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Does Democracy Have a Chance in Iraq?

Aired December 27, 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: How vulnerable is the U.S. to a tsunami disaster like the one that hit Southeast Asia, and what can the U.S. do to help the victims?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is, indeed, an international tragedy, and we're going to do everything we can to assist the nations that have been affected in dealing with this tragedy.

ANNOUNCER: In Iraq, one political party's headquarters is bombed. Another party says it's pulling out of the campaign. And now a tape said to be from Osama bin Laden is calling for a boycott of the vote. Could the election process in Iraq be in jeopardy? Does democracy have a chance?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, sitting in on the left, Al Sharpton, and on the right, Robert Novak.



The holiday weekend has turned into disaster in Southeast Asia. We'll talk to a tsunami expert who can describe for us what happened and tell us whether there's any threat of anything like this happening along the U.S. coastline. And we'll also talk about the political waves surging over the election process in Iraq, including a tape reportedly from Osama bin Laden calling for a boycott of the elections.

Sitting in on the left today, the Reverend Al Sharpton.


NOVAK: We begin, as always, with the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Uncle Sam, denigrated worldwide, is, as ever, generous, responding to the tsunami disaster. U.S. officials immediately sent $100,000 each to India, Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, an American aid package sure to exceed $15 million to start with, and more is on the way.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said today -- quote -- "We will do everything we can to immediately help" -- end quote. For the long haul, Powell added, the U.S. will help in the long-term rebuilding of the area. Thank goodness there's an America in the world.

AL SHARPTON, GUEST CO-HOST: Well, I think that I agree with you on that, Mr. Novak. I just wish we had been -- more quickly in the response. It took like 36 hours. And I think, the more we do, the better it is. But I think this is one that the right, the left, the Democrats, Republicans, everyone can come together to support people in a disaster like this.


NOVAK: And there's no other country equipped to do it.

SHARPTON: A tape purportedly from terror mastermind Osama bin Laden surfaced today, in which Osama bin Laden appears to be trying to persuade Iraqis to boycott the upcoming elections.

So, in other words, the Bush administration took its eye off the real enemy, Osama bin Laden, and put American lives on the line in Iraq, which posed no immediate threat. Now they're having to reap what they've sowed, and instead of making America safer, they have succeeded in uniting and unifying our enemies. When Bush said he was going to be a uniter, not a divider, he wasn't kidding.

NOVAK: But, you know, we have a situation, Reverend, where we have the -- Osama bin Laden, the murderer of all those Americans in the 9/11 disaster, who says his deputy is the man leading the insurgency in Iraq, Zarqawi. You say that Bush united them, but they are united, and the war against terrorism is going on in Iraq right now.

SHARPTON: Which is why we should have gone after bin Laden before we went after Hussein.



NOVAK: After a G.I. interrogated Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the whiners spread the word that morale among U.S. troops in Iraq was poor. Not so, according to the 2004 poll of the armed services by the "Military Times" newspaper; 63 percent of active duty personnel approve of the way that President Bush is fighting the war, and 60 percent consider it a war worth fighting; 75 percent oppose a draft and 60 percent blame Congress for a lack of body armor.

Excuse me.

And troops of the 4th Infantry Division are reportedly going back for a second hitch in Iraq without complaint. The grumbling, it seems, comes from politicians and journalists, most of whom have not heard a shot fired in anger.


SHARPTON: Well, that's interesting. So, the fact that 40 percent of the people that are actively on duty say they disagree with the president, you consider a victory. I see how you Republicans count.


SHARPTON: You even had to choke when you made the statement.


SHARPTON: President Bush says he wants to reach out to Democrats in his second term in office. Well, I've got news for you, Mr. President, Renominating the same 20 judges to key appellate courts that were flat-out rejected by Democrats, as the president has announced he intends to do, is not the way to reach out and is certainly not the way to do it.

It's like offering a stick instead of an olive branch, and it shows absolute disregard for bipartisan unity.

NOVAK: Reverend, all those judges, judicial nominees, there is a majority in the Senate who wants to approve them. There's never been filibusters in the history of this country on appellate judges that had a majority support for them.

Why not bring it up to a vote? If there's a majority that is against them, no. If there's a majority for them, yes. Why do you need 60 votes?

SHARPTON: Well, why would you renominate people already rejected?

NOVAK: They were not rejected.

SHARPTON: People with some of the most reactionary judicial records that we've ever seen.

NOVAK: They were not rejected, Reverend.


SHARPTON: Well, then, how can you say this is unity? How can you say, let's bring the country together, but I'm going to hit you over the head?


NOVAK: You know, you used to be against the filibusters and the 60 -- requiring 60 votes. Let's have a majority rule. Let every vote count. And let's have majority rule. SHARPTON: That's not unity, Mr. Novak.

NOVAK: It was a wall of water that killed thousands. Could such a disaster take place in the United States? And was there any chance of warning those in the water's path? We'll find out next.

And later, the political parties in Iraq are under attack and a possible new bin Laden tape has emerged. Are Iraq's elections in jeopardy?

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: The devastation that we are seeing from the monster tsunamis in Southeast Asia defies explanation. Coastal cities have literally been washed away, as of right now, more than 22,000 people reported dead. How does something like this happen and could it happen here?

Joining us to give us the answers, David Applegate, senior science adviser for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Dr. Applegate, how vulnerable is the United States to any kind of an onslaught like this tsunami in Asia?

DAVID APPLEGATE, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: Well, the Pacific Northwest experienced an earthquake very similar to this in the year 1700. It's known as the Cascadia event. And roughly the same...

NOVAK: In 1700?


NOVAK: Was there any people there?

APPLEGATE: There were Native Americans there at the time. And the reason we know -- we actually know the exact date when this happened, thanks to some detective work, both by scientists in this country, but especially the records that exist in Japan, because this giant magnitude 9 earthquake caused a tsunami that traveled across the Pacific Ocean.

And whereas, in 1700, we may not have had written records on this side of the Pacific...

NOVAK: So, we are vulnerable.

APPLEGATE: So, we are vulnerable.

SHARPTON: Will environmentalists claim that global warming could have had something to do with this?

APPLEGATE: I doubt it.

In general, with earthquakes and volcanoes, these are events that take place deep in the earth. They're the result of very large forces, not really atmosphere created.

NOVAK: Well, there were people who were killed in Thailand, 870 dead, but they had a warning in Thailand, didn't they? They had a warning system.

APPLEGATE: They had some warning.

I think one of the things we're most concerned about is that a lot of these numbers are going to be growing dramatically, because there are whole areas where communication is not in yet. And this was a very large earthquake. In addition to the tsunami, there are whole areas of Sumatra where we're expecting quite a large number of casualties. We may not yet have heard the whole story in terms of the size of this incident.

SHARPTON: Is there enough money given to the United States Geological Survey for this type of research and to look into these matters on -- to protect our lives here?

APPLEGATE: Well, our part of the work is to run the global seismographic network. We do that with support also from the National Science Foundation, so we can look at earthquakes anywhere in the globe.

And we certainly -- we do maintain those networks in good shape. We also are developing -- we're actually trying to expand our efforts to develop an advanced national seismic system here in the U.S.

SHARPTON: But is there enough money available for you to do that effectively?

APPLEGATE: Absolutely. We're -- but we're always going to be building towards more.

NOVAK: Can you explain to me, Dr. Applegate, why -- why there was no warning system in the Indian Ocean? There is a warning system in the Pacific.

APPLEGATE: Well, I think a big factor is that, in the Pacific, we've had a number of these damaging earthquakes that generated tsunami waves over the past century. That's sort of a human time scale.

So, for geologists, we may think that -- we know that there have been similar events. There was one probably about the same size back in 1833 in the Indian Ocean. But in terms of people's memories, there was reports people would say what -- their grandparents or their great grandparents had never experienced anything like that. Well, from a geologist's standpoint, that's not long at all. We're very aware that that still means these are inevitable. But from the standpoint of actually being able to create political movement, that's a long time ago.

SHARPTON: Do you think that we in this country would be prepared to give warning if we saw a tsunami coming our way?

APPLEGATE: Well, I should specify that that task for -- specifically for the tsunami warning falls to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. We let them know that the earthquake has occurred.

They've established buoys out in the Pacific Ocean in order to -- in order to catch this wave and give warnings. So, yes, I think there is preparation, including a lot of effort that's been made by the emergency managers state level, federal level, and local level in these coastal communities, because we can have all of the science that -- scientific networks and etcetera, but it ultimately comes down to people knowing what to do when an event occurs.

NOVAK: Dr. Applegate, this is an extraordinary loss of life, 21,000 -- or 22,000 and counting. Why so many? Was it just -- is it -- is it the living conditions there? Are they crowded? What -- why was there such a tremendous loss of life?

APPLEGATE: Well, these are -- this is a densely populated region of the world, certainly. And there's -- this is a challenge, whether it's -- we're talking about tsunami, talking about hurricane, any of these natural hazards of -- these are some of the most appealing places to live, in these coastal areas, and there are risks there.

NOVAK: Dr. Applegate, thank you very much. We appreciate it.


NOVAK: Insurgents in Iraq are desperate to disrupt free elections there. Next, can Iraqis overcome the obstacles and take the next vital step toward democracy?

And, after the break, a preview of some of the amazing tsunami survival stories you'll be hearing on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jeanne Meserve, reporting from Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, the death toll in the Asian tsunamis tops 22,000. We'll have survivor stories.

As the U.S. rushes aid to Southeast Asia, a troubling question: Could a major tsunami happen here?

And more violence in Iraq and a new message for Iraqis allegedly from Osama bin Laden. Are the elections in jeopardy?

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: It appears Osama bin Laden is trying to persuade Iraqis to boycott the election. A tape, allegedly from the terror mastermind, surfaced today, hours after the headquarters of a major Shiite party were bombed in Baghdad. And a leading Sunni party pulled out of the race. President Bush declares the election will go on as planned.

This is not the first country to face opposition during an election, but will the threatened violence force a delay?

To debate this, we're joined by P.J. Crowley, a senior fellow for the Center For American Progress, and Cliff May, president of the Foundation For the Defense of Democracies.


SHARPTON: Mr. May...


SHARPTON: Doesn't it seem obvious, with this tape, allegedly, of Osama bin Laden and the pulling out of one of the Sunni political parties, doesn't it appear obvious now that the whole plan for democracy was really not a plan, that the Bush administration had no plan? We sent Americans in there and now we are seeing the unraveling of a situation that makes it really, really questionable why we ever risked life on a nonplan in the first place?

MAY: Reverend Sharpton, we've known since the very beginning what this was going to be about. Osama bin Laden does not want the people of Iraq to have a chance to choose their own leaders, does not want them to sample democracy, because they might like it.

Zarqawi, who, let me remind you, we fought in Afghanistan first -- he was a commander in Afghanistan against the Americans. He escaped to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gave him shelter, gave him refuge. And from there, he planned terrorist attacks against us. He is now the commander for al Qaeda in Iraq. If we're going to fight al Qaeda, we have to fight Zarqawi in Iraq, because that's where he is.

SHARPTON: Well, why didn't we fight them in Afghanistan? That's the question. Why did we wait until he got to Iraq? Why didn't we cut off bin Laden and all of them in the first place?


SHARPTON: And if we knew this was going to happen, where was the plan? We planned this?

MAY: We overthrew -- we overthrew the Taliban. We pushed al Qaeda pretty much out of Afghanistan. Now, we think that Osama bin Laden is probably in Pakistan in that remote area. We also have Zarqawi of al Qaeda in Iraq. We have to fight them where they are. You want to say you could have come up with a better plan to take on terrorism? You want to say you could have had a better plan to take on Saddam Hussein?

SHARPTON: Yes, I do.

MAY: Maybe you could have.


MAY: But let me tell you something. For 25 years, we had no plan to deal with Islamic terrorism whatsoever, for 25 years.


SHARPTON: ... not another 25 years.


NOVAK: P.J. Crowley, Osama bin Laden puts out a tape and we wring our hands. The Sunni party says it's not going to be in the election. We say, oh, my, lordy, lordy, lordy. And so, I want to show you what a G.I. who met with Secretary Rumsfeld with the troops on Christmas Eve in Mosul said. Let's listen to him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do we win the war in the media? It seems like that is the place where we're getting beat up more than anybody else. And it seems like the enemy's Web sites and everything else are all over the media. And there, they love it, but the thing is, everything we do good, no matter if it's helping a little kid or building a new school, the public affairs sends out the message, but the media doesn't pick up on it.


NOVAK: Colonel Crowley, you wore the uniform. What do you think of that?

P.J. CROWLEY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, I think that Secretary Rumsfeld is trying to help us focus on trees in Iraq, when the forest around him is burning.

The fact is, we are not where we should be four weeks before an election. We're in a very difficult situation. I think we have no choice but to go forward with the election, because this is not a great option for us. It's the least bad option available to us. But we have to be very clear here. You know, December was the time where, according to the original plan, we would be disengaging entirely militarily from Iraq.

And now you have troops from this recent survey that say that they expect us to be in Iraq for about five years. It's very clear that we're struggling with this. It is hard work, but the Bush administration unquestionably underestimated -- totally underestimated how hard this would be.

NOVAK: Well, I can't agree with you more that they underestimated. But I'm saying, do you think -- you, as a former Clinton White House aide, do you think that when you are always taking the negative side and saying, boy, this is just terrible, that this is helpful to the troops or helpful to getting a good election?

CROWLEY: I have no doubt that there are discrete, good things happening in Iraq.

But, strategically, we have to recognize that this has been a disaster for us. It really has been. You've got -- on every front right now. We're fighting the Sunnis, and right now, they have successfully intimidated the major Sunni party into withdrawing from the political process. We have to find a way to get them back. We don't know where Zarqawi is, and now we have from bin Laden the third message that he's had in six weeks.

The administration at one point was chiding, saying, oh, he's just keeping his head down. No, actually he's having a very conversant, chatty conversation with the world.

MAY: But, P.J., where you do agree with us, I hope, is that we are fighting a real enemy in Iraq, yes, and this is an enemy we have to defeat, yes.

CROWLEY: Iraq has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is now the central front on the war on terrorism, because we made it so.


MAY: Again, you do understand Zarqawi...

CROWLEY: In Iraq right now, in fact, we are seeing the training of the next generation of jihadists that will continue to threaten...


SHARPTON: You had no plan. Aren't you embarrassed just a little bit, Mr. May, that, over the weekend, that the White House is now supposedly even saying, if the Sunnis lose, make them winners anyway? How are you teaching democracy by saying, let's make a deal? Even if they don't make it, let's make them make it anyway. What kind of democracy is that? Aren't you a little -- I know it's hard for right- wingers to be embarrassed, but isn't that a little embarrassing?


MAY: I know you don't embarrass easily, because I've seen you campaign.


SHARPTON: Well, I didn't send people over to the war.

MAY: Look, what we have in Iraq is, most people are going to get to vote and anybody who wants to vote. We also have the former ruling class.

SHARPTON: But it doesn't matter if the losers are going to win because you shouldn't have done it this way in the first place.

MAY: The losers are not going to -- look, what you have got to understand, first of all, is, Zarqawi was there. Al Qaeda was there and there were places like Salman Pak, a terrorist training camp that Saddam Hussein was running long before they we were there.


SHARPTON: So, in Florida and Ohio, you just don't count the votes. Over there, you let them vote, but it doesn't matter. We're going to make a deal.



MAY: It's important that, in Iraq, as in Afghanistan, people get a chance to vote.

By the way, understand what this vote is about. It's to pick a national assembly that will put together the political system. This is not a vote to say, should Al Sharpton be president, should John Kerry be president or should George Bush be president?

NOVAK: In the spirit of the holiday season, P.J., I want to give you something that you and I can agree on, I hope. And that's this "Military Times" newspaper poll of G.I.s, a very respected poll. How do you feel about your job? Completely satisfied, 87 percent. Would you reenlist? Seventy-five percent.

CROWLEY: That's a low number, Bob.

NOVAK: How likely is success -- how likely is success in Iraq? Very to somewhat likely, 83 percent. The fact is, let's -- you and I can concede, we have got a high-morale Army there, and it doesn't do any good to say that they're griping and complaining.

CROWLEY: Well, first of all, you know, armies back, you know, for centuries have griped, and when they're griping, actually, that's a sign they're doing well.

God bless the troops. They are doing extraordinary work, but let's face it. They're in Iraq in a war, with the civilian leadership they have, not the civilian leadership they deserve.


CROWLEY: And we have to face that for what it is.

But there's another fascinating aspect of that poll. They themselves accept responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib. They realize that, primarily, that was because of troops that failed them. NOVAK: OK.

CROWLEY: But, you know, ironically, ironically...

NOVAK: We're out of time.


CROWLEY: You have got a situation where the guys that have screwed up Iraq just got Medals of Freedom.


CROWLEY: ... accountability.

NOVAK: P.J. Crowley, thank you. That's the last word. Thank you, P.J. Crowley.

Cliff May, thank you very much.

Tired of the politicians? Ready to put a celebrity in charge of America? We'll tell you who America picked for president right after this.




NOVAK: Is America ready for a female president? Maybe so. When more than 3,000 adults were asked in a Harris pop culture poll whom they'd most like to see in the White House, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey won by a landslide, 21 percent of the vote.


NOVAK: Others on the list, actor Will Smith, talk show host Bill O'Reilly, "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, and entrepreneur Donald Trump.


SHARPTON: I think that's very interesting. It sounds like California voters, who voted for a celebrity, rather than a real governor. I hope we get some real people of substance. That's what we're trying to do in the DNC race, put some people of substance there.

NOVAK: I would say Oprah is a lot better than John Kerry any day.


SHARPTON: From the left, I'm Al Sharpton. That's it for CROSSFIRE. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

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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