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CNN CROSSFIRE

Interveiw with General Wesley Clark

Aired June 25, 2003 - 16:30   ET

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

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

In the CROSSFIRE -- he's got the resume, his supporters have commercials.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vietnam combat veteran, four-star general, business leader.

ANNOUNCER: And he's sounding like a Democrat.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RET.), U.S. ARMY: A stimulus that is fair in terms of rewarding the people who need it the most, not the wealthy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But will the general become a candidate?

CLARK: I'm speaking out. People are coming to me. They are talking bout leadership.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plus, Hillary's book and the fate of somebody's shoes.

Today, on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. throughout U.S. history, generals have moved on to the White House. Washington, Jackson, Grant and Eisenhower probably come to mind. Presidents Hayes, Taylor, Andrew Johnson, both Harrisons, Pierce, and Garfield probably do not. In a little bit we'll ask General Wesley Clark if he wants to join the ranks, but first, we're under orders to bring you the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert".

Palestinian officials announced today that three of the most notorious terrorist organizations in the Middle East have agreed to stop killing Israelis for three months. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade announced temporary cease-fire by sending a document to none other than Yasser Arafat, who, you will remember, has long claimed that he has nothing to do with, and cannot prevent, terrorism in Israel. Surprise, surprise. If it turns out to be true, the cease-fire is a remarkable development. A feat not achieved by the previous administration despite endless effort, talk, and hand wringing. How did this president pull it off? For starters, perhaps, by calling terrorists terrorists, and ending the Clinton era tradition of inviting Yasser Arafat over for tea on the White House lawn.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, first off, President Clinton brought us closer to peace and longer peace in the Middle East than any president in history. But let's talk about the president today, he got us nowhere.

CARLSON: It fell apart because Yasser Arafat turned to terrorism. It is not Bill Clinton's fault...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Which is why we negotiate...

CARLSON: We negotiate...

BEGALA: We negotiate with our enemies, Tucker, not with our friends. But I hate to burst your bubble. The "Washington Post" is reporting, about an hour ago, that political leaders of Islamist groups, in fact, are denying that there's any such thing. That's not Bush's fault, nor should it be his credit that they're telling lies...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: As I said, it's not clear. It is a development that Hamas and Islamic Jihad would even potentially consider it. But the point is, replacing Yasser Arafat as the leader with Abu Mazen is a defeat in the Bush administration.

BEGALA: It hasn't been accomplished. There's no reason to believe that...

CARLSON: It has been accomplished...

BEGALA: Arafat's not pulling the strings behind the scenes. That is why there is till terrorism over there.

Well, the "New York Times" reports today that a senior intelligence expert on chemical and biological weapons has testified to the Congress that he was pressured by the White House to make his intelligence analysis conform to the Bush administration's political agenda. The analyst, Christian Westerman is a former Naval officer now with the State Department.

He is the first intelligence expert to publicly tell Congress -- rather privately tell Congress that he's blowing the whistle on the Bush program for manipulating intelligence. Who would have thought we would have a smoking gun confirming Mr. Bush's duplicity before we ever got a smoking gun confirming Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: See, this is why -- and I said this before, Paul. This is why it's so important to read beneath the headlines. Because in this story, it turns out, that this man has given no evidence, not even a specific allegation that the administration manipulated anything having to do with Iraq. His allegation has to do with Cuba under Secretary of State John Bolton said that Cuba had -- probably had weapons of mass destruction. He says that may not be true. The argument is about Cuba not Iraq!

BEGALA: But the White House -- because the White House defense is, we tried to pressure him to lie about Cuba, but we are honest about Iraq. Give me a break, Tucker.

CARLSON: You know, Paul...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: There's a...

CARLSON: You know, Paul. To accuse the federal government of lying about -- lying about intelligence, I think, is a very heavy charge. I hope you have evidence before you throw this out.

BEGALA: He testified to Congress that he's been pressured, Tucker. The defense is that he was pressured about Cuba. That's not a very persuasive defense to me.

CARLSON: I am saying that your news was misleading because it didn't tell the story. Cuba not Iraq.

BEGALA: Absolutely...

CARLSON: OK. Just months after being re-elected, Gray Davis has so mismanaged his job as governor of California that he's facing a popular revolt. A voter-write initiative. It is likely to bounce him from office later this year. Boo Hoo. And who will replace him?

The most promising candidate appears to be actor, body builder, and Republican activist, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger recently received the coveted Howard Stern endorsement during an appearance yesterday on Stern's radio show.

We will help you win, Stern said. Adding that he admires Schwarzenegger's physique. Quote: "You have a bratwurst in your pants." You got to have a body you're proud of, the future governor replied. Mr. Schwarzenegger is, of course, welcome on CROSSFIRE any time, bratwurst or not.

BEGALA: So this is the best that the California Republicans can do is turn to a steroid addled actor who is on "Howard Stern" making jokes about bratwurst. Give me Gray Davis any day against that nut ball.

CARLSON: Actually, Paul -- Wait a minute. First of all, he's not a nut ball. He is just...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Schwarzenegger?

CARLSON: He's not a nut ball.

BEGALA: But he is a steroid addled ex-actor.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I think that's just kind of a horrible thing to say about anybody, true or not.

BEGALA: He says he used to use them.

CARLSON: But steroid addled -- But the fact is that Gray Davis has been a complete disaster, and here the people of California may end up bouncing him -- in the most Democratic possible process. It's very hard to argue with that. It is the will of the people.

BEGALA: Most important lesson to the kids at home, don't take steroids, they'll rot your brain. Don't be like Arnold.

Well, Today "San Francisco Chronicle" gives us more news on the California recall mat. It turns out Californian Republican Congressman, Darryl Issa -- he is the leader of the move to recall Democratic governor, Gray Davis, by the way, was indicted in 1972 for allegedly stealing a Maserati sports car and was prosecuted in 1980 for, quoting the "Chronicle" here, allegedly faking the theft of his own Mercedes Benz sedan and selling it to a car dealer, unquote.

Congressman Issa, showing typical Republican family values, blamed his brother for the thefts. Neither case...

(LAUGHTER)

... neither case resulted in conviction, we should note, and we should also tell you that Congressman Issa went on from those charges of auto theft to mass a great fortune selling car alarms. I kid you not.

CARLSON: Now, the key here is indicted. Now, if this situation were reversed and this was some poor person who was accused -- I don't know, of beating someone to death, you would say, or if he was a disgraced former governor of Arkansas, you would say he was not convicted He was indicted and it's outrageous for you to suggest that he did it. Maybe his brother, in fact, did do it.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's his defense...

CARLSON: ... until proven guilty...

BEGALA: That's his defense. But it's interesting that he hid that from the voters in his many runs for office...

CARLSON: He wasn't convicted of anything.

BEGALA: Oh, so you can be...

CARLSON: I don't know. You lie under oath, I guess. What can't you do?

BEGALA: Well, apparently, you can be drunk driver and be president of the United States. So you know...

Will the field of nine Democratic presidential candidates become a field of ten? We will find out soon, because retired General, Wesley Clark, is taking the essential step for anyone serious about running for president. He is stepping into the CROSSFIRE. Will general Clark take this opportunity to announce that he's throwing his helmet into the ring? Stick around and find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Millions of Americans, of course, already know General Wesley Clark, either from his time as supreme allied commander of NATO during the Clinton administration when he led our forces to victory in the war over Kosovo, or perhaps from his tour of duty for a military analyst for CNN during the war in Iraq.

But you may not know that Wesley K. Clark also graduated first in his class at West Point, was a Rhode Scholar, a Vietnam veteran who received the silver and bronze stars, as well as the purple heart, or that he's an investment banker. In short, he's a heck a lot more qualified to be president than that guy who won the lawsuit against Al Gore. But, will he run?

Today, General Clark steps into the CROSSFIRE.

Ladies and gentlemen, Wesley Clark.

(APPLAUSE)

Good to see you.

CARLSON: How you doing?

BEGALA: They love you.

CARLSON: Senator Clark, thanks for joining us. I was going to ask you the obvious first question, have you decided to run for president. Then I read in "U.S. World & Report" that you have not yet decided to become a Democrat. I haven't crossed the bridge becoming a Democrat, you said.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: That's what I said.

CARLSON: What have you decided about politics? CLARK: Well, I've decided this is a very important time in this country. And that if you have a chance to speak out, you should. And I have been speaking out. I have been traveling around the country really for about ten months, in what I've been calling a strategic dialogue. Because I think more important than candidacies has been the elevation of the issues and getting the American people over the shock of 9/11 and back engaged in the dialogue of...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: General Clark, before we even get there, give us the framework. Are you a Democrat or a Republican?

CLARK: Well, I haven't crossed that bridge yet. I haven't. But I have looked around America. I have looked around at our relationships with the rest of the world and what we are doing here at home. And I has some definite views.

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you about one of the issues. Whether it's you or Mr. Bush or one of the Democrats running, the next president is not only commander in chief, he is the occupier of Iraq. And we have already lost 51 men since the day President Bush landed on that aircraft carrier. What should we do, rather than complain about how we got into the war, what should the next president do about that occupation? Should we stay or should we go?

CLARK: Well, I think we've got to try to do as much as we can to make that a success. We can debate whether we should have been there or not, but the fact is, we are there. And if we make it a success, there will be some benefits that come from it. To make it a success, the Iraqi people have to want us there. We have to legitimate our presence. International organizations in there supporting us. I believe we need a greater role from the United Nations, at least in terms of overall legitimacy, and we need to get the Iraqi political process moving at the greatest possible speed.

BEGALA: But you would not withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq?

CLARK: Not at this point. No. I think there is still a chance that we can do some very, very good things in there now that we're there.

CARLSON: General Clark, you went up to Capitol Hill last week, and apparently were very warmly received by Democrats, a measure of how weak the current field is. I want to give you one example. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, on NBC this weekend, admitted he had no idea how many military personnel there are in the United States. That's embarrassing, isn't it, that he didn't know that?

CLARK: No, I don't think that's necessarily embarrassing. He gave an answer, as I recall. He said 1 to 2 million. So, I mean, when you count the active and the reservists, he's certainly in the ballpark.

CARLSON: Do you think he has the experience to be president? CLARK: I'm not going to pass judgment on that. I think that's for the American people to decide after they hear the issues and compare the candidates.

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you about the current president again, and then come back to analyzing his performance in office. Tucker and I, a minute ago, had a heated argument about this analyst from the State Department, Christian Westermann , who says he was pressured. The White House says, well, maybe it was only about Cuba. There is another analyst, Greg Tielman (ph), another State Department Intelligence analyst. He told "Newsweek" magazine that there was shock and anger over how intelligence was being misused by the Bush administration. Are you concerned that our president might have manipulated intelligence to mislead the American people?

CLARK: Well, I don't know what the role of the president was. I think that remains to be determined, but I do know this. That when you mix up policy with intelligence, as we have apparently done from this -- there was a predetermination that started back in the 1990s to go after Saddam Hussein. 9/11 provided the opportunity to mobilize public opinion to do that.

And then it was, as the former speechwriter, David Frum says in his book. He says he was told in December. He says, write for the president's State of the Union. Make your strongest case in one or two sentences for why the United States should attack Iraq. And I think when you mix up policy and intelligence, you get bad intelligence for sure, and you may get bad policy, also.

CARLSON: But, fill out that theory a little bit, which I've heard a lot from the Democrats, certainly. What would be the motive, do you think? Why the Bush administration want to sort of mangle or spin intelligence in order to invade Iraq?

CLARK: I don't know if you can -- like I say, I think that the American people deserve a hearing on this. I think it needs to be openly, transparently presented as to what exactly the issues were.

CARLSON: Are you suggesting that's what's happening...

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: But here is my speculation...

CARLSON: ... on Capitol...

CLARK: According to my speculation on this thing, because I did talk to a lot of people both before and after 9/11. There were a lot of reasons to be concerned about Saddam Hussein. Number one is we always believed he retained some weapons of mass destruction, although I for one never believed they were an immediate threat.

Number two, the Clinton administration's inability to really focus on Iraq and do something about Saddam Hussein provided a partisan opportunity for the next administration to make it a centerpiece of progress. And there was a larger belief that somehow there was a window of opportunity that the United States had a period of maybe 10 or 15 years before China would become too strong where we can use our unchallengeable military muscle and clean up the area.

And there was a thought that the road to Jerusalem ran through Baghdad and maybe if you could just whack Saddam Hussein and take away his support to the Palestinians and the terrorists that are there, then maybe the terrorists wouldn't fight so hard. Then you can go to the Israelis and say, OK, now, make some concessions and let's get some peace. There were a whole lot of things, and I think what sort of emerged is, it was how can we conventionally explain this in a simple way that doesn't get us into geostrategic calculus. And it was fixated on a problem of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

CARLSON: Okay.

We'll keep it right there for a moment. We will be right back after a quick break. Wolf Blitzer will have the headlines, and then it's "Rapid Fire" where the questions and answers resemble the staccato fire of machineguns, metaphorically, apparently, according to scriptwriter.

Later, an update on the junior Senator from the New York's latest incredibly long book. How is it selling? We have some good news and, tragically, some bad news. We'll explain both in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for the quickest question and answer session in television. We call it "Rapid Fire". Our guest is former NATO Supreme Commander and possible presidential candidate, retired General Wesley Clark.

BEGALA: General Clark, a few issues. Do you think abortion should be a constitutional right?

CLARK: I am pro-choice.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Are you going to run for president?

CLARK: I have made no decision. I like it where it says possible. Leave it in that column right now.

BEGALA: Should gays be able to serve openly in the military?

CLARK: I think the military and the chain of command have to decide that.

CARLSON: General, did the president do an appropriate thing when he landed on the aircraft carrier after the war in Iraq?

CLARK: Well, I think it was a good thing for him to come out and see the troops. I think the way it was stage-managed was awkward and really wasn't appropriate for the president. BEGALA: Do you support additional gun control laws?

CLARK: Haven't looked at that issue, but in general, I have got 20 some odd guns in the house. I like to hunt. I have grown up with guns all my life, but people who like assault weapons they should join the United States Army, we have them.

CARLSON: General Clark, was it a bad idea for John Kerry to call for regime change in Washington at the height of the war in Iraq?

CLARK: Well, it caused a lot of consternation, but in the American political process, we have to take adversarial positions. I mean, part of the political process is to give the voters a choice. He was simply doing that.

BEGALA: Do you think it would it be easier for Tucker to eat his own shoes or an MRE from the military? We are just talking in jest.

CLARK: I think he is going to have a tougher time working through all the issues associated with Iraq and why we went to war.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: General Wesley Clark, on that quick, quick note, we thank you very much.

BEGALA: Thank you much.

CLARK: Thank you.

BEGALA. Thank you much. As you know, of course, I mentioned with General Clark, Tucker has promised to eat his shoes when my hero, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton sells her one-millionth book. Our viewers are firing back a few suggestions of how to prepare his leather lunch. First though, we want to ask our audience this question. How long do you think it will be until Tucker eats his shoes?

Hey, guys in the audience. Get out your voting devise. Press one if you think he will be feasting on fillet of sole in just one week. Press two if you think it's more like one month. Press three if you think the Supreme Court will stop the counting and Tucker will eat his shoes only when pigs fly.

We will be back with the results. Find out, if Tucker is going to be keeping his word and eating his shoes after this message.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now to check our audiences' skills as prognosticators. We asked them before the break, when or if Tucker will have to eat his shoes when Hillary sells her millionth book. Well, about a quarter of them said in a week. A quarter said in a month. But half of the audience, Tucker, thinks you will never have -- they say you will eat your shoes when pigs fly. Pigs are sprouting wings, bro. You are eating them shoes. CARLSON: You know, the best estimate I've heard today from the publishing, is that she's probably sold about 800,000 copies to date. Now I -- to paraphrase Bill Clinton, I still believe in a place called common sense, and I believe that there are 200,000 Americans who will not buy that book.

BEGALA: You know, there is 200,000 Americans, plus, watching. Just go buy and the book, gang, right now. Even if you don't like Hillary, buy the book to make Tucker eat his shoes.

CARLSON: Thanks, Paul. I appreciate that.

J. Basil from Chicago writes: "Tucker, I would like to suggest a nice Bearnaise sauce for the loafer entree that's in your near future." You know, stuff like this does bring out something in people.

BEGALA: A Bearnaise sauce is classy though. I like that.

Jan Julius in Oceanside, California, already writing in about our interview with Wes Clark, which finished about 60 seconds ago. "General Clark can beat George Bush. it would be a slam-dunk. Hillary or Joe Biden as vice presidential candidate. George wouldn't know what happened." Well, that's certain. He's not going to know what happened. But I think General Clark did a terrific job. It was a very impressive interview.

CARLSON: Yes, Hillary and Joe Biden. Yes. That's -- Like, how far to can you be?

Michael Pivinski of Fredericksburg, Virginia writes: "If Paul and his party were truly committed to winning in 2004, they will stop telling us how Gore should be in the White House and not W. Instead, he needs to tell us what specifically Democrats are going to improve and what their action plan is." In other words, it's not just hating Bush. Interesting.

BEGALA: Specifically, we are going to improve the economy. We are going to improve education, the environmental, foreign policy. How? By getting rid of Bush and putting back into policy is...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Yes. And free ice cream!

BEGALA: All of those things...

CARLSON: Free ice cream!

BEGALA: Yes. There's our messages.

Val Hull of Vancouver, British Columbia writes: " I totally disagree with yesterday's viewer comments that suggested that Paul run for president. I say Tucker should run. There would be less Bush bashing and Clinton praising, and you would have a handsome, knowledgeable president in the White House." Well, there you go. From one of your many fans.

CARLSON: Then he's not from our country, and for many years now, I have sucked up to Canadians in the hopes that they would write letters.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: It finally pays off.

Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I am Pishur (ph) from Alden Massachusetts. Do you think Wesley Clark has any chance of winning the Democratic nomination?

CARLSON: It's difficult to win the nomination if you're not a Democrat. I don't know. On (UNINTELLIGIBLE) politics, that's my sense, though. And he has not yet come out as one.

BEGALA: Well, of course, General Eisenhower wasn't a Republican until he ran for president either, and he did pretty well. Who here in this audience would vote for him after you heard the interview.

Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, I'm Shirley (ph) from Wyckoff, New Jersey, and how should we go about believing entertaining like Arnold running for office?

Are they acting or are they real in their promises and actions?

CARLSON: I don't know. I mean, compared to what? Politicians? So, no, I mean, it's a measure of how completely out of control things are in California, my home state, and what an inept governor they have. It's sad, if you think about it.

BEGALA: No, what's sad is -- I mean, there was a time when Republicans in California could turn to an actor named Ronald Reagan, who, while I disagreed with him, was an enormously talented politician. Fabulously talented. Arnold Schwarzenegger? He's no Ronald Reagan. He isn't even Sylvester Stallone.

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

CARLSON: From the right, I am Tucker Carlson. Join us again next time for yet more CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Have a great night.

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