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Fight For Falluja

Aired November 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 fight is on for Falluja, as the military launches a major offensive. U.S. and Iraqi troops try to clean out a hotbed of insurgent activity. Are more U.S. troops needed in Iraq? Did winning the election give the president a mandate to stay the course in Iraq? The politics of war in Iraq -- today on CROSSFIRE.


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


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: The operation to drive rebels out of Falluja is now under way.

U.S. and Iraqi troops are headed into the city to target insurgents. Polls show that most voters trusted the way President Bush has handled Iraq. The question now is whether Democratic Bush backers will unconditionally support our fighting men or keep carping. Stay tuned to this program.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Of course all Democrats support our fighting men, but most Americans do not support our president's efforts in Iraq. In fact, even on the day of Mr. Bush's electoral triumph, fully 52 percent of our fellow Americans said things are going badly in Iraq under Mr. Bush's leadership, leading some skeptics to suggest that the president may have been postponing the invasion of Falluja until after the election.

We'll debate the attack on Falluja and the latest from Iraq. That will also lead off, of course, our best little briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi today gave U.S. and Iraqi forces the green light to rid the city of Falluja of insurgents. That's right. American soldiers and American Marines are now taking orders from Ayad Allawi. Two Marines have already died today near Falluja. The timing of the assault, six days after the U.S. presidential election, is to some suspicious. In April, Marines were ordered to invade Falluja, despite the objections of the Marine general on command on the ground, Lieutenant General James Conway. After three days, the Marines were ordered to pull out. General Conway says his superiors vacillated, making things in Falluja worse. And now, seven months after starting and then stopping the assault, but just six days after the presidential election, courageous Americans are again being sent into Falluja, this time on the orders of someone called Ayad Allawi. Is this really what you voted for, red state America?

NOVAK: You know, Paul, if you really think that Ayad Allawi is giving orders to American troops and telling them when to go, you're more naive than you and I thought you were. And...



BEGALA: That's what the Marine spokesman says.

NOVAK: And let me tell you something else. This is going to be a successful operation. I'm going to predict that.



NOVAK: And if this operation had been taking place before the election, you would say the president wants a military win to get himself elected. He can't win.

BEGALA: I'll prove you wrong later in the program, Mr. Novak.


NOVAK: Senator Arlen Specter, who is a nominal Republican never known for party loyalty, last week exuberantly was reelected. He declared -- quote -- "When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely" -- end quote. He went on to warn President Bush that nominating pro-life judges will cause filibusters. That clearly is a pro-abortion litmus test, important because Specter is about to head the Senate committee that considers judicial nominations.

Alarmed by the resulting Republican firestorm, the senator repeated denying a litmus test, saying on "INSIDE POLITICS" today he absolutely would not oppose such a judge. But he did not promise support of all Bush nominees. Will Republicans make him chairman anyway?

BEGALA: So this is now what Republicans want, is, before the president even puts up a name, they want this blind loyalty oath that everybody has to march off the cliff with whoever he puts up. That's really extraordinary. That's quite extremist, don't you think, Bob?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) NOVAK: Well, I'll tell you, I had thought you used to...


NOVAK: What college...


BEGALA: Georgetown University.

NOVAK: Georgetown University.

BEGALA: Fine university here in our nation's capital.

NOVAK: And if you will read, up until about 40 years ago, whoever the president put up for the Supreme Court, with very rare exceptions, was always rubber-stamped by the Congress.


NOVAK: There was not this inquisition, like you would go into.

BEGALA: Called advice and consent.

Well, speaking of our president, one of the Bush administration's top experts on terrorism and al Qaeda, Michael Scheuer, says President Bush and his team have failed to recognize the changing threat of al Qaeda. Mr. Scheuer, who ran the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit, says the Bush administration's off-cited claim that we have captured or killed a third of the top al Qaeda leaders is, in his words, -- quote -- "a fantasy" -- unquote.

He says al Qaeda has replaced all the missing leaders and has used Mr. Bush's war in Iraq as a recruiting tool. Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" reports that, despite spending billions, America is woefully unprepared for a biological terrorist attack. One simulation in Chicago had 47,000 people dead or dying of the plague in just days. Perhaps that's why every place where terrorists actually struck on 9/11 voted against Mr. Bush last week. When your life is on the line, you want results, not rhetoric.


NOVAK: As far as I know, Paul, there has not been an attack on the United States since 9/11.

But let me tell you something. Mr. Scheuer has belatedly been muzzled by the CIA. But the CIA is a hive of anti-Bush dissent. Intelligence agencies have always been troublesome to the leaders of government. And I would say, the first thing the president should do, and the second thing, is get some control over these loudmouths in the CIA.


(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) BEGALA: We'll see if he does.

NOVAK: Jim McGreevey -- Jim McGreevey's resignation of governor of New Jersey becomes effective Monday. And today, he delivered his farewell address.

He apologized, he said -- quote -- "for having not had the courage to be truthful" -- unquote. about being, in the governor's words, a gay American. But what did he not apologize for? Not for being a faithless, cheating husband, not for humiliating his children, not for total lack of self-control, not for delaying the effective date of his resignation so a phony could replace him without an election, and not for making the state of New Jersey a laughing stock.

The political hacks assembled in Jersey for today's speech gave him a standing ovation. Is it time for house cleaning in the Garden State?


BEGALA: Well, who are we going to bash next? You know, we just had an election where Republicans ran around and attacked gay Americans all across the country because they happen to fall in love. Now we're going to attack Jim McGreevey on the day he is leaving office.


BEGALA: The first publicly gay American governor.

NOVAK: He's a disgrace.


BEGALA: So who are we going to beat on next?

NOVAK: He's been a disgraceful governor.

And I'll tell you something. We have been talking about what is wrong with the Democratic Party. What is wrong with the Democratic Party is that a decent Democrat like you defends a slimeball like Jim McGreevey.



BEGALA: I would just point out that Republicans across the country are into this gay-bashing.


BEGALA: And I think that that is tragic. I think it's better to win on ideas and issues.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) BEGALA: Well, as American troops fight for control of Falluja, what is President Bush's plan for Iraq and what impact will this electoral victory have on the decisions he makes?

And then, later, finally, the White House tailor speaks out about that mysterious bulge in the back of President Bush's jacket. You won't want to miss what he says.

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.



NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

A coalition of U.S. and Iraqi troops at this hour are moving into Falluja to destroy insurgent forces there. Is this a time for national unity or will the attacks on George W. Bush proceed beyond his reelection?

Today, in the CROSSFIRE, P.J. Crowley, senior fellow at the Center For American Progress, and Ken Adelman, host of


BEGALA: Guys, good to see you both.


BEGALA: Thank you for joining us.

Ken, one of my heavier burdens that I bear is correcting the record when Bob misspeaks. Earlier in the program, he said, had the president launched an invasion on Falluja before the election, liberals like me would have attacked him. Let me show you, please, a pace -- a piece -- goodness gracious -- a piece of videotape that proves that wrong. Here's a couple of months ago.


BEGALA: If it's right to attack the enemy there, then we should do it sooner rather than later, rather than have more time to fortify themselves, more time to build up defenses, more time to entrench themselves. But it seems to me that the president is very vulnerable to the accusation that he's timing his military offensive for after the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BEGALA: Now, that handsome man and brilliant and visionary, at that, said all that many months ago.


NOVAK: Was that your twin brother?


BEGALA: Many months ago.

Isn't it true that the president postponed this attack to the detriment of our troops for his political purposes?

ADELMAN: I don't believe that's true at all.

BEGALA: Why did he?

ADELMAN: Well, because...

BEGALA: Why give the enemy seven months to fortify, seven months to prepare, seven months to bring in recruits?

ADELMAN: You're saying, should it have been done seven months ago? The answer is yes.

BEGALA: Right. Right. Why didn't he?


ADELMAN: Well, because they...

BEGALA: Because of the election, right?

ADELMAN: No, I don't believe that it was because of the election.

BEGALA: Certainly. What other reason?

ADELMAN: I thought they were trying to -- as I understand it, they were trying to work out a compromise, so that they didn't have to go in with guns blazing.

NOVAK: That's exactly right.

BEGALA: They went in seven months ago and they pulled out after three days.


ADELMAN: It is always better to try to get these cities in a political way with Allawi leading the way so that you don't have to have these pictures on Al-Jazeera of Americans shooting their way into a city. It is always better.

(CROSSTALK) NOVAK: P.J., Paul is a -- your former colleague is a genius...


NOVAK: ... at finding a twist on this thing. The twist is not whether we should have gone in seven months ago.


NOVAK: The question is whether we should go in now.

CROWLEY: We have no choice.

NOVAK: And we had a return from the outer space today of Don Rumsfeld. He came back, hadn't seen anything of him.


NOVAK: And this is what he said. Let's listen to him.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: No government can allow terrorists and foreign fighters to use its soil to attack its people and to attack its government and to intimidate the Iraqi people. Success in Falluja will deal a blow to the terrorists in the country and should move Iraq further away from a future of violence to one of freedom and opportunity for the Iraqi people.


NOVAK: Tell me what you disagree in that statement.

CROWLEY: Oh, I think everything there is correct.

Now, however, Don Rumsfeld did come back from outer space. In fact, I think he's on a different planet.


CROWLEY: Because he also said during the course of the -- he also said during the course of his briefing that the decision back in April not to go into Falluja was a decision that he had nothing to do with. Who is running the war here?

The fact is that they are continuing to make this up as they go along. Today is the 600th day we have been in Iraq. And yet now we have left all of the heavy lifting for the final 84 days. In 84 days, we have to secure the country, create a political process, invite Sunni moderates into the process and hold elections.

A comparable situation would be inventing a political process in the United States on August 9 in preparation for a November 2 election. I hope we're successful. I just think we have had an awful lot of time to do this. We have done it miserably, and we're paying the price. Our soldiers are paying the price.



NOVAK: Let me defend myself against my colleague's attack on me. The question is not whether they would go in seven months ago. They had made a decision to try to negotiate. Clearly, that was a bum decision, but it didn't work. That's for sure.

But the question is, if they had gone in a couple of weeks before the vacation -- the election -- wouldn't that have been taken as an attempt to get some political -- build up some patriotism to get some political pluses, and, certainly, it would have been taken as a political invasion if it was done just before the election.

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, we have to look at the strategic situation here.

We have to get ourselves to free and fair elections in January. The danger here is that, even if we are militarily successful, we're creating a hostile environment in a kind of a hostile political environment, which we here have something -- we know something about this.

Then what is going to happen? You're going to -- it's going to be a boost to political extremists like al-Sadr. He gets elected to this new parliament. If we want to know about entrenched and dysfunctional legislatures, and we want to teach them something, they should just take a look at our House of Representatives.



CROWLEY: But, in this environment, we're going present a case for extremists. They are going to become part of the political process. And it could make difficult but necessary political compromise among the three major factions very difficult to do.

BEGALA: Let me come back to this question of politicizing the timing. Not only were Democrats saying he should have attacked earlier.

John McCain, an expert on military affairs, himself a strong supporter of President Bush, said this back in May, six months ago: "We need an immediate injection of more troops and the right kind of troops. Go to places where there are centers of resistance, such as Falluja and others, that are basically controlled by this combination of Baathist terrorists, disenchanted people, Sunnis, etcetera. Go in and suppress them and do what is necessary."

Why didn't the president do it when he could?

ADELMAN: That's very much like the question you asked me about five minutes ago. BEGALA: Because I didn't get a good answer.

ADELMAN: All four of us agree on this.

BEGALA: There's no good military reason.

ADELMAN: The reason was to try to work it out politically. I think it was a bad decision.


BEGALA: And he realized six days after the election that the talking didn't work and now it is time to attack?



BEGALA: You believe that?

ADELMAN: Yes, I believe that.


ADELMAN: Was it a good decision? I think it was not a good decision.

If you're asking me, was that the reason, I think that was the reason.


ADELMAN: I think it would have helped Bush had he started the assault a week before the election, because Americans would have been more in combat and they would have been more rally around the president.

NOVAK: That's right.

ADELMAN: And I think it would have been accused of doing that in order to help the president.


ADELMAN: I think he took the high ground, to tell you the truth.

NOVAK: You know, if I had slept through the election -- and I'm glad I didn't -- and come here today and hear Paul and, to a lesser extent, you, P.J., talking, I would think we still have this election going on. It is not a time to get together.

But I would like to show you a sound bite by the new poster child of the Democratic Party. Who is the poster child of the Democratic Party? Barack Obama.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) NOVAK: Let's see what he said yesterday.



BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS SENATOR-ELECT: I said during the campaign this is no longer George Bush's war or a Republican war. This is an American war. We want it see Iraq successful and our troops protected.


NOVAK: Why can't you guys be more like Barack Obama? Why are you so partisan and nasty?


NOVAK: You're not even running for anything.

CROWLEY: I think he's absolutely right. The fact is, we're not in a situation where we should stay the course. We have to in fact correct the course. I hope that President Bush takes a page from John Kerry. The fact is that, today, the burden is...

ADELMAN: Which page? There are so many? The burden is...



ADELMAN: No, there really are. There are pages to do nothing. There are pages to do everything. There's pages to do less. There's pages to do more.


BEGALA: But you can't get away with attacking Kerry for much longer. Come on. The election is over.


ADELMAN: You have to have a guidepost to the pages, you know?

CROWLEY: But the fact is that the burden is squarely on the United States. I mean, we debated during the campaign whether this was a grand coalition. The fact is, it is a coalition of the shrinking.

The Hungarians announced last week that they are leaving as well. The American people, some here in the audience, are going to be presented with a $70 billion bill for Iraq come January. The fact is that the course we're on is not working. We have to change it.


CROWLEY: That requires going back to the international community, getting greater support.

NOVAK: Did you -- were you sleeping through the election, when we had John Kerry saying we have to have a global standard?


NOVAK: And that the people rejected that?

CROWLEY: I listened very attentively when the American people told this administration, we don't think Iraq is on the right track. It is time for a change.

BEGALA: Yes. And, in fact, the reelection did not repeal the First Amendment, Ken. And many of us who thought Bush was wrong were proved right by what's going on in Iraq today.


NOVAK: OK, that was the last word for you.

Next, in "Rapid Fire," I'll ask if we really need more U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. And just ahead, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on the U.S. assault on Falluja.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, U.S. and Iraqi troops move into Falluja, beginning an all-out effort to flush out insurgents. We'll have live reports from Iraq and from the Pentagon. The latest on the health of Yasser Arafat and why Arafat's wife is so angry with Palestinian leaders. And the judge re-reads his instructions in the Scott Peterson case. Is a mistrial or a hung jury perhaps in the works?

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you.

Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come even faster than President Bush can order a post- election invasion.


BEGALA: Joining us today, Ken Adelman. He's a member of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board. And Retired Colonel P.J. Crowley, senior fellow from the Center For American Progress.

NOVAK: Colonel, the military experts at "The New York Times" editorial board today have asked for a call for 40,000 more American troops in Iraq. Are they right or wrong? CROWLEY: We need more troops in Iraq. Whether they're American or somebody's else, definitely, we need more troops in Iraq.


BEGALA: Ken, what is to keep these insurgents from just melting away and pretending to have surrendered in Falluja and then come back and fight another day?


ADELMAN: Well, we hope they melt away and participate in the political sphere.


BEGALA: Then they come back.


BEGALA: ... another place, sir.

ADELMAN: Nothing.

CROWLEY: I hope we kill them, myself.

ADELMAN: All you can do is -- all you can do is hope that they join the political operation there and the political life there and become normal Iraqi citizens. You have to ask yourself, what are they fighting for? What are they fighting for?


NOVAK: P.J., in connection with Paul's question, the mission of the Marines is to encircle Falluja to make sure nobody comes in, nobody goes out. Do you think they are incapable of performing that mission?

CROWLEY: I think that is a very good mission. Today, the secretary of defense admitted there are in fact people coming in and out of Falluja. I hope we get them here. I hope this is the tipping point. But I fear that they'll melt away and they'll fight us another day.

BEGALA: Ken, who will police Falluja after the Marines take it?

ADELMAN: Hopefully, the Iraqi forces in there that -- I think that's an easier operation than taking it over again.

NOVAK: Colonel Crowley, the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, says that John Kerry would have won in an Electoral College landslide had it not been for 9/11 and Iraq. Agree or disagree?

CROWLEY: I agree. Without 9/11, we are having a much different conversation. BEGALA: Ken, with a huge majority of Americans, solid majority, 55 percent, saying the war is going badly, is that a really mandate for more of the same?

ADELMAN: No. It is a mandate to try to win the thing. And the only way to win it now is to clear out these no-go zones, these safe havens for terrorists and people who are totally destructive, not fighting for anything at all. They don't want Saddam Hussein to come back. They just want an anarchistic place, country, or a country that looks like Iran. And the Iranians don't like that country either.

NOVAK: P.J....


ADELMAN: So the fact is that you have to wipe those things out and then start the political process, so that Iraq has A future.

NOVAK: P.J., do you think, now that the election is over, that Democrats should be much more supportive of our troops in the field and not just critical?


CROWLEY: We have never been critical of the troops. We're just critical of the management of the war, which has been very ineffective.


BEGALA: P.J. Crowley from Center For American Progress, Ken Adelman, from -- wait a minute. It's Defense...

ADELMAN: That's all right.

BEGALA: OK. The Defense Policy Review Board at the Pentagon.


BEGALA: Thank you both very much.

Well, one of the great Internet conspiracy theories was that unexplained bulge on the back of President Bush's jacket during the debates. Coming up next, the president's personal tailor reveals the secrets underneath the emperor's new clothes.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Well, one issue left over from the campaign was, what was that box-shaped bulge at the back of President Bush's suit during the debates? Now, some said they thought it was a radio through which aides could feed him lines. Of course, if that's true, why was the president so stumbling and incoherent during the debates?



BEGALA: I never believed that theory.

White House aides blamed the president's tailor, but they wouldn't name names as to the tailor's name. Still, the flamboyant Frenchman, Georges de Paris, the tailor to every president since Lyndon Johnson, is too much of a gentleman to return fire.

He does note in today's "New York Times" that our man-of-the- people president likes handmade $3,000 suits and handmade Sea Island cotton white and French blue shirts, not exactly the stuff to chop wood in, Mr. President. Well, Monsieur de Paris diplomatically says he's honored to continue making suits for our president. Merci beaucoup, Gorges.

NOVAK: You know, if the president had bought his suits off the rack, like I do, he would get a bulgeless, drab suit.

BEGALA: I hope that is the last we hear of the president's bulges, or your bulges.


BEGALA: Much as I'm interested in hearing about them off camera, it makes it hard to eat.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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