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The Iraqi Vote

Aired January 28, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; sitting in on the right, Joe Watkins.

In the CROSSFIRE, Iraq's first free election in half-a-century still two days away, but expatriates in the U.S. and around the world are already casting ballots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's going to change nothing. It's going to be worse than it was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a great day for me, great hour, great minutes. I will never forget this time in my life.

ANNOUNCER: In their homeland, violence escalates as Sunday approaches. Despite the dangers, the threats and the uncertainty, can the Iraqi people pull it off? And how will the U.S. role change once the votes are counted?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Joe Watkins.


Less than a day and a half to go before polls are scheduled to open in Iraq, here in the U.S. and in more than a dozen other countries, Iraqi expatriates already have begun voting. But it is in Iraq where the voting will matter most. And again today, more violence, as President Bush urges Americans to stay the course and urges Iraqis to risk their live to cast their votes.

Joining me today on the right, Republican strategist Joe Watkins.

Good to see you again, Joe.

JOE WATKINS, GUEST CO-HOST: Thanks, Paul. Good to be here.

BEGALA: How about you lead us off with the best little political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert"?

WATKINS: You got it. Absolutely. Former National Security -- former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was sworn in today as President Bush's new secretary of state. What a great day. I'm so excited about her appointment on many levels, as many Republicans and Democrats are. She's going to do a terrific job representing the United States to the world. I have no doubt she'll be a strong, excellent secretary of state.

Rice may be the first African-American woman to hold the powerful post, but her appointment is not about color. It's about the fact that she is hands down the best person for the job. That Secretary Rice happens to be African-American is simply an added bonus. I guess she'll have to wait a while to fulfill her other dream, being named commissioner of the NFL.



WATKINS: ... actually.


BEGALA: Well, the NFL can happen, because she's unfit to lead our country as secretary of state.


BEGALA: She misled our country. She misled us.



WATKINS: ... not.

BEGALA: She said that, within one year, Saddam Hussein would have a nuclear weapon and then she denied ever having said it. She was briefed that these aluminum tubes could not be used for nuclear weapons and yet she told us that they could only be used for nuclear weapons.

She does not tell the truth. She is unfit for that job. And shame on the Senate for confirming her.

WATKINS: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.



BEGALA: The president should have who he wants, but not her.


WATKINS: She was confirmed by an overwhelming number.

BEGALA: They were wrong.

WATKINS: Because the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans realize, she is the best person for the job. She has got all the background and experience to lead this nation as the next secretary of state.


WATKINS: She's going to be great.

BEGALA: She had two years as an expert on the Soviet Union. It's a country that doesn't even exist anymore.


BEGALA: And then she managed Iraq for us. How is that working out?


BEGALA: She's -- well, we'll -- believe me, we'll debate Dr. Rice lots more in the weeks and months to come.

President Bush, however, gave an interview printed in today's "New York Times." It is striking because it reveals how little Mr. Bush thinks, reads or even knows about important issues.


BEGALA: For example, our president said that he had not heard that our vice president had recently commented that one of the administration's goals is to restore executive power. He also said he didn't know about a controversial and widely reported Florida law barring gay couples from adopting children. Not like his brother is the governor of Florida or anything.

Our president also laughed at the very notion that he would read the most important article on his own foreign policy written by Condoleezza Rice and published in foreign affairs during the 2000 election -- quote -- "I don't know what you think the world is like," he told "The Times," "but a lot of people just don't sit around reading foreign affairs" -- unquote.


BEGALA: Well, no, sir, they don't. But perhaps the very few people actually conducting foreign affairs should be reading foreign affairs.


BEGALA: If ignorance is bliss, friends, George W. Bush is the happiest man on Earth.

WATKINS: Well, you know, what presidents go around reading stuff written by their staff people? (LAUGHTER)

WATKINS: After all, this is his foreign policy agenda that this secretary of state and then former national security adviser was writing about. It's ridiculous to try to beat him up over that.

BEGALA: He even said that he hadn't read the national -- not in this interview.


BEGALA: But earlier, he said he hadn't read the national intelligence estimate on Iraq. And, you know, I think we know what happened with that.

WATKINS: This is a great -- this is a great CEO president. And he's doing a great job. He absolutely is.


WATKINS: He's a great manager, a great CEO president. And that's why he got elected to another four years.

BEGALA: He's the Ken Lay CEO president. That's the kind of CEO.

WATKINS: Regardless of where you stand in Iraq, if ever -- if you ever had any questions about President Bush's intentions, put them aside.

I had the privilege of meeting with President Bush earlier this week. It was his first post-inaugural meeting and he chose to hold it with African-American civic, business and religious leaders. He talked about his commitment to reforming Social Security, pursuing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, fighting HIV and AIDS in Africa. And he talked about Iraq.

This meeting was not about politics. It was about doing the right thing. For him, that means making America a better place. And Mr. Bush truly believes doing the right thing means bringing democracy to Iraq.


BEGALA: First off, good for the president for meeting with you and other African-American leaders. He also met with the Congressional Black Caucus.

WATKINS: He did indeed.

BEGALA: Not a Republican among them.

WATKINS: That's exactly right.

BEGALA: Good for him. That is part of his job as president. It's what we pay him the big bucks for and give him that nice big house. WATKINS: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BEGALA: But I do -- I don't think the Democrats should or do question the president's intentions and motives. But I do think he ought to level with us. And I don't think he's done that.

WATKINS: Oh, he's doing that. He's doing that.

BEGALA: I don't think he has told us the truth. He did not say the purpose of this war is to bring democracy to Iraq. He said it was to protect America from weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. That was misleading.


WATKINS: Well, what don't know that for sure. We don't know that for sure.

And we do know is that we're bringing democracy to the people of Iraq and we removed an unjust leader. And I don't think you can argue with me that Saddam Hussein was not unjust.



BEGALA: You're right, but those were not his stated war aims. It was to protect us from weapons. And there were no weapons. And that's what frustrates me.

WATKINS: Well, we don't know that. We don't know that for sure.

BEGALA: We don't -- well, remember the Bush administration's promise that American troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq? Well, that whopper ranks right up there with WMDs, links to al Qaeda and Iraq will pay for its own reconstruction with oil, all in President Bush's hall of fibs.

But now President Bush says that the fact that American troops are hated as occupiers, rather than treated as liberators, is, in his words, reasonable and even -- quote -- "pretty hopeful" -- unquote. Mr. Bush, in that "New York Times" interview I mentioned a moment ago, said that resentment toward American troops who are risking life and limb for Iraqis is there because of what he called -- quote -- "a nationalistic sentiment that says, this is my country." To me," Mr. Bush said, "that's a positive sign."

A positive sign? Hating Americans who are shedding their blood for a godforsaken patch of sand is a positive sign, Mr. President? Wait a minute. Doesn't that mean that if Iraqis actually did greet us as liberators, it would be a negative sign?


BEGALA: That is outrageous. WATKINS: I don't think so. I don't think so. What he is saying is that he's so pleased to see this sense of nationalism, this sense of pride...


BEGALA: That pride is expressed by shooting at us, Joe.

WATKINS: But look at how badly these people want to be free, how badly they want to have their own elections, how badly they want to write a constitution.

BEGALA: Let them be free then.


WATKINS: Even the Sunnis are saying...

BEGALA: This breaks my heart. Our men and women are dying and some Iraqis.


BEGALA: And some of these Iraqis are spitting on that sacrifice. And Bush says that's a positive sign. I say it's an outrage.

WATKINS: No. These men and women have not died in vain. They have given their blood, so that the American...


BEGALA: They should be throwing roses at us and they're not.

WATKINS: So that Iraqi people can have the freedom that you and I share. The hope is that some day, maybe the Iraqis can have their own CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: Well, pay, we may move this...

WATKINS: Where they could have the freedom to disagree.

BEGALA: We may well move this show over there.



BEGALA: I think there's plenty of folks at this network that might like that.

Well, Iraqis living outside of their homeland have already started voting. Those who live in Iraq are already -- are preparing, that is, to take part in an election that will take place under threats of violence. And President Bush says if the elections produce a government that wants Americans to leave, it's adios. Is this the beginning of the end or just another sad chapter in a long and difficult occupation?

Those questions and more when CROSSFIRE returns.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

President Bush is calling for courage. Terrorist leaders are calling for violence. And administration officials are trying to shape expectations, even though no one really knows what will happen in this weekend's historic experiment in Iraqi democracy.

Joining us today in the CROSSFIRE, a couple guys who can tell us what is going to happen. Ken Adelman, he is a member of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board. He is also the host of And retired Air Force Colonel P.J. Crowley, a former member of the National Security Council under President Clinton. He is now a senior fellow with the Center For American Progress.

Good to see you guys.


WATKINS: Colonel, great to have you here. Great to have you here.


WATKINS: You know, Sunday's election really is the first step in a process that is going to allow the Iraqis to write their own constitution. They can almost smell this freedom. Don't you think that this election is really a great first step in this process? Don't you think it's a good thing?

P.J. CROWLEY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: It's a first step, but it's a long and difficult process.

I mean, let's face it. Sunday is more like a lottery than democracy. We have had a campaign in secret. And Monday, when the violence continues, we're going to have a government in secret. So...

WATKINS: But don't you think it's the right way to go? Don't you think it's a good thing?

CROWLEY: Oh, absolutely. Oh, absolutely.

WATKINS: It's first one they've had in 50 years.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. This is an important step, but we have to understand that this doesn't solve anything. This begins a very long, difficult process, we hope, to democracy. BEGALA: Ken, you know -- you've been on this show so many times on the topic of Iraq. And I'm bitterly opposed to this war and didn't want to wage it. But this weekend will be an enormous gift from the American people, and particularly the soldiers who have died or lost limbs, to the Iraqi people.

I am struck by their spectacular lack of gratitude. And Americans today still think the French were insufficiently grateful for our liberating them from the Nazis, the Iraqis so much worse. But the president had something remarkable to say about the way that Iraqis are mistreating our soldiers.

This weekend -- or this week, he gave an interview to "The New York Times," published today. He said this: "To the extent that a coalition presence is viewed as an occupying force, it enables the insurgents, the radicals, to continue to impress people that the government really is not their government, and that the government is complicit in having their country occupied. I view that as reasonable. I also view that as pretty hopeful that there's kind of a nationalistic sentiment that says, this is my country. I mean, to me, that's a positive sign. You know, we want to run our own affairs. We don't want to be occupied to survive.

They spit on our sacrifice and he thinks that's positive.

KEN ADELMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. ARMS CONTROL & DISARMAMENT AGENCY: I think you're making too much of that, Paul, if I may say so.

BEGALA: I hope so.

ADELMAN: And I think that what you say really does defy what you said, P.J. It is a step because it will give some legitimacy. I think it could legitimacy to an Iraqi government, which hasn't been the case before when the United States had a transition there and when the United States appointed Allawi there. And I think, in that sense, it is their own. And I think the president is right that it their own.


BEGALA: I'm not trying to be tendentious. Why is it -- it is inarguably true that Saddam was tyrant. Joe mentioned that before.


WATKINS: Bad guy.

BEGALA: Inarguably true that he was a mass murderer. I still don't think it was worth removing him, because Iraq is not an American state. If they want to -- if they have a corrupt government, that's their problem.

ADELMAN: Yes, but that doesn't make any sense, Paul.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: I don't want to revisit that.



BEGALA: I just want to make it on the record that the war was not worth it.


ADELMAN: The nature of totalitarianism, people can't do that, OK?

BEGALA: Why aren't they grateful?

ADELMAN: Well, I don't know what you want them to do.

BEGALA: Throw roses, like Dick Cheney said they would.


In some parts, they were very grateful and everything like that. In other parts, they were not. In the Sunni part, they certainly were not, because they have been running the place now for how many centuries. I don't know. And they're going to lose power, because they're only 20 percent of the vote.

And there's a big concentration on this 20 percent of the vote and on how much the Sunnis are going to vote. Listen, I was in South Africa. I lived in Africa for a long time.

BEGALA: Right.

ADELMAN: I was in South Africa shortly before their vote in 1994. I don't remember anybody talking about how the Afrikaaners were going -- what their turnout was going to be. People concentrated on the 80 percent of the black Africans, South Africans, who had never gotten a vote before.


BEGALA: It wasn't 80-20. It wasn't 80-20.


ADELMAN: People weren't worried, oh, my gosh, the Afrikaaners are down to 50 percent or something like that. No one cared how much the Afrikaaners -- because they had controlled the whole place. They were 20 percent of the South Africans. The Sunnis are 20 -- yes. They were -- no, the non-black Africans were about 20 percent. The whites were about 15 percent. And the nationalists were a big chunk of that, obviously.

But the point was, everybody here is concentrating on the Sunnis, who are losing power. And they're not happy about it. (CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: You said you weren't going to filibuster.



WATKINS: Colonel, let's talk a little bit about what Senator Kennedy had to say. Senator Kennedy, of course, has not supported this war. And now he is saying that he wants to see us pull U.S. troops out of really an unsecure Iraq. And that seems to me contrary to everything that makes sense.


WATKINS: And to add to that, I mean, Joe Lieberman and even former President Clinton disagree with him strongly. What do you say?

CROWLEY: Well, let's be careful here.

Remember, this is a $200 billion election. And it's a $200 billion election that has -- we have paid a very significant cost for in terms of current and future readiness. And, remember, as the National Intelligence Council...

WATKINS: So are you saying you...

CROWLEY: As the National Intelligence Council said, Iraq has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has become the training ground for the next generation of jihadists.

So, the question is -- and this is a great...


WATKINS: Go ahead.

CROWLEY: It's a great opportunity, once we have the elections, now to evaluate what are the military tasks that we have to still accomplish. We have to train the Iraqi security forces. But, let me tell you. If one year from now, we're still having the same conversation today, another $80 billion supplemental, we'll know that Iraq is going very, very badly.

WATKINS: Well, if we do what Senator Kennedy wants to do, the country could spiral into confusion and totalitarianism.

CROWLEY: But we have -- for example...

ADELMAN: You have been against what Kennedy is saying.

CROWLEY: Hang on a second.

WATKINS: Of course. It's OK to say you're against it. It's OK.


ADELMAN: He's not comfortable with that.

CROWLEY: Look, before the invasion, the Bush administration talked about liberation. They talked about a cakewalk. Now, all of a sudden, nothing is knowable. We can't know when we're going to succeed. We can't know how long it's going to take.


WATKINS: We have an election.


CROWLEY: We can't know what it's going to cost.

ADELMAN: We do know that.


CROWLEY: And it's important right now. We have to make -- you know, the Congress has it -- evaluates this $80 billion supplemental, has to get the administration to tell us, where is the finish line in Iraq? When we will know when we're successful?


WATKINS: Well, we see some of it, because these elections are taking place on Sunday.


BEGALA: Excuse me, gentlemen. Let me bring Ken back in.

ADELMAN: But you disagree with what Kennedy said, don't you?

CROWLEY: I think we are now are at a point where we have to really look at an exit strategy. We have to make the training program work. Paul Bremer was given a Medal of Freedom for an inept one-year training program, but now we really have to focus on getting out, because it is in our national security interests.

ADELMAN: So you agree with what Kennedy says?

CROWLEY: I agree -- you know, in 12 to 18 months, if our combat forces are not out of Iraq, we're in real trouble.

BEGALA: Hold that thought.

When we come back, I'm going to ask you about this. When we return, I'll ask Ken if in fact President Bush is not quietly laying the groundwork to do exactly what Ted Kennedy called on him to do, declare victory and bring our troops home.

And then a warning about events along the U.S.-Mexican border is creating real tension between two close allies. Wolf Blitzer tells us why right after the break.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, two days before the Iraqi elections, the violence intensifies. Five American soldiers are killed. Another American helicopter crashes.

Reacting to 27 kidnappings along the U.S.-Mexican border, the State Department issues a warning. Is it safe to cross the border?

And the shocking death of a 7-year-old girl in New York state. Her father has now been charged with murder. Our Mary Snow is on the scene. We'll have a live report.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

WATKINS: Welcome back.

We're talking about the coming general election in Iraq, where polls open in less than 36 hours. Our guests today are P.J. Crowley, senior fellow with the Center For American Progress and former national security spokesman under President Clinton, and Kenneth Adelman, host of and a member of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board.

Welcome back, gentlemen.

And, Paul, you have got the first question.

BEGALA: Thank you, sir.

Ken, I was saying before the show that I had watched "Nightline" last night, a fascinating town hall meeting. And during the town hall meeting, Dan Senor stood up. Those of us who are C-SPAN junkies remember him as the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority. And he made a really important point. He said, we all complain about Al-Jazeera. But the images of Iraqis voting and risking their lives to vote will be broadcast all through the Middle East. And I thought that was a great point.

Then there was an answer to that, tragically, in "The Washington Post" this morning that I'd never thought from, actually, a Muslim reformer, a modern Muslim in the Middle East trying to bring democracy who hates our elections. Here's what this guy told "The Post." "The elections depict democracy as if it is connected to the idea of submission to the American occupier. The idea of democracy will lose its reputation in the Arab world entirely."

Now, that's Abdel Halim Qandil, who is a longtime opponent of the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, wants to have democracy. Are we somehow discrediting democracy by putting it in there at the point of a bayonet?

ADELMAN: That makes no sense, Paul. Where's the Americans on the ballot? What is he talking about?

BEGALA: He is saying that it looks like we're forcing it on them, which we are. We conquered their country.

ADELMAN: What do you mean forcing it on them? They're having an election.

BEGALA: We bombed the snot out of them and invaded them. We've got 150,000 in there, Ken.

ADELMAN: We have an election. We have an election. And they can choose other Iraqis to lead themselves.

BEGALA: But you're not worried that we have linked it up as submission to America's might?

ADELMAN: America's -- nothing -- America wants to get out of there as soon as the place is...


ADELMAN: ... controlled and as soon as there's a legitimate Iraqi election. I mean, we are there in order to help the Iraqis establish a decent Arab country for the first time.


BEGALA: When I see Arab reformers say the opposite, it worries me.

ADELMAN: But the Arab reformers -- I don't who this guy is, but he makes no sense, Paul.

WATKINS: Colonel, don't you think that this election is the most powerful signal we can send the terrorists? After all, even the Sunnis, many of whom are saying that they are going to boycott the elections, are saying that they want to have a hand in the government as soon as the elections are done. Isn't this a great signal to send? Isn't this a powerful signal?

CROWLEY: It is a powerful signal. It is a great moment.

But we have to recognize that this is going to be extraordinarily difficult. And, in fact, it is vitally important. The real measure of what happens is not the Sunni turnout on Sunday.

WATKINS: Clearly not.

CROWLEY: But, on Monday, if the Shias and the Kurds reach out to the Sunnis...

WATKINS: That's right.

CROWLEY: ... and have a consensus.

ADELMAN: And the Sunnis are saying that they want to have a part already.


CROWLEY: Yes. But the point here is that optics do count. The pictures on Al-Jazeera do count. And that's why it's very important that we understand fully what are we still in Iraq, starting on Monday, to accomplish? It's to train the Iraqis to secure their own country.

WATKINS: That's exactly right.

CROWLEY: It is to -- and then it's to get our troops out as quickly as possible.

WATKINS: So you agree more with President Clinton than you do with Ted Kennedy?

CROWLEY: But I think that this is a process that is going to take 12 months. It might take as long as 18. We have a moral commitment to help the Iraqis until they can secure themselves. But the administration has to tell us where that finish line is. And the sooner the better.


BEGALA: But, Ken, hasn't the president -- Joe is right. Hasn't the president begun to set the table?


BEGALA: Yesterday, he said, for the second time yesterday, actually, that, if the new government wants us out, we're out.

ADELMAN: I think that's a good, decent thing to say. And I think that's a nice thing to say.

BEGALA: And that's what is going to happen, right? We're going to stand up this new government. They're going to say adios and we're going to declare victory and go run.

ADELMAN: No, I don't think they will say it at all, because I think that they don't have a capability, the Iraqis, yet have the capability to preserve a government in place.

BEGALA: But for how long do we have to bleed until the Iraqis tell us to leave, instead of our commander in chief deciding what our troops do?

ADELMAN: Well, our troops should be there to serve, to get decent..


BEGALA: To serve the Iraqis or to serve the Americans?

ADELMAN: No, to get our objectives, so that the dead have not died in vain.

BEGALA: That's going to have to be the last...


BEGALA: ... a hard out, as they call it in television.

ADELMAN: So that we have a decent chance for the Iraqis to have a decent government.


BEGALA: Ken Adelman from the Defense Policy Board and, sorry to interrupt you.

P.J. Crowley, from the Center For American Progress, thank you both very much.

Coming up, Vice President Cheney represents America in the most solemn, sober and sad ceremony one can imagine, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. So, why are some people blasting him for showing a lack of respect?

We'll tell you why just after this break.



WATKINS: As you'll recall, world leaders gathered in Poland yesterday to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Vice President Dick Cheney was among them. "The Washington Post" was quick to point out today that Cheney had the audacity to wear an olive, drab hooded parka and a knit ski cap. The others, instead, wore the more formal black overcoats and so-called gentleman's hats.

Writer Robin Givhan suggested that the vice president's choice of coats somehow dissed the solemn event he was attending. What a cheap shot. Instead of celebrating the fact that so many in power gathered to remember so that none of us would forget, "The Post" finds it far more important to focus on fashion. Give me a break.

BEGALA: No, I disagree with you. He looks like he's going to an Eagles' game.



BEGALA: It's the most solemn thing. And all the other world leaders conducted themselves appropriately. And Dick Cheney, for all of his flaws, generally conducts himself appropriately in the way he appears.


BEGALA: The guy should have been properly attired. And it was disrespectful.

WATKINS: More than what he wore is what he said. He said the story of the camps remind us of the evil, that evil is real and must be called by its name and confronted.

BEGALA: He read what they wrote for him, but he should have represented America with more dignity. I disagree with you.

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

WATKINS: From the right, I'm Joe Watkins. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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