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CNN CROSSFIRE

Does President Bush Have Plan For Success in Iraq?

Aired April 15, 2004 - 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: It's been the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the invasion of Iraq. Does the president have a plan for success?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No one can predict all the hazards that lie ahead or the costs that they will bring.

ANNOUNCER: Could John Kerry do a better job?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why doesn't the president just come out and say, I want the U.N. to be a full partner and the resolutions that we pass will turn authority over to them?

ANNOUNCER: Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

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

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

You know, April is indeed the cruelest month. We're only halfway through and it's already become the deadliest month for American troops in Iraq since President Bush launched his attack on that country a year ago. And just hours ago, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the administration will not be able to keep its promise to 20,000 troops who were expecting to come home.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: But John Kerry wouldn't bring those troops home either. He keeps switching on the war and said today he would send more troops to Iraq if the generals want them, except he would have the United Nations commanding our troops.

We'll debate whether Americans really want their troops in Iraq under foreign control right after the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

NOVAK: It's April 15, tax day, a day of mourning for anybody who pays income taxes. I just wrote a big check to the IRS. But it would have been larger if President Bush had not cut taxes.

Now the president wants to keep those tax cuts, while Senator Kerry wants to roll them back. That's a problem for the Democratic candidate. The Democracy Corps focus group report run by Democratic opera Stan Greenberg says -- quote -- "A dominant attitude was that Kerry changes his position on issues and tells people what they want to hear. He will also raise their taxes" -- end quote. It's hard to fool Americans who have enough money to pay income taxes.

BEGALA: So here's the conservative position; 135,000 families have to send their sons and some of their audits to Iraq, but rich people shouldn't send a check to the government? What kind of sacrifice are we asking of the rich, Mr. Bush?

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I think that rich people ought to at least have to pay some taxes.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: If poor people have to fight the wars.

NOVAK: Well, that's -- that's what the communists felt and they went down the tube. And the idea is that we don't want to redistribute income in this country, Mr. Begala. It's just something the Democrats will never learn. I'll tell you, I pay...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm proud to write a check for my country. And you know what? I'm a patriotic American.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: The least I can do for the countries that gives me freedom. Why

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Since you're so patriotic, you can pay my taxes, too.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: You can pay everybody's taxes. I'm a patriot. I'm proud to pay my taxes.

Well, President Bush went to Iowa today to tout his economic record. Iowa has lost 27,900 jobs since Mr. Bush took office. Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported today that first-time claims for unemployment soared last week by the largest amount since late 2002. Mr. Bush did have some good news on this tax day -- for himself. The nonpartisan Citizens For Tax Justice reports that Mr. Bush saved nearly $31,000 on his taxes. Of course, he is a millionaire.

Now, President Bush promised us his tax cuts would create jobs. They have not. He promised that his tax cuts would not create a deficit and they have. He also promised that they would not touch the Social Security surplus. In fact, he's not only touched it. He's blown the entire thing. George W. Bush inherited from Bill Clinton the strongest economy and the largest surplus in American history. He blew them both. And, you know, I thought if there was anything Mr. Bush would be good at, it was that inheriting thing. But I guess even that...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You know, Paul, the Citizens For Tax Justice is just about as nonpartisan as you are. I mean, they're a left-wing, pro- Democratic organization.

Secondly, you're a broken record on this trashing of President Bush. Look at the numbers. The jobs are going up. The stock market is going up. Unemployment is going down.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: It's the economy, stupid.

BEGALA: This is the argument. Great.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: If you think the economy is good, vote Bush. If you think we can do better, vote Kerry.

NOVAK: Congressman James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is calling for the resignation of Jamie Gorelick from the 9/11 Commission. Attorney General John Ashcroft this week produced a stunning 1995 directive signed by Gorelick as deputy attorney general which built a wall preventing exchange of terrorist information.

The real question is why Jamie Gorelick was named to this independent commission in the first place. She is a leading Clintonista lawyer and an intensely partisan Democrat. Since 1998, she has personally given over $28,000 to Democrats running for office. She was an early contributor of the maximum $2,000 to John Kerry for president. How can the liberal Republican chairman, Tom Kean, call Jamie nonpartisan?

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, she's doing a great job. By the way, not just Tom Kean. John Lehman, President Reagan's Navy secretary, heard what Jim Sensenbrenner had to say, this garbage. You know what he said? This is quoting Lehman. He said, that's baloney. And it is.

Sensenbrenner ought to be ashamed of himself. Jamie Gorelick is doing a fine job on that commission. Let them find the truth and stop hacking at these people, because all they're trying to do is find out the truth, Bob.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Isn't she a Clintonista?

BEGALA: Wasn't John Lehman a Reaganista? We have two parties in this country?

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Can I ask my question before you answer it?

(CROSSTALK)

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Wasn't a Clintonista who defended your president to the very end?

BEGALA: And wasn't John Lehman a Reaganista? So what. So we have both parties represented. It's called bipartisan. Both parties are on it.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, in his press conference, President Bush repeatedly refused to accept any responsibility for his government's failings. His advisers today tell "The New York Times" that Mr. Bush based that decision on polling and focus groups.

Now, back in 1983, when Shiite terrorists bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut and killed 241 Marines, President Ronald Reagan held a very different press conference. In it, he said -- and I quote -- "I do not believe that the local commanders on the ground, men who have already suffered quite enough, should be punished for not fully comprehending the nature of today's terrorist threat."

Reagan went on to say -- quote -- "If there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this office and with this president. And I accept responsibility for the bad, as well as the good."

President Bush promised to usher in a responsibility era. I guess we can rank that promise up there with his promise not to govern by the polls. He is no Ronald Reagan. He should be ashamed of himself.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You know, Paul, you know, Paul, one of the most amusing things is that left-wingers of your just trashed Ronald Reagan when he was president. They just pounded him as severely as they pound George W. Bush. And now they deified him. I think, after George W. Bush serves a second term and they win this war in Iraq, your son will be saying, gee, wasn't George Bush a terrifically good president?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I will say he was a morale coward. He was a morale coward for not taking responsibility when a president

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... took responsibility. Reagan took responsibility. Bush should take responsibility.

NOVAK: All right, all right, all right, all right.

Finding the right answers in Iraq could be key for winning the presidency this year. The president has laid out his vision for Iraq. Has Senator Kerry got any kind of plan?

And when it comes to firing people, Donald Trump gets all the publicity. Find out who Paul and I would like to fire in our own abbreviated version of "The Apprentice" a little later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back.

In a newly released audiotape, Osama bin Laden is offering a truce to European countries who leave Iraq, Afghanistan and Arab countries alone. How much appeasement do the bullies in Paris and Berlin really want? What impact if any will this have on President Bush's plan to end the violence in Iraq and return sovereignty to the Iraqi people? Does John Kerry offer a better plan for Iraq or any plan at all?

In the CROSSFIRE today, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Republican strategist Frank Donatelli.

BEGALA: Guys, good to see you both again.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Frank, let's start with the news of the day, one of the many pieces of news.

But just about an hour or two ago, our defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, announced that the Pentagon will not be able to keep its promise to 20,000 troops in Iraq. They were going to be rotated home. Instead, they'll be in Iraq perhaps as much as 90 days. As a political matter, if you were a political adviser to President Bush, this hurts him. It suggests that he's breaking faith with his troops and that he misled us when he said that the occupation would not require large numbers of troops. FRANK DONATELLI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I agree with part of that.

It's a very difficult thing to tell military families who have sacrificed so much that will more sacrifice will be necessary. But I come from a military family also. My brother is career military and my nephew is also. And I think if there's any group of Americans that will do their duty and support their country and their commander in chief, it will be the military.

BEGALA: Well, I understand.

But, politically, isn't it difficult when Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, on behind of the Pentagon, I suspect, went out and trashed the Eric Shinseki, who was the Army chief of staff, who said it will take maybe 200,000 troops to successfully occupy Iraq, they said that was wildly off the mark? Don't they look like now that they were mistreating that four-star general when he spoke the truth?

DONATELLI: Well, I think the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs said it very clearly today in his briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld. He said, we, the military, have made requests for troops and we have gotten exactly what we have asked for, Paul. So I don't think that there was any misleading at all.

NOVAK: Steve McMahon, I want to read you a quote. We're going to play a little quiz game. Is that OK?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That will be fun, Bob.

NOVAK: And we want to have fun.

I'm going to read you this quote. We'll put it up on the screen and you tell me who said it.

MCMAHON: OK.

NOVAK: Quote: "This is a delicate situation. The facts on the ground are changing rapidly. We're trying to respond in broad strokes rather than offer specifics that will be overtaken by events moments after they're out there." Who said that?

MCMAHON: Well, I'm just guessing now that it wasn't you, Bob.

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON: You know, I don't know. Who was it? Who did say that?

NOVAK: Well, what kind of person? Would you think that was an administration person saying we can't give you specifics of what's happening?

MCMAHON: I'm thinking it probably wasn't because otherwise you wouldn't be playing gotcha with it.

(LAUGHTER) NOVAK: Yes. That's right. You're a smart guy. It was Rand Beers, who is a turncoat. He used to be a Bush aide. And now he's...

MCMAHON: He's telling the truth, Bob. He's telling the truth.

NOVAK: the foreign policy aide. But he didn't -- he is still using the language from the Bush thing. Isn't that weak politically for the Democratic foreign policy guy to say, we don't like what the president's doing, but we don't have an alternative; we can't change it?

MCMAHON: Well, first of all, Bob, you know, they do have an alternative. John Kerry's ready to turn the whole mess that the president created over to the U.N. to maybe sort it out.

But you know what's politically weak is to spend a week in Crawford, Texas, playing while 64 soldiers in Iraq die and then come back and have a news conference.

(APPLAUSE)

These people know.

NOVAK: Those are Democrats.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING)

MCMAHON: And then come back and have a news -- and then come back and have a news conference and stand there for an hour and not say a damn thing about what the plan is for getting out, how long we're going to be there, what the exit strategy is.

NOVAK: That wasn't my question.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: How many more sorties are going to die in the war.

But you asked about political weakness. And I think you should recognize when it comes even on your side, Bob.

BEGALA: Well, in fact, at that press conference, to pick up on what Steve said, if I were Steve McMahon, one of the best ad makers in the Democratic Party, I would have been salivating as the VCR tape ran during that conference, because our president said something stunning. After losing scores of Americans in just a week, he uttered three words I want to play for our audience that I hope we see in ads all over the country.

Here's our president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And we're making progress. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: We are making progress. How much more of this progress can we stand, Frank?

DONATELLI: Let me elaborate on that.

(LAUGHTER)

DONATELLI: Let me elaborate on that.

Well, first of all, Paul, I'm always thinking of you and I brought something for you. And, in fact, I brought Bob and Steve also. These are the dinars. This is the currency of Iraq. And this is the old currency. The new currency is exactly the same as this, with one exception.

MCMAHON: Does it have Rumsfeld on it?

(LAUGHTER)

DONATELLI: This guy, Saddam Hussein...

(APPLAUSE)

DONATELLI: He's not on it, but I'll tell you who else isn't on it either. And that's Saddam Hussein.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DONATELLI: He's gone. This vicious murderer can't hurt us anymore. Now, we are making...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: First of all, he never did hurt us. He hurt his own people, but he never hurt America.

(CROSSTALK)

DONATELLI: He supported terrorism. But, wait, you asked me what progress we are making in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: No, isn't it politically problematic for the president, the week that 64 Americans have been killed -- now it's up to 90 since this latest insurrection began -- for him to be telling the American people that we're making progress, instead of strategy, I've a plan, we're in deep doo-doo, but I can fix it? Why not say that?

DONATELLI: He's saying that progress has been made. And I'll tell you what the progress is.

Politically, the Iraqis have drafted a constitution and we are going to change over to civilian authority. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DONATELLI: Secondly, there has been tremendous economic progress. Oil revenue has doubled. Social services are on the mend.

BEGALA: These are great.

DONATELLI: So that's the progress that's being made.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let's go back to politics.

Your candidate, John -- he's your candidate now, isn't he, John Kerry?

MCMAHON: Yes, of course he is, Bob.

NOVAK: I get mixed up sometimes.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: You used to be for a little guy. Who was that guy you were for? Howard Dean, you were for.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Yes, all right, OK.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Anyway, John Kerry was -- John Kerry was campaigning the other day. And somebody came up to him. And at first, I thought he was somebody, you know, who was having some difficulties. But I guess he was just a Dean supporter. And let's listen to what he said to your new candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People hate George Bush, but by the end of your presidency, people will hate you for the same thing. You may fool some of the Americans that you are different from George Bush on this war. But you're not fooling most of the world and you're not going to fool Iraqis.

KERRY: Well, let me...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now, that's a real problem, isn't it, when you've got people like that who are your supporters who saying we hate you?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE) MCMAHON: Listen, Senator Kerry's views about the war and how it ought to proceed from this point forward -- because we are where we are and we now need to talk what we're going to do going forward.

The president seems unable or unwilling to do that in either case. Or perhaps it was only because he didn't get to bring Dick Cheney along to answer questions. But...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MCMAHON: But John Kerry has a plan going forward. The president, if he has one, won't tell us what it is. Maybe it's a secret plan to end the war. I think that worked pretty well for another guy in the White House, but...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I think he did end the war. I think he did.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Nixon, we're talking about now.

MCMAHON: Look, John Kerry has said from the beginning what Howard Dean said, frankly, which is, this shouldn't be a unilateral war. It shouldn't be a unilateral occupation. It shouldn't be a unilateral construction that American taxpayers have to pay for. It should be shared by the world and it should be shared by Arab nations. And it's time to turn it over to the U.N.

NOVAK: Paul, do you mind if I play what John Kerry said on his plan to end the war? Let's see what John Kerry said. No, that is not it.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: That's not John Kerry. I'm sorry. We've got a little -- our little technical stuff got mixed up.

Go ahead. You talk about it.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me ask Frank about that.

That quote that was up there is from a guy named -- well, let me not tell you who it was from. Let me read it, this comment. This was this morning. The president the other day in his press conference said that he didn't like this analogy to Vietnam. And someone -- I was listening to NPR, as all good liberals do in the morning.

And here's what this guy said on NPR this morning: "I see a lot of similarities to Vietnam. It seems to me the persons who have the greatest interest in the U.S. being in Iraq are Osama bin Laden, Iranians and other radical movements in the Middle East. We made Iraq now safe for those kinds of movements and they're breeding them rapidly."

Now, I'm going to play Novak with you, Frank. Who do you suppose said that? Do you think it was like Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, that socialist guy with the bad haircut who was screaming at John Kerry? Who do you suppose said that?

DONATELLI: You're going to play gotcha with me.

BEGALA: I am. Let me tell you who said that, Three-Star General William Odom, who served President Reagan as the head of the National Security Agency, one of our top spy agencies. That's what General Odom is saying. Isn't this an enormous political problem for the president? You don't only have just lefties saying that he's all wet and this is like Vietnam. You have a three-star general from the Reagan administration.

DONATELLI: I would like to hear the whole quote. I somehow suspect

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Everybody go to NPR.org, listen the whole thing. It will knock your socks off.

DONATELLI: But I suspect in the context of everything he said, that was just part of what he said.

Look, this is the central question that the American people are going to have to answer. And that is, what the president has done since September 11, liberating Afghanistan, liberating Iraq, taking the fight to the terrorists, does that not makes us safer in the long run? Respectfully, I and most Republicans and conservatives say yes.

Senator Kerry, I'm not quite sure what he thinks. Most Democrats seem to say no. That's what elections are all about. It just seems to me logically that, when we go to the source of the terrorist movements in Iraq and other states-sponsored terrorists, we can eliminate them.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: What's the link between

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We're going to get to that. We'll get to the question.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: Did I miss something here?

BEGALA: Keep your seat.

(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: We'll give you a chance to respond in just a minute.

When we return, we'll put our guests through the "Rapid Fire" segment.

And then, and on to "The Apprentice," I will ask our guests to take a chance at playing Donald Trump themselves and ask them who they might fire these days.

Plus, we'll get a check of the hour's top stories. Has Osama bin Laden found any takers for his offer of a truce?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Miles O'Brien at the CNN center in Atlanta.

Coming up at the top of the hour, a new audiotape presumed to be from Osama bin Laden, we'll tell you who is threatened and who is being made an offer.

In Iraq, a journalist tells a harrowing story of his kidnapping and an even more ominous account of what might have been behind it.

And could a new domestic intelligence agency in the U.S. really work? A look inside the culture of the FBI and the CIA, those stories and much more just moments away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" -- now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Miles.

Time for "Rapid Fire" here, where we ask questions even faster than President Bush went to war with Iraq.

Our guests, Republican strategist Frank Donatelli and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.

NOVAK: Steve, your old candidate Howard Dean got in trouble when he that said Americans weren't necessarily safer because Saddam Hussein was captured. As a political consultant, what would you tell Senator Kerry to -- how would you advise him to answer the same question, better off or not?

MCMAHON: As a political adviser, I'd say probably you have to say what the pundits expect to you say, which is, we're all better off. As a fact, it's not true.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Frank, President Bush fire his treasury secretary and top economic adviser when the economy was bad. Who should he fire now the foreign policy is such a disaster? DONATELLI: Well, Richard Clarke is already gone, so that's a good start.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Steve, do you really think that it makes political sense for Senator Kerry to tell Americans we need more troops and we need them under the command of the United Nations?

MCMAHON: Yes, I do, because I think America is ready to ready to have the world take over.

BEGALA: Frank, the , Bush aides in "The New York Times" said it was a sign of weakness to show responsibility as commander in chief. Was Ronald Reagan weak when he took responsibility for the terrorist bombing in Beirut?

DONATELLI: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

BEGALA: Shouldn't Bush show the same strength Reagan showed then?

DONATELLI: He says he regrets it. He's sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Right. But Reagan said, I'm responsible. Should Bush?

DONATELLI: And as president and commander in chief, he is ultimately responsible for everything that happens with his government.

MCMAHON: He doesn't know it, because Dick Cheney hasn't told him that part yet.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Do you think al Qaeda is rooting for John Kerry to win, figuring they'll get a softer deal from him?

MCMAHON: I think al Qaeda is hoping that we stay in Iraq for a look time, because it's nice, easy soft targets.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: OK, up next, you're fired. Paul Begala and I take turns playing Donald Trump. Stick around for CROSSFIRE's version of "The Apprentice."

Thank you, Steve and Frank.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: You're fired! Those are the dreaded words of Donald Trump. He will use them one more time tonight in the grand finale of his hit TV show "The Apprentice."

Now, the survivor of the two remaining finalists will get the grand prize of $250,000 a year and the so-called dream job of working for the Donald for a year. Kind of got us to thinking what we would do if we had our own version of Mr. Trump's big hit show here at CROSSFIRE.

Bob, who would you pull into the boardroom and fire?

NOVAK: Paul, let me tell you who has to go, the IRS. You're fired!

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: But, no, really, somebody has to collect the taxes as long as we have this dreadful tax system, which ought to be repealed. They ought to repeal the income tax.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: I'll tell you who I would fire for mendacity, duplicity, arrogance and incompetence. Donald Rumsfeld, you're fired!

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Bye-bye, Donald. There, that's the Donald who ought to get fired. Donald Trump is a big hit. He ought to get a lot of credit. Donald Rumsfeld ought to be ashamed of himself. He should be fired for his

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... disastrous foreign policy.

NOVAK: I think he serves at the pleasure of the president. And you're not the president, thank God.

BEGALA: No, Mr. President, you're fired, too.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

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.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

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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