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CNN CROSSFIRE

Will General Wesley Clark Run For President?

Aired August 1, 2003 - 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: nine candidates and still no clear front- runner. Will a former general turn out to be the Democrats' choice to win the election war against President Bush? Wesley Clark steps into the CROSSFIRE to answer the question: Is he running?

And speaking of Democrats who are running for president, it's been a taxing time for some -- today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Robert Novak.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: This country clearly has a history of hoisting military men into the White House. George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower are two that come to mind. And next, we may have Wesley Clark. The former NATO supreme commander hasn't said whether he'll run for president. But with the Democrats divided over their '04 nominee, this may be Clark's chance to lead the charge to the executive mansion. The retired general will step into the CROSSFIRE in a few minutes.

But first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political alert."

In an administration fool of liars, there is a rising star, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. In an interview on Wednesday, Rice was asked whether all those dire claims about Saddam's nuclear program were true. Here's what she said -- quote -- "He's trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody ever said that it was going to be the next year."

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: Actually, a couple of folks did say it was going to be next year. Last October, President George W. Bush said -- quote -- "Iraq could have nuclear weapons in less than a year." He said the same thing in a radio address and in his speech to the United Nations. Last week, Dick Cheney cites reports saying -- quote -- "Iraq could make nuclear weapons in months to a year" -- unquote. No one said it would be next year? I guess Condi and I agree on one thing. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are a couple of nobodies.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARVILLE: Then again -- then again, why should we care? This administration is only lying about nuclear bombs, not something truly dangerous, like consensual sex.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: You know, I know the -- I know the English language is not your favorite subject, but the word was could, C-O-U-L-D. They could...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. They could have nuclear weapons in the next year. Didn't say they would have.

CARVILLE: That's a lie. They said -- that's a lie. They couldn't have had -- they couldn't have had nuclear weapons in five years. They dug up a carburetor in the guy's backyard.

NOVAK: You know...

(BELL RINGING)

CARVILLE: This administration lied to send us to war.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Senator -- Senator John Edwards, a multimillionaire trial lawyer seeking the Democratic nomination for president, just paid $11,000 to settle a property tax bill in the District of Columbia that was four months late. "The Raleigh News and Observer" says that, over the past 15 years, Edwards has been delinquent nine times on property taxes.

He's not alone among Democratic presidential hopefuls. Multimillionaire Senator John Kerry is $10,000 in arrear on property taxes. And former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has been chronically late paying property taxes. When you're busy trying -- telling fellow citizens what to do, it's hard to remember little things like paying taxes on time.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARVILLE: Do you really think that John Kerry sits down or John Edwards sits down -- do they owe any money to the government? No. You all ain't got an issue in the world. You're stuck in Iraq. You're stuck with the deficit. You're stuck with this president. And you can raise all these false issues you want.

NOVAK: I'll tell you what it is. It's a sense... CARVILLE: What? It's a what?

NOVAK: A sense of entitlement. If you're a rich liberal...

CARVILLE: I...

NOVAK: Wait a minute. If you're a rich liberal, you don't have to pay taxes on time.

CARVILLE: Of course they pay their taxes.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I tell you what they didn't do. They didn't show up -- not show up for a National Guard meeting for a year, like Bush. And they weren't inside traders, like Bush. And that's two things that we have to remember as we go into this.

(BELL RINGING)

(APPLAUSE)

CARVILLE: There -- there are a lot of sports fans, including myself, that believe the NCAA is an idiotic, bureaucratic, pathetic, hypocritical organization. Yesterday, they proved us correct.

The NCAA has placed the University of Utah's athletic program on probation because basketball coach Rick Majerus bought a hamburger for a player at the Crown Burger as they discussed a personal matter. Why is it against the rules? Because coaches are allowed to give athletes meals at their homes, but not at restaurants. The problem is, Rick Majerus lives in a hotel. So the man is basically being punished for buying an athlete a fast-food burger, rather than a hotel meal.

And some of the idiots in Indianapolis says it's fine if a coach makes hundreds of thousands a year slapping a logo on a player's jersey, but he's a criminal if he buys an athlete a hamburger. The rabbis have been saying for 5,000 years, go figure.

NOVAK: Well, you know, James, I think you're -- I think I agree with you 100 percent. But you know what the NCAA is and what it reminds me of?

CARVILLE: What?

NOVAK: The government.

CARVILLE: Really?

NOVAK: It's a governmental institution. And you've been spending your whole life trying to increase and aggrandize the government, just for little twerps like the NCAA.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: And I caught you on that, didn't I? (LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: You didn't catch me on nothing. The NCAA has got nothing to do with the government. Nobody has to say they got to act like a pack of idiots. Let me tell you something. If you want to make this -- it's a privately-formed organization that is idiotic, bureaucratic and a bunch of fools over there.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: All right.

Democratic Governor Gray Davis is so unpopular that he's calling for outside help to prevent his removal from office in the October 7 recall election in California. Senator Hillary Clinton is coming in next week. And get this. She will be followed by her husband, former President Bill, and then a blast from the past, Al Gore. What a threesome to help you.

But there's more. To protect Davis' major -- to protect Davis, major Democrats are staying out of the race for governor. But pornographer Larry Flynt says he wants to run. He says he's a registered Democrat and he will get his name on the ballot. Who says it isn't a real kick to be a Democrat?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CARVILLE: So let me get this. No Republican has ever brought anybody ever involved -- anybody who ever ran for office brought anybody in from out of state to campaign for them.

NOVAK: No.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: This is strictly something -- ladies and gentlemen, this is something entirely new in American politics. Bob Novak has been covering it for 40 years...

NOVAK: No. No. No.

CARVILLE: ... and doesn't realize that Republicans bring out-of- state people in all the time.

NOVAK: You know what's new? You know what's new?

CARVILLE: What?

NOVAK: It's bringing a threesome like Bill, Hillary and Al in.

CARVILLE: I'm sorry.

NOVAK: That's something new. CARVILLE: How many books did Ms. Clinton, Senator Clinton, sell? She is the most -- she is unbelievably popular. And you know what? This country would much rather get back to the economic policy of Bill Clinton and Bob Rubin than the clowns that are running this country right now.

(BELL RINGING)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: The gray days facing Gray Davis are being endured by Democrats nationwide. Their party desperately needs a new name. The polls are there to prove it. Will Wesley Clark be the one who rides to their rescue before the presidential primaries?

We may find out when he steps into the CROSSFIRE after this break.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

(CHEERING)

CARVILLE: It looks like there's at least one piece of advice that President George W. Bush will not have to ask his father: How do you become a one-term president? The current commander in chief is following the political map his dad laid out so well. His defeat in '04 is a foregone conclusion. The question is, who will evict him from the White House?

Might it be the former NATO supreme commander. Retired General Wesley Clark steps into the CROSSFIRE from Dallas to give us the latest on his presidential ambitions.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: General Clark, there are nine Democratic candidates out on the field, been out there a long time, raising millions of dollars. This campaign is well under way. I don't expect you to announce whether you're running or not running on this program. But don't you think you owe it to the country to tell us when you're going to make up your mind whether you're a presidential candidate?

RETIRED GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY: Well, I think I have, Bob.

I said on the -- on Tim Russert's show -- in mid-June, I said a couple of months or so. And so I am approaching a time when I am going to make a decision. We're in the process of it now. We just haven't made that decision yet.

NOVAK: One of the -- a very prominent Democrat I was talking to today said they kind of liked you, but they wondered, if you can't make up your damn mind whether you want to run for president, what kind of president would you be when you have to make decisions as commander in chief, where the life of the country is at stake?

CLARK: Well, I think one of the principal rules of making decisions is, you never have to make any decision before it's time to make a decision. And it's not time yet to make this decision.

CARVILLE: General Clark, do you agree with me that this long- term structural deficit that we're accumulating under this administration is -- borders on being immoral? It's going to cause long-term interest rates to go up and damage our economy, in addition to putting debt on our children. Or do you agree with Bob that this thing doesn't matter and we ought to have more tax cuts and just heap the debt on and on and on?

CLARK: James, we've looked at this deficit from the time that the tax cut was proposed. And there's just no way any of the economists in their models can show you climbing out of this deficit situation.

What it means is that the federal government can't do the kinds of things for America that Americans expect it to do in the long term and even very soon. That's things like taking care of our retirement security and Social Security. It's helping the states and localities bring us the services that people need. So when you look at that tax cut that was passed, what that really means is a cut in services that Americans have considered essential.

CARVILLE: General, if you run for president and you're asked -- which I can assure you that you will be -- what are three things that you would do as president to help get this deficit under control, how would you answer that question?

CLARK: Well, I don't know if I've got a specific list of a number of things, James.

But the first thing you've got to do is, you do have to establish fiscal responsibility in the United States government. And that means you've got to go back and get on a path that makes revenues at some point intersect expenditures. It's just like in any business or any family. In the long term, you can't be running a long-term deficit. Depending on the particular economic conditions at the time, you may run a short-term deficit for stimulus.

But in the long term, you don't want to be bankrupt. You want your receipts to equal your obligations. And so you've got to set a program of balancing. That means some expenditures may have to be reduced or it may mean some revenues may have to be raised.

NOVAK: General Clark, I think as even a prospective presidential candidate, you are obliged to answer some questions that you could just shrug off when you're just another talking head on television, like me and Carville.

(LAUGHTER) NOVAK: But if you were in the Congress, either the Senate or the House, when this resolution came up authorizing President Bush to use force against Iraq, how would you have voted, yes or no? You can't vote maybe. Yes or no on that one?

CLARK: Well, first of all, I think the resolution was flawed, because I don't think the president needed the authority to go to war without coming back to the Congress.

So had I been a member of Congress, I would have wanted to give the president a good strong resolution to go to the United Nations. And then I would have wanted the president to come back and demonstrate to Congress and the American people that every last effort had been made before it was necessary to resort to the use of force. That wasn't done in this case.

NOVAK: So you would be the same as Senator Kerry and Congressman Gephardt? You vote yes, but then you start dancing when a few -- when you have some casualties in Iraq? Is that fair?

CLARK: I'm not dancing. I'm not dancing one bit. I'm telling you exactly what was wrong with that resolution.

That resolution was a carte blanche to the administration to go to the U.N. and then do what they wanted. It didn't hold the executive branch to the kinds of accountability that people recognized as long ago as the 1970s, Bob, when you and I were talking about Vietnam. The Congress recognized that the executive branch had to be held accountable when it went to use forces. And when Congress passed that resolution, they gave up their accountability during that period.

There were a lot of people making speeches and talking about it. But the simple fact is, the president should have been required to come back to the Congress and lay out exactly why it was necessary at that point to resort to the use of force.

CARVILLE: General Clark, we might be making history here, because we have a former corporal, myself, getting to interview a former four-star general, yourself. But being that we're there, let's wade into some military policy here.

It's my understanding that the Army has a strength of about 490,000 people, of which 370,000 are currently deployed overseas. Frankly, that scares the hell out of me. Should I be scared about us being overcommitted and not able to meet future threats that we have?

CLARK: Well, we are overcommitted. There's no doubt about it. Even my friend Jack Keane, the current Army acting chief, said that we're very, very thinly stretched. He says, we can do the job. That's what you want your military leaders to say. But you want the American public to understand that some support has got to be brought in here.

We need to mobilize the National Guard to fill the gap. And then we need to determine whether we're either going to reduce our overseas commitments or we're going to increase the size of the active-duty force structure to meet those commitments. It normally takes three brigades to sustain one brigade overseas.

In other words, one brigade's there. One brigade is preparing. One brigade's coming home. And the active component has about 33 combat-type brigades. And what we've got now is 20 or more committed overseas. So we're way beyond a steady state sustainment policy with the Army. It needs help.

NOVAK: General, we've got to move for a break quickly, but I want you ask you a quick question. You don't like, don't ask/don't tell. Would you open the door for gays to enter the military if you were president of the United States?

CLARK: No. I'd tell the military to relook at the policy and come back and we'd talk about it.

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: I think the military has an obligation -- I think that, ultimately, approving those policies falls to the people who are in uniform and in the chain of the command. The top level of the chain of the command is the commander in chief.

But I think it's in the armed forces themselves, in the leaders, that you've got to find the wisdom to set the right balance in having a force that is representative, having a force that is volunteer and fulfilling our duties as Americans to be representative of all the people.

NOVAK: Sorry, we're going to have to -- sorry to interrupt you, sir. We're going to take a break.

Up next, we'll put the general into the "Rapid Fire." It's quick questions, rapid response. And later, in "Fireback," one of our viewers says, there needs to be someone ready with a sock right here on the set.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARVILLE: Now for our "Rapid Fire" segment. We're joined once again by retired General Wesley Clark, who is being urged to run for president by many Americans.

NOVAK: OK.

General Clark, how would you vote -- if you were president of the United States -- I'm sorry -- would you pass -- would you sign the partial-birth abortion bill, which is about to be passed by Congress?

CLARK: I don't know whether I'd sign that bill or not. I'm not into that detail on partial-birth abortion. In general, I'm pro-life -- excuse me, I'm pro-abortion rights.

CARVILLE: General, are you a Democrat?

CLARK: I've not declared that I'm a Democrat yet.

NOVAK: General, you have said that you don't like the tax cuts. Would you increase taxes above the Bush level for everybody in America, every couple in America that makes over $100,000 a year?

CLARK: Well, I'd have to look at the exact -- where we are in the economy at that point. Then we'd start at the top and work down, until we can get enough revenues to make it a sensible, responsible fiscal position.

CARVILLE: General, a young man from the Draft Clark movement called me and said on the Diane Rehm show that said that the action in Iraq was the greatest strategic blunder that our government has taken since the end the Cold War. Was that gentleman correct? Was that an accurate assessment of what you said on Diane Rehm's show?

CLARK: It was. That's correct.

NOVAK: Do you think the world would be better off if Saddam Hussein was still in Baghdad?

CLARK: No, I think the world would be better off, though, if we had the entire United Nations unified and pressing and pulling Saddam out, rather than putting 170,000 Americans in the region and fighting a low-level guerrilla war there.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Thank you very much, General Wesley Clark.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Good luck on your big decision. We appreciate it.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Ahead, in "Fireback," one of our viewers takes a shot at my colleague, James Carville. Ooh. We'll have that comment and James' response next on CROSSFIRE.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARVILLE: All right, now for our favorite part of the show. That's when you get a chance to take us on. It's called "Fireback." And we'll see what you've got to tell us.

"I have the perfect slogan for General Wesley Clark's presidential campaign: George W. Bush talks the talk, but Wesley Clark walks the walk" -- V. Davidson, Tampa Bay.

Actually, we ought to say marches the march would be a little bit better, huh?

NOVAK: He hasn't decided to march or walk yet. That's the problem.

CARVILLE: We'll see. I think he's going to go.

NOVAK: Sally Cannon says of Evergreen, New York, says: "I'm sure that even General Clark would have to admit that he is thankful President Bush is calling the shots to protect the United States after 9/11 and not Al Gore. I know I thank God every day."

Sally, so do most of the generals at the Pentagon.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARVILLE: You know what? If Al Gore would have been president, there's a good chance 9/11 wouldn't have happened, because when he got that briefing on August 6, I guarantee you he would not have done what this president did, absolutely nothing. And he wouldn't be covering up for your friends in Saudi Arabia either.

"I wish the Democrats would stop blaming President Bush and the Republicans for their tax cuts not creating millions of jobs and economic growth they promised. They did. Unfortunately, it was in China."

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: Tony, I'm not going to try to pronounce your last name, from Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

NOVAK: I've heard that. That's a stale joke. You didn't make that up, did you?

CARVILLE: It's not stale at all. It's not stale at all. It's true.

NOVAK: Yes.

Peter Hobson of Hendersonville, North Carolina: "After James Carville finishes his side of the debate and before Bob begins his, I think it would be fair to introduce a third participant. That person would be in charge of placing a large sock in Carville's big yap, so we can hear the other side."

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Peter, I don't -- I don't agree with that. I think a waste basket on the head is much better than a sock.

CARVILLE: You know, anything to shut up somebody telling the truth, like Condoleezza Rice trying to scare the hell out of people. I'm not doing it. (APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Question. Go ahead.

CASEY CRANE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I'm Representative Casey Crane from Nashua, New Hampshire. I'd like to know if the country really feels safe enough yet to elect a Democrat.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: I don't know that I'd ever feel that safe. You're a Republican rep?

CARVILLE: You know what happened is? What about the eight years of peace and prosperity under Bill Clinton you didn't like? And if Al Gore was there, he would have acted on that August the 6th memo and we wouldn't have had it.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Another question. Go ahead. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert from Topton, Pennsylvania.

And what do you guys think that -- would Wesley Clark be the obvious vice presidential candidate for any of the Democrats that are going to be the nominee?

NOVAK: Unless they want to carry Florida. Then they'll pick Senator Bob Graham.

CARVILLE: Could be. He'd be serious -- he's be under serious consideration by everybody. Very good question.

From the left, I'm James Carville. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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