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CNN CROSSFIRE

Iraq: Democracy or Chaos?

Aired December 21, 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: A U.S. military base is attacked in northern Iraq. As the violence keeps claiming victims, is the war in Iraq still worth fighting?

President Bush's closest ally, Tony Blair, says it is. From Baghdad, he calls it a fight between democracy and terror.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I've just visited members of the electoral commission and met some of their staff. And I said to them that I thought that they were the heroes of the new Iraq that's being created.

ANNOUNCER: As elections approach, is Iraq on the verge of democracy or chaos?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello and welcome.

The news from Iraq today is especially tragic; 22 people were killed, 57 wounded in an insurgent attack on a mess hall for American troops in Mosul; 19 of those killed were U.S. military personnel.

President Bush recently said he's praying for families of those who were killed. And so are all of us here at CROSSFIRE.

And so today, our debate over Iraq policy takes on a heartbreaking urgency.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: The news of those American troops dying is tragic, but the news from Iraq overall is inspiring. No one said it would be easy.

However, Saddam is gone. Iraq is on the verge of a democratic election. Those troops did not die in vain. We'll debate Iraq. But, first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan held his year-end news conference today. The bad news? He's not resigning, despite the Iraqi food-for-oil scandal that saw huge amounts of money stolen or siphoned off to Saddam Hussein. Kofi Annan said once more, he'd like to get to the bottom of they scandal. Why then has he defied U.S. congressional investigators?

Why has special investigator Paul Volcker denied subpoena powers? The secretary-general boasted today he has support from U.N. member states. I'm sure he does. The member states that are soft on terrorism, not interested in human rights, they surely do not have trouble with corruption at the U.N. Why, it feels exactly like home for them.

BEGALA: You make a good point about Paul Volcker. He should have subpoena power to investigate this. He's a very credible guy. He's a brilliant man. But he doesn't have enough power to investigate it. You're right.

But some of those member states then endorsed him include the United States. Our U.N. ambassador under President Bush, Senator John Danforth, praised last week Annan's personal integrity. I'm quoting him. Colin Powell met with him just a few days ago and also endorsed him. So, it's not just Third World countries that are endorsing Annan. It's the United States of American under George W. Bush.

NOVAK: Well, I want to tell you a secret.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: That we also -- we have a government that includes the Congress. And the Congress, including Democrat Carl Levin and Republican Norm Coleman, have not endorsed him.

BEGALA: Very interesting point. That's a good one.

Well, "TIME" magazine has chosen President Bush as its person of the year. It's kind of hard to argue with that. But the religious Web site Beliefnet.com has a more compelling candidate for its most inspiring person of the year.

Sergeant Joseph Darby of the Army Reserves serves in the 322nd Military Police Company. He grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, worked at a Wendy's to help his folks make ends meet, married his sweetheart, enlisted in the Reserves and found himself assigned to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. What he saw there violated his Judeo- Christian all-American values, and so he blew the whistle. And so the torture was exposed and so it was stopped.

Now, some have called Sergeant Darby a traitor. Well, they don't understand America. Real patriots like Sergeant Darby really live their values. So, God bless Sergeant Darby. He's inspiring man of the year. NOVAK: Well, maybe it's the Christmas season, Paul, but I agree with you.

BEGALA: Well, good.

NOVAK: I think he is -- he is a hero. And though it really does pain me to agree with you, I have to.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I have to go really along with it -- that.

BEGALA: Once in a blue moon.

NOVAK: "TIME" magazine -- we've already got that.

There's new day dawning for the pro-life movement on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leaving is Democratic Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who says he hates abortion, but always voted for it in the Senate. Coming on the committee are two Republicans who mean it when they say they hate abortion, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and senator-elect Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of my favorites.

Well, Ralph Neas of the leftist People For the American Way said -- quote -- "It's hard to believe the Judiciary Committee could go any further to the right, but it just did" -- end quote. Believe it, Ralph. The committee's new pro-choice Republican chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, better believe it, too, or he's going to get rolled.

BEGALA: It's interesting you mention the new senator-elect Tom Coburn. He was in the House, where he was known -- well, in the Senate, I think he'll be known as Jesse Helms without the statesmanlike qualities.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: He's going to be somebody to watch. I think he's about three steps to the right of Attila the Hun. And it's going to be a delight. This will be the new face of the Republican right, your man Tom Coburn.

NOVAK: He is my favorite. And, you know, the thing is, he believes in life instead of death. He goes back. He's an on obstetrician and delivers babies in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He's a man who stuck to his word. He said he would serve three terms in the House.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: You should like him, Paul.

BEGALA: He's also said there's an epidemic of lesbianism in southeastern Oklahoma. (LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Interesting diagnosis from Dr. Coburn. I can't wait to see him. We hope he joins us here in the CROSSFIRE.

Well, a survey by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition says that there are only three counties in all of America where the minimum wage covers rent and utilities on a one-bedroom apartment. All three are in Illinois, where the state minimum wage is $1.35 higher than the national minimum of $5.15 an hour. And a two-bedroom apartment requires an hourly wage of $15.37 an hour, nearly triple the minimum wage.

Now, Republicans, like President Bush, of course, oppose raising the minimum wage. But, look, a minimum wage worker still could make what Dick Cheney made in his last year at Halliburton if, say, he worked 5,126,213.5 hours in one year.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Republicans, though, do have a plan for housing minimum wage workers. It was best expressed in this Christmas season by that noted Republican Ebenezer Scrooge, who famously asked: Are there no prisons? Are there no poor houses? God bless us, everyone, indeed.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You know, nothing like a little class warfare at Christmastime.

A thing you've never understood is that these people -- the genius of America is to get out of the minimum wage jobs. And more Americans do it every day. And you may be surprised, with all of your gloom and doom, Paul...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: ... to know that, today, blue-chip Dow industrials stocks went to the best level since June 2001. This economy is humming. It's the greatest economy in the world. It's rolling, man.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Stocks are up. Minimum wage is down. That's the Novak economy.

Well, we will debate in a moment the tragic news out of Iraq, as a U.S. military mess hall has come under attack in the northern city of Mosul. Just yesterday, President Bush said that progress was being made. He boasted that 15 out of Iraq's 18 provinces are, in his words, relatively stable. So, is the Bush administration denying the tragic reality in Iraq? A new survey shows a majority of Americans are beginning to turn against the war.

We'll discuss all of this, especially this Christmastime tragedy, next in the CROSSFIRE.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: As we draw closer to elections in Iraq, militants there are stepping up their campaign of violence, 19 U.S. military personnel killed today in a tragic bombing in Mosul.

Joining us, P.J. Crowley, senior fellow at the Center For American Progress, Ken Adelman of DefenseCentral.com, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: It's good to see you both.

Ken, especially thank you for joining us.

KEN ADELMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. ARMS CONTROL & DISARMAMENT AGENCY: You're welcome.

BEGALA: It's a tragic day for all Americans.

I want to talk a little bit about what the president said yesterday at his press conference. He acknowledged for the first time, at least in my awareness, that some things are not going very well. Particularly, some of these Iraqi troops that we're trying to train and stand up are cutting and running. And I admired that candor.

But then, just when he sort of had me, he veered off again into this unreality. Here's when he talked about the progress and hopeful signs in Iraq. Here's the president yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What they don't see are the -- you know, the small businesses starting, 15 of the 18 provinces are relatively stable, where progress is being made. Life is better now than it was under Saddam Hussein. And so there are very hopeful signs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: I mean, Ken, just help me out here. Is this guy kind of not very clued in to the reality on the ground?

ADELMAN: No, a lot of the -- some of the provinces are better off. Obviously, the security situation is very serious. And I think the more honest the president is, the better off we are. I think it has been a flaw of this administration to not admit past mistakes.

BEGALA: Good for you.

ADELMAN: However, what you're looking at is an alternative of, you know, a pretty well-run, hopefully, Islamic and Arab country, probably the first democracy in Arabia, if we can ever get there, vs. a totally chaotic place that will make Beirut in the 1980s seem nice.

So, I think it really is a big issue. And the alternative to what we're doing now is horrendous.

BEGALA: I agree with that. And, again, I want to stress that, in fairness to the president, he was speaking yesterday, before this bombing occurred. But I do think there's been a pattern with...

ADELMAN: It's been too rosy. The forecasts have been rosy.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It was going to better when toppled Saddam, then when we killed Uday and Qusay.

ADELMAN: Yes. Right.

BEGALA: Then we captured Saddam himself, and then with the handover on June 30. Don't you worry that they're setting unrealistic and -- unrealistically optimistic short-term...

ADELMAN: I think Americans are very mature, so that, if you say it's a very hard struggle, the insurgency is a lot worse than we ever expected, but the odds are, we're going to win this and the stakes are so high, we can't afford to lose.

BEGALA: I wish you were writing his speeches.

(CROSSTALK)

ADELMAN: Americans understand that. And they understand sacrifice and they understand, you know, that we have to go. And I think that it would be better off for the administration.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: P.J. Crowley, let me -- let's put out what General Ham said today after this bombing in Mosul. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. CARTER HAM, U.S. ARMY: It's a sad day in Mosul. But as they always do, soldiers will come back from that. And they will do what they can do best to honor those who were fallen today and that is to see this very important mission through to a successful completion. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now, the key words there were seeing this through to a successful completion. I'm old enough, as Mr. Adelman is, to remember Vietnam very well.

ADELMAN: Don't put me in the same age category as you.

(LAUGHTER)

ADELMAN: You can say many things to me, but we're different generations, three generations apart.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Not quite.

And there's a lot of things that -- we got to see Vietnam through to a successful conclusion. Well, we saw it through for a long time, but not to a successful conclusion. Do you agree with General Ham that it's important to see this through or do you think it's time to cut and run?

P.J. CROWLEY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, I don't think anyone expects us to cut and run.

But there are two critical things that we need to do. I think the most important thing I heard from the president yesterday was the acknowledgement that we are at the beginning of a process. And so elections are the start of something, hopefully. It's not an end in itself. And I think that's the critical element here.

We have to have a viable political election on January 30 that includes meaningful participation by the three sects. If we get that, then you might, in fact, have a political process that can help make a difference on the ground. If we fail to get that, then it's hard to see where we go with the second element, which is, 21 months into this, we have yet to defeat the insurgency. I have no confidence that we have in fact a strategy and the resources committed to in fact win on the ground.

NOVAK: Well, let me put my question way, that, at the time of the Vietnam War, at the end of it, you had -- practically every Democrat in Congress was saying, we're not going to give any more money to the war. It's over. We've conceded.

You're a -- you're not a nonpartisan person. You worked in the Clinton White House. Do you think the time is coming, in your opinion, from your standpoint, when the Democrats will start saying, let's get out of there; it's over?

CROWLEY: Well, it depends on what it is. I mean, we have to make sure that what we are doing in Iraq serves ultimately our national objectives. And it's not just Iraq. It is what's happening in Iraq. It's what's happening in Iran. It's what's happening with the Middle East peace process. And these things do intersect. If, at some point, there's a judgment that what's happening in Iraq actually makes life more dangerous for us here in the United States because of a dynamic that it creates in the Middle East, you've got to reevaluate. But, you know, ultimately, these have to be very sober calculations. And once we see what happens on January 30, we all need to take a step back and say, what is it precisely that we are trying to accomplish in Iraq? Can we get from here to there and what are the resources necessary, whether it's political, military, diplomatic, reconstruction?

But right now, unfortunately, tragically, what we're seeing is only the one dimension that the Bush administration has relied on for 21 months in Iraq. And it may or may not be the ultimate, the decisive dynamic that wins. We have to make sure there's a political process here. If we get one started, I think there's reason for hope.

But the insurgents, they themselves, they're trying to prevent this from happening, but let's also be realistic. On January 31st, we're at risk of seeing the same thing we saw today. They're not going to stop just because there's an election.

BEGALA: Well, Ken, Bob and Colonel Crowley both were mentioning Vietnam. A Vietnam veteran who is in the United States Senate, Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, has been very vocal in his criticisms of the president. In fact, let me play a brief sound bite from an interview he gave on Sunday assessing the situation as a Republican and a former military man himself.

Here's Senator Hagel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: The fact is, we're in more trouble in Iraq today than we've ever been in. We're putting 12,000 to 15,000 new troops there. We've got 1,300 people killed in Iraq, over 10,000 wounded, over 5,000 wounded seriously; $200 billion of American taxpayer money has gone in there. And we're not even sure if we can protect the Iraqis enough to hold an election. Now, you tell me if we're winning or we're losing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Respond to senator Hagel. Are we winning or are we losing?

ADELMAN: Yes. A, Senator Hagel was never supportive of going into Iraq, so...

CROWLEY: He voted for it.

ADELMAN: Huh?

CROWLEY: He voted for it.

ADELMAN: Did he vote for it? OK. But the fact is that he -- on every occasion, he really opposed something like that. The facts he lays out are absolutely right. What he doesn't do are two things, No. 1, explain the stakes on not having a terrorist hotbed in Iraq, and, No. 2, talk about, you know, that it was always going to be tough and that.

The Vietnam analogy really doesn't work very well, because, when all is said and done, we are in Iraq and we are paying such attention to the Islamic world because of 9/11 and because of the worldwide threat, two things, the worldwide threat from militants, Islamic fascists around the world, and, secondly, their advent of getting ahold of weapons of mass destruction. That makes it very different. That means America's safety is really at stake.

(CROSSTALK)

ADELMAN: And what we would like to do in Iraq, P.J., is find for the first time ever an Arab government that is successful, that is legitimate, that is a decent government.

(CROSSTALK)

ADELMAN: And that is a wonderful goal.

NOVAK: P.J., Tony Blair, the prime minister of Britain, turned up in Baghdad today. And here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAIR: And on the one side, you have people who desperately want to make the democratic process work and want to have the same type of democratic freedoms other parts of the world enjoy, and, on the other side, people who are killing and intimidating and trying to destroy a better future for Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Should that be a part of the policy of the United States and our allies, that we want to support the people who want a democratic Iraq, no matter what the cost is to us?

CROWLEY: I mean, that's where the administration has to be very up front and honest with the American people.

And I fear -- the one area in Vietnam where the analogy I think does hold, because I was serving in the military during the end of the Vietnam War. We didn't lose Vietnam over specific battles on the battlefield. In fact, the one Tet Offensive that ended up precipitating our departure was in fact a military success.

We lost in Vietnam because the American people lost faith in their leaders and lost faith in the strategy. And that is the real danger here. And if we're not up front with this, if we're not telling the American people how hard this is going to be, certainly in contrast to some of the rosy scenarios we have heard earlier, that is where the risk is. NOVAK: We have to -- we have to take a break.

Next, in "Rapid Fire," is criticism of the war encouraging the insurgents in Iraq?

And just how big a risk is it to take the pain medication Aleve? Wolf Blitzer has the latest next on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the deadliest single attack against U.S. forces in Iraq since the start of the war. We'll hear an eyewitness account of what happened in Mosul.

There's medical and financial fallout from word of potentially deadly side-effects from still another drug, this one a popular over- the-counter pain reliever.

And we'll revisit my exclusive interview with the always outspoken, always fascinating founder of CNN, Ted Turner.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf, for that update. Can't wait to see Ted Turner at the top of the hour.

Here at CROSSFIRE, we're debating Iraq policy in light of today's tragic and savage attack on U.S. troops in Mosul, Iraq.

With us today are Ken Adelman. He is of DefenseCentral.com. And colonel P.J. Crowley, senior fellow at the Center For American Progress.

NOVAK: P.J. Crowley, do you believe that the criticism of the way we're conducting the war and of Secretary Rumsfeld are encouraging the insurgents to cause more mayhem and death in Iraq?

CROWLEY: I rely more on making sure that we are encouraging the American people to understand what's going on in Iraq and support them. Whatever impact that has on the Iraqis is secondary.

BEGALA: Are you worried that today's "Washington Post" poll says 70 percent of the American people say the casualties are not worth it and a majority, 52, I think, percent, say that we shouldn't be there?

ADELMAN: Yes, I'm worried about that.

And, B, if you look at history, you understand that Americans have a lot of patience. And Vietnam was a very odd situation. But, geez, I came to Washington and there was big talk about withdrawing troops from Europe, because, you know, we couldn't sustain it, withdrawing troops from Korea because we couldn't sustain it. That's 50 -- for 50 years, we've had troops in Europe. And Americans having patience if they know why we're there and are told frankly that there's going to be some sacrifice.

NOVAK: A lot of Democrats in the Senate proposing that we send more troops to Iraq. Good idea or bad idea?

CROWLEY: And that's the critical question. The question is, do we have a strategy to defeat the insurgency on the ground? I still don't think we have enough resources committed.

BEGALA: Are the Iraqi troops that we're training up to the task?

ADELMAN: Some of them are and some of them have done a good job. It depends entirely on the local leadership.

(BELL RINGING)

ADELMAN: With good leadership, they come through. With bad leadership, they scram.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: That's the bell.

Thank you, Ken Adelman, P.J. Crowley.

Which member of Congress thought setting her cat on fire would be the perfect way to share the Christmas spirit? You think I'm kidding, don't you? We'll show you next on CROSSFIRE.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: It's often been said that Democrats, John Kerry, for example, have no sense of humor. But it turns out at least one of them does have a sense of humor, though a rather odd one.

A Hollywood card from Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez features the California Democrat sitting on her mantel with her cat. Only, the cat's tail is on fire. Inside, the card reads, "The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that the fire department soon would be there."

Not funny? Well, it's not that bad for a Democrat.

BEGALA: I think it's great. I love Loretta Sanchez, as she clearly loves her cat. I like when politicians bring their pets into it. The Barney cam on the White House Web site is hilarious. People should go look that up. The president's dog is quite funny.

NOVAK: I rely on you to explain Democrats to me.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: 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.

(APPLAUSE)

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