pace moves faster even than President Bush can declare that we just can't win that war on terror.

Our guests today, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and Republican consultant Charlie Black.

BAUER: Peter, "Rapid Fire," why is John Kerry afraid to admit he's a liberal?

FENN: Listen, I mean, he doesn't like labels much, Gary. Funny thing about it. Because if you call a liberal someone who supported a balanced budget amendment to the constitution of the United States in the '80s and was criticized by it, supported welfare reform, supported putting 100,000 cops on the street, is a tough prosecutor, that's a liberal? Is that a liberal to you?

BAUER: Are you vouching he is a liberal?

FENN: I'm saying...

BEGALA: Let me go to Charlie for this. Today's CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows an 11-point deterioration for the president on the question of who is more honest and trustworthy. Bush was winning that by nine points a month ago. He's losing by two now.

American people are just starting to decide the president is not telling the truth, aren't they, Charlie?

BLACK: No. That's an outlier in that poll. Every other poll I've seen still shows the president much stronger on leadership, decisiveness, trustworthiness, honesty.

You know, for example, Kerry says he won't increase taxes. Here's the 98 tax increases on middle class people he's voted for in the Senate. Ninety-eight times. Read them and weep, Paul.

BEGALA: It used to be 300. Now they're down to 98.

BLACK: That's middle class.

BEGALA: This is fuzzy math.

BLACK: Middle and lower class tax increases, 98 of them.

(CROSS TALK)

BAUER: OK. Two elections over the weekend. Great elections in Afghanistan. No problem. Australia reelected a pro-American government. How upset were you liberals at those results? FENN: Listen, I'm -- There he goes with the "L" word. Listen, I'll tell you, the "L" word gets more and more desperate towards the ends of a campaign. I'll tell you, the wheels are coming off this bus of this Republican campaign, and we've got a president of the United States who seems like he's lost his pacifier. That's where we're going here.

BEGALA: That will have to be the last word. Charlie Black from the Republican Party, Peter Fenn from the Democrats. Thank you both very much.

And Gary and I will be back in just a minute with this question. Who makes you toss and turn when you think about the race for president? Well, we'll have the results of a new poll exclusively of -- get this -- tired Americans on who weighed in on who should be commander in sleep. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: We're back.

It's no surprise if you've been losing sleep over what's been going on in the White House. The Better Sleep Council wanted to find out which candidate would make people lose more sleep over the next four years.

Their ingenious poll of registered voters shows that President Bush has a 42-40 percent edge as the one who would lead you to have more sleepless nights. Well, the good news for President Bush is they did choose him, as well, as Commander in Sleep. Forty-four percent say he seems the more well rested candidate of the two.

Probably because he spends so much time on vacation, Gary? I don't know.

BAUER: I don't know, Paul. I just wish the guy you worked for had gotten more sleep.

BEGALA: Oh, you did a great job. From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE. Tomorrow, join us from Tempe, Arizona, where we will be getting ready for the final presidential debate.

BAUER: From the right, I'm Gary Bauer, sitting in for Bob Novak. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

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