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President Bush in Baghdad
Aired November 28, 2003 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE: the president in Baghdad.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're proud of you. And America stands solidly behind you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ANNOUNCER: He was a hit with the troops, but what will the voters think?
Today, on CROSSFIRE.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala, and Tucker Carlson.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE And an unusual day after Thanksgiving.
Instead of the normal leftovers, we actually have a big political story on our plates, President Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: It is always great when our commander in chief visits our troops. Tragically, though, yet another American was killed in Iraq not long after the president left. The question is, when will the Bush team give us a strategy for victory on the ground, rather than just P.R. victories on the airwaves?
But, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."
President Bush's surprise trip to Baghdad was, even in my eyes, wonderful. And so my hat is off to him. Congratulations, Mr. President. Mr. Bush spent only about 2 1/2 hours on the ground in Baghdad, but he had time to meet with Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and a former Iraqi exile who was reported to be especially close to the Bush-Cheney team.
And Chalabi had told "The New York Times" that a handover of power is planned for not next year, driven not by America's national security interests, but by Mr. Bush's reelection campaign -- quote -- "The whole thing was set" up, Chalabi said, "so President Bush could come to the airport in October for a ceremony to congratulate the new Iraqi government. When you work backwards from that, you understand the dates the Americans were insisting on."
There you have it from the Iraqi closest to the president. This was all set up for his reelection.
CARLSON: I'm totally missing -- I'm missing this.
I read it in "The New York Times" every day that there is an imminent handover of power from the United States to Iraq. This is what the left wants. It's what Europe wants. It's what the right wants. If you're implying that we are going to pull out troops in October, if that happens, that will be appalling. And I'll be the first to denounce it. That would be appalling.
BEGALA: It will be appalling. It will happen. And I'm going to call on you to denounce it.
CARLSON: This year? You really think we're going to pull out troops in October before the election? That would be
BEGALA: I -- no, I think it is going to be in June. That's the reporting I have seen.
BEGALA: Despite the security -- or lack of security on the ground, yes, I think this president is going to cut and run next year, before the election.
CARLSON: Well, you're on tape saying that.
CARLSON: I will be glad to play that again and show you wrong.
Well, the situation in Iraq has caused, as you may have heard, a rift in the Democratic Party, not simply between those who voted for the war and those who did not, but between those who have actually been to Iraq and those who haven't. Democrats who haven't ventured beyond the U.S. borders in a while tend to portray Iraq as a hopeless quagmire, a nightmare of violence and broken American promises.
Democrats who have actually visited tend to be notably optimistic. Congressman Norm Dicks of Washington state went this fall and described himself as so impressed with what the U.S. has accomplished so far. Democrat Carolyn McCarthy of New York had almost exactly the same reaction.
Now no less a Democrat than Hillary Rodham Clinton has gone to Iraq and come away pleased -- quote -- "I'm encouraged by the progress that has taken place," she said.
It's an interesting phenomenon. Maybe Howard Dean should skip Aspen this year and head to Baghdad.
CARLSON: Not that it would...
CARLSON: Not that it would change his view, I don't think.
You know what? It's fine. I think -- I'm sure that Senator Clinton and those others are impressed with what these young men and women are doing over there. That doesn't mean that they were put there by an honest policy or a wise policy. This president has both misled us and gotten us into a horrible quagmire.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CARLSON: Then tell me this. Why did Mrs. Clinton vote for this war? Why did John Kerry vote for this war?
BEGALA: I disagreed with that vote. What do you want me to do? I'm not in the Senate. If I had been, I would have voted against it.
BEGALA: And I said it was a disaster then.
BEGALA: And I was right then. And you were wrong then.
CARLSON: I'm not going to...
CARLSON: I'm not going to outyell you again.
CARLSON: Because it's childish.
But I will say, there's a difference between a wrong policy -- that's fair -- and calling it dishonest, which is groundless and dumb.
BEGALA: It was dishonest. It was a fib. It was a falsehood. It was a fabrication, over and over again.
CARLSON: Well, President Bush is now back in Texas after his whirlwind visit with U.S. troops in Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day yesterday. The trip came as a surprise to virtually everyone in the world, including some members of the Secret Service.
But not to Dick Keil of Bloomberg News. Keil, who is one of the great White House correspondents of our or any other age, was in the pool yesterday on Air Force One. He joins us now from Crawford, Texas.
Dick Keil, welcome.
BEGALA: Dick, good to see you.
RICHARD KEIL, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Thank you, Tucker.
BEGALA: Let me ask you, Dick. First, I understand that you had your dog with you there in Crawford and you had to abandon your dog to take this trip?
KEIL: Well, let's not call the ASPCA just yet.
One of the dilemmas I did have to deal with, though, once I got the word that we were going to Baghdad was what to do with the dog. I was told by Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joe Hagin I would need a good cover story, and a good one. I found a Bush aide who was not in on the trip and told her that I had a sick relative in Dallas that I needed to go see urgently and I would probably be gone, oh, 36 hours or so.
CARLSON: Now, Dick, everyone I know who's been to Baghdad lately has been afraid to fly in. What was the flight in like? Were you afraid?
KEIL: A little bit.
I think it was in everybody's mind, frankly, that DHL cargo plane that had its engine shot off not 10 days ago. We were trying to counterbalance those fears with the realization that the Secret Service would not put the president in a situation that was not safe. And the staff had told us, if there was any advance leak of the trip, they would turn the plane around, because, frankly, the security situation was too precarious to try and insert him into the situation then.
But it was a very unusual flight. We flew in with no lights on. All the window shades were down. We flew in a very deep dissent and a spiralling motion, what you do when you're trying to avoid the possibility of anti-aircraft fire.
BEGALA: Dick, I believe those White House aides. I used to be a White House aide back when Clinton was in the White House.
But there are some of your colleagues and competitors in journalism who think you did the wrong thing. I have to say, I think that you did the right thing to keep this a secret. It's the only way to protect the safety of our president, who I don't agree with, but I always want him pristinely safe.
How do you respond to critics who said you should have spilled the beans on this big news story?
KEIL: Well, most of us treated it the way we would if we were in a battle zone and we had word of a U.S. offensive about to take place against a fairly entrenched enemy position.
Most of us would want to be in a position to report that news as soon as it came out, as soon as it was reportable, but not to report it early in a way that would jeopardize the safety of any of the troops involved. That's the way most of us approached this.
CARLSON: So, Dick, did you get Thanksgiving, A? And, B, did you get any wine to go with it? Is that allowed in Baghdad.
KEIL: We did not eat in Baghdad. We waited until we had finished filing on the plane on the way home. And the answer to both your questions is yes.
BEGALA: Good for you.
I understand, also, to get there, you had to do almost the impossible. And that is, you had to shake off the indefatigable Dana Bash, CNN's White House correspondent, who was out there in Crawford covering the president, but was not part of the small pool who came over. How did you shake Dana?
KEIL: Well, Dana was on her way to the grocery store.
We were all going to prepare Thanksgiving dinner together. And I was responsible for the turkey. And she called me literally before I had to turn my cell phone off, just a moment or two before. And she said, "Is there anything I can get for you while I'm on the way?" And I said, as a matter of fact, you could get me a turkey that will feed about 10 and stuffing to go with it. And she joked, "Oh, I suppose you want me to cook it?"
And I said: "Actually, it's pretty easy. About 35 minutes a pound out ought to do you just fine."
Dick, we're almost out of time. But, quickly, were you upset when you pulled Crawford duty over Thanksgiving?
KEIL: Well, better than Christmas or New Year's. I kind of take the bullet on Thanksgiving. And, obviously, it worked out better this time than it usually does.
CARLSON: Dick Keil of Bloomberg, really, one of the great White House correspondents ever, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.
BEGALA: Thanks, Dick.
KEIL: Glad to be you. Thank you.
CARLSON: Well, President Bush's Baghdad surprise has Democrats in a quandary: How can you criticize his trip without being accused of overreaching in the worst way? We'll debate the president's progress in Iraq next.
And there's a move to remake the dime to honor one of America's great presidents. We'll show you whose face might replace FDR's later on CROSSFIRE.
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Just go to CNN.com/CROSSFIRE and sign up today.
Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e- mail us at CNN@gwu.edu. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
Look, there's no doubt that President Bush's surprise Thanksgiving visit to our troops in Baghdad lifted their morale yesterday. Today, however, though, the news from Baghdad is tragically familiar. A U.S. soldier was killed in a mortar attack by insurgents. Three improvised explosive devices were discovered and disarmed.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is visiting in Iraq, along with Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, commented -- quote -- "We face a very big hill to climb" -- unquote. In the CROSSFIRE to talk about the visit and the climb, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.
Guys, thanks for coming in.
CARLSON: Peter, I want to show you -- this may surprise you -- I want to show you how a talented politician reacts to the news of yesterday.
Here she is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I thought it was terrific. I think any time that a president can meet with troops who are in an active conflict situation makes a real difference. It sends a strong signal of national support.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Pretty smooth.
I want you to contrast with the response from Dick Gephardt. There was no response. John Kerry said, "When Thanksgiving is over, I hope the president will take the time to correct his failed policy in Iraq," etcetera, etcetera nastiness. And finally, Joe Lockhart, who accused Bush of -- quote -- "flying to Baghdad to use the troops there as a prop."
Shouldn't others in your party listen to Mrs. Clinton and get some self-restraint?
PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First of all, Tucker, I think you have to make sure that you put the trip itself and the policies in separate boxes.
This trip was the right thing to do at the right time. It's the tingle up the spine. It's the -- it's -- you can't watch this and not have a lump in your throat as he's there with those troops. But the policies are the problem. And to criticize those policies I think is the right thing to do. It is the patriotic thing to do. But I would give the president his due and say, this was not like the crazy Top Gun trip on the carrier. This was not "Mission Accomplished" behind there.
This was a different kind of -- of visit. And I think -- I think it was the right thing to do.
BEGALA: And I've been one who has not endorsed the view that a lot of people have, that this is all just about politics. I think it's wonderful any time any commander in chief visits our troops. Anybody who goes over there, I think, is terrific for doing that.
I'm deeply troubled, though, by the comment that Ahmad Chalabi, who is the handpicked Bush-Cheney leader in Iraq, the guy they wanted to put in as the head of the country who is on this Iraqi Governing Council -- but he told "The New York Times" that a transfer of power has been arranged to benefit the president's reelection. These are his words. "The whole thing was set so President Bush could come to the airport in October for a ceremony to congratulate the new Iraqi government. When you work backwards from that, you understand the dates the Americans were insisting on."
Why is our president trying to rig American foreign policy to benefit his election?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, Paul, I think that, of course, everything you read in "The New York Times" is true. We've learned that the past few years.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: ... made this up?
CASTELLANOS: I think whether...
BEGALA: This guy is the closest Iraqi to Bush and Cheney that there is. He's one of the reasons we got into this war, because they believed his con job.
CASTELLANOS: Whether someone at some level -- whether someone at some level may have talked politics with someone in Iraq, that may have happened, but who knows.
But what I do know is, this president wouldn't have taken on this war to secure freedom in this part of the world if it were for political gain. It was a political risk for him to do this. But he understands that we're not going to be safer here unless there's freedom and democracy over there.
BEGALA: That's not the question.
BEGALA: The question is, why is an Iraqi who is closest to the president telling us that the administration is telling him that they're setting up a phony-baloney transfer of power next year just for the election, when this clearly, obviously, a failed policy? They're just going to cut and run next year for the election, aren't they?
CASTELLANOS: Paul, you know, it's interesting. You keep talking about the failed policy, when, just last week, 10 days or so ago, we have the Madrid conference where 70 nations from around the world put billions of dollars behind the failed American policy that you say we don't even have. BEGALA: That Madrid conference was a joke.
CARLSON: Wait a second. I'm sorry. This question has to end here.
CASTELLANOS: We now have 30 nations -- we now have 30 nations with troops beside American troops in Iraq. We now have 11 of the 19 nations. Japan is sending in troops.
CARLSON: Gentlemen, gentlemen, excuse me.
Let me just jump into the scrum here and posit to you, Peter, that, actually, there is some political manipulation going on from the left. There's no doubt that Howard Dean has ridden anti-Iraq-war sentiment to the very top of his party, of course. So my -- I guess my question to you, why is it that Democrats who've actually visited, interesting -- we played this earlier -- Mrs. Clinton, including Norm Dicks of Washington, the Democrats who have actually left the campaign trail to go to Iraq have markedly positive things to say about it? Why is that?
FENN: Well, markedly positive, but they disagree with the policy.
Look, you would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to miss Bremer's trip back here. Come on back quick, because we've got to talk to you about how we're going to transfer power and how we're going to get out before the elections. And this president
CARLSON: But you're not...
CARLSON: But you're not addressing my question.
FENN: I am addressing your question, because the people that you cite have serious questions about this policy in Iraq.
CARLSON: But don't you think that the Democratic Party has a vested interest in portraying Iraq as a nightmare and in portraying the economy as destroyed, etcetera, etcetera?
FENN: No, no, look, the whole point is that there are serious policy differences which should be debated here. (CROSSTALK)
FENN: We should not have a president of the United States who puts an ad -- or his Republican National Committee does -- on the air in Iowa which questions the patriotism of people who question the war. That shouldn't happen.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CARLSON: You're making that up out of absolutely nothing.
FENN: Making it up?
CARLSON: He doesn't question the patriotism of anyone. What are you talking about?
BEGALA: Let me bring Alex in here. And I want to come back to Senator Clinton, because she is over there as well with Jack Reed, former 42nd Airborne commander.
And she made an observation, echoing John McCain, on this question of whether we should pull out. The administration has made it clear they want to pull out troops and transfer power before the election.
Here's what Senator Clinton, who sounds a lot more like a president than some others -- here's what Senator Clinton has to say about this strategy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I don't see how we can quickly and conclusively draw down our force until we know that there's a stable, functioning government and that there's enough security so that it actually means something to the people here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: That's what a real president should be saying, not, oh, by June of next year, maybe October of next year, we're going to pull the troops out of Iraq, right?
CASTELLANOS: Paul, when -- when you say, that's what a real president should say, have you just announced her presidency for -- in 2004?
BEGALA: I wish she were running, Alex, but she's not.
CASTELLANOS: I'm sure you do. I kind of do, too.
BEGALA: ... try to steal it again, but he wouldn't get enough votes to win, just like he didn't against Gore.
CASTELLANOS: I hate...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: I hate to resort to the facts, but what the president has actually said is that we're going to stay as long as it takes to do what we have to do. And that is create democracy in a region of the world that needs it, unlike the Democrats.
Now, there is real policy difference here. The Democratic strategy and policy for Iraq is, come home and let terrorism follow us home.
CASTELLANOS: The president, what he has actually said is, we will stay there as long as it takes to do the job we have to do. And I think you could see -- you could see it -- you could see it in the eyes of...
CARLSON: There's no evidence that President Bush said anything to Chalabi about that. Where do you get this?
BEGALA: Somebody from the Bush administration did.
CARLSON: But you just claimed it was President Bush's statement. And that's not true.
BEGALA: One of his minions did.
CASTELLANOS: It might have been Paul Begala.
FENN: They want to get out from underneath this war so bad. They know that, if more bodies come into Dover, which, by the way, they don't let the press...
CASTELLANOS: Which meeting were you at again?
FENN: Yes, I was over -- yes, me and Karl Rove are like this.
CASTELLANOS: I know.
FENN: But they refuse to let the press go to Dover to greet those -- those poor dead guys coming back. (CROSSTALK)
FENN: More deaths every day.
CASTELLANOS: I don't know if you guy noticed.
CASTELLANOS: There was a -- there was a war. And in war, stuff gets hurt.
FENN: No, but mission was accomplished last April. It was supposed to be over.
CASTELLANOS: And just a few months after a war, we're rebuilding. We're rebuilding hospitals, rebuilding schools. There are more people -- more jobs and businesses open than there were before the war. Oil is flowing again. Bridges have been rebuilt.
CASTELLANOS: And a dictator who was using -- a dictator who was using billions of oil dollars, not just to slaughter his own people, but to spread terrorism around the world is out of power.
CASTELLANOS: We have a lot to give thanks for today.
CARLSON: We have 30 seconds left. We have 30 seconds left.
I'm going to give you those 30 seconds to boil down the Democratic alternative to the Bush plan. Give me the three points of the Democratic plan for what we ought to do in Iraq next.
FENN: The three points?
CARLSON: Yes. Hit me.
FENN: First of all, we've got to get the U.N. in.
FENN: We've got to get international support for this.
FENN: We've got to get -- secondly, we've got to get other people paying the bill, other people paying
FENN: They're not even there.
FENN: Alex, the last time they paid the bill -- the last time they put troops in...
CARLSON: So shift the burden? That's the bottom line?
FENN: It an international effort to stop terrorism. It should be an international effort to put
CASTELLANOS: Seventy countries, including many
FENN: Secondly, we ought to find -- we ought to get Saddam Hussein.
FENN: I can't get my 30 seconds
BEGALA: Why is it that we had a lot of allies in the last war that we won, and in this one, we're
CARLSON: Gentlemen, I'm afraid we're completely out of time for this segment. But we have yet another, thankfully.
When our guests return, we will put them in the "Rapid Fire."
Miles O'Brien has the latest on the series of highway shootings in Ohio right after the break.
We'll be right back.
O'BRIEN: Time now for "Rapid Fire," where we serve up the questions hot and fast. We're talking about our president's Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad.
In the CROSSFIRE, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.
CARLSON: Peter, your -- the front-runner and likely nominee, Howard Dean, says he would do a better job in Iraq. Wesley Clark, another disagrees, because Howard Dean admitted essentially dodging the draft.
This is a quote from Wesley Clark: "Dean was out there skiing when I was recovering from my wounds in Vietnam."
Do you think that disqualifies Howard Dean to be your nominee?
FENN: I don't think it disqualifies him. He had a bad back, a disc. And the doctors looked at it and said, he's out. The skiing with a bad back is a little tricky, but...
FENN: Got to moguls, I think.
CASTELLANOS: He was on homeland security ski patrol.
CASTELLANOS: We had a president, of course, who was dodging the draft, too. But we won't go there.
BEGALA: If our president has 30 hours to drive to Baghdad, why doesn't he take 30 minutes to drive across town and attend a funeral of one of these young heroes who died?
CASTELLANOS: Paul, he shouldn't do that.
BEGALA: He should. Ronald Reagan did it.
BEGALA: His father did it. This president owes those young men a lot. He should go to their funeral.
CASTELLANOS: Well, what some presidents -- some presidents think they have to do everything in public. Not every president does.
BEGALA: He could attend in private. CASTELLANOS: There's -- well, I think, if you'll check. But that's another story. I'll leave that. It's a private thing. It should remain private.
But I think you heard, on Veterans Day, about what this president said about the loss of life there and how he felt for the families and how it wasn't in vain. It was for a noble cause. And that was to get freedom and democracy in a part of the world that will keep us safe here.
CASTELLANOS: So I think, and if you looked at the president's eyes as he looked at those troops in Baghdad, I think you could see what he felt for the sacrifice he was asking them to make. So I don't think that's fair.
CARLSON: Peter, many Democrats today have denounced the president's trip yesterday as -- quote -- "a photo-op." You just heard Paul Begala demand the president engaged in a photo-op. A lot of other Democrats have demanded the same -- the same thing.
BEGALA: I said he could attend in private.
CARLSON: Do you see any logical contradiction there?
FENN: Look, the one thing that this administration has tried to do -- and I understand why they have tried to do it -- is to take the focus off the deaths, especially after "Mission Accomplished" was up on the carrier.
And by prohibiting the press from going to Dover, Delaware, and talking to those families as those loved ones came back, I think that was a mistake.
FENN: And I honestly think -- OK.
FENN: Ding. I'm done.
CARLSON: OK, Peter Fenn, Alex Castellanos, happy Thanksgiving to our favorite guests. Thanks for joining us, as always.
CARLSON: Are you ready for a new face on the side of your dime? We'll tell you about a proposal to put a different president on the 10-cent piece.
Find out who when we return.
BEGALA: Welcome back.
This weekend, the Showtime cable channel intends to broadcast the Ronald Reagan biopic that conservatives had intimidated CBS into censoring. But the right-wingers aren't stopping with mere censorship. Indiana Republican Congressman Mark Souder has introduced legislation to take Franklin Roosevelt's face off the dime. Even though the March of Dimes itself is an outgrowth of FDR's battle against polio, Congressman Souder wants to replace FDR with a likeness of Ronald Reagan.
BEGALA: All part of a neo-Stalinist cult of personality that seeks to put Mr. Reagan's name on every bus bench and sewage treatment plant in America.
BEGALA: Look, the left has FDR, JFK, LBJ, MLK, a host of other heroes. The right, unfortunately, has Ronald Reagan and no one else.
BEGALA: Kind of sad, if you think about it.
CARLSON: Did you just say that Lyndon Johnson was a hero?
BEGALA: Great hero.
CARLSON: Really? That...
BEGALA: He was a great hero.
CARLSON: That really says it all right there, that you could call someone as dishonest as Lyndon Johnson a hero. I have to say, that's...
BEGALA: Lyndon Johnson was a great hero. We have Medicare because of him. We have Medicaid. We have voting rights, civil rights, equality for black people and white people.
CARLSON: Paul, you've just discredited yourself.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Hook 'em, Horns. Go, Longhorns. Beat A&M.
CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.
Join us again Monday for yet more CROSSFIRE.
Have a great weekend. And happy Thanksgiving.
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