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CNN CROSSFIRE

Politics of National Security

Aired April 28, 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: The latest trouble in Iraq fuels the political war back home.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: Chicken hawk. They shriek like a hawk. They have the backbone of a chicken.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that's wrong. I wish we'd stop it. I wish we would just stop.

ANNOUNCER: The politics of national security today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

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

All day and now into the night in Iraq, we have been watching U.S. military operations around the city of Fallujah. Within the past few hours, in fact, something flammable was struck by a U.S. airstrike in the city of Fallujah, causing an enormous explosion.

For the latest on the military operations in Fallujah, we go to CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paul, the scene we're seeing now is very similar to the one we saw 24 hours ago at this time, another AC-130 gunship striking targets on the ground in Fallujah in response, the U.S. says, to attacks from the insurgents against U.S. Marines there.

As you said, some secondary explosions indicating they hit something on the ground explosive. Yesterday, it was a truck they believe was full of ammunition. Today, we don't have an assessment yet. The question at this point is, when is a cease-fire not really a cease-fire and when is an offensive not really an offensive?

The Pentagon insists this is not part of a planned offensive into Fallujah. It is instead aggressive self-defense. Here's how Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described it on the Hill just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: What's going on is some terrorists and the regime remnants have been talking our forces and our forces have been going in and killing them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: What else is going on is that the Pentagon is acknowledging now that it is quickly dispatching additional heavy armor to Iraq to help out those Marines and also some soldiers who are on the front lines who don't have enough of the kind of heavy armor they need.

About two dozen tanks or so are being flown in and should be arriving now according to a Pentagon briefer who talked to reporters here at the Pentagon via telephone from the U.S. Central Command earlier today. This is an acknowledgement of something that the Pentagon has not been saying, which is that things are not going as well as they had hoped in Iraq at this point. When those units, the Marines, the soldiers went, they left a lot of their tanks behind. They thought they wouldn't need them. Now it turns out they do.

And also we're told tonight that sources who have contact with General John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in charge of operations in Iraq, report that he is worried that these security situations could continue to deteriorate. And he's particularly concerned that more moderate Iraqis haven't come forward to counter the message that's been delivered by these anti-U.S. and anti-coalition insurgents, which the U.S. believes are a small minority of the Iraqi population -- Paul, Tucker.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thank you, with live pictures of Fallujah right behind him. Thanks a lot.

Two members of Congress join us now to talk about the ongoing violence in Iraq and its political implications back home. In the CROSSFIRE are California Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and New York Republican Congressman Vito Fossella.

Welcome.

BEGALA: Thank you.

Congressman Fossella, you just heard I hope Jamie McIntyre's report. He concluded with this piece of news. That is General Abizaid, our commander in the theater, is worried now that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating. Now, given that, I want to call your attention to a comment made by Larry Diamond. He was the senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, one of our guys in Iraq, who had a rather bleak, but candid assessment of the situation on the ground here.

He says -- and I'm quoting him here -- "We just bungled this so badly. We just weren't honest with ourselves or with the American people about what was going to be needed to secure the country."

Why wasn't our government honest with the American people, sir?

REP. VITO FOSSELLA (R), NEW YORK: I think our leaders were. I think on balance, the liberation of Iraq and the security of the American people has gone well in the last year. And now we're obviously in a situation we're trying to make the situation as good as can be.

I think, as you remarked about the general's comments, in my opinion, any belief or any desire on the part of the generals on the ground in Iraq have been led up the chain of command, whether it be General Myers or Secretary Rumsfeld, all the way up to the president himself, and those beliefs have been followed through with the commitment, whether it be troops or changing the operation on the ground.

I think, personally, I'm very proud of what they've been able to do on the ground. And to date, I think it's been a success. Obviously, war is tough and there's going to be problems along the way, but, on balance, I think it's been very effective. And I think ultimately we're going to look back on this as a very successful operation.

BEGALA: You used the success twice. You said it was effective. This is a remarkable and I think rather interesting take on this, when our general on the ground says the security situation is deteriorating, when one of the senior advisers for the coalition says that we bungled it badly we're not being honest. Do you know something that the general and the coalition authorities don't know? Because they think things are pretty bad there.

I'm just wondering what it is that leads you to believe this is going so well.

FOSSELLA: As I said, on balance, I think things are going well. We've liberated a country; 25 million or so Iraqis now can look forward to democracy and freedoms that we currently enjoy.

And I think that we will respond as we're doing in Fallujah right now to those insurgents. We tried to negotiate in good faith. Obviously that did not work. Diplomatic channels did not work. Now the Marines are responding in kind. I have total faith and commitment in the troops on the ground, the generals and all the rank and file. And while the situation in his words may be deteriorating, I have full faith that the situation will get better.

CARLSON: Congressman Sanchez, on the very day when American soldiers are fighting in Iraq, Frank Lautenberg, Democrat from New Jersey, took to the Senate floor to denounce the civilian leadership of the U.S. Armed Forces. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUTENBERG: We know who the chicken hawks are. They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersion on others. When it was their turn to serve, where were they? AWOL. That's where they were. And now the chicken hawks are cackling about Senator John Kerry. And the lead chicken hawk against Senator Kerry is the vice president of the United States, Vice President Cheney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Now, leaving aside the fact that this is incredibly low, Congresswoman -- I know you'd agree with that -- the point of what Senator Lautenberg said was, if you have not fought in a war, you don't have the moral right to criticize those who have.

And I'm wondering, as someone who has not fought in a war, you yourself, do you feel that it's wrong for you to criticize people who have fought in wars who are veterans?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think what we're seeing is a pattern here and it's to be expected from this administration.

I mean, look, they went after John Kerry (sic), who was a five- year POW in Vietnam. They went after Max Cleland, who was a three- limb amputee out of Vietnam. And now they're going after John Kerry, who has a Silver and a Bronze Star and who had three Purple Hearts, while, at the same time, the president and Cheney and others didn't go to Vietnam. They didn't step up to the plate to do the right thing.

CARLSON: Wait a second, Congresswoman. You appear to be suggesting that simply because a man serves honorably in wartime, as John Kerry did, that you're somehow not allowed to criticize his policies once he returns? That's kind of insane. I know that's not what you're saying, but that's what it sounds like you're saying.

SANCHEZ: What I am saying is that, since you do go to war, you have even more of a right because understand the very value of losing life. You see it day in and day out in a war situation.

CARLSON: So you have more free speech if you go to war than if you don't.

SANCHEZ: And the administration -- the administration doesn't have that experience base. That's one of the reasons why General Shinseki, before this war, said, we would need at least 200,000 troops in this post-battle situation in Iraq.

And sure enough, the civilian, Wolfowitz, told him -- came to our committee three days later and said that was totally, wildly off the mark. I mean, this is an administration who will not admit that we are having problems in Iraq. The best thing that's going on in Iraq are our soldiers. They are great. They're great P.R. They are out there working every single day. They're doing their job. But this administration has failed to have a plan to work this situation out in Iraq.

BEGALA: Congressman Sanchez, keep your seat. And, Congressman Fossella, the same. We're going to back to you. We will have more on the politics of national security here in the CROSSFIRE next. And then later, why is Pottery Barn upset with Secretary of State Colin Powell, not to mention with Tucker and me as well? You don't want to miss our little field trip to investigate Pottery Barn later on CROSSFIRE.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

United States Marines called in helicopters and snipers today to help with their assault on Iraqi insurgents in the city of Fallujah. After nightfall, an AC-130 Spectre gunship fired its cannons on targets near the city of Fallujah. A huge fireball and secretary -- secondary explosion indicated they hit something flammable, perhaps an ammunitions dump.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate Iraq policy and the politics thereof, California Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez and New York Republican Congressman Vito Fossella.

Now, Congressman Fossella, nearly a year ago today -- I think Saturday will be the one-year anniversary -- our president stood on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln behind an enormous banner produced by the White House. They tried to blame the Navy. It turned out the White House produced a banner that said "Mission Accomplished" and the president said -- and I'm quoting him here -- "Major combat operations are over.'

Was he intentionally misleading us or just exercising bad judgment? They're plainly not over. You don't -- I know you think things are going swimmingly, but you don't believe combat operations are over, do you?

FOSSELLA: No, I think that clearly we have to stay the course in Iraq. Nobody said this job was going to be easy, including the president of the United States.

BEGALA: Actually, Dick Cheney did. He said we'd be greeted as liberators.

FOSSELLA: The president of the United States, as he said a couple of weeks ago in his press conference, believes that the United States must stay the course.

And we cannot I don't think judge this action based on one or two days of events or even a week, for that matter. This is part of an overall, I think, plan in our war against terror, whether it's men and women on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq. The fact of the matter is, as we stand here today, the world is a safer place without Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi people are better off without Saddam Hussein. The American people are better off without Saddam Hussein.

And we will stay the course and until the job is done. And, ultimately, not only will the Iraqi people have the same freedoms that we enjoy here in America to pick their own leaders, but we can rest assured that there will be a stable democracy in the Middle East that will help us and others bring peace and stability and security to the American people.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Now, Congresswoman Sanchez, you're now a Kerry supporter, but, as I remember, you were at one point a Dean supporter. You came and supported him on our show, as I remember.

Howard Dean said something I thought very interesting and very true about John Kerry and Mr. Kerry's ability to attack President Bush on the war in Iraq. Here's what he said late last year -- quote -- "I suppose if you have the nerve to cover your own vote and then try to pretend you didn't vote that way, you have the nerve to do anything in Washington. The fact is, we wouldn't be in Iraq if it weren't for Democrats like John Kerry."

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Now, that's just objectively true. Unlike you, he voted for the war. Unlike you, he voted against money to fund the troops once they were there. You can't disagree with Howard Dean's quote, can you?

SANCHEZ: Well, I'm not really sure what that had to do with what's going on now.

We've got John Kerry, somebody who has served in the military, somebody who is a known expert in foreign relations...

CARLSON: Well, who cares if he served in the military? I'm talking about his vote, not about his military service.

SANCHEZ: ... as opposed to what we have in this administration, where we know things are going wrong in Iraq. And we have somebody who's running.

And the purpose of running for president, the purpose of being president is not to look backwards, but to look forwards. Where are we going in Iraq from today forward? And I'm going to tell you something. I still have not seen a plan out of this administration about what we do, what kind of troops we need, how long we're going to be there, what it's really going to cost the American people.

Now this administration is all worried because the cat is out of the bag that it's going to cost an extra $50 billion before the end of this fiscal year and, oh, my God, they didn't want America to know that it was going to cost so much. So this administration has been misrepresenting what is going on. My answer to that is, we got to tell the American people what's really going on. We have to prepare them for what's going on.

We are diverting resources from our own economy into Iraq trying to fix this problem. We need more troops. Our troops are tired. They are some of the greatest gals and guys I've ever met. And they're doing a good job, but they've been there 18 months, 20 months. That's getting too long.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: I'm sorry to cut you off. We are out of time. And I'm sorry to shortchange you on time. It was just getting interesting. We appreciate your coming.

Congressman Fossella, thank you, too, very much. We appreciate it.

FOSSELLA: Thank you.

CARLSON: We hope you will come back for somewhat longer.

When we return, it is time for our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert," with news of who's trying to pressure poor Ralph Nader to get out of the race for president.

And is the U.S. military getting any closer to controlling the insurgents in Fallujah? Wolf Blitzer has the latest right after the break.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, flash point Fallujah, fresh airstrikes on suspected insurgent targets. We'll hear from reporters on the scene of this volatile standoff.

Presidential powers under scrutiny over at the United States Supreme Court. Can American citizens be held without charges and without a lawyer?

And we'll talk about Iraq, presidential campaigns, terrorism and a lot more with my guests, Congressman Porter Goss, former Senator Max Cleland, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Welcome back. You've waited for it. Now it's time for the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Well, for years, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has called himself a Republican. The fact is, he's far more liberal than many Democrats in the U.S. Senate. He supports abortion. He's addicted to pork barrel spending. This year, conservatives said enough. Specter was challenged by Republican Congressman Pat Toomey. Despite being spent more than 3-1 in the campaign, Toomey almost accomplished the impossible.

Specter won yesterday's primary, but just barely, 51 to 49 percent. Geniuses at the White House believe Specter will have a better shot at winning in the fall. And that may be true, and yet you can't help but think a principle has been lost and trampled in this. And I think it has been.

BEGALA: Pennsylvania is often a harbinger for things to come. It shows a lot of weakness on the part of the White House if they can't get their guy, Arlen Specter, better than 51 percent.

But the thing for Democrats to look at is Ed Rendell. The Democratic popular governor of Pennsylvania needs to step in now and raise at least $1 million for the Democrat, Joe Hoeffel, because Specter is wounded.

CARLSON: No.

BEGALA: He's been allied with Rendell in the past. Rendell needs to show us, if he wants to be on the national ticket, that he's a real Democrat and will raise at least $1 million for Joe Hoeffel.

CARLSON: But politics -- that's an interesting point.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Politics aside, there are principles at stake. And Pat Toomey represented the politics this White House claims to represent, and Arlen Specter does not. And yet the White House came out and not only did they support Specter with ads and visits from the president, they talked down Pat Toomey. And I think it was a grave mistake.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: They did. They stabbed conservatives in the back and those conservatives should stay home or vote Democrat.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Oh, come on. Get real.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, Simon & Garfunkel split up years ago. The same, tragically, happened to Sonny and Cher. And even Siegfried & Roy no longer perform together. But, today, the world's most important power couple hunkered down for the duet performance of a lifetime. I'm speaking of course about President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The cute couple will be testifying together of course before the 9/11 Commission tomorrow. And they spent the day today preparing. No word yet on whether they'll be wearing matching suits or ties or even boutonnieres.

And what's worse, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney will not be under oath, nor will there be a transcript or tape made of their comments to the 9/11 Commission. There's something, I don't know, just a tad wimpy about our macho, swaggering, top gun, Texas cowboy president insisting he will only testify if he can hold Dick Cheney's hand.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: George Bush ought to act like the leader of the free world, not like a frightened Andover cheerleader. Don't be a wimp, Mr. President.

CARLSON: I think there's something kind of weird about a liberal engaging in gay bashing on national television.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It's the only same-sex relationship George Bush

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Look, but I will say, who cares? Literally, literally who cares?

BEGALA: I care.

CARLSON: They're both testifying. But why would you, apart to score partisan political points? It doesn't make any difference. Let him take anybody he wants.

BEGALA: It makes a huge difference. They can keep their stories straight.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: We want to know the truth. That's why we investigate alone. We interrogate alone.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Do you have evidence they're lying about 9/11?

BEGALA: I have no idea. But I know that no president has ever insisted on having his vice president to hold his little cheerleader hand. He's a wimp.

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: OK.

Well, the Congressional Black Caucus has requested and will probably get a meeting with independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. A spokesman for Nader says it ought to be a friendly get- together. After all, Nader and the relentlessly left-wing Black Caucus agree on many things.

But in fact, it will be just the opposite. Instead of celebrating their common vision of the world, the Black Caucus will demand Nader that drop out of the presidential race. They may agree with him, but he is inconvenient. The fact that the Black Caucus is trying to squash Nader liberalism is just another indication of the Democratic Party's bankruptcy of ideas. He stands what they say they stand for and yet they try and kill him. That tells you everything.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: We already have a Democratic Party. We don't need two. Ralph Nader is on an ego trip. He has done great things for America, but he's on an ego trip.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: If you want to reelect Bush, vote Nader. That's what you need to do. That's the surest way to help George W. Bush, which is why you're promoting his candidacy.

CARLSON: No, it's not, actually.

Leaving outside the Machiavellian political stuff, here is a liberal who wants to pull troops out of Iraq. He is offering a real alternative to John Kerry's vision of Iraq, such as it is. And I think that's a point of view that needs to be represented. I disagree with the idea that he shouldn't be allowed to say that because he might hurt Kerry.

(BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: That's fascism.

BEGALA: He's allowed to say anything, but if you vote for him, you're a fool because you're just trying to reelect Bush. That's the simple math.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Now, look, I have to confess I am not a Howard Stern fan. I prefer abuse to titillation, so I listen "Imus in the Morning" every day. But Mr. Stern's show was recently dropped by ultra- conservative Clear Channel Communications.

And Bush's FCC slaps old Howard around it seems just about every time that Mr. Bush nears to shore up his base among sanctimonious, sex-hating hypocrites. But, in a piece of good news for those of us who believe in freedom of speech, Howard Stern's ratings are way up since he became the right-wing's whipping boy. He is No. 1 in Los Angeles for the first time since 1995. He's also No. 1 in New York, with his highest ratings in four years.

Mr. Bush, I'm sure, cannot imagine why. But I guess a man who's offended by a few dirty jokes, but opened his campaign with a commercial featuring a dead body from 9/11 has no concept of the meaning of the word obscene. Go, Howard.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: What's so ridiculously unfair about that is, you know perfectly well that not only did the White House have nothing to do with the FCC's action here, which is a bipartisan panel, by the way. It hates this. This hurts Bush and they know it.

They hate the fact that Howard Stern is being bothered by the FCC. I personally think -- I don't care about Howard Stern. There's a lot more offensive stuff on television.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Yes, like a Bush press conference, a lot more offensive than the Howard Stern radio show.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Truly, if the Bush administration was in charge, they would never bother Howard Stern, because his listeners vote for Bush. And he's hurting Bush.

(BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: So that's a total lie, and you know it.

BEGALA: They're trying to censor this guy's free speech.

CARLSON: No, they're not. You know that's not true.

BEGALA: Just change the channel if you don't like it. Don't try to censor him.

CARLSON: Well.

Next, breaking news from the Pottery Barn. Why is Secretary of State Colin Powell in trouble with one of the country's largest home decorating stores? Paul and I went to investigate. We were on the scene, breaking news. You're not going to believe what we found next. News at 11:00 or next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

In his new book, "Plan of Attack," ace journalist Bob Woodward recounts that Secretary of State Colin Powell warned President Bush before last year's invasion of Iraq. Powell told the president to remember what he called the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it. That has created a small storm of controversy.

So earlier today, Tucker and I decided to check out the facts. Pottery Barn says there's no such rule and that breakage is written off as a loss.

And there's a tragic loss there. There's actually -- that's Fallujah, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You know what I learned in Pottery Barn today, Paul? I think the metaphor may be slightly overdrawn, but I will say that the folks at Pottery Barn pretty uptight about Bob Woodward's book. I think they see themselves as the real losers here.

BEGALA: By the way, there's no pottery at Pottery Barn. Can you believe that?

CARLSON: That's exactly right, only glassware.

BEGALA: We need an expose.

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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow, Thursday , for yet more CROSSFIRE. Have a great night.

(APPLAUSE)

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