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Wesley Clark Enters Presidential Race

Aired September 17, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: A ten-hut!.

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here to announce that I intend to seek the presidency of the United States of America.

ANNOUNCER: It's forward march into the presidential race for retired General Wesley Clark. Do we need a general in the White House?

CLARK: Get ready. We're moving out!




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


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Here on the East Coast, we're still waiting for Hurricane Isabel. But for Wesley Clark in Arkansas, the waiting is over. In a minute, we will debate whether the retired four-star general's entrance into the presidential race will blow George W. Bush out of the White House.

But first, our own version of a mighty wind, if you will, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

As you can see from these pictures, Hurricane Isabel is bearing down on the East Coast of the United States. And millions of Americans are trying their best to prepare for the worst. Good luck.

Under President Clinton, the Federal Management Agency was run by experienced professionals. But when President Bush took office, he kicked the pros out and replaced them with his campaign manager and other political hacks. Today, that agency is run by a man whose prior jobs included executive director of a lobbying group and a stint as a political staffer for the Oklahoma state Senate, disaster preparation, indeed.

Mr. Bush also, it seems, turned down a request from his own Army Corps of Engineers to replenish the corps's $60 million disaster assistance fund, which might come in handy when the hurricane strikes. It seems Mr. Bush plans for hurricanes just about as well as he planned for the occupation of Iraq.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Paul, you once again have done an atrocious libel and smear on a distinguished public servant.

Michael Brown, who is the undersecretary of homeland security, has a distinguished record in local and state government, as did his predecessor, James Lee Witt, who was also a local politician appointed by Governor Clinton. Why can't you be straight? They're both politicians in the job.


BEGALA: That's not true. Because that's not true. James Lee Witt had four years of experience before he went to FEMA as an emergency disaster relief expert.

NOVAK: He was Clinton's guy. He was Clinton's appointment.


BEGALA: ... disaster relief, not a hack in the Oklahoma state Senate.

NOVAK: Less than half an hour from now is the deadline set by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for briefs to challenge a three-judge panel of that notoriously left-wing court.

It ruled that Californians cannot vote to recall their governor on October 7, as is required by state law. These judges said following the law might look bad to the underdeveloped world. Recall advocates immediately said they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. But then the full 9th Circuit asked for briefs on whether to reconsider its panel. This is the most liberal, most reversed of all appellate courts. Is it just stalling to thwart the people's will?

BEGALA: I can't wait for it to get to the Supreme Court, because all that the court did out West was apply Bush vs. Gore, which, of course, everybody knows wasn't really law. It was just a rigged deal to apply to one election.

Now the judges in California are pretending it's real. The Supreme Court is going to say, no, no, guy, we just did that to put our pal in office. It doesn't count for real Americans in real elections.


NOVAK: I don't know if you didn't read the opinion... BEGALA: I did.

NOVAK: ... by the panel, where they said, if we follow the California law and have this recall, which is required by law, we might not look good in Bengal or someplace like that.

BEGALA: What they said was, they applied Bush vs. Gore, which is the legal controlling authority, if you will.


BEGALA: It's a disastrous decision. It's a stupid decision. But it's the Supreme Court.

Well, defense and intelligence officials told today's "The New York Times" that the resistance in Iraq is coming increasingly from ordinary Iraqis, which means that the Bush administration is misleading us again by claiming that the resistance is mostly from Saddam Hussein's loyalists. Citing classified information, "The Times" reveals that everyday Iraqis increasingly see Americans as occupiers, not liberators.

Said one Bush Defense Department official -- quote -- "To a lot of Iraqis, we are no longer the guys who threw out Saddam, but the ones who are busting down doors and barging in on their wives and daughters" -- unquote. But National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says ordinary Iraqis just love having us occupy their country. And she cites as proof -- get this -- the fact that the Iraqi National Symphony performed recently.

Well, Dr. Rice, even Nero played the violin as Rome burned.


NOVAK: You know, Paul, if you had read "The New York Times" piece, as I really hope you did read it.

BEGALA: Of course I did. Sure.

NOVAK: You would find that this is -- there's two differences of opinion inside the Pentagon. And I tell you this. You're a smart Democratic politician. And you may wonder whether always knocking the U.S. troops in Iraq is good politics with the 2004 election.

BEGALA: I'm not knocking any troops. I'm knocking George W. Bush, who has misled us every single day about this war and now about the occupation. That's what I don't like.




NOVAK: I reported yesterday that the very liberal city of Seattle had to choose between poor kids and latte in yesterday's election. It was latte by a landslide; 68 percent, that was the percentage in Seattle that voted down a proposed 10-cent-a-cup espresso tax to fund day care and preschool for poor kids.

Now, I suggested that the Seattle liberals could vote for this taxing effort to redistribute income if they switch to what I consume by the gallon, real coffee. But latte means too much to liberals. The real moral of the story, people always vote against higher taxes whenever they're given a chance.


BEGALA: Well, that's actually not true. It's generally true.

But let me give you a counter example. In my home state of Texas, people in Arlington, Texas, voted to raise their own taxes by something like $200 million to build a baseball stadium for a bunch of millionaires. You know who asked them to do that? George W. Bush. He got rich off of people raising taxes. And for him now to pretend that he's a tax-cutter...


NOVAK: I know that the new game plan is to attack George Bush.


NOVAK: Wait a minute. Let me -- I'm speaking now, Paul.

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

NOVAK: On every subject that you possibly can.

But I want to ask you a question. Do you think, if the Bush tax cut were put to a national referendum, it would pass?


NOVAK: It would pass in a minute.


BEGALA: No. It would pass among millionaires and billionaires. But real people aren't getting anything out of it.

NOVAK: We have an update on the Tennessee hostage situation coming up.

But next: A retired four-star general becomes the Democratic Party's 10th -- count them, 10 -- presidential candidate today. In a minute, we'll ask how long it will take for Wesley Clark's newness to wear off and for his absolute lack of experience to start showing.

And, later, we'll get an update on preparations for Hurricane Isabel.



NOVAK: A retired four-star general is the Democratic Party's 10th presidential candidate. But judging by his announcement speech today, retired General Wesley Clark is just like the rest of them. He's long on criticism of President Bush and short on solutions for any of the country's problems. At least he has more credibility in a tank than Michael Dukakis or even Howard Dean. Can the general help the Democrats take the White House?

Marching into the CROSSFIRE, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, and Congressman Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana.


NOVAK: Congressman Emanuel, I am shocked, shocked, to hear that you are a supporter of this neophyte politician.

Let me give you a quote from a fellow retired four-star general, as reported by "The Washington Post," about Wes Clark: "There are an awful lot of people who believe Wes will tell anybody what they want to hear and tell somebody the exact opposite five minutes later. The people who have worked closely with him are the least complimentary, because he can be very abrasive, very domineering. And part of what you saw when he was relieved of command was all the broken glass and broken china within the European alliance in the U.S.-European command."

Have you done due diligence on this guy?

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: For a second when you were reading that, I thought that's what people said about me when I left the White House. I wasn't that was about Wes Clark.

So, listen, you also obviously did selective reading, because if you read what General Shalikashvili, the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in that same article, and General Barry McCaffrey, another four-star general, said, had nothing but great compliments. I think McCaffrey's quote was, "Wes Clark is a national treasure."

And in the name of protecting America's national interests, in the name of ridding Europe of the worst tyrant in human genocide on Europe since Hitler, you do that, and you break a little China, well, go ahead. I've got a few more glasses for you to break.

NOVAK: Just to be open, McCaffrey, was a Clinton appointee in his administration, was he not?



BEGALA: And an American hero who was a four-star general. NOVAK: I don't want to get on McCaffrey.


EMANUEL: Wait a second.

Robert, you're not suggesting that, if you served your country and you have four stars, you have a number of tours...

NOVAK: We don't want to talk about Barry McCaffrey.


BEGALA: Powell served under Bill Clinton as well.


NOVAK: He wasn't a political appointee. I'll explain how the government works to you sometime.

EMANUEL: Can I go to that class?

BEGALA: Let me bring your colleague in.

First, thank you both for coming down from the Hill. I know you're busy.

Let me play you a piece of General Clark's announcement speech and then ask you about it. Here's General Clark this afternoon.


CLARK: Why has America lost 2.7 million jobs? Why has America lost the prospect of a $5 trillion surplus and turned it into a $5 trillion deficit that deepens every day? Why has our country lost our sense of security and feels the shadow of fear?


BEGALA: Now, he's going right at the president on economic security and national security. Is that why we can expect a vicious, partisan, right-wing personal attack on General Clark?

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Well, I don't think you're going to get your wish on that one, Paul.

I think I and I think many Republicans deeply respect, not just the four stars, but a great record of public service that General Clark represents. And his is a life and a career that we should celebrate here in America, the kind of people we want to encourage into public life.

I just think what we're going to find is that, despite that pronouncement about domestic issues, we've got a general here who seems to be changing his position on foreign policy from when he wore the brass on his shoulders to when he began to move closer to politics. And, as near as I can tell, Paul, this is the first time I've heard much about a domestic policy agenda from General Clark.


BEGALA: He's only been a candidate for 2 1/2 hours.


PENCE: Well, many of his Democrat critics and competitors are saying that he has zero experience on domestic issues. And the last time I checked, that's pretty important for a president to understand.

NOVAK: Congressman Emanuel, I wonder if you're aware that your candidate, General Clark, in 1994, against the wishes of the State Department, met with the Serbian butcher of Srebrenica, General Mladic, took a bottle of brandy from him, exchanged hats, and he wore this butcher's hat while he gave his U.S. Army general's hat to General Mladic? Is that good judgment?

EMANUEL: Well, I think what is good judgment is that we now know where Milosevic is, the last tyrant in Europe. He's sitting the Hague getting a trial for what type of human genocide he brought to Europe. And Wes Clark was brought of bringing that...

NOVAK: You don't want to answer my question?

EMANUEL: Well, I don't know about the photo. I'm sure, within weeks, the RNC's opposition research firm will deliver the photo.


NOVAK: I've known about it for nine years. Why don't you know about it?

EMANUEL: Robert, I don't think you have to worry about his service to the country and what he's done. And to the question


PENCE: But, Rahm, I think that's a serious issue with General Clark, is the issue -- he was willing to be a part of leading NATO to supplant Milosevic in 1999, without U.N. approval.


PENCE: But he's opposed supplanting Saddam Hussein, another tyrant of much greater mendacity.

EMANUEL: Let me tell say this. If we had done Iraq like we did Kosovo, with NATO being directed without the U.N. support, had we done it like that, we would actually have the type of international support. This is the only war post the Cold War that all the democratic nations are divided on removing a tyrant, unlike the first three wars post the Cold War, Kosovo, Bosnia and Gulf I. And this war could be a lot more like the first

(CROSSTALK) PENCE: You'll concede the point, the U.N. did not approve of Kosovo. There was no U.N. color or approval in Kosovo.

EMANUEL: That's right. And my recommendation is, we could have done it -- we did it in NATO there. We could have done it here.

And the second point, to your economic record -- and I'll say this. If you think a jobless economy and an endless recovery is the way to go, then you should stick with President Bush. If you think we can do better, Wes Clark is the way to go.


NOVAK: All right, we are going to have to take a break. And then Wolf Blitzer will check headlines, including the very latest on Hurricane Isabel.

And then it's "Rapid Fire,' where we quick-step our guests through the questions and answers.





NOVAK: It's time for "Rapid Fire," where our guests are under orders to give short answers, so we can ask more questions. We're talking about retired General Wesley Clark joining the presidential race, talking to Illinois Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel and Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence.

BEGALA: Congressman Pence, what occupation was more successful, Kosovo and Bosnia, led by General Clark and President Clinton, or Iraq today, led by President Bush and Rumsfeld?

PENCE: I think they're both great moments in not only American military, but in the history of freedom in this country. History will acquit both campaigns very, very well. General Clark is to be commended for Kosovo. And U.S. forces are to be commended at this hour in Iraq.

NOVAK: Rahm Emanuel, can you name any battles, battles, that General Clark has actually won?

EMANUEL: Well, yes, the -- pushing the Serbs out of Kosovo. That was a U.S.-led effort. And they threw them out while they were throwing them in.

BEGALA: There you go. In fact, it was a war.


BEGALA: Will President Bush fire Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Dr. Rice because of this debacle in the desert and the heat he's taking from General Clark now?

PENCE: Given the extraordinary success of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the president's national security team will stay right where America needs them. That's in the White House.


NOVAK: Mr. Emanuel, if General Clark, who graduated first in his class from West Point, studies very hard, how long will it take him to learn the domestic issues?

EMANUEL: Not long at all, because he's very familiar. And, in fact, he has a military background and an investment banking background. So, since he has a background in both the economy and in foreign policy, he would be able to deal with the jobless economy we have, this endless occupation, the 45 million uninsured in this country, the $1 trillion in foreclosed corporations we have here, the two million people who have walked out



BEGALA: I love you.

Rahm is one of my best friends. I'll let Congressman have the last word.

Is General Clark the Democrat the Republicans fear the most?

PENCE: I don't think so, because I think, at the end of the day, a -- an insurgent candidate, an outsider, who says he voted for Ronald Reagan, only recently joined the Democratic Party, and supports school vouchers, is not going to play well among the liberal Democratic base of your party, Paul.


BEGALA: That's interesting, an interesting analysis.


BEGALA: We thank Congressman Mike Pence, Republican from Indiana, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, my pal from Chicago. Thank you both very much for a fun debate. I know we'll have both of you back soon.


BEGALA: Let's now see what everyone here in our audience thinks. When you came in, we gave you those little voting devices. Pull them out, gang, and tell us this. Do you think it's a good idea to have a general in the White House? Press one if you think, yes, a general in the White House is just what this country needs these days. Press two for, no, you prefer retired generals stay somewhere besides the White House, like maybe commenting here on CNN. We'll have the results for you in just a minute.

And then, some of our viewers are ready to enlist in General Clark's army. We'll let them fire back next.

Stay with us.



NOVAK: We asked the audience, is it a good idea to have a general in the White House? Republicans, yes 33 percent, no 67 percent; Democrats pretty close to agreeing, 48 yes, 52 percent no.

Paul, as an old second lieutenant, I can tell you, there's a lot of resentment I'm having, retired generals running our lives.

BEGALA: Very, very interesting, an interesting insight. But I'm honored that a four-star general and military hero like him joins my party.

So welcome to the Democratic Party, General Clark.

Mike Smith of New Milford, New Jersey, writes: "I'm pretty enthusiastic about Wesley Clark. He's a proven leader and seems like an every man. More than anything, this country needs a man that represents the regular people of this country, not big business."

So there's a dissenting view.

NOVAK: Let me tell you this. I have never met a four-star general who was a regular person yet. There might be one out there.


BEGALA: Well, Bush was a first lieutenant who does nothing but serve big business. And so maybe...

NOVAK: D. Matthew Collins of Lubbock, Texas, your home state: "There are nine angry men and one angry woman running as Democrats for president, with nothing positive to say as to what they will do if elected."

Mr. Collins, you're wrong. What they'll do is raise the hell out of taxes.

BEGALA: No, what they'll do is run George Bush out of office, which is a very positive thing for this country.


BEGALA: Peggy Southard in Redding, Connecticut, writes: "Although I don't know much about General Clark, I will vote for any Democrat that can defeat Bush. Four more years of this administration is sure to plunge the country into economic depression and a perpetual state of war." NOVAK: Well, Peggy, what she ought to do then is support Reverend Sharpton, because he really is a contrast with President Bush.

OK, Buddy Holland of Columbia, Maryland, down the road: "If Clark think we shouldn't have gone to war with Iraq because of immediate threat, then what was Kosovo? And why are we still there?"

Unanswerable questions.


BEGALA: Highly answerable. I'll tell you what Kosovo was. It was a success. And we had the international community behind us. Neither can be said about Iraq.


NOVAK: Question.

BEGALA: Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. I'm Jeff Atkins (ph) from South Carolina.

And given General Wesley Clark's nonpartisan past, do you think he has a better chance of stealing Republican votes away from Bush in a general election?

NOVAK: Well, I don't know if he will or not. He says he voted for Reagan. He's for school choice. He's for the death penalty. He doesn't know how he stands on tax increases. But, believe me, they'll whip him into line on every one of those issues.

BEGALA: No, I think he will. I think he'll take a lot of votes from Republicans. A

Republican from Florida today came up to me and she said, "Oh, if he runs, I'll be for him." And she's very big for Bush. So I think he can do a lot of damage. That's a test in a party. It's like Ronald Reagan stole a bunch of Democrats. Bill Clinton took a bunch of Republicans.

NOVAK: Listen, I know Ronald Reagan, and Wesley Clark is no Ronald Reagan, believe me.


BEGALA: No, he actually served his country in uniform. He didn't just make movies in Culver City.

NOVAK: Ronald Reagan served in uniform, too.


BEGALA: Making movies in Culver City. NOVAK: He was in uniform.

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

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

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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