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Saddam's Capture: What Does It Mean Politically?

Aired December 15, 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 Saddam Hussein. You've got a message from the president.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good riddance. The world is better off without you, Mr. Saddam Hussein.


ANNOUNCER: What about the Democrats who say they can do a better job? Has Saddam's capture put them in a hole?

Plus, CROSSFIRE and Tucker Carlson, live from Baghdad. Today on CROSSFIRE.

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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Tucker Carlson joins us live from Baghdad in a little bit to tell us about his wild ride to the Iraqi capital. But we're starting with the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Only admirers of the deposed dictator and supporters of Howard Dean are less than happy. And President Bush calls it a great moment for the Iraqi people. He says they're the ones who should decide Saddam's fate.

The White House calls itself a gloat-free zone, but there's no doubt the president feels pretty good. He spent most of an hour taking questions from reporters today and resisting repeated invitations to take a swipe at his Democratic opponents. Politics can come later, he says.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Yes, right. As if political calculations underlie anything this White House does.

Saddam Hussein's capture is a great achievement for the U.S. military. But Iraq's still a mess.

A couple of car bombs went off today, killing six Iraqi policemen, wounding 18 people. U.S. soldiers are still at risk. There's still no timetable to get them out and international community in.

And thanks to record-setting deficit costs by tax cuts for the rich, we're borrowing more money to pay for this endless war.

NOVAK: James, I know how much out of touch you are with the regular American people. But you know, what people I talk to hate saying, "This is a great thing, but." "We're glad he is captured, but" Get the buts out.

CARVILLE: No, I don't get the buts out. But I'm not -- You may be happy if these kids are stuck over here with no plan to get out. I'm not. I'm not shutting up. Understand?

I don't care what you do. No one is going to shut me up from speaking my mind. And but. I am not happy. We have 110,000 kids stuck over there without a plan. They can capture anybody they want to.

NOVAK: Those are not kids. Those are not kids; they're fighting men.

CARVILLE: They're soldiers. Fighting men and women, whatever you want to call them.

NOVAK: Don't call them kids.

CARVILLE: I don't like them over there.

NOVAK: Don't call them kids.

CARVILLE: I don't like it one bit. Not one bit.

NOVAK: Go ahead.

CARVILLE: All right, the U.S. military found Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole. But does the news of this capture put President Bush's Democratic opponents in a different kind of hole?

To debate it, we're joined by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, a Republican congressman from Missouri, and by Democratic Chief Deputy Whip Joseph Crowley. He's a New York congressman who's endorsed Howard Dean.


NOVAK: Thank you.

CARVILLE: Thank you very much.

NOVAK: Good to have you both here.

Mr. Crowley, I want to, in my questions to you, I don't want to say anything that is unkind to Democrats. So I'm going to have only Democrats say things that are unkind to Democrats.

And let's look to your vice presidential nominee of 2000, Joe Lieberman, what he said yesterday afternoon.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison. And the world would be a much more dangerous place. The American people would have a lot more to fear.


NOVAK: And Mr. Crowley, even though you voted for the war and for money to finance the war, isn't Joe Lieberman right? If your man were president, Saddam Hussein would be riding high in Baghdad, wouldn't he?

REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: Let me see. I'm a great admirer of the senator. I think what he said yesterday was a little bit over the top. I think...

NOVAK: What was wrong about it?

CROWLEY: Well, I think what he said is if Dean were president today, Saddam Hussein would not be in prison. I think that's forecasting something we'll never know, because obviously, Dean is not president today.

NOVAK: He said he wouldn't go to war.

CROWLEY: The point is, I think, what Dean has said consistently is that he would not go to war in the same way that this president has chosen to go to war.

NOVAK: Would he go with heart attacks (ph) or something?

CROWLEY: Without a coalition, a real full coalition, with a war that has taken -- you know, quite frankly a great deal of time before they even captured Saddam Hussein, has diverted the attention of the American people away from the real terrorist, Osama bin Laden, who 825 days ago today attacked the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and killed not only my first cousin, but 3,000 other Americans. And he has yet to be brought to justice.

We have not focused on the real perpetrator of terrorism against this country and many other countries in this world.

CARVILLE: That Saddam Hussein be brought to justice by the Iraqi people, I don't know how anybody could argue with that. And obviously we'll find out more.

Tell us, and this is a day that -- tell us how the world is safer from terrorism now that Osama bin Laden is in jail and not a cave.

BLUNT: Well certainly James, the people in Iraq are safer than they were before.

CARVILLE: Right. BLUNT: This guy was, as I recall, the ace of spades in that deck of infamy. As it turns out we now have a new view of the ace in the hole concept. The ace of spades down there in the hole, hiding from everybody.

And the world is safer. I think the Middle East is safer. I think this is -- particularly if we take advantage of this moment, the potential to bring more stability to the Middle East, to use this as an example.

I frankly, when I heard that Saddam Hussein had been captured, I'd always assumed he would not be captured alive. And I initially thought, that's very complicating.

But I quickly thought, and I'm now absolutely persuaded this is a great opportunity to show to the world the price of tyranny, what happens when a country's terrorized like this one was.

And I'm not giving up yet on the other things that I still continue to believe, as maybe Joe did. I certainly did when we voted to empower the president to make these decisions. That Saddam Hussein had great potential to do bad things.

He clearly had contacts and gave sanctuary to other terrorists. We do need to be focused on terrorism all over the world. Joe and his family understand what happens when terrorists take over. But they were encouraged, whether they were in Gaza or whether they were in Iraq, they were encouraged by Saddam Hussein.

NOVAK: Mr. Crowley, I want to quote another Democrat, Joe Biden, who I think is a very distinguished spokesman on foreign policy. I don't always agree with him, but sometimes I do.

And last night on the Paula Zahn show, he said something that I think we ought to listen to.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: If in fact we win the war in Iraq and win the peace in Iraq and that helps George Bush, so be it. It's in the interest of America that happen.


NOVAK: Do you agree with that?

CROWLEY: First of all, let me say I think the capture of Saddam Hussein was something that we all applauded. I applauded it. Obviously, Senator Biden applauds it. Just about every member of the House that I know of on body sides of the aisle, the Senate the same thing. There's not a politician in this country that's not applauding today the capture of Saddam Hussein.

We all know he's an evil person. We all know the atrocities that he committed...

NOVAK: I'm waiting for the "but"?

CROWLEY: What's the "but"? The "but" is there's credit where credit is due. Our armed services captured Saddam Hussein. And the best army in the world did it. It's something that was bipartisan supported.

NOVAK: Could you address what Joe Biden says? If that helps George Bush, he's glad it happened. Is true or not?

CROWLEY: Let me say that the president certainly has a success here today. I think it's a couple of days story. It's a part of a bigger picture and a bigger story.

There's still an awful lot of work that needs to be done. Our young men and women are still in harm's way in a land far across the sea. And they're pining to be home today.

CARVILLE: Can I see what Senator Biden said again, please? Can we run that again? Is that possible, or -- I want to see what he said again.

NOVAK: I'll read it to you. He said if we...


BIDEN: If in fact we win the war in Iraq and win the peace in Iraq and that helps George Bush, so be it. It's in the interest of America that happen.


CARVILLE: You know what? Bob told me that. He said, if we win the war. I don't know if we will. But win the peace. So if we have, what do you think the chances are we're going to have a peaceful, secure Democratic Iraq next October?


BLUNT: I think what we're going to have between now and next October...

NOVAK: Go ahead. Don't pay attention to them. They're rude and crude. Go ahead.

BLUNT: I think Iraq is...

CROWLEY: They're Americans expressing approval.

BLUNT: ... certainly going to be more peaceful, secure, more democratic than it was under Saddam.

They won't have a constitutional democracy like we have by next October. But what we're going to have between now and next October, James, is a trial, a trial where Saddam and his henchmen have their atrocities laid out before the world and will pay a price for that.


BLUNT; You know, if Saddam Hussein was still in power and he'd caught somebody like Saddam Hussein, don't think that guy would be in jail. That guy would...

CARVILLE: I want -- audience, would you quit exercising your opinion as Americans? It offends Bob Novak; he can't stand free speech.

You know, now Congressman, this is the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

BLUNT: Right.

CARVILLE: To my knowledge, there was not one word in this entire thing about bringing Saddam Hussein to justice, any such thing. And it was mostly focused on weapons of mass destruction.

Now that we have Saddam Hussein, how soon will we be able to find a nuclear reactor that Vice President Cheney told us exists in Iraq?

BLUNT: I think that's the quote that you're not going to be able to show me.

NOVAK: There is a big -- it will take forever.

CARVILLE: It offends you for them to speak out.

NOVAK: You always offend me.

BLUNT: James, there's a big difference in the reconstituted program and a nuclear reactor. You and I both know that.

I think they found plenty of plans that indicate that they were moving forward with lots of programs. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

I still believe that there were weapons of mass destruction, particularly biological. They could be in a hole just like the one Saddam Hussein was in. They don't have to have water; they don't have to have air; they don't have to breathe. They're going to be harder to find, but we can certainly find them.

NOVAK: Gentlemen, we'll have to take a break. And next in "Rapid Fire," I'll ask Congressman Joe Crowley if he's having buyer's remorse about endorsing Howard Dean.

And our own Tucker Carlson is in Baghdad. He'll join us live from inside Iraq with the latest on how that country is reacting to the news of the capture.


NOVAK: Welcome back. It's time for "Rapid Fire." Short questions, short answers, no hiding in a spider hole.

By pulling Saddam Hussein out of the hole he was hiding in this weekend, the Bush administration has put the crowd of Democratic presidential wannabes in an even deeper hole. Can they dig themselves out or just in vapor (ph)?

We're debating that with a Dean supporter, Congressman Joseph Crowley, Democrat of New York, and the House majority whip, Congressman Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri.

CARVILLE: Congressman Blunt, do you think that the capture of Saddam Hussein will help a great deal in making Iraq more secure?

BLUNT: I think it will make Iraq more secure. I think the trial will be helpful both to Iraq, Iran, Syria, the Middle East.

NOVAK: Joe Crowley, have you got buyer's remorse? You've got this candidate who looks like he's on Saddam Hussein's side. Is he worried?

CROWLEY: Now I know why you lowered my seat. You know, people who liked Howard Dean before the capture of Saddam Hussein, like him just as much the day after. And we'll continue to like him.

He invigorates. He incites our party. And that's why I'm supporting him. And I'm very confident and I know he's going to do a great job when he's elected president.

CARVILLE: Congressman Blunt, the Iranians say they want charges brought against Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity and committed against them. Should we allow the Iranians to proffer charges against him and have Saddam Hussein tried on these charges?

BLUNT: Yes. This guy is a serial killer. You could have charges going on forever. I suspect there will be plenty of charges in Iraq for that system. If the decision be made later what he might have done in other countries and other atrocities.

But there's a long list, plenty of things to talk about in that trial that will go on in Iraq. And you know, maybe that will -- maybe we'll get some of that news throughout the Arab world.

NOVAK: Congressman Crowley, since Governor Dean went to the draft board with a doctor's excuse from his mother and stayed out of the military and skied instead, do you think he needs General Clark as a running mate to firm up the ticket?

CROWLEY: I like his questions better.

CARVILLE: Let me ask you a question.

NOVAK: No, answer the question.

CROWLEY: Let me say this -- you know, it seems to me every person who's run for president, or many of the people who have run for president, have questions about military experience...

NOVAK: General Clark. CROWLEY: ... including our present President Bush, as to what his commitment was during the Vietnam War to his military duties. So I think that the Dean administration will look to a look of factors to pick out their vice president.

NOVAK: You filibustered me out on that, Joe Crowley. Thank you very much, Roy Blunt.

BLUNT: Good to be here.

NOVAK: When we come back, live from Baghdad. We'll check in with our CROSSFIRE colleague, Tucker Carlson, who's actually in Iraq.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer and Nic Robertson have the latest on where Saddam Hussein spent his last hours of freedom.


NOVAK: It's time to bring in our roving CROSSFIRE correspondent, Tucker Carlson, decided he would have an easier time talking about Iraq if he took a firsthand look at the conditions there. He joins us live from Baghdad.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Thanks, Bob, James.

CARVILLE: Tucker, how are you doing? First of all, what time is it there, Tucker?

CARLSON: It's approaching 1 in the morning. And it's cold and raining. There's none of the stifling heat I've been promised, unfortunately. Luckily I have the CROSSFIRE fleece keeping me warm.

CARVILLE: Good. Tell us about how you got to Baghdad and about that drive to Baghdad. I think our audience would be interested in that.

CARLSON: Well, I just got here, so I don't know much about the security situation other than people act like it's very dangerous.

We heard gunfire within moments of getting to Baghdad. We left about noon from the Kuwait border to the south, rolled right across the border. I never spoke to a single official. It's pretty wide open, it seemed to me.

Didn't see a single American soldier until we arrived at the CNN bureau here at the Palestine Hotel. Not a single one.

And drove very fast. I went with Kelly McCann, a CNN contributor, a frequent CROSSFIRE guest and guys who work for him, mostly ex-Special Forces. We drove about 100, 120 most of the way, heavily armed.

Pulled over for gas at one point. There are these enormous gas lines here, four-mile long gas lines in some cases. Pulled in, you know, nine armed guys with machine guns got out of our cars, out of our convoy, sort of took over the gas station, you know, blocked off entrance, searched cars, looked through cars, that kind of thing, while we filled up.

People seem like it's threatening. One of the guys I was traveling with is a former Marine recon guy, Special Forces guy, who spent five months in Somalia in the early '90s. And he said he believed after living here for six months that it's more dangerous than Mogadishu, is what he said.

Again I don't quite know how to evaluate that. But spending the rest of the week here, I'll find out. But that's what people say.

NOVAK: Tucker, what are you trying to find out there? What do you -- Do you think you can, as a reporter, get a pretty good gauge on what the real feelings of the Iraqi people are toward this occupation?

CARLSON: No, I don't think I can. I don't speak Arabic. I don't -- I'm not a pollster. I don't think I'll be able to find out what ordinary Iraqis think.

But I will, I think, get a better sense of how the country is running. And it seems to me, you know, is it safe to walk outside is a pretty good measure. Again, I don't know that.

I can tell you that coming over here, we're staying far outside the Green Zone in a house. I'm staying with Kelly McCann and some of the guys he works with.

Just coming over here to the CNN bureau, we put on body armor, and they, you know, got a whole carload of weapons. And it was night. Most people don't travel at night here. But there was a sense, you know, it's dangerous to go to the CNN bureau.

Again, I don't know what that means. It seemed perfectly safe. But who knows?

CARVILLE: Let me get on a human thing, there's a four-mile gas line, and you guys pull up in front of the line and people get out with machine guns and sort of commandeer the gas station.

CARLSON: That's right.

CARVILLE: And fill you up with gas. You don't think that the Iraqis might -- as a human being, they might resent that?

CARLSON: No, that's absolutely right. It's exactly the kind of behavior that I've always resented, frankly, watching the Secret Service behave that way as they invariably do, as you know. And so of course, it is bad.

However, as a Westerner traveling here, there's really no option. You put yourself at some risk if you don't do that. If you were to, for instance, get boxed in by traffic...

CARVILLE: Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

CARLSON: Well, that's right. But more damned if you don't. CARVILLE: Dead if you don't.

NOVAK: This is an occupied city in a country that was defeated in the war. What's the traffic situation like? Is the -- Are the streets free of cars?

CARLSON: Well, they're not at night. But it's interesting. Apparently part of the reason there are these incredibly long gas lines is because there are so many more cars in Baghdad.

Apparently the CPA, the coalition, lifted the duty on cars. Good for them. And so somewhere between -- CNN is saying somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 new cars have come just in Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands of new cars. That's part of the problem; it's just there aren't enough gas stations. And there are other reasons for it.

But yes, there's a ton of traffic on the road, which suggests that it's not that dangerous, if people are conducting commerce, and they are. I don't know; I've only been here 12 hours.

CARVILLE: You know we have the clock. We thank you. But friend to friend, buddy, be careful over there, please.

CARLSON: Oh, of course.

CARVILLE: Take care.

CARLSON: I've got the CROSSFIRE fleece, James. I'm good to go.

CARVILLE: You've got it, all right.

Up next, would you believe Robert Novak and I actually agree on something? Here's a hint; it has something to do with Saddam Hussein. We'll tell you what it is right after this.


NOVAK: James, I think Saddam Hussein should be subject to the death penalty if he's convicted. And I think the trial should be in the hands of the Iraqis. Do you agree with that?

CARVILLE: Yes. I don't think -- If there is a death penalty, how does he not get it? I mean, it's like McVeigh. Why have one if he don't get it, you know? So I mean, yes. And I think that crimes were committed against him.

The question is going to be, are they going to let the Iranians in?

NOVAK: James, I want to show you a brand new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. Was Iraq worth going to war over? Yes, 62 to 33 percent. Let's look at Democrats.


NOVAK: Democrats, no, 59 percent. Yes, 31 percent. Aren't the Democrats out of touch with the rest of America?

CARVILLE: Of course, they're not out of touch with the rest of America. And course, I -- and the people say it's not worth it. You were against this war too.

And the truth of the matter is, the most colossal mistake we've ever made. People are still bogged down in there. There's no exit plan to get them out. We should have never gone in in the first place.

NOVAK: Let's just think for a minute about politics. If those figures are correct, that means almost all the rest of Americans are on the other side.

CARVILLE: First of all, no.

NOVAK: You...

CARVILLE: Eight percent -- 80 percent said right after the war -- this poll was taken right after the capture of Saddam Hussein, just about every other poll shows that it's 50/50. You take a one-night poll with an error of plus or minus 8 percent...

NOVAK: You're making that up.

CARVILLE: Look there, you're a better journalist than that. Look under there. Look under there. You're a better journalist than that, Bob. What does it say under that, plus or minus what?

NOVAK: Eight percent.

CARVILLE: Eight percent. OK.

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.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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